King Arthur and The Bear

Niina Pekantytär
public domain

King Arthur is most well-known by the knights of the round table. There has been controversy around his name over the centuries.

The most common belief is that Arthur´s name is derived from the ancient Gallic word "art" which means a bear and that connects him to the goddess Artio.

Arthur does not have a historical real-life counterpart and it is believed that he is more of an archetype that is based on several ancient kings, who fought against Romans and Germanic tribes. That where Arthur lived is also under debate. According to some sources he ruled over Wales and Cornwall and according to other sources he was king of northern England and southern Scotland.

Based to one theory Arthur´s name comes from Lucius Artorius Castus, who was a Roman clergy who lived and worked in Britain in the second century.

There is another theory that Arthur´s name originates from Welsh. In Cymraeg, the modern Welsh language arth means a bear and in ancient Welsh ur means a man. In Latin texts, Arthur´s name became Arturus. The theory behind the Welsh name is supported by the, historically proven fact that wizard Merlin originated from Wales. He is based on a druid named Myrddin, who lived on the island of Anglesey 600 AC.

Other versions of the name Arthur, have been Arturius, Arcturus, Arturos and Artursus. Most of these names are different variations of the Welsh word arth and its Latin counterpart ursus, which means bear.

Artio Gallic Bear Woman

Artio is a mysterious goddess. Based on the archaeological findings, there was a cult of Artio and she was worshipped in the area of what is now known as Switzerland, southern Germany and southern France. A bronze statue has been found in the city of Bern from Switzerland (which is quite fitting since the city is named after bears). In this statue, there is a woman who is feeding a large bear with fruits and it says in Gaul to the goddess Artio". What if the woman feeding the bear is Artio or is the bear itself the goddess is debatable. Most likely it portrayed the two forms of the goddess. The name Artio comes from Gaul word art which means a bear.

This statue is part of the so-called Muri statues, named after the place they were found (Muri bei Bern). There are six statues and they all portray Roman-Gallic deities: Jupiter, Juno, Artio, Minerva, Lare and Naria). It is believed that the statues belonged to a temple that used to stand by the river Aare, back from the time when Switzerland and a large part of central Europe as part of the Roman Empire app. 300 C.E.

The bear in the statue is about 21 cm (8 inches) high. Bear has a muscular body, tensed up position and its mouth is open. The fur is carefully carved and the statue is realistic. Next to the bear, there is a bronze tree, which species the scholars have not been able to identify.

The human-shaped Artio was originally sitting on a throne. She has a sleeved dress and diadem in her head, which refers to a divine position. In the basket, there is grain and fruits. It is believed that the goddess has represented harvest, growth and fertility.

Artemis, the archetype of the bear goddess

Artemis is one of the most well-known bear goddesses. In art, Artemis is usually depicted either with deer or hunter dogs, but her most sacred animal was the bear. Artemis was the goddess of nature and the protector of wildlife. Bear was the largest and the most powerful animal, therefore special. When the Greeks killed bears, Artemis sent a plague over them.

Artemis had sanctuaries all over Greek islands. In the ancient city of Brauron in southern Greece, 5-10-year-old girls dressed up in bear furs and bear masks and pretended to be wild bears. This ritual was created to appease Artemis, so she would not punish people by sending diseases.

The etymology behind the name Artemis has several interpretations. Arktos means a bear in Greek and temis is close to the word temnis which means a sanctuary. The name Artemis can mean bear sanctuary or sacred bear.

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Folklorist and historian. Alcott essayist. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

Finland, MN

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