The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History

Khalid Elhassan - April 20, 2023

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
Prometheus Bound, by Jacob Jordaens, 1640. Art in History

The Epic Punishment of a Legendary Immortal

Zeus was incensed when he looked down from the heavens and saw the dark of night dispelled by the flicker of fires. To vent his anger at mankind, he sent Pandora down to earth with a box full of calamities. When the lid of Pandora’s box was eventually removed, all the evils that plague humanity were unleashed upon the world. From then on, mankind was afflicted with diseases, plagues, war, death, and the need for backbreaking labor to eke sustenance out of the earth. Only hope was left inside the box, to keep life bearable despite all its miseries.

As to Prometheus, Zeus devised a horrific punishment for him. He had the Titan taken to the Caucasus Mountains, where he was chained to a rock. There, Zeus’ vengeance took the form of a giant eagle that flew in every day to rip open Prometheus’ guts and feast upon his liver. The liver re-grew each night, and the eagle returned each day to repeat the process. That way, the legendary Prometheus was subjected to an eternity of torment by day, and nights full of dread of what the morrow would bring.

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
The Mask of Agamemnon. WTTW

The Legendary Agamemnon and the Real Life One

As seen in an earlier entry, Heinrich Schliemann proved the existence of Troy – an archaeological find of epic proportions that cemented his place in history. He then proceeded to capture archaeological lightning in a bottle once more. This time it was in mainland Greece, where he found what came to be known as the Mask of Agamemnon – the High King of Mycenae who led the Greeks against Troy. It happened in 1876, when Schliemann conducted excavations in the royal cemetery near the Lion Gate, the entrance to the citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. In one of the graves, he found a funeral mask covered in gold, which he attributed to the legendary king from the Iliad.

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
Heinrich Schliemann, top right, at the Lion’s Gate in Mycenae. Pinterest

As Schliemann put it in a telegram that announced the discovery: “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon“. However, as with his finds in Troy, Schliemann got the broad outlines right, but jumped the gun when it came to the details. Later research proved that the mask did, indeed, belong to a Mycenaean king. However, it was a king who had died circa 1580 to 1550 BC – two and a half to three centuries before the events of the legendary Trojan War. The name stuck, however, and the artifact is still commonly referred to as the Mask of Agamemnon.

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Sherwood Forrest. Flickr

The Legendary Bandit of Sherwood Forrest

One of England’s greatest legendary heroes is the medieval outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. A bandit who fought the Sheriff of Nottingham and the evil King John, and helped the rightful monarch Richard the Lionheart regain his throne. Surprisingly, for a figure who stole from the rich, Robin Hood first gained widespread popularity as a result of plays originally staged for Elizabethan England’s upper classes. First, however, the playwrights had to gentrify Robin Hood from a commoner bandit, and transform him into a nobleman to whom the well-heeled could better relate. Such gentrification can be traced to the playwright Anthony Mundy, who reinvented the outlaw as an aristocrat, Earl Robert of Huntington, who was wrongfully disinherited by his uncle.

So he fled to Sherwood Forrest where he became an outlaw, met and fell in love with Lady Marion, and kicked off the legend. In real life, of course, nobody performed all the noble deeds of derring-do ascribed to Robin Hood. However, there were plenty of outlaws, nearly all commoners, who thumbed their noses at upper class oppressors, and thus became popular with the lower classes. In the medieval era, “Robinhood” or “Rabunhod” or “Robehod” were common nicknames for criminals, that appear in numerous twelfth century court records. However, those Robin Hoods were the kinds of criminals who acted out of any highbrow motives. Instead, they stole for the mundane reasons that led most people into crime back then, and that still put people on the paths of criminality today.

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938. Pinterest

Was There Ever a Real Robin Hood?

To identify the original Robin Hood is no easy task. In England, Robin was and remains a diminutive of the name Robert, and Robert was a very common first name in back then. Likewise, Hood was a common surname in medieval England. As a result, to identify just which criminals named Robin Hood or some variation thereof might have inspired the legend of Robin Hood, is a particularly difficult task for historians. As a result, numerous candidates have been proposed over the years.

The Dark Side Of King Arthur & Other Disturbing Legends From History
A seventeenth century woodcut of Robin Hood and Maid Marion. Wikimedia

The earliest mention is a Robert Hod of York, who became an outlaw after his goods, worth 32 shillings, were confiscated to settle a debt owed to a local church. Other candidates include the brothers Robert and John Deyville, who fought on the losing side in the Second Barons’ War (1264 – 1267). With their cause defeated, the Deyvilles holed up in the woods as outlaws, until the records show that John, at least, was pardoned. However, the likeliest candidate for the legendary Robin Hood seems to be Roger Godberd, another figure who ended up on the losing side of the Second Barons’ War and became an outlaw. What is known of Godberd’s activities led some historians to label him as “the prototype Robin Hood”.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Adams, Mark – Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City (2015)

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Semiramis

Ancient Origins – Who Destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria?

Archaeology Magazine, September 23rd, 1998 – King Arthur Was Real?

Ashliman, D. L. – Arthur, Legendary King of Britain: Excerpts From His Life Story, as Recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory, and Others

Atlas Obscura – Recreating King Midas’s 2700-Year-Old Feast

Baldwin, David – Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked (2010)

Callendar, Gae – The Minoans and the Mycenaeans: Aegean Society in the Bronze Age (1999)

Encyclopedia Britannica – King Arthur, Legendary King of Britain

Encyclopedia Britannica – Samu-ramat

Federer, Kenneth L. – Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walum Olum (2010)

Friedrich, Walter L. – Fire in the Sea: The Santorini Volcano: Natural History and the Legend of Atlantis (1999)

Fry, Stephen – Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece (2017)

Greeka – Myth of Lost Atlantis

History Collection – The Bermuda Triangle Myth Was Created by the Media

Gizmodo – The Great Library at Alexandria Was Destroyed by Budget Cuts, Not Fire

Lawrence Today Magazine, Fall, 2004 – European Travel Writings and the Patagonian Giants

Malory, Thomas – Le Morte d Arthur, Book I

Museum of Hoaxes – Patagonian Giants

National Geographic – Atlantis

National Geographic History Magazine, February 5th, 2019 – Who Was the Real Robin Hood?

Ranker – 15 Bizarre and Brutal Stories You Never Knew About King Arthur

Storr, Jim – King Arthur’s Wars: The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of England (2016)

Telegraph, The, July 11th, 2010 – Historians Locate King Arthur’s Round Table

Theoi, Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology – Midas

Traill, David A. – Schleimann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit (1995)

World History Encyclopedia – Prometheus

World History Encyclopedia – Troy