Camelot Episode 6 Cicero, Libraries. Power and Identity: Dualities and Pluralities

Another quotation from Cicero in the last episode of Camelot, episode six in season one.  I don’t have the script before me, but it was something like

For the life of the dead consists in the recollection cherished of them by the living

As spoken by Arthur to Guinevere with regard to the death of her father.  As with a previous quotation from Cicero, this looks like the writers were drawing on the Internet rather than deep knowledge of Cicero.  This is one of the popular quotes from Cicero online, and it has a context in Philippics IX.iii much more concerned with public mourning and commemoration than private grief.  It would be nice to think that the writers were playing on this, but I doubt it.  Still it’s great that they realise that Latin educated people know Cicero, and if some of the resonance is accidental, like a possible ironic contrast between Arthur’s private interest in Guinevere, married to his champion Leontes, and his public duty, the resonance is no less real.  

This episode shows Merlin driving Arthur’s knights to create a library for Camelot by rescuing the collection of Gawain’s dead father.  The knights are rather puzzled by this, and seem remote from Merlin the ‘sorcerer’ as they unkindly address him. Great shots of knights galloping across countryside, I can never get enough of that, particularly when they are sweeping in or out of castles.  This is a simple part of the innate energy and rhythm of Arthurian stories, and make them open to constant recreation.  By the end of the episode Merlin and the knights are closer as a mutual understanding emerges that the magical power Merlin fears within himself is like the violence warriors need, but must control.  Gawain finds the books hidden by his late father, because as we have already seen he is drawn to learning and literature.  They all unite on the journey back when Merlin uses gentle magic to help an injured knight, and when the library is set up.  The books look too much like printed books and not at all like Medieval manuscripts to me, but nevertheless the story of a united struggle to preserve literate culture is a well done, and adds to the perspectives of this great series.  We can presume that Merlin’s magic will get beyond his control and cause great damage at some point, and now the tension has been set in relation to the when and the how.  

Arthur’s part of the story revolves around his removal from affairs of the state to run after and then accompany Guinevere as she runs away from Camelot to find her dying father.  This removal itself emphasises that Arthur’s interest in Guinevere is likely to lead to conflict with his public role.  Shared dangers and emotions bring them closer and presumably the disaster that will result from expressing their love and Leontes discovering it.  As with the dangers of Merlin’s power, a tension  and an expectation has been established, and further deepened after earlier references.

In the shadow kingdom established by Arthur’s half-sister Morgan, she finds it necessary to burn the hand of the nun assisting her in order to maintain her power.  A woman with a fire scarred face arrives at the castle demanding justice for her scarring and the death of her daughter in a fire at the convent where Morgan met the nun.  It emerges that the nun was protecting the secrets of a pagan rites carried out by the nuns, and that this is in opposition to priests who are evidently more completely Christian.  The nun starts a fire to avoid discovery by a priest, which accidentally killed the girl and scarred the accusing woman.  The rite that was concealed appears to refer to young women and something that happened to Morgan.  Maybe this is how she was given magic powers?  Morgan insists on putting the hand of the nun in fire, but refuses to kill her, in order to find a balance between protecting her secrets, keeping the nun alive as her adviser, and maintaining a reputation for justice with the people.  These incidents build on earlier suggestions that Morgan represents a feminist perspective of some kind, though apparently mixed with grotesque resentment and unlimited desire to destroy male rivals to her power.  Morgan serves as dark side or double or feminine side to both Arthur and Merlin.  Arthur, because she rivals his political power, and seeks to destroy it; Merlin, because she rivals his magical power, though it is not clear yet if she wishes to destroy him.  Earlier encounters between Morgan and both Arthur and Merlin are full of sexual tension, so there is a strong series of tensions and expectations around magic, patriarchy, desire, revenge, Christianity, and political power in the relations between Morgan and the two male principles.  She appears to be constantly struggling with her identity, as she creates various strategies and new information emerges about her past.  It has earlier been suggested that she is particularly troubled by getting into the mind of her step mother Ygraine.  Like Merlin, she has to contain and sacrifice power, though unlike Merlin through imposing pain and scarring on a loyal associate.

So for this episode we have found Cicero serving as a way of understanding mourning, further power of books in the constriction of a library, the struggle to find and contain power through inner control and through cruelty, mysterious sources of female power, the dualities and pluralities of identity in Merlin and Morgan.  



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