Uther Pendragon

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Uther Pendragon (French: Uter Pendragon; Welsh: Wthyr Bendragon, Uthr Bendragon, Uthyr Pendraeg) is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur.

A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in most later versions. He is a fairly ambiguous individual throughout the literature; he is described as a strong king and a defender of the people. According to Arthurian Legend, Uther, through circumstances and Merlin's help, tricks the wife of his enemy Gorlois, Lady Igraine, and sleeps with her. Thus Arthur, "the once and future king," is an illegitimate child. This act of conception occurs the very night Uther's troops dispatch Gorlois. This theme of illegitimate conception is repeated in Arthur's siring of Mordred on his own sister Morgause in the later prose romances. It is Mordred who will eventually mortally wound King Arthur in the Battle of Camlann.

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Epithet

Uther's epithet Pendragon means "Head Dragon" in a figurative sense, referring to his status as "foremost leader" or "chief of warriors".[1] The name was misinterpreted by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Historia to mean "dragon's head".[1] According to Geoffrey and works based on his version, Uther acquired the epithet when he witnessed a portentous dragon-shaped comet, which inspired him to use dragons on his standards. According to the Grail cycle, it was Uther's older brother (elsewhere called Ambrosius Aurelianus) who saw the comet and received the name "Pendragon", Uther taking his epithet after his death.

Early Welsh poetry

Uther is known from earlier Welsh tradition, where he is associated with Arthur and, in some cases, even appears as his father. He is mentioned in the 10th century Arthurian poem Pa gur yv y porthaur ("What man is the gatekeeper?"),[2] and is memorialized with "The Death-song of Uther Pen" from the Book of Taliesin.[3] The latter includes a reference to Arthur, so the marginal addition of "dragon" to Uther's name is probably justified. "The Colloquy of Arthur and the Eagle," a poem contemporary with but independent of Geoffrey, mentions another son of Uther named Madoc, the father of Arthur's nephew Eliwlod.[1] The Welsh Triads name Uther as the creator of one of the Three Great Enchantments of the Island of Britain, which he taught to the wizard Menw. [4]

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