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De similitudine inter equites et homines potestate et virtute superiores

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[On the verisimilitude between knights and superheroes]


Fear not, dear reader, you shall not have to painfully translate every word via Google Translate or a Latin dictionary, this article will continue in English. No, what will be really discussed here is the verisimilitude between literary chivalric knights and superheroes.

Why would you cover such a topic, of two things seemingly so far apart? There is a gap of at least 500 years and an Atlantic ocean between the two, considering that knights predominantly feature in the ‘old world’ and superheroes are very much a ‘new world’ phenomenon, being imagined, developed there but they often predominantly operate there too. So, why are they so alike as the title claims?

First and foremost is there the fictional aspect, they are literary inventions. True, there were knights and there are heroes, but they function(ed) very differently from what comic books and romances would tell you. They would not function properly in real life, although that fact may be subverted by the existence of projects such as www.reallifesuperheroes.com and actual knights emulating literary knights, which was quite the craze back in the 1400’s, but ultimately it would be untenable to really recreate the phenomenon in real life. Why this would not work? Read Don Quixote and Kick-Ass and you’ll see why. (No, I’m not going to explain in detail why it wouldn’t work, rather take your time to read the books and find out yourself. Reading is a great thing, which you should do more often. One can hardly read too much.)

They exist as a separate class only partially connected to society, mostly concerned with themselves. After all, if they worked in real life, plenty of the problems of the real World shouldn’t exist due to the presence of superheroes. For example, if Tony Stark or Reed Richards actually applied any of their inventions to the real world, pollution would be vastly reduced and people would have a higher standard of life due to their various inventions and practical applications. That would however no longer make the world relatable. More importantly, rather than participating in wars, the characters seem more content to fight with opponents of their own choosing, showing their renown in battle there. They are clearly superior to the commoners, but they rarely show it outside anyone outside their own class. After all, how many times does sir Tristram help out against raiding brigands, rather than challenging sir Palomides for the umpteenth time? Their enemies are likewise on the same level. Bruce Sauns Pitié more often than not poses a danger to wandering knights. The really good knights then rise from their Round Table to chase after him.

They have goodies the commoners don’t have: be it adamantium claws, a flying armoured suit or a courser, a lifetime of preparatory combat training, combined with a nice set of shining armour, fat chance anybody who isn’t at least a minor nobelman would have access to the whole set. Sure, you can have a nice courser. Sure, a set of armour can be cobbled together, but rarely the whole set together, as maintenance costs soar upwards. However, as this article covers literary knights more than historical knights, magical/imbued weapons should also be taken into account. The preferred weapon for knights would be a lance on an opening strike, then the battle would continue with swords. And swords really are just for the important people. Making the special people even more special is only part of the course, so in addition to being able to competently wield swords, the swords are even magical. On occasion even the whole person is magical.

Frequently superheroes take on a secret identity. Knights do it too, but for different reasons. By refusing to tell their name, they goad other knights into battle, to let them earn the right of hearing their name. Moreover, they frequently change armour, horse and shield, so they appear differently, to either divert away attention, or even to draw attention to themselves.

Naturally the shields knights carry, along with their (sometimes a bit gaudy) helmets seem very similar to what superheroes tend to wear. Their colour scheme will make them easily recognisable. Which leads to the next point: a Flashy costume. However, knights tend to go with steel rather than spandex. It still looks lovely, though. And many a story can attest to the lengthy descriptions of all the frills and armour parts the knights sometimes wore, they too can be quite the show-offs.

They pledge to protect the commoners, along with an almost ritualised form of conducting combat. The hero and the villain reveal themselves in public, showing they are clearly there, issuing forth challenges and some verbal sparring. Then they somehow collide in a mighty first blow, after which a long fight ensues. Sounds familiar? Taunting, charging at each other once or twice on horseback, dismounting and fighting on foot for a long time, in the meantime ravaging the countryside at each other for an indeterminate amount of time, until that one finishing blow.

Then there is the fandom and the associated conflicts in said fandom. I will shudder at the thought of someone finding an MS containing the minutes of a meeting between team Tristram and team Lancelot. If there ever was one, which is not entirely unlikely, when you find the internet wars raging across sites nowadays.
[Note the introduction of Le Morte Darthur: The Winchester Manuscript, page vii, from the Oxford World’s classics series, where the current status and whereabouts of Arthur were still discussed in the 12th century]

Finally, there are all these characters, from background characters mentioned once, to team regulars and everything in between. Just open the marvel wikia page and then the character list of le morte Darthur. I think they compare quite nice. (My copy of Le morte Darthus has 11 pages dedicated to just listing the amount of characters.)

Special thanks go to Karel Stegeman, Annemijn Geelen, and Amanda from madeofwynn.net for their translation and their efforts in refining the terms.

Also, tvtropes came in very handy when exploring the parallels between these concepts and the finer aspects of knighthood and heroeship.

 

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Kasper Nijhoff

Kasper Nijhoff

R-man studies art history in some backwater town where bicycles are more numerous than people. There, he flees into imaginary realms and elaborate self-made constructs of how one could read books and is still waiting for his Hogwarts letter.
Kasper Nijhoff

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