“Arthurian Legend in Performance”
Project managers: Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz & Marilyn Lawrence, French Department, New York University, New York, USA
Text: King Artus, A Hebrew Arthurian Romance of 1279, tr. Curt Leviant, Assen, Van Gorcum, 1969, pp. 8-13
Performer: Nitzan Rotschild
Videography: Nitzan Rotschild
Film editing: Samantha Erenberger
We thank Western Michigan Institute Publications/TEAMS for its generous funding for this project.
Text (in English):
This is the book of the destruction of King Artus’ Round Table and I have translated it from the vernacular into Hebrew in the year 39. While translating, I omitted some passages that were in the book from which this translation was made. I did this because these passages contained only questions and answers between one person and another, or elegies, or irrelevant matters that were not pertinent to the story itself. Therefore I omitted them, for they were insignificant and did not even add up to three small leaves.
I attempted the translation of these conversations for two important reasons. The first was the preservation of my physical well-being, for owing to my sins my troubles have grown and my laments increased, and I am immersed in a sea of perplexed thought. Night and day I am continually astounded by events that have passed over me and I fear lest I fall into melancholy, that madness to which death is preferable. Therefore I have translated these conversations for myself in order to calm my mind, mitigate my grief, and dispel somewhat the bad times I have experienced.
No intelligent person can rebuke me for this, for we have seen that some of our sages of blessed memory, such as Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, did not disdain the knowledge of fox-fables, washers’ parables or the speech of palm trees. And this is done so that a man who is steeped in Torah-study or in worldly pursuits may derive from the knowledge of these tales a measure of relaxation and relief.
Thus the prophet said: “And now bring on the minstrel,” and our sages interpreted this, as you well know. Moreover, it is possible to learn wisdom and ethics from these fables concerning a man’s conduct toward himself and towards his fellow man. Therefore they are neither idle nor profane talk. The proof for this is that had they been profane talk Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai would not have studied them. For it is said concerning Rabbi Johanan that during his entire lifetime he never uttered profane talk.
We can therefore conclude from this that these fables are not idle talk, and the stories which I have translated are no less worthy than the washers’ parables; on the contrary, they are far more excellent and distinguished.
Moreover, we find that on the eve of the Day of Atonement the tales of ancient kinds would be read to an unscholarly High Priest throughout the night so that he would not fall asleep. Consequently, there is no need to shun them.
The second and most important reason for my translation was that sinners will learn the paths of repentance and bear in mind their end and will return to the Name, as you will see at the conclusion.
This is the history of Sir Lancelot. Know that King Bano of Benoix and King Borz of Gaumes were brothers; they married two sisters, scions of the House of David.