RSS

Author Archives: badonicus

About badonicus

My real name is Mak Wilson … well, actually, that’s my stage name and my real name is Malcolm Wilson. My work is in film and television as a puppeteer/actor/director/voice artist/writer but I also have a passion for the Early Medieval period (‘Dark Ages’) of Britain. Originally from Stanley in Co, Durham, I now live in Oswestry, Shropshire, on the English-Welsh border with my wife Fiona. We have four ‘boys’: Ben, Toby, Josh and Tom, as well as a wonderful black lab called Jet.
Image

A ‘Trial’ of Two Clerics

Mak_Wilson_Two_Clerics

(I apologise for typos here and now!)

Once again I find myself apologising for not having posted for a while. This has been due to the time and effort my day job required on a new CBeebies/Sesame Street co-production (70 hour weeks!). I had tried to work sporadically on the ebook during that time but now the project is complete I have returned to what is now an e-tome and hope start to serialise BOOK I here sometime in August or September. (More on this in a moment).

In some ways I am glad I haven’t completed it sooner as a couple of new books have made me rethink a few points. The first is the new work by Professor John Koch with the catchy tile ofCunedda, Cynan, Cadwallon, Cynddylan: Four Welsh Poems and Britain 383-655‘. It is, indeed, an excellent book and I would recommend anyone interested in the period to feast their eyes on it. The other is a new Arthurian work by author and blogger Flint F. Johnson called ‘Evidence of Arthur – Fixing the Legendary King in Place and Time ‘. It was so nice to read a well thought out book by an academic on the subject, and one who favours the existence of Arthur. I may not agree with all his arguments and conclusions, but I would still recommend it also. The ebook has changes somewhat, as those who have followed it will tell by the title. It treats the whole matter as if it were a ‘Trial’, a trial against ‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth, with the reader being one of the ‘Jury’. We will be looking for one of three ‘verdicts’ to the ‘charges’ against or two ‘Defendants’: Guilty, Not Proven or Innocent. Unlike Scottish law, however, the Not Proven verdict is not one that means “we think you’re guilty but we can’t prove it”, but more of an academic one meaning: “there isn’t the evidence to judge either way”. At the end of the ‘Trail’ in BOOK III, the ‘Jury’ then has the chance to actually vote on the cases against the two ‘Defendants’ via a link found there. This link will take the ‘Juror’ to a Facebook page where they can vote. Of course, it’s not a trial in any normal sense as no one will be appearing in person and there can be no cross-examination of witnesses, no interjection of barristers, or probing of the ‘Defendants’ or ‘Expert witnesses’. The ‘Expert witnesses’s testimonies have to be taken from books, papers and online articles, as do those of the evidence from the ‘Plaintiffs’. I will, of course, be the ‘Prosecution’, ‘Defence’ and ‘Judge’, but my rôle as the ‘Judge’ is of one more as an arbitrator and finder of the middle ground for members of the ‘Jury’. This ‘Judge’ will also present supplementary ‘information’ for the ‘Jury’, as he wishes it also to be an ancient British history lesson! I will, in effect, be writing and commenting on the evidence by saying “if this was a trial” or “the ‘Defence’ would argue” or “the ‘Plaintiffs’ do/would claim” etc. Being an actor by profession will help me argue all sides of the argument, hopefully without bias, even though I may lean toward a historical Arthur of the 5th/6th centuries who fought at the Siege of Mount Badon.

So, just who are these ‘Defendants’ that are being accused of such a crime? and have been for decades one might add! The first, who may or may not have actually been a cleric, will be known to us as ‘Nennius’ who wrote about an Arthur, leader of battles. His name is in inverted commas because no one can be certain if that was his name or not? Nemnuuis/Nennius/Ninnius/Nemnius/‘Nennius’, was once simply accepted to be the original compiler of the Welsh pseudo-history, ‘Historia Brittonum’ (‘History of the Britons’ – c.AD829) in which the short Arthurian section appears, but Professor David Dumville tells us the preface that includes his name dates to the 12th century and is, therefor, a forgery, as ‘Nennius’ doesn’t appear in three much earlier MMS. However, not all agree that this means a man called Nennius (or Ninnius) wasn’t the first compiler. There are other editors and compliers of the ‘Historia Brittonum’ mentioned also in the various recensions, with even the 6th century saint, Gildas being one of them! But why mention a ‘Nennius’ if they (or someone) didn’t think him to be the original, even if the preface was forged in his name? There was a ‘Nennius’ of the Late-8th century as attested a 9th century Welsh MS.This Nemnuuis was a Welsh ecclesiastic who, when supposedly challenged by an English scholar about the lack of a British (Welsh) alphabet, supposedly designed one on the spot. It is possible that this Nemnuuis was Nennius. However, because of all this, Nennius is usually written with inverted commas, ‘Nennius’, and I will be following this convention.

In the version of the ‘Historia Brittonum’ where the preface is ascribed to ‘Nennius’, he says that all he has done is made “a heap of thing”; taking what information he has and merely putting it together as a narrative. This is possible but many scholars think it not only a synthetic (made up) history and a synchronistic history (tying together of material to make sense) but one that has both political and ecclesiastical axes to grind. As to why it was compiled, there is a general consensus that it was written, in its Harleian recension form, in answer to the Northumbrian monk and saint Bede and his anti-British (Welsh), Early-8th century ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’), and at the same time being anti-Mercian and, surprisingly, even at times pro-Northumbrian.

But what is at stake in our ‘Trial’ is whether ‘Nennius’ deliberately created Arthur from a known mythical figure for the short section he appears in, which describes 12 battles Arthur fought against the ‘Saxons’ culminating in the Siege of Mount Badon? Some would argue he did, many would argue he didn’t and some would argue he may have only slightly added to a historical figure’s battle list with a few mythical ones.

When it comes to our second ‘Defendant’, the 12th century cleric and later bishop, Galfridus Arturus (aka Geoffrey of Monmouth, Galfridus Monemutensis, Galfridus Artur, Gruffudd ap Arthur, Sieffre o Fynwy) who lived c.AD1100 to c.AD1155, there are far more who would say he was completely guilty of fraud! He is, some say, the one who made Arthur a king in his ‘Historia Regum Brittania’ (‘History of the Kings of Britain’ – c.1139) and sent him fighting around Europe and was the first to put he and Merlin together. But this is not an accurate assessment, and there are cautionary voices who argue that Geoffrey was mainly using material, both written and oral, from Wales, Cornwall and Brittany and only elements of it were from his imagination. So, does this make him guilty of fraud for creating an emperor-like King Arthur, or was he already there? Are, in fact, the biggest ‘criminals’ those who followed him and are not on trial, such as Wace, Layamon, Robert de Baron, Chrétien de Troyes? Those who added Camelot, the Round Table, the Grail, the Sword in the Stone, the Lady of the Lake and a Merlin who fostered Arthur? It is argued by some that even these came from much older myths that may date back to the Greeks and Scythians. If so, why did neither the Welsh material (that has survived) or Geoffrey of Monmouth make use them?

I will ask the ‘Jury’ to try and judge both ‘Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth not only by the times they lived in but also only from evidence that is given up until their deaths or just after. So, for ‘Nennius’ we will say this is c.AD850 and Geoffrey of Monmouth, c.AD1155. However, the ‘Jury’ are going to be different from those of the ‘Defendant’s times in that they will know far more than many of their contemporaries did on some things, and nothing of what they knew on others. Whilst I will try and give the ‘Jury’ as much ‘back story’ as possible, it can never be the whole story. These were not call the Dark Ages for nothing. This is particularly important in ‘Nennius’ case as the ‘Jury’ will know nothing of the stories that may have abounded about Arthur at the time, or the nature (or natures) of that Arthur.

As the representative of the ‘Prosecution’ and ‘Defence’ I will being doing two things: presenting the evidence as given by the various ‘Plaintiffs’ and ‘Expert witnesses’ and presenting some of my own arguments and views with them. The reader will know when it is my view that is being expressed as I will say something like, “We would argue” or “We would suggest”.

Having been the a juror in a major fraud case I am all too aware of just how much the outcome depends on several things: 1) The quality of the evidence. 2) How good, or not so good, the prosecution is. 3) How good, or not so good, the defence is. 4) The personality of the defendant. 5) The judge. 6) The make up of the personalities of the jury. For example, the case I was involved with hinged around whether or not the defendant was guilty of fraud or whether or not he had been lied to by two other defendants in another case, so was no wiser of what he was doing? The evidence was well presented, the prosecution were great, the defence were … not so good, the defendant was arrogant, the judge was excellent and the jury was a right old mixture. Many of them could not see past the personality of the defendant or the selective use of evidence by the prosecution. The defendant was arrogant, so the guy was guilty! You can see how hard my job is going to be!

The even bigger problem for the book’s ‘Jury’ is that they are dealing with material that is not only ancient, but with a evidence that cannot be agreed on even by experts! There will be polemic views on many texts and archaeological evidence. They will be entering a ‘foreign land’: the past. Even if they live in Britain or the UK they are entering worlds completely different to theirs. The world of ‘Nennius’ of the Early-9th century is a one full of wars – against, ‘English’, Hiberno-Viking and fellow Welsh – a world where people believe, not only in God and heaven and hell, but in the supernatural world around them. They believed that giants of the past existed; believed in dragons and both evil and good faerie. Believed what clerics told them! Their world was violent and full of early death through diseases and infections whose cures we now take for granted. Child mortality was high, as was death from childbirth. The poor were, indeed, poor, and many of the rich – or any class above them – probably didn’t give a damn. This is all not too different from the world in which a historical Arthur would have lived, if he existed.

