Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thoughts on Geoffrey of Monmouth's "The Kings of Britain"

Painting of Henry V (mistaken online as King Arthur) by painter Arthur Hacker (1900).

      The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth offers a fascinating perspective on the history of the British Isles. From the excerpts read over the past week, I was particularly struck by the alleged connection of the Britons to the defeated Trojans.  

Brutus! there lies beyond the Gallic bounds,
An island which the western sea surrounds, 
By giants once possessed, now few remain 
To bar thy entrance, or obstruct thy reign.
To reach that happy shore thy sails employ 
There fate decrees to raise a second Troy 
And found an empire in the royal line, 
Which time shall ne’er destroy, nor bounds confine.

     In linking the heroic Trojans to the earliest beginnings of the Britons, the author (supposedly recording the words of a goddess in the passage above) creates a highly unique history or back story with regards to the people of the British isles. As told by Homer, then, the descendants of heroes such as Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Telemachus live again in a certain sense within this new Troy: heroes from the beginning. Chapter 17 tells the story of the building of this new Troy on the banks of the river Thames.

Brutus, having thus at last set eyes upon his kingdom, formed a design of building a city, and with this view, travelled through the land to find a convenient situation, and coming to the river Thames, he walked along the shore, and at last pitched upon a place very fit for his purpose. Here, therefore, he built a city, which he called New Troy…

     Another interesting dimension from the book concerns the giants supposedly already residing in the Trojans' new home. As conveyed in chapter 16, the battle between Gogmagog (also called Goegmagot) and Corineus describes the giant being hurled from atop a high cliff into the sea below. "That place derived its name from the giant's fall and
 is still called Gogmagog's Leap to the present day."  Unfortunately, there is no corresponding place reportedly found within the British Isles.  The intersection of the modern with the past in geographical records is always intriguing; it's nice to have some mysteries still existing.

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