Gildas, translated by J. A. Giles
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By Geoffrey's time, the Britons had been successively conquered by the Romans, the Saxons, the Danes, and finally the Normans. Britain's centuries-old role as doormat for any group of would-be invaders was undoubtedly humiliating. As a Welshman, Geoffrey's goal was to put the Britons back on an even social and cultural footing with the rest of the civilized western world.
It is difficult to know to whom he was writing and what precisely he hoped to achieve, but one thing is certain: Geoffrey's History had far-reaching and long-lasting effects on British cultural mythology and western European literature.
On the Ruin of Britain : Gildas :
He begins by establishing the Britons as a dignified and ancient civilization descended from Brutus, the great-grandson of Aeneas of Troy. This legitimized the Britons by connecting them to the classical Mediterranean civilizations, among them Greece and Rome. Therefore, according to Geoffrey, as Caesar looked across the Channel from Gaul, he felt a certain kinship to the Britons based on their common ancestry. Geoffrey seized upon the idea, fleshed out the gaps in the story, and thereby created a very respectable past for his people. He attempted to show that in spite of the many times that Britain had been conquered, her dignified culture had survived with respectable continuity.
Most of Geoffrey's historical material is appropriated from recognizable sources and manipulated to produce a pro-British propaganda piece. The complexity of the finished product is impressive.
J. A. Giles
After giving the Britons a Trojan origin, Geoffrey begins weaving together many threads, tying the previously sketchy past to the political present with great artistry. According to Geoffrey, the brothers invaded Gaul and sacked Rome in B. Like the tale of Trojan origin, the story of the sack of Rome is not pure fabrication; it is a creative rearrangement of the available facts, with details added as necessary. These examples show that Geoffrey is very careful and very skilled in making sure that all the various strands of his stories come neatly together at the end to glorify the Briton civilization.
The pattern of appropriation and adaptation continues throughout the History.
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Geoffrey's two most famous characters are handled in the same way. From Geoffrey's History the British King Arthur, his other-worldly advisor Merlin, and his legendary court emerge in full vibrant color from the mysterious silences of Gildas and Bede. Until Nennius heaped together his Historia Brittonum in the ninth century, there had been no mention of anyone named Arthur in any of the manuscripts of early British history, or in any Roman annals. Merlin, in Geoffrey's History , is a composite figure derived from The Black Book of Carmarthen , where he appears as a prophet named Myrddin.
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This is the ultimate set-up for the most stellar character in Geoffrey's history, Arthur. Uther was less than subtle about his desire for Gorlois's wife, so Gorlois locked her away in his high and inaccessible castle at Tintagel. When Uther's siege of Tintagel proved ineffective, he begged Merlin for help.
Merlin agreed to give Uther a drug which would transform him into the likeness of Gorlois, who was at the time besieging one of Uther's castles. Once the transformation was complete, Uther passed easily by the duke's guard and consummated his lust for Ygerna. From their tryst would spring that flower of British manhood, King Arthur.
He gives Arthur an origin similar to that of Heracles: Zeus, taking the form of Amphitryon, visited Alemene in her husband's absence and begat Heracles. In the process, Arthur subdues the wild force of the invaders as well as a few of his own subjects.
Having ushered in a golden age of peace and civility, Arthur then turns he attention to Europe. He conquers Norway and Gaul, and does battle with the Roman emperor Lucius.
On the Ruin of Britain by Gildas
His nephew Mordred, to whom he had entrusted the care of Britain while he was away, had committed an act of extreme treachery by seizing the crown and taking Arthur's queen for himself. With his passing begins a downward spiral for the noble British society. The Battle of Camlann, the last footprints left upon history and pseudo-history by Arthur, returns us once again to Geoffrey's very ancient book.
This is the only incident in the entire History where Geoffrey specifically states that he took his account from the book of which he so freely boasts possession in the dedication of his history. Firm conclusions are few in number.
He probably also took some of his information from Welsh oral tradition. And he may even have had a book on loan to him by Walter of Oxford, although it may have contained less information than Geoffrey initially suggests. It is clear that History of the Kings of Britain is not completely fiction, but it is equally clear that much of it is.
So where does that leave Geoffrey? Geoffrey stands ambiguously perched between the disciplines of history and literature. He wrote in the post-Augustinian age where "history and story had not yet made their declaration of mutual independence. Geoffrey's history was extremely popular. One hundred and eight-six manuscripts of the Historia Regum Brittaniae have survived, forty-eight of which are complete, and two of which, although fragmentary, date to Geoffrey's own century. To be unfamiliar with the History , in the words of one of Geoffrey's contemporaries, was "to incur a mark of rusticity.
It was he who lit the romantic literary flame, and European writers had a field day with it for several hundred years. Another little-known contribution of Geoffrey's to western literature is the story of King Lear, which William Shakespeare adapted and made famous four hundred years later. He succeeded in weaving together threads of history and legend and his own imagination to create a cultural myth which the British people enthusiastically embraced.
Geoffrey's history gave the Britons a distinguished origin Brutus , established their reputation as a force to be reckoned with in Europe Belinus and Brennius as well as Arthur , and trivialized the notion of good Saxon government by "demonstrating" that Alfred's much-touted law was nothing more than a translation of ancient British law.
But most importantly of all, Geoffrey put the Britons on an even mythological footing with the Norman conquerors, who also claimed Trojan ancestry. More than once his fictitious Trojan lineage was used to justify various regal claims. The Tudor and Stuart monarchs also cited Geoffrey's history to support their dynastic successions. The last documented claim of this nature was made by James VI of Scotland.
When it became apparent that Elizabeth I would produce no heir, James VI claimed the right of inheritance based on the fact that he could trace his pedigree to Brutus the Trojan and to Llewellyn, the last native Prince of Wales. Eventually, after nearly five hundred years, Geoffrey's "social utility" came to an end with the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, which ushered in a preference for history over legend.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum. Translated and edited by J. London: Henry G.
Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Translated and with an Introduction by Lewis Thorpe. De Excidio Britanniae et Conquestu. Giles, Six Old English Chronicles. London: George Bell and Sons, Historia Brittonum. Twayne's English Author Series. New York: Twayne Publishers, Goodrich, Norma Lorre. King Arthur. Gransden, Antonia.
Historical Writing in England, c. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, ; reprint, Keeler, Laura.
Gildas - Gildas On the Ruin of Britain Translated by J A...
Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Late Latin Chroniclers, - Berkeley: University of California Press, MacDougall, Hugh A. Montreal: Harvest House, Scott, John, ed. Malone, Kemp. John Scott, ed. Nennius, Historia Brittonum , ; J.
The Works of Gildas and Nennius, Tr. by J.a. Giles
Giles, ed. Stevenson, in the preface to his edition of the original Latin, lately published by the English Historical Society, says: "We are unable to speak with certainty as to his parentage, his country, or even his name, the period when he lived, or the works of which he was the author. And who by his great erudition, sanctitie, and wisdome, acquired the name of Sapiens. Faithfully translated out of the originall Latine.
Of the present translation, the first or historic half is entirely new; in the rest, consisting almost entirely of texts from Scripture, the translator has thought it quite sufficient to follow the old translation of Habington correcting whatever error he could detect, and in some degree relieving the quaint and obsolete character of the language. Help us create a biggest collection of medieval chronicles and manuscripts on line.
Medieval chronicles, historical sources, history of middle ages, texts and studies. History of the Kings of Britain. On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain.