Although King Arthur is one of the most well-known figures in the world, his true identity remains a mystery. Attempts to identify the historical Arthur have been unsuccessful, since he is largely a product of fiction. Most historians, though, agree that the real Arthur was probably a battle leader of the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons in the sixthth century. In literature, King Arthur's character is unique and ever changing, taking on a different face in every work. There is never a clearly definitive picture that identifies Arthur's character. It is therefore necessary to look at a few different sources to get better insight into the character of Arthur, the once and future king.
Arthurian literature can be divided into two basic categories, pseudo-histories and romances. The main difference between the two is that pseudo-histories such as Wace and much of the Celtic work, for example, Geoffrey of Monmouth show Arthur as a strong, central character, making him the dominant figure in the story. He is the one who goes on quests and battles, gaining respect and glory for his court. In romances, however, Arthur is most often overshadowed by his knights, staying mainly in the background as the source and the inspiration behind their great chivalric deeds.
The first written chronicle of Arthur's adventures comes from Nennius, a monk from North Wales. In his ninth century writing, Nennius tells of Arthur's twelve victories over the Saxons but describes him only as a dux bellorum "a leader of battles" and not a king. It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who first proclaimed Arthur as king in his twelfth century Historia Regum Britanniae, which became the foundation for all Arthurian literature to follow. This work contains all of the most famous Arthurian elements such as the Sword in the Stone, the magical Merlin, and the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. But it was Wace, who using Geoffrey's work was first to mention Arthur's Round Table and amplify the belief in Arthur's return from Avilon, or the Isle of Avalon.
King Arthur's character has many faces. He is shown to be kind, wise and generous on one hand, yet at the same time, he can be seen as a weak king who is stubborn, childish, and unable to make wise decisions for himself or for the good of the court. He is described by Nennius as a powerful warrior, who is able to personally slay 960 men in one charge. Wace shows him possessing leadership qualities as he establishes the Round Table to ensure that justice and peace prevail. In Celtic legends, Arthur is a supernatural hero who battles giants, monsters, and witches. He kills the Demon Cat of Losanne and hunts the boar Twrch Truyth driving him into the sea. (Camelot and Arthurian Legend: Arthur online 4/27/98)