Unlike many books on the subject it will not simply be asked if there was a historical figure called Arthur who fought against the ‘Saxons’ in the 5th and 6th centuries. It will, of course, explore this question through the charges of the various ‘Plaintiffs’ and the cases of the ‘Defence’, but there will also be an exploration of the name itself, why the Britons wouldn’t use it, the origin of the myths, and a look at the history and archaeology of the periods covered. In fact, the book will cover 750BC to AD1350. The earlier date reflects the evidence of one of our ‘Expert witnesses’ (Anderson) that Arthur can be found in ancient Greeks through the myths of Arkas/Arktouros/Ikarios/Arcturus and Ardus of Lydia. The later dates sees the explosion of the Arthurian Romances.

I still have no idea when the ebooks (three in all) may appear, but I am working hard on them to make it sooner rather than later. They will be made available as PDFs at Scribd and the first ebook will be free in a hope to encourage readers to buy the other two. I will try and keep you informed as to their progress.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Mak

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Radio Arthur

Arthurian CGIWhilst most of my research into Arthur, including the in-progress ebook, is for a screen- or teleplay idea, I’ve recently been working on one for the BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Drama slot. This 44 minute daily slot is the only one open to new writers for BBC radio, but it has been the stepping stone for many into other radio and TV work. So, I thought I’d give it a go.

I have to say, it has to be the fastest I’ve ever written a script, now on its third draft, and I found the genre extremely liberating. (I’ve even begun work on others). Of course, it is very different from writing a screenplay, which relies on visual, and you have to think in sound, music and the use and affect of words. Many radio dramas also use voice overs to help the narative, and I have done this through Gwenhwyfar and Arthur giving their differing perspective on their own problems and the unfolding story.

Without trying to give too much away, the story is set just prior to the Battle of Badon, and finds an Arthur who has taken to drinking far more alcohol than they would normally consume at the time. He’s a bored Arthur. A not very pleasant Arthur, living in an extremely unpleasant time filled with death, disease, usurpation, slaves, beating of women and many more Early Medieval conditions. He’s a man of his time and status, and a product of his world and actions. His two sons are destined to go the same way (although one is a problem for Arthur and may not live much longer!) and his wife hopes his daughter might take to the church and avoid her’s and other women’s sufferings.

Arthur, like everyone around him, cares more about how he will get through purgatory and be with his God, than he does about this life. He knows that, because of the sins he has committed (and these aren’t just those of killing!) this is not going to be an easy task, so he must buy the services of as many priests to pray for his eternal soul as possible, as well as give as much as he can to those in need; even if he doesn’t really care about those in need!

What this play is not is “the true story”! If Arthur existed, no one can ever know his true story. This is a fiction, based on the very limited information we have about him and his supposed time. It is deliberately provocative, as it needs to be ‘different’ from what an audience will expect. There have been enough recent works portraying him as Mr Nice Guy, and this one certainly doesn’t do that. It follows more the Arthur portrayed by the Welsh, who kills a son and has three mistresses. He’s not a king (or not at this point in my story) but a commander. The only thing similar in this play to the recent King Arthur movie is, at this point in his life, he is based on Hadrian’s Wall; but this has not always been the case and the changes that are about to happened are going to take him far from it for a long time.

The current submission window is from the 18th November to the 19th December and I hope to have it ready by then. I will, of course, keep you informed.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In The Name Of ‘Arthur’

Concept for ebook cover

Concept for ebook cover

Firstly, apologies for any subscriber who received that last rouge post. I was trying out a new piece of software and it published the image without me realising I wasn’t going to be asked if I was sure I wanted it published!

Secondly, apologies for the massive gaps between these blogs, but this has been due to work, ill health and working on the eBook whilst recovering from an operation. That has been the one positive side to all this and it is a lot further on.

However, as you can see from the image, the title of the book has changed. Not only the title, but the whole theme of it. Rather than just dealing with whether there was a historical Arthur of the 5th and 6th centuries I decided to expand it to include, not only the various candidates for the derivation of the name and the myths, but all the known ‘Arthurs’ from 8th century BC Greece to a Duke of Brittany in the Late-12th century. In fact, the eBook, or, rather, eTome, now goes from 800BC to AD1200. It not only covers all the known ‘Arthurs’ but the history of Britannia at the time they are said to have existed, whether that be in physical or story form. This has, of course, expanded it somewhat and also created a great deal more work for myself, but it has been worth it as the whole point of this exercise was as a detailed research document to help with a screen- or radio play. It has worked, and I am also (finally) currently developing the latter.

