Rings and circles in literature and legend
'Stone circles,' said Miranda.
'Like Stonehenge,' said Quintin.
'Like Stonehenge,' said Miranda. 'And like many other stone circles dating to between the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age in Britain. If you could be transported backwards in time to around 2000 BC, you would find hundreds of them in use.'
'Sir Arthur Evans reconstructed whole rooms at Knossos from the fragments of plaster he found during his excavations of the Palace of Minos, near Iraklion on the island of Crete, dating to the Minoan Period,' said Quintin, 'and one in particular has a beautiful pattern of interconnecting spirals snaking around it.'
'And if you could fast-forward from there about fifteen hundred years to the British Iron Age,' he said, 'you would find beautiful metalwork with intricate designs of interlacing ribbons, circles and interconnecting spirals.'
'And Bronze Age round barrows still in use as territorial markers,' he added.
'So they were using designs in Britain similar to those found on Minoan Crete?' asked Miranda.
'And in Buddhist art,' said Quintin.
'Well then, this is the bedrock upon which all these legends and romances rest,' she said. 'All the fairytale and mythology, the strange stories and weird writings that have survived the centuries in the form of mediaval romance and Arthurian legend. All the wierdness that nobody seems to want to explain.'
'Like a ring that confers to its wearer an invulnerability to death,' said Quintin. 'Sir Perceval of Galles has acquired one when he travels into the Land of Maidens. Floris is given one by his mother before going off to find Blancheflour, whose tomb he has just been looking at. Cristabel gives one to Sir Eglamour of Artois before she is sent out to sea in a rudderless boat with her baby son, towards a beach in a land where she will quickly become the daughter of the King of Egypt.'
'Sir Gawain is given one,' said Miranda. 'Not a ring to wear on his finger but a girdle, like a belt, to be worn around his waist. The woman who gives it to him says it will protect him from all harm. He then survives an axe blow that must surely have been expected to kill him. The knights of the Round Table all adopt a similar garment as a sash when he returns, as though such a thing might have been significant.'
'There is circularity in plot as well,' said Quintin. 'In the medieval romances. Everything seems to go around in a big circle. The hero or heroine falls from grace and then recovers their lost wealth and esteem, and very often a lost wife, husband or sweetheart in the end.'
'That is the Wheel of Fortune,' said Miranda. 'King Arthur dreams about one in the Alliterative Morte Arthure. Sir Owain sees one in Purgatory. A great many of these medieval romances seem to be about a journey on this wheel, from the top to the very bottom and then back up again to the top. And it is strange how the hero or heroine often assumes a disguise or conceals their true identity at some point on their journey around this circle. But there is one other kind of circularity as well.'
'What is that?'
'Endless repetition,' said Miranda. 'Using the same motifs over and over again. You can see them in so many of these different strata: in Irish mythology, Norse mythology, Ancient Athenian drama, Ancient Greek mythology, medieval romance, Arthurian legend… giants: lakes and seas; snakes and dragons; apples…'
'…disguise,' said Quintin. 'The exchange of identity; hidden origins…'
'…the concealment of identity,' interrupted Miranda. 'There's so much of it, it's endemic.'