And it happens very abruptly, too. The first quarter, at least, of any Arthurian cycle revolves around the once and future king himself: his conception, his fostering, his coming-of-age via sword trick, his defeat of the rival kings, his marriage to Guinevere, and his creation of the Round Table knights.
|The Sword in the Stone, Rodney Matthews|
Then all of a sudden it's about the knights, each one getting a day in the limelight. Gawain, Percival, Balin and Balan, Kay, Gareth, and of course Lancelot, each with his own quests, successes and failures, which they dutifully report on back at Camelot. Where Arthur's
|King Arthur, Winchester|
There's a lot going on in the transition from fighter to lawgiver, from active participant to benevolent presence in the wings. The first factor in play was probably the difficulty legends have with making a legislator a warrior. The archetypal "wise leader" is rarely found making corpses on a battlefield. We remember Hammurabi as the first lawgiver in history, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was a Mesopotamian emperor, which by definition means he kicked ass like nobody's business. Nestor, spouting smart advice Agamemnon rarely heeds, is old and ill suited to hack up Trojans. Ptah, the Egyptian god of creation, also presides over handicrafts, products of peaceful times; Maat, who represents balance and justice, is a woman. Nobody wants their legal system in the hands of a berserker. So for Arthur to take the place he himself has prepared - that of lawgiver to the masses, bringer of peace to a troubled land - he has to become inactive. He can't represent good government while also taking the lead in all quests that come to Camelot. And once it becomes clear that Guinevere will never give him a son, it's all the more important that the king protect his life and not go gallivanting after every Questing Beast and white hart that turns up.
|The White Hart, Arthur Rackham|
And then there's the whole question of courtly love. Let's face it: the husband never comes off well in those stories. It's actually a miracle that Arthur survives his bout with courtly love with an even greater reputation as a friend, lover and king. It would be so easy to turn him into a
|Lancelot Brings Guenevere to Arthur, Henry Justice Ford|
So in terms of the mythos' requirements, Arthur has to be deactivated. You could argue that his
|The Two Crowns, Frank Dicksee|