Below is part of the Introduction:

When it comes to Arthurian scholarship there are two main schools of thought with regards to the Arthur who allegedly fought as the Siege of Mount Badon in the Late-5th or Early 6th centuries (an Arthur that will become known in this work as ‘Arthur’ III): the first school argues that he was a mythological figure (an Arthur who will become known to us as ‘Arthur’ X) from the early Welsh tradition who was historicised (an ‘Arthur’ X who was made into an ‘Arthur’ III) . The second school says that he was a historical figure who was later mythologised (an ‘Arthur’ III who became an ‘Arthur’ X). Both arguments have sub-groups within them. The historicised mythical school gives the original, if not of the myth then the name, as a Greek and Roman demi-god (Arktouros/Arcturus – who I will call ‘Arthur’ I); or a Roman general (Lucius Artorius Castus – ‘Arthur’ II), or some unknown British deity or folk hero. The mythologised historical Arthur school are divided between when an ‘Arthur’ III lived? where he lived? this not being his name but an epithet for another name, such as Ambrosius Aurelianus; Arthur was his name but he was known by an epithet, such as Riothamus; or him actually being a later Arthur, such as Artúr mac Áedán (‘Arthur’ IV) of what is now Argyle in the Western Isles of Scotland or Arthur map Pedr (‘Arthur’ VII) from what is now Dyfed in southwest Wales; and they are also broken up into the various arguments given as to how this Arthur was mythologised. We can add to this lot a third school, who see Arthur as mainly a literary figure. This is the strange world you have just entered in to!

Those who follow the Arthurian question either fall in to one school or the other. You will be very hard pressed to find someone who thinks he could have been both – that is a completely separate ‘Arthur’ III and an ‘Arthur’ X, related only in name - but this is what this present work will also explore: could there have been a mythical character and historical figure, who fought at Badon, whose commonality was only their name? However, it is about far more than that. It is about the history of the isles of Britannia during the periods covered but especially from the 4th century to the 12th century AD. (In brief form of course!). To understand an ‘Arthur’ III, if he existed, we must understand the Britain in which he is said to have lived and the Britain in which his fame developed and would fashion him into a medieval king in shining armour.

So, besides covering the usual questions around if there was a historical figure of the Late-5th to Early-6th centuries, this work covers all the aspects of the Arthurian mythologies from 800BC up to AD1200 as well, including one of the candidates for not only his name, but, in at least one scholars eyes [1], the inspiration for some of earliest Welsh stories: Zeus’ bastard offspring-come-star and constellation, Arktouros/Arcturus. The constellation is now known as Boötes, ‘The Ploughman‘, but the star Arcturus (the Latin version of the name) is still called such, forming his knee and being the fourth brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only may this have been the origin of the name (one of several others possibilities) but in medieval times one of the constellations associated with him, The Plough (Ursa Major), had the name Arthur’s Wain (Arthur’s Wagon). So this is why we start our story in  ancient Greece. But this is only one small aspect of the mythological Arthur and we will look at the early Welsh tradition that showed an Arthur not only different from his later Anglo-Norman guise but from the one in the Welsh, 9th century ‘Historia Brittonum’ (‘History of the Britons’). Not a Saxon fighter but a killer of giants, witches and magical boars.

We will, of course, explore all of Arcturus’ Earthly counterparts. That is in the plural because, as you now know, there were several historical figures named Arthur, or variants thereof, such as the Gaelic equivalents of Artúr/Artur/Artuir, some of whom with this name have been argued to be the ‘original’. It is an odd fact that it was Gaelic speaking or cultural influenced areas of Britain that used the name (as well as Ireland) when no royal British or later Welshmen would give their sons this name. Even the British descended Bretons would christen their sons Arthur. Why not the Britons?

We will also look to the earth and examine the archaeology of the periods covered; a science from which we have gained a great deal of our information about the so called ‘Dark Ages’; better known to archaeologist as Sub- or Post-Roman and Early Medieval Britain. Archaeology’s view of Early Medieval Britannia seems to be a little different to that portrayed by the (very limited) texts we have. Which are right? Is our interpretation wrong?

Every text examined is in the chronological order in which it is thought to have appeared and not in the order of the events and the peoples’ lives it describes. This is important because we need to be aware of how long after the events a work was written, how this affected what was reported and how these authors influenced future works? I will, now and again come out of this chronology where it’s necessary, especially in the case of forwarding modern scholarly and archaeological discoveries and opinions.

The ebook is designed so those with more knowledge of either ancient British history or Arthuriana can jump to any relevant sections by clicking on them in the Contents. Those about or related to an Arthur are in purple, whilst those about Britannia or its archaeology are in black. I have also given the most relevant Arthurian related sections an asterix  (*) listing next to them, with *** being the most relevant or of interest, in my opinion. So, to break the four parts down:

… and I will break the four parts down in another post.

