Crimmy and Geoff

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’:  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.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
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11 Responses to Crimmy and Geoff

  1. saraannon says:

    Might be more truth in this than not…
    I have long thought there was a tendency towards Northern European one-up-manship in a lot of the mythology that has survived. ‘My kings are better than your kings, they did everything yours did PLUS all of our stuff’, and ‘My god (Odin) hung for a full cycle of NINE days while your weeny one (Jesus) barely made it for three’, sort of thing.


    • crimsonprose says:

      I like your comment. And it is true that the Welsh and Irish tales are discounted as fiction while the Norse sagas are taken as truth.


      • saraannon says:

        That might be changing. I got tangled up in the Externesteine, a site in old Saxony, (now northern Germany) that appears to be a reasonable possibility for the cave Parzival of the Grail Quest took refuge in with his hermit mentor. My own story is weird enough to be fiction:
        But the intersection there between history and mythology is fascinating. What is available in English is questionable, unfortunately, as the place has a controversial history with both the Christians and the Nazis wanting to impose their own interpretations on it. Most of what is worth reading on the subject is written in German, which I don’t speak or read well enough to really dig into. I have had to rely on friendly synopsis of German works to get the few tantalizing tidbits of information I’ve shared, but the place is definitely worth a visit.


      • crimsonprose says:

        Language is always a problem when researching even within one’s country. My Latin just about gets me by with medieval documents but I’d love to have a working knowledge of the Celtic languages. I tried once but gave up with a sore throat! I can manage (with Medieval Icelandic dictionary) to get inside the Norse sagas, but my German, like yours, is elementary. You’re fortunate in having a friend who can translate for you. (and it wouldn’t be so bad if these writers kept to proper ‘classroom’ language! 🙂 )


      • saraannon says:

        Instead there is Wolfram von Eschenbach who not only wrote in his own version of medieval German but went so far as to state that his language ‘is so crooked on occasion that a man may readily prove to stupid for me if I do not convey the meaning to him hastily’
        I tend to think he was writing in the tradition of the Riddle Master, within a cultural assumption that those who were capable of making their way through his words to his meaning earned their understanding. It wasn’t meant to be easy for his contemporaries, but unfortunately understanding is a WHOLE lot harder to reach through the centuries of changes in language and culture…
        An issue your current story wrestles with very nicely.


      • crimsonprose says:

        I’d like to take more time with your comment, and do more than a cursory browse of your blog – there seems a lot to interest me there. But this must wait till the New Year. Until then, with my focus elsewhere, I would not give it the respect it is due. I wish you a peaceful Solstice, and a productive New Year.


      • saraannon says:

        We can pick up the thread of conversation whenever the time is right, meanwhile enjoy the changing of the times:)


  2. Brian Bixby says:

    I have rescued my Penguin paperback of Geoffrey’s history out of the attic, where it dwelt for the sin of being the bookcase I repurposed to the books I am currently using, and to which it must now return. But what came to mind was Mike Ashley’s attempt at an exhaustive treatment of “British Kings & Queens” (1998), where he tried to disentangle Roman history, Geoffrey’s history, and the rulers of Dark Ages Britain as best he can. Have you seen it? And if so, what did you think of it?


    • crimsonprose says:

      No, I’ve not seen it. But now mentioned, I shall keep an eye for it. I am quite convinced that Geoffrey’s History is a scrambled amalgam of perhaps 4-500 years of doings from 5 or 7 regions, like petty kingdoms in what became England. We know that much of the early Welsh material came from Northumbria and Borders regions, so why not from eg Midlands (later Mercia) and the Iceni stronghold that became East Anglia. But to untangle it would be a nightmare.
      I’m not sure Iris will comment again on Geoffrey, though she is still reading it. She said something of dolmans and sacred cows. I don’t know what she’s on about. Sprinkled with fairy-dust, she said, they look like the night-sky. What, I asked, look like the night-sky? Those granite slabs raised on legs – when it rains, she said.
      So, I guess we have that to look forward to. Whatever it is. 🙂


      • Brian Bixby says:

        I now have this image of Stonehenge being a prehistoric slaughterhouse. Sorry, that’s just the way my mind works.


      • crimsonprose says:

        According to the lastest work done by archaeologist Mike Parker, the earliest plase of Stonehenge was a repository for the ashes of specially selected members of a Britain-wide community. It is aligned, as I have always asserted, on the Winter Solstice, not the Summer S. Therefore one can regard it as a House of the Dead, like a way-station with souls awaiting collection. But I must say no more else I’ll have Iris Einstein stamping the ground beside me. (Nordic blonde indeed, not out of a bottle. Huh. Who’s she kidding. With parents as dark-haired as mine? Except my mother was red, like me.)


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