Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271
Better is art, than evil strength; for with art men may hold what strength may not obtain.
Merlin the "prophet" makes this famous statement after Arthur, delighted to see him, asks for his counsel. Merlin tells Arthur of the marvelous Giant's Ring in Ireland that comes from Africa and has healing powers. When Arthur immediately wishes to go and seize these stones, Merlin advises they can only be moved with "art," ie, magic. Merlin illustrates this when the men go to Ireland. They are unable to move the stones at all until Merlin walks among these heavy rocks three times and "move[s] his tongue." At this point, the stones become as light as "feather balls," and the men easily carry them away.
So will I now to-day Colgrim all destroy; I am the wolf and he is the goat; the man shall die!
Arthur says these words to his men as they gather to fight Colgrim and his army. Arthur may believe in Merlin's "art" but he is also a bold and courageous warrior who successfully leads his troops to victory.
When Arthur was king—hearken now a marvelous thing—he was liberal to each man alive, knight with the best, wondrously keen! He was to the young for father, to the old for comforter, and with the unwise wonderfully stern.
This encapsulates much of the legend of Arthur as a just leader of his people. Layamon noting that this behavior was "a marvelous thing" underscores how rare it was, in reality, for a king to behave as Arthur did: he is an exemplar and a model to be emulated.