Thanks for reading and any comments,

Mak

[1]: Professor Graham Anderson, ‘King Arthur of Antiquity’ (2004)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘King’ Arthur – Folklore, Fact & Fiction

eBook_CoverA European and Scandinavian arena tour, movie and TV series since my last blog, and I’m finally able to get down to trying and finish the ebook. If only I could stop finding more books, articles and papers on all the related subjects it would be finished by now!

The information it will contain, whilst based on these blogs, has expanded and morphed somewhat in the intervening months. Some of my opinions and conclusions have changed whilst others have been confirmed even more. It has been an incredible and ever educating journey, not only into all aspects of the figure that became known as King Arthur, but the period in general. I have read far more extensively on the subjects of the Anglo-Saxons as well as being helped by two of Guy Halsall’s books: Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West 450-900 and his latest, Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages. There have been many other works, too numerous to mention, that have helped me shape my ideas and come to an even more informed opinion … well, as informed as you can get about the Early Middle Ages.

The whole reason for these blogs, and then the book, were as an extremely detailed research document to assist me with a screen- or teleplay idea. In some ways it hasn’t helped at all as it’s given me even more options! However, there is no rush on that front as I don’t think it’s the right climate for yet another Arthurian TV production. When it is, I hope to be poised.

I am still planning to put online the chapter that looks at the Historia Brittonum and the infamous Arthurian battle list as a pdf document for a limited time. I’ve taken a slightly different approach to this subject and rather than trying to locate where any of the Arthurian battles may have occurred (if he existed and they happened,) I’m concentrating on where those in the different regions of Britain of the Early-9th century, when this worked appeared, may have thought them to have been?

It’s not all ‘history’ though, and Part One looks at the mythical or folkloric Arthur and whether or not he was inspired by an Arthur who fought at Badon; was a historicized mythical figure who became attached to Badon; , or if these two characters were related only in name, just as those Arthurs of the 6th and 7th centuries were: Artúr (Arturius) mac Áedán, Artúr mac Coaning, Arthur ap PedrArtúr filio Bicoir and, possibly, Arthur Penuchel. (I actually look at all the known ‘Arthurs’ from the 2nd to the 15th century).

Well, I can’t stay here all day blogging, I have a book to finish!

Thanks for reading,

Mak Wilson

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m still here!

Apologies to all for the lack of blogging but this has mainly been due to me being very busy with a European arena tour. I have recently, however, been back at the ebook - King Arthur, Folklore, Fact & Fiction - and have been beavering away at getting it ready. I hope I can get it out by Christmas but there are many factors that could get in the way.

In the meantime, I am going to post segments of the ebook  in PDF form for a limited time and will start to do so soon. I’ll begin with sections of the chapter on the Historia Brittonum.

Watch this space.

 

Tags:

Arthurian ebook update

Yes, still working on it. I’d hoped to have had it out by now but decided to change the format, which, of course, had a knock-on effect. A video editing deadline has also prevented me from doing as much as I would have liked to have done, but I have three weeks holiday coming up, in which time out hope to complete it … ‘hope’ being the operative word!

I’m also still playing around with the title, and, as you can see by the image, it’s currently called ‘King’ Arthur – Folklore, Fact and Fiction, with the subtitle of ‘An exploration of the Arthurs of early history, folklore & mythology‘. (Arthurs, plural, referring to not only an Arthur of Badon, but the one of mythology, topography and fiction, Arcturus (Arktouros), Lucius Artorius CastusArtúr mac Áedán, Artúr mac Coaning, Arthur ap Pedr, Artuir filio Bicoir, Artharus rig Cruthni, Artur mac Bruide, Arthur Penuchel and other Breton Arthurs). If there are any better suggestions out there for a title, I’m very willing to hear them.

I have been expanding the section on the Historia Brittonum (H.B.) and the 12 supposed battles of Arthur after coming across several papers and books that I hadn’t read before. These don’t so much go into where the battles might have been but cover more about the political and ecclesiastical situation at the time the book was compiled and how they affected the work’s outcome. In my ebook I’m actually more interested in where the H.B.’s readers, both British and English, may have thought the battles to have been at the time. They probably had as many arguments about them as we do! I also discuss what rumblings there might have been to the Arthurian section of the H.B. if, as suggested by the likes of Nicholas HIgham and Thomas Green, they were made up for the purpose? If these battles were mostly news to its readers, there must have been some kind of reaction. I may post this chapter either as a multipart  blog, or as a link to the PDF version of it in the near future. This will depend on time.

I am most grateful to historian and author Tim Clarkson* for mentioning the ebook over at his Senchus blogsite. I am indeed honoured.

