The Myth of the Mountain King

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The king in the mountain is one of the great archetypal myths: a king who presided over a past golden age is said to have retreated with his warriors into a mountain cave where he waits, sleeping but not dead, one day to return. It is often associated with King Arthur, Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa, or Frederick II.

Juleigh Howard-Hobson provides a chronology of its various appearances and iterations in an essay at Counter-Currents:

The idea of a king, or hero, sleeping in a cave or hollow mountain is an old one in Northern Europe and the British Isles. So old, in fact, that the sleeping king motif is “one of the few myths of the British Celts to be put on record by a classical author.”

The classical author was Plutarch. Plutarch’s work “The Silence of Oracles” quotes a certain government agent, Demetrius, who in 82 CE wrote down various tales and miscellanies told to him by the people he encountered while he was in Britain. Adhering to the then-approved custom of endowing every god/hero, regardless of origin or existing name, with Classical nomenclature, the story, as written by Demetrius, would seem to be a Greek one. It is actually an extremely early version of the European Sleeping King myth.

There is, they said, an island where Cronus is imprisoned with Briareus keeping guard over him as he sleeps; for, as they put it, sleep is the bond forged for Cronus. They add that around him are many deities, his henchmen and attendants.

In a later work, in a section referring to Britain and various outlying British Isles, Plutarch himself writes:

The natives have a story that in one of these Cronus has been confined by Zeus, but that he, having a son for a gaoler, is left sovereign lord of those islands and of the sea, which they call the Gulf of Cronus. . . . Cronus himself sleeps within a deep cave, resting on rock which looks like gold, this sleep being devised for him by Zeus in place of chains. Birds fly in at the topmost rock, and bear him ambrosia.

This is the elemental hero sleeping in the cave story, with very early references to both the treasure (the rock that looks like gold) and the ravens that often accompany such heroes as they wait, in their deep hidden places, to come back.

Parallel stories, with kings/gods/heroes asleep in caves/hills/mountains appear all through out Northern Europe. As a matter of fact, this basic story is so common that it is now identified as folktale type 766 in the Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson (AT) folktale classification system–considered the standard reference catalogue of international folk stories. The story of the sleeping hero, or the hidden king, is as firmly embedded in the folksoul of the European people as are the mountains and caves themselves.

Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Austria, The Czech Republic (then Bohemia), Sicily, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland . . . all hold, deep in secret places within their hills, a sleeper or sleepers, who will waken at the time when the folk are in their greatest need of a hero.

Professor D.L. Ashliman has catalogued a number of related myths in his bibliography of folktexts at the University of Pittsburgh. The most famous account comes from the Deutsche Sagen by the Brothers Grimm:

Many legends are in circulation dealing with [Emperor Frederick Barbarossa]. They say that he is not dead, but that he shall live until the Day of Judgment, and also that no legitimate emperor shall rise up after him. Until that time he will remain hidden in Kyffhäuser Mountain. When he appears he will hang his shield on a dead tree, and leaves will sprout from the tree, and then better times will be at hand. From time to time he speaks to those who find their way into the mountain, and from time to time he makes appearances outside the mountain. Generally he just sits there on a bench at a round stone table, asleep with his head in his hands. He constantly nods his head and blinks his eyes. His beard has grown very long, according to some it has grown through the stone table, according to others it has grown around the table. They say that it must grow around the circumference three times before he awakens. At the present time it has grown around the table twice.

In the year 1669 a peasant from the village of Reblingen who was hauling grain to Nordhausen was taken into the mountain by a little dwarf. He was told to empty out his grain and allowed to fill his sacks with gold in its place. He saw the emperor sitting there entirely motionless.

In addition, a dwarf led a shepherd into the mountain who had once played a tune on his flute that had pleased the emperor. The emperor stood up and asked: “Are ravens still flying around the mountain?” When the shepherd answered “yes,” the Kaiser responded: “Then I must sleep for another hundred years.”

A monument to Barbarossa was erected in the Kyffhäuser Mountain range in the 1890s. It depicts him waking. Above him stands an equestrian statue of Emperor Wilhelm I, tying the legend to German unification under the Prussian monarchy.

Papers and Collections of Prince Albert to be Published for the First Time

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As I have written elsewhere, I am an ardent admirer of Prince Albert, the husband and consort of Queen Victoria. So I was excited to read that the Royal Collection Trust is in the process of digitizing an enormous collection of his letters, photographs, and papers (both official and private). A press release yesterday from the Royal Collection Trust announced The Prince Albert Digitisation Project:

An unparalleled collection of papers and primary materials belonging to Prince Albert is due to be published online by Royal Collection Trust over the next two years, transforming our knowledge of Queen Victoria’s consort.

The three-year Prince Albert Digitisation Project, scheduled for completion at the end of 2020, will make available on the Royal Collection Trust website some 23,500 items from the Royal Archives, Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.  This wide-ranging material, most of which has never been published before, will shed new light on Albert’s contribution as consort of Queen Victoria, unofficial Private Secretary, a guide and mentor to some of the greatest national projects of his day, university chancellor, art historian, collector and patron of art, architecture and design.  The first tranche will be published in the summer of 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Prince Albert’s birth.

The Prince Albert Digitisation Project is supported by Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson in honour of the late Dame Anne Griffiths DCVO, former Librarian and Archivist to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, and by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.  Royal Collection Trust is also partnering with the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, on a post-doctoral research fellowship, building on a previous collaboration to present Queen Victoria’s Journals online.

Prince Albert (1819–1861) was the second son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg.  He married Queen Victoria, his first cousin, in 1840.  The period of his active life in Britain saw a fundamental change in social welfare, university education, the structure of government and parliament, and in British relations with the rest of the world.  It witnessed the arrival of railways and fast transatlantic trade, the rise of trade unions, and the transformation of Britain into a world-class industrial economy and sea power.

The Prince Albert Digitisation Project will bring together official and private papers relating to Prince Albert from the Royal Archives and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851; material in the Royal Library, including catalogues of Prince Albert’s private library; inventories of paintings commissioned or collected by Albert; the Raphael Collection, the Prince’s study collection of more than 5,000 prints and photographs after the works of Raphael; and the significant body of early photography collected and commissioned by Prince Albert (more than 10,000 photographs).

Oliver Urquhart Irvine, The Librarian & Assistant Keeper of The Queen’s Archives, said, ‘The Prince Albert Digitisation Project will increase understanding of material held in the Royal Archives, Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 and enable a comprehensive study of the life, work and legacy of Prince Albert on a scale that does justice to his contribution to 19th-century Britain and the world.  We are very grateful to Sir Hugh and Lady Stevenson for their support and look forward to working with our partners to create a resource which will transform academic and public access to this unparalleled collection, and will allow a fresh assessment of this influential man.’

Tsarist-Futurist Visions of Tomorrow

In 1914 the Russian chocolate company Einem issued a set of eight postcards depicting life in Moscow in the twenty-third century. The horrors of World War I and Communism were as-yet undreamt of and Russia was imagined still thriving under the benevolent rule of the Tsar. Air ships fly over Red Square, monorails fan out from the planned-but-never-built Central Station, aerosanis race along the Moscow–Saint Petersburg motorway, and a troop of soldiers on horseback uphold tradition in Lubyanskaya Square.

The illustrations are fanciful and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it is interesting to see how the future was imagined before the revolution.

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