Hi there, Iris Einstein here.
At last, you say.
Yeah, well Crimmy shouldn’t have told you of me till I was ready. And she’s gonna shoot me for this post cos it aint gonna be what she’s expecting. That serves her.
She expects me to reel out that half-baked theory that earned me the ‘Einstein’ name. Hah! She can expect again. We were kids then; we called ourselves the ‘Jacks’. That should tell you something. Jacks, as in Union Jack: red, white and blue. Crimmy, with her hair, was Red. Me, with my Nordic blonde, natural as it comes, was White. And Wendy Blowers was Blue (no explanation needed).
Well, we’re no longer at school, far-far-far from being kids, and I aint gonna oblige her with that dimwitted theory of the wind and the trees just cos she thinks it’s funny. So is to fall on the arse funny, and I aint gonna do that either.
No, I am reading Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and I’m getting ideas. That’s how it works. I read. Something triggers. And out comes the idea. The idea concerns Geoffrey’s sources.
Okay, for the first few pages I’m reading, not particularly thinking. Yet it seems our author (short for ‘authority’, hmph) has been inspired by Virgil’s ‘epic’ Aeneid, cos he makes his first king of the Britons – Brutus by name – a grandson of said Aeneas (in case you’re not read it, he’s a warrior-hero type who escaped from Troy when the Greeks trashed it from their Trojan Horse, fled to Italy where he got it together with Lavinia, the cute little daughter of King Latinius – names are probably spelled wrong, but that’s the different twixt Crimmy and me. Spontaneity.) Anyway, Geoff casts the Brits as descendants of these escaped Trojans.
Now I’m thinking he’s not the first to do this. Didn’t Nennius do it too? But no, I’ve looked it up and Nennius makes Brutus a Roman consul. Et tu, Bruté? So forget that and plough along.
So Geoff finds an excuse to send Brutus wandering with a little tag-along band of men, and lo! Here they are in Greece. And who should they come upon but another ragged band of Trojan refugees who’ve been nabbed by the Greeks and enslaved. Well, Brutus isn’t having this for his fellow Trojees. He does battle and rescues his
country town-men and off they go, heading for a little island off the coast of Gaul where they’ve been told they’ll find land.
Now I’m thinking, along the way they’ll found Troyes in France, cos for a long time, when a kid, I thought Troyes was named for Troy. It seemed likely to me. But it isn’t. It’s a French corruption of the Gallic-Romano Tricassium. Anyway, Brutus & co don’t found Troyes, which might have been logical. Instead they found Tours, named after Turnus, a nephew of Brutus – which seems fully illogical to me.
But, to return to the situation in Greece. At this point bells started to ring. The sound of familiarity. Hadn’t I come across some Celtic myth of other that claimed the Fir Bolg in Ireland had come from Greece where they’d been enslaved and made to carry fertile soil from the valley floor to pile it upon the infertile top of a hill. I’m sure it was used to explain the name Fir Bolg, Men of Bags. I’ve since checked it out, and it’s in the Book of Invasions. There’s a whizzy-woo website devoted to all things ‘Irish Mythological’: luminarium.org Don’t expect me to load my posts with links, cos (I admit it) I’m wicked-lazy.
By now I’m beginning to wonder if there might be something other than fiction in Geoffrey’s history. I don’t mean that I’m beginning to believe his rich tales of Trojan origins. But, perhaps it didn’t all come out of his head, born there and grown, so to speak.
He had obviously read Polybius’s History of Rome, and probably Pausanias Description of Greece, cos he gives a fair account of the Celtic attacks of Rome (BCE 390) and the Battle of Thermopylae, though he probably read these ancient authors in his youth cos he gets their accounts all jumbled up, the same as I do when schpeiling it straight from my head. Also, I know in parts he was drawing on Nennius cos he uses the same turn of phrase.
But I can’t help thinking he had some other ‘British’ source. Just think of this, yeah. Dark Ages, C5th on, and in pile the Jutes, the Saxons, the Anglians. The Brits flee to safety in the wild-woody west – into Wales and Cornwall, over the sea to Brittany and south to Galicia in Spain, taking with them their British equivalents of Homer’s source songs, of the Old Testaments’ oral stories, the Norse sagas and so on. Every one else are allowed their ancient stories told round the fires, told for centuries without a forgotten word, why not the Brits? And as they rushed to the Welsh hills they took them all with them.
Now once in Wales, the tales and the kings’ lists and the genealogy of who begot whom, the heroic stuff of battles and the romantic songs of blood and betrayal all got mixed up. They couldn’t remember whence they came. For they came from all over the land.
Now, much later maybe as late as C11th, along comes a literary giant, who has ever remained unnamed, but who collected, Victorian-fashion, the songs, the stories and lists and put them together into some kind of order. Not knowing they ought to run concurrently, he placed them consecutively. Maybe he noticed a few incidents that matched with what he knew of Roman history. Maybe he recognised names and in an attempt to tally them he ‘miss’-placed them. But at the end of it he had produced a narrative history of the kings of Britain that stretched for 2000 years. And this is the main source, maybe the only source that Geoffrey then used. He hadn’t read Virgil, Polybius or Pausanias. He just licked an academic work into a fancy fiction.
Okay, so Crimmy has told you I roll out odd theories. This has been one. I hope you enjoyed it.