Until the next time,

Mak

*Not wanting to appear like a creep, but I would thoroughly recommend all three of Tim’s books: ‘Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland’, ‘The Picts: a history and ‘The Makers of Scotland: Picts, Romans, Gaels and Vikings’.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In Search Of The ‘Original’ King Arthur – updated

I have finally gotten around to updating the blog ‘In Search Of The ‘Original’ King Arthur’. In now includes most of the new material from the upcoming ebook. I can’t include all the material as it would make the blogs way too long … and some of them are now very long as it is. I will, eventually, attach PDF chapters from the book to some blog to augment them.

The multi part blog looks at all of the known historical Arthurs from the 6th and 7th centuries (and the 2nd) and explores if any of these were the ‘original’ Arthur, were named after an ‘original’ be he historical or mythical, or could have added to the Arthurian legend.

To read Part One, click HERE.

Many thanks,

Mak

 

‘dux erat bellorum’ update

I’ve just posted a major update to the blog ‘dux erat bellorum‘. This I’ve taken from the reworked chapter on this subject in the up-coming ebook.

To read it click HERE.

Many thanks,

Mak

 

Tags: , , , , ,

King Arthur – the British Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhail)?

This is actually an updated version of part of the blog ‘King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both – Part Seven, but I thought it deserved its own blog.

Finn McCool comes to the aid of the Fianna

First a quote:

“In the Scotorum Historia, “History of the Scots,” compiled by Hector Boece (1527) and translated later into Older Scots by John Bellenden as the Chronicles of Scotland, the Irish hero Finn MacCool is depicted as a giant, and the narratives attached to him are compared to tales of Arthur. Boece and his translators contrast the “gestes [deeds] of Arthur” favorably with the “vulgar” traditions about Finn MacCool. It is easy to over-interpret such references, but Finn and Arthur as leaders of warrior bands have much in common, and both are endowed with gigantic stature (Nagy 1985). A series of Welsh tales gathered in the early seventeenth century with the specific purpose of defending Geoffrey’s history against the attacks of men like Hector Boece also characterized Arthur as a giant or a trickster/giant-slayer.” (Juliette Wood, A Companion to Arthurian Literature, Helen Fulton, 2009, p.107)

There have been similarities shown between Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool), the Irish mythical hunter-warrior-poet, and Arthur. (Fionn (Fair) was his nickname, his actual name was Deimne)Could a mythological Arthur (or one of the elements that made him up) have been the British equivalent of Finn? Did his argued British counterpart originally have a similar name, like other British/Irish gods, which then was changed to Arthur? Perhaps, if Arthur’s name didn’t derive from the Greco-Roman character and stella body, Arcturus. (‘Guardian of the Bear’).

Cognate with Finn would be Gwyn (‘Fair’) or Gwen (‘White’). There is, of course, Gwyn(n) ap Nudd (son of Nudd), and Finn’s grandfather’s name was Nuada, so was he actually Finn’s British counterpart? There is one reference to this Gwyn as a “magic warrior huntsman” – which he is in the hunt for the Twrch Trwyth, – but, in general, they are two different characters and he is also unlike the Arthur persona. There is a character called Gwen Pendragon (Wen Pendragon) - the only other early pendragon we know of – who supposedly held Arthur prisoner for three days, but we no nothing more about him.

This is a long shot, but there are five other gwen/gwyn (‘white’/‘fair’) association with Arthur: his wife Gwenhwyfar (‘White Phantom’); his ship Predwyn (‘Fair Form’); his magical cloak Gwenn (‘White’); the name of his feasting hall is Ehangwen (‘Broad-fair [white?]’); and his dagger Carnwennan (‘White-hilted One’).  This shouldn’t be surprising since  gwen/gwyn did have magical connotations. Coincidences with the names Gwen/Gwyn most likely, but they still give pause for thought.

''Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo, d...

”Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo, depicting the Wild Hunt of European folklore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Arthur was a version of Gwyn ap Nudd, his story, even pre-Galfridian, had changed somewhat since their divergence, but this would be expected. As mentioned above, Gwyn ap Nudd appears with Arthur in the boar hunt in Culhwch ac Olwen.. It could be argued that both Gwyn ap Nudd and Mabon were the ones originally attached to the story, which is thought to have been in existence since at least the 7th century, and Arthur was later made the hero; but I somehow doubt very much if Arthur and Gwyn ap Nudd were one and the same. Even though he may have been described as “the hope of armies” and the “hero of hosts”, Gwyn ap Nudd is a gatherer of the souls of fallen warriors in the Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, found in the Black Book of Carmarthen.

It would be interesting if Arthur did replace Finn in Cambro-Irish southwest Wales, as he doesn’t seem to have done so in western Scotland, which could be an indication of just how much more British those of Demetia (modern day Dyfed and Ceredigion) where in comparison to those of the Western Isles. But just how like Finn is Arthur of the early tradition?

No, honest, it’s true!

