Sunday, August 26, 2012

Geoffrey Writes History on a Broad Canvas

Students of British History know that Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia regum Britanniae, undertakes to give his tale a proper classical lineage, beginning with the founding of London by Brutus,great-grandson of Aeneas. Less obvious is how careful Geoffrey proves to be in showing the links between his British tale and the event of the Bible. Describing the foundation of London by Brutus, he adds, "at this time the priest Eli was ruling in Judea and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines." 

 Having described the reigns of (the folkloric) Queen Gwendolen and her son Maddan, Geoffrey adds: "At that time the prophet Samuel was reigning in Judea, Aenes Silvius was still alive and Homer was considered to be a famous rhetorician and poet." Just a paragraph later he tells how Maddan in the twentieth year of his reign was "surrounded by ravening wolves and eaten up in miserable circumstances." Geoffrey adds: "At that time Saul was reigning in Judea and Eurysthenes in Sparta." A paragraph on, having decribed the 39-year reign of Ebraucus, he adds: "At that time Kind David was reigning in Judea and Silvius Laatinus was King in Italy. In Israel, Gad, Nathan and Asaph were the prophets." 

 Shortly after he offers his account of "Leir" (Shakespeare's "Lear.").   The Lear story extends over several pages and ends "At that time Isaiah was making his prophecies; and on the elventh day after the Kalends of May Rome was founded by the twin borthers Remus and Romulus." In a footnote, the translator notes that Geoffrey had alreadyd twice mentioned Rome as being in existence.

All excerpts are from the Penguin Classics paperback translated by Lewis Thorpe.

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