[DFT] Fw: [ChivalryToday] Learning Knights
seanan at elfsea.net
Wed Oct 6 18:48:23 PDT 2004
By Scott Farrell
©2004, Shining Armor Enterprises
The Knight Asks: "What do we mean when we use the word "knight"? Does
this term convey more than an aggressive, predatory attitude? What does
this teach us about chivalry?"
The word "knight" has come to be associated with the image of the
warrior: an armored fighting man with a sword, spear and warhorse. So
powerful is this connection between the word and the warrior that James
Patterson, in his novel "The Jester," uses "knight" as a title of
address, just as we would use a military rank like "captain" or
"general" today. In the medieval social hierarchy, knights were
identified as the "bellatores," or "those who fight" (a distinction
that comes from the early part of the 11th century), so the association
between knighthood and soldiery is a logical and long-standing one.
In exploring the concept of chivalry, however, we must realize that
there is more to being a knight than simply being qualified to wage
war. In fact, the very origins of this word give us a greater
understanding of what it means to be "knightly."
The word itself comes from the Germanic languages spoken by the nomadic
tribes who settled in Europe following the decline of the Western Roman
Empire. The word originally meant "servant" or "retainer," and was
quite distinct from the words that were used to describe military
ability at the time, such as "miles" or "equites." Although "knight"
soon eclipsed those terms in the English lexicon as the preferred word
for "soldier," it did not shed its implication of duty and loyalty, a
fact that can be expressed no more eloquently than through the words of
Thomas Malory, who wrote about knights in the 15th century:
"Do you know what 'knight' means? It is an old, old word. It means a
servant, and that is well thought out, because who would be master must
learn his trade by being mastered."
The word "knight" was used in a different context in another medieval
book, however, which demonstrates yet one more connotation of the term.
It's a book that many people have read, although few have experienced
in the language of the 10th century. Here's how the word was used:
"Thonne pe leorningchihtas paet hae hit cwaed Johanum Fulluhtere."
A much later version of the sentence (the one most of us are familiar
with) reads, "Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of
John the Babtist." (Or, at least, it's the best rendition of Matthew
17:13 I could come up with - I'm afraid there aren't many 10th century
Saxon characters on the modern keyboard.) In the text called the
West-Saxon Gospels, the word "leorningchihtas," which means "learning
knights," was used to identify the Twelve Disciples of Christ.
The word "knight" can refer to an honorable warrior, it can refer to a
loyal servant, and it can refer to a dedicated student. In describing
someone as "knightly" we are recognizing them as a person of action and
decision, as a person who respects duty and commitment, and as a person
perpetually seeking improvement on a physical, intellectual and
The complex and varied uses of the word "knight" throughout history
remind us of how dynamic and encompassing the knightly concept of
chivalry really is. Even today, as we pursue the Code of Chivalry in
the modern world, we should all do our best to be champions, helpers
and learners - in other words, we should all strive to be "knights" in
every sense of the word.
*** Quotes in this article are taken from "The Acts of King Arthur and
His Noble Knights," a translation of Malory's Winchester manuscript by
John Steinbeck, and "The History of the English Language, Part 20: The
Bible in English," by Prof. Seth Lerer. ***
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as a way of furthering the understanding of the Code of Chivalry in the
modern world. Scott Farrell's seminars on chivalry and the knightly
virtues are available to businesses, schools and civic organizations
throughout the Southern California area; more information can be found
on our website. Please include all copyright statements and
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Scott Farrell and Shining Armor Enterprises. Visit our website at
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