I have often read how like Finn the character of Arthur is in the early stories, but I thought I ought to look at this myself, and see just how similar they are. I’ll do this through a list:

  1. Outcast or outside of society: Finn is said to be, but I don’t see this in the stories. In history a fianna (warband) could be an outcast bunch of youths, but that’s not what Finn’s warband were. Arthur isn’t an outcast in the early stories. This doesn’t seem to happen until the saints’ Lives.
  2. Not a king: Finn isn’t a ‘king’ but Arthur is ‘Sovereign Lord of Britain’ (pen tyrned).
  3. Hunter: Finn seems to mainly hunt dear, and is involved in the hunt for Green Boar of Beinn Gulbain. Arthur hunts the Twrch Trwyth.
  4. Poet: Finn yes and Arthur composes one englyn that satirises Cai.
  5. Has a magical dog: Finn has two dogs and both are also part human. Arthur’s dog is a dog but folk legend made it into a giant one.
  6. Encounter the Otherworld, sidhe/siddi (Faerie): Finn yes, Arthur yes.
  7. Fights known historical foes or other peoples of his own island: Finn yes. (The Norse and other Irish). Arthur no, except in one later Cornish tale.
  8. Death of one of his wives: Finn yes (Saba), Arthur no.
  9. Names his weapons: Arthur yes, Finn no. But Finn is given a magical spear.
  10. Requires his men to know poetry, be warriors and kind to woman; any member of his warband has to pass the three tests and learn the Twelve Books of Poetry: Finn yes. Arthur, no.
  11. Consorts with other mythical and historical characters from other times: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  12. Courts in three parts of the realm: Arthur yes, Finn, no.
  13. Fights giants: Finn yes, Arthur yes.
  14. Called a giant: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  15. Kills witches: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  16. Uses his men to do some of the dirty work: Arthur yes, Finn, no.
  17. Has warriors from abroad in his warband: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  18. Gets great wisdom from eating the Salmon of Knowledge and Nuts of Knowledge’: Finn yes, Arthur no, but Cai and Gwyrhr encounter a salmon of wisdom in the River Severn (Afon Hafren).
  19. Dispenses his wise words on the code of the warband: Finn yes. Arthur no.
  20. Captain of the High King’s warband: Finn yes. Arthur no. Arthur is the overall leader of his warband and a ‘Sovereign Lord’ himself. In fact, no pen teulu (the Welsh equivalent of the Irish ri fianna) is mentioned.
  21. Is given a mythical lineage: Finn yes. Arthur is only linked to Brân and his father Llŷr In the Mostyn MS 117 Genealogies, known as the Bonedd yr Arwyr (‘Descent of the Heroes’), but not in the stories.
  22. Relates to druids: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  23. Learn of his childhood: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  24. Hear of him as an old man: Finn yes, Arthur no.
  25. Christian references: Arthur yes, Finn no.
  26. Fights abroad: Arthur yes, Finn no.

So, out of twenty-six comparisons, there are four or five similarities. That’s hardly similar at all. There would, of course, be divergence from a common source but this looks more like the similarities and just some basic folkloric commonalities. This has been a very interesting and worthwhile exercise.

The quote above mentions …

[...] both are endowed with gigantic stature [...]

I have dealt with this issue in depth in the blog King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Three and concluded that, whilst he may have been portrayed in the topographical and onomastic sites as being ‘larger than life’ or having superhuman qualities, he is no where  actually called a giant (gawr) by the Welsh. Even the story relating to Finn as a giant fighting at the Giants’ Causeway in Ulster didn’t lead to his name being given to the site in Gaelic, where it is known as Clochán na bhFórmorach: ‘stepping stones of the Fomorians’.

If Arthur did have another name, we may never know what it was, unless Gwen (Wen) Pendragon was it, but, if the above is anything to go with, I don’t think that name was Finn. Could he have been in response to Finn? Yes, he could.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments, thoughts and corrections,

Mak

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

King Arthur – the Christian pagan?

(As well as updating older post as I develop the ebook, I am also going create some new blogs out of the additional material that’s going into it. Here’s the first).

A Christo-Pagan symbol called "Pentacross...

A Christo-Pagan symbol called “Pentacrossagram”. Which is a Christian Cross within or mounted on a Pagan Pentagram. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question about what religion King Arthur followed depends on which King Arthur we’re referring to? King Arthur of the Medieval Romances is most definitely Christian as is the one of the Historia Britonnum.; the mythical one appears to have been a Christian and a possible historic one of the Late-5th century would most likely be a Christian, but this would also be dependent on which part of Britain he was from.

In Culhwch ac Olwen, (possibly 11th century) where Arthur has many ‘pagan’ friends, such as Gwyn ap Nudd (of the Otherworld) and the god Mabon, he or Cai mention “Heaven” at least three timesWhether these mentions were part of the original story or were added later we may never know, but, if they did want to make Arthur like the one of the Historia Britonnum (H.B.) of the Early-9th century, they did very little to do so. Had they wanted to change him to a Christian hero against the Otherworld they could have gone much further. Of course, it is thought there were many more Arthurian tales around in the 9th to 11th centuries and some of these could have made more of his Christianity.

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is much debate about what religion Arthur might have been – mainly in the lay community - and many are determined to make him either a pagan or devout and exemplar Christian. We’ve no idea exactly what he might have believed in (although we know what they made him in the H.B), because we don’t know where exactly he might have been from, or when. There is a very high probability that he’d be a Christian if he’d been from south of Hadrian’s Wall as it had been the official religion since 381 and the Council of Constantinople, when orthodoxy was imposed and any heretics (whether pagan or other Christian sects, such as Pelagianism) were not tolerated after that … not that this stopped some British from practicing Pelagianism, possibly up to the Mid-5th century. Things may also have changed in some regions once the empire had lost its hold over Britannia and the church lost some of its enforcement powers.

Christianity itself had been tolerated and not persecuted since the emperor Constantine the Great made it so in 313. (See: Freeman, AD 381, 2008). Three British bishops had been present at the Council of Arles in 314. (Eborius, bishop of York, Restitutus, bishop of London, Adelfius, bishop of Lincoln).

Eusebius wrote

“The Apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles.” (De Demonstratione Evan­gellii, Lib. 111).

Possibly the first British saint, Alban, was martyred around 250AD, perhaps even earlier, and there are the legends regarding King Lucius (c.156) being Christian and St. Cadval (c.170) possibly being from Britain. Even if these legends aren’t true there had been Christians on the island for a long time. Britain also produced St. Patrick in the 5th century and, in the next century, a whole host of other British and Welsh saints. But the church was a very different organisation then. Any ‘churches’ were in the declining remaining cities, whilst other priests (presbyter) and bishops (sacerdos) could have been attached to royal courts with some being itinerant.

So, as you can see, Christianity had been present in Britain for at least two hundred years in one form or another before any possible Late-5th century Arthur came along. It had been the official religion for almost one hundred years. Gildas, in his Early-6th century De Excidio Britanniae, makes no reference to British pagans (of the elite) and he would be the first to do so had it been present, in his part of the oldl diocese at least. No pagan shrines, apart from Anglo-Saxons ones, have been found for this period. However, there’s every possibility that some, probably peasants, went ‘underground’ with any ‘old beliefs’. Perhaps this is what encouraged some of them to go over to the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ culture in the east of the island.

The level of Christianity must have changed in the lifetime of a possible historical Arthur. If he lived between c.475 and c.525 he must have witnessed its spread and, possibly, the nature of its influence and power. If he resided north of the Wall in what is now northern England and southern Scotland he may have seen its introduction and the way it changed the various societies there as they were influenced both from their southern neighbours and from monastic sites like Whitehorn (Candida Casa - the ‘White (or ‘Shining’) House’) founded by Saint Ninian in what is now southwest Scotland. This site is thought to have been there since the Late-4th century.

Many saints of the period, in what became Wales, either started life as or were warriors kings or princes. Even the much chastised Maglocunus (Mailcun/Maelgwn/Malgun) of Gwynedd by the 6th century cleric Gildas gave up his monarchy for a while and became a monk. However, monasticism wasn’t as large a movement as it became in Medieval times.

The British Christians did seem to cause problem for the Roman church now and again, firstly with the anti-elite, no-original-sin Pelagius (Early-5th century) and then with Gaulish Bishops complaining that two British priests were actually preaching to woman! But it would be wrong to think there was a very different, unified ‘Celtic’ church; it was still a relatively conservative ‘Catholic’ Christianity, but with difference. To quote Patrick Wormald:

“One of the common misconceptions is that there was a ‘Roman Church’ to which the ‘Celtic’ was nationally opposed.”

(‘Bede and the ‘Church of the English’, The Times of Bede, Edited by Stephen Baxter, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 207.)

Illustration from page 16 of The Boy's King Ar...

Illustration from page 16 of The Boy’s King Arthur: “And when they came to the sword that the hand held, King Arthur took it up.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They respected the pope as much as their continental brethren, and we are also reminded by Wormald that there were many differences even between the Irish and British churches. Most scholars prefer the term ‘Insular Christianity to ‘Celtic’ Christianity.

This doesn’t mean that a historical 5th century Arthur wouldn’t have believed in pagan elements and traditions, just as many culture, even today, mix them; he just may not have ‘worshipped’ them or, if he did, he’d stay quiet about it. Throwing swords into water was one such tradition, and we know that this was done well into the Middle Ages. (Prior, Britain A,D. p.216) There are, of course, many pagan overtones to both the early and later Arthurian stories, from magical boars to Avalon and swords in stones. Even Christianity couldn’t bury these long held beliefs … and besides, they made a great story!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments, thoughts and corrections,

Mak

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers