Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999  


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The Arthurian Name Dictionary The Celtic Heroic Age Columbanus
The Arthur of the English Clovis The Roman Cavalry

The Arthur of the English: The Arthurian Legend in Medieval English Life and Literature

Barron, W.R.J., editor. 1999. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN: 0708314775

Reviewed by Raluca Radulescu, University of Manchester

The Arthur of the English is the second volume of the new series published by University of Wales Press. Future projects include volumes on the French, German and Iberian Arthurian traditions. Aimed at a general readership and undergraduate students, the book covers the main core of English Arthurian texts and their interpretation.

The contributors have attempted to deal with the Arthurian subject thematically through eight main chapters with subsections and two interchapters. These alternate between historical genres dealing with the Arthurian story and the romance literature incorporating such material.

In her section on the Celtic tradition, Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan establishes links between traditional Celtic writing and the beginnings of Arthurian literature. The oldest Welsh compositions have traditionally been ascribed to sources from what is now Scotland, which briefly refer to Arthur as a hero warrior. Lloyd-Morgan argues that Celtic Arthurian literature evolved only late in the Irish and Scottish traditions and that the most important legacy is in Welsh, where material predating Geoffrey of Monmouth has been found.

W.R.J. Barron enlarges on the biographical and compositional details of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. Barron claims that the work is important, as the start of the historical Arthur and emphasises the homogeneity of the work, its impact on its age and as a reflection of the concerns of the period.

Françoise Le Saux deals with Wace's Roman de Brut and Layamon's Brut, emphasising the importance of the latter to subsequent Arthurian literature. The Brut section is especially well written, with an eye on the particularities of the text and to the specific developments of the text from its sources, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace, as well as marking the point where Arthur becomes truly "of the English" in Layamon's narrative (32).

Barron traces Arthur's figure in the prose Brut and its continuations. The popularity of the prose Brut was widespread into the fifteenth century among most social classes, which accounts for the political use kings subsequently made of it. It became "the standard vernacular history textbook of late medieval England" (34). In time Arthur became more and more a fictional character and less a historical one. Also dealt with in the same chapter are Higden's Polychronicon and its translation by Trevisa. Lesley Johnson's discussion of the metrical chronicles of Pierre de Langtoft, Robert Mannyng, Robert of Gloucester, Thomas Castleford and the Short Metrical Chronicle (Auchinleck MS), complete the second chapter of the book.

In the first interchapter, "Arthur in English Society", James Carley stresses the political use of the Arthurian story in Pierre of Langtoft's work, especially the connections with Edward I in the context of the English claims on Scotland. Arthur featured in the chronicles of the later periods as well, such as John Hardyng's Chronicle. His name was used for Henry VII's first born, as a sign of unity of the two houses of Lancaster and York. The interchapter finishes with John Leland's sixteenth-century attempt to prove Arthur's historical existence.

The third chapter deals with the romance tradition in the context of the development of a courtly audience in France and England in the twelfth century, and the shift from the heroic and imperial to the "individual adventure and emotional crisis" (60). The chapter deals mainly with the development of the French romances to Chrétien de Troyes and the Vulgate cycle, providing a connection with the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Malory's Morte Darthur, which were influenced by the French tradition.

Chapters four and five focus on dynastic and chivalric romance respectively, giving special emphasis to the Alliterature Morte Arthure (Lesley Johnson) and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur (Carole Weinberg).

In the second interchapter, on "Arthur in English Society", Juliet Vale explores the development of the chivalric ethos, starting with the reign of Edward I and ending with the reign of Edward III, by which time "round table" fellowships of knights and acting out of romances at tournaments reached a climax. Perhaps too little emphasis is placed on later periods, and Vale's conclusions about the impact of the Arthurian "history" being greater at the beginning are debatable.

A subject which has received less treatment in standard works is that of folk romances, which display concern with the character of Gawain rather than Arthur. The editor of the chapter, Gillian Rogers, brings together seven folk romances chosen out of the bulk of late medieval English romances.

Arguably the major chapter in this book is the one dealing with the Morte Darthur. Peter Field rehearses Malory's biography and discusses the composition of the work. Field stresses Malory's taste for romance and his sympathy for chivalry beyond political agendas (225). He then investigates the different critical opinions on the unity of the work, while rehearsing the links between tales, from explicits to comparative evidence in the tales and their sources. Field notes Malory's creation of an "'objective' time-scheme" (233), his changes, especially in the Roman War story, and his achievement of a social "background" (241). Field discusses the "positive discrepancies" of the Morte Darthur and makes a case for the narrative technique Malory displays through the unobtrusiveness of the narrator. The essay is accessible and comprehensive and helps to round the picture of the Arthurian story at its best in English literature.

The sections are mainly descriptive and provide the reader with an easy to use and well-documented review of the Arthurian tradition. The book is a useful tool for both the uninitiated and students in their first stages of research, and its apparatus of endnotes and bibliography supply sources for further specialist reading on the particular texts.

The Arthurian Name Dictionary

Christopher W. Bruce. 1999. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities Vol. 2063. New York and London: Garland. 505 pages plus an extensive source table.

Reviewed by Michelle Ziegler, Belleville, Illinois

Did you know there are six Isoldes, thirteen different Yvains, eighteen place names that begin with the word "white" or 43 different unnamed knights? I didn't. If you care to differentiate these figures and places, Christopher Bruce's book is the only single resource book available, one stop–shopping. Bruce catalogs the figures, place names, common objects, symbols and themes in all the common Arthurian works plus numerous rare and unusual works. Bruce also discusses common threads through the Arthurian works like the chastity tests and the sword in the stone plus less common motifs like the Thirteen Treasures of Britain.

This book contains over fifty–five hundred Arthurian figures and places. Each entry lists all of the various spellings, a description of the role of the figure in Arthurian literature, and a cross reference to all the instances of its use. For the major figures, Bruce discusses not only their roles and functions in literature but also their development as a character, historical origins and relations to other figures. His ten page entry for Arthur is more of a case study than a dictionary entry discussing topics like historicity, phases of legend development, character traits and more. Did you know that Arthur had eleven wives and lovers plus fifteen sons? See page 44.

The source table is the most extensive I have ever seen cataloging over 250 works. Bruce researched and listed works in Italian, French, English, Latin, Welsh, Breton, Icelandic, Dutch, Scottish, Norse, Hebrew, Slavic and Greek. Each entry in the source table lists the author and title; date, form, and language; description; keywords; and the modern source utilized. His listing of modern sources for many rare works alone will be a treat for many.

Bruce's Arthurian Name Dictionary is the perfect companion volume to Lacy's New Arthurian Encyclopedia. There is little information an Arthurian scholar can't find by searching just these two books. I have very little doubt that in time Bruce’s dictionary will be the Arthurian dictionary and share a valued place on the bookshelves at the right hand of many Arthurian scholars next to the NAE. Like the NAE, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

The Roman Cavalry: From the First to the Third Century AD

Dixon, Karen R., and Pat Southern. 1997. London and New York: Routeledge. Paperback of the 1992 edition. 256 pages. ISBN 0415170397

Reviewed by Linda A. Malcor, Aliso Viejo, California

An amazing amount of research went into this study of the cavalry of Imperial Rome. The authors draw on a variety of sources and cover a smorgasbord of topics in extensive detail. A discussion of the sources used leads into descriptions of the various types of units, their strength, their organization and their titulature. The work then goes on to examine equipment, weaponry, recruitment, conditions of service, training, sports, use of the cavalry in peacetime and wartime, military records, the supply of horses, specifics about Roman cavalry mounts, stables, grooming, water supply, feed, veterinary care, and baggage animals. The book is well worth owning simply for the tremendous amount of details that the authors compile.

There are, however, several flaws of which the reader should be aware. The most glaring is that neither author has a solid knowledge of horses. All of their information about horses in general comes via personal communication with Ann Hyland. While Hyland has a formidable knowledge of horses, the information is lopsided. What was true of British cavalry horses in the nineteenth and twentieth century is, as Dixon and Southern mention but never really act on, not necessarily true of horses in Imperial Rome. Also, what was true of horses for cavalry units attached to a legion might not be true of horses in auxiliary units or, more significantly, in numeri. The horses of the numeri, especially those of the Sarmatians, could and did differ significantly from the image presented by the authors, based on information provided by Hyland. Steppe horses, for instance, had completely different dietary requirements from the mounts of nineteenth-century British cavalry, and the Sarmatian horses varied in conformation, armament, and other significant areas, such as training. Dixon and Southern assume that picket lines and corrals were the only options for working horses not stabled inside a fort, yet the steppe nomads did just fine out on the grassy plains without such contraptions. Horses were trained to come at a whistle and to respond to leg signals. Native Americans and other riders over the centuries have proven that it is possible to give leg signals in combat while using a bow even when the rider was an archer, despite the authors' insistence that it is not. The reliance on data from modern cavalry units also leads to speculations such as the possibility that several cavalry officers could be without any mount and functioning as infantry for long periods of time and that baggage animals consisted largely of mules. While some mules were certainly used as baggage animals, the Romans could easily have used remounts as baggage animals as well. Such an arrangement would minimize the number of animals that had to be cared for on a campaign and would help ensure that remounts would be available as the need arose.

Another difficulty with the information presented in the book is the lack of attention paid to auxiliary units and numeri, which comprised most of the cavalry forces throughout the empire, but particularly in Britain. Dixon and Southern primarily mention auxiliary units and numeri as sources of information about cavalry attached to legions when desired information is not available for the Roman units. (When information is also perceived to be missing from auxiliary units and numeri, the authors use nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources to fill in the gaps--sometimes inaccurately.) The auxiliary units and numeri themselves, however, are never discussed in depth, yet they formed the bulk of the cavalry in the imperial military system.

In addition to these concerns, there are a few unfortunate inconsistencies or omissions. For instance, on p. 194 Dixon and Southern state that horses can be expected to require stables in the European climate, but that native breeds might not need stables. The authors then insist that stables were necessary with no further reference to native breeds possibly being used as mounts nor with any acknowledgement that non-native breeds, such as the steppe horses, would not have done well in stables. In an example of an omission, the latin terms for every form of cavalry unit is given except for the lightly-armed cavalry, which is the unit Dixon and Southern prefer to discuss.

The work is biased toward a Celtic origin for much of the military tactics and equipment with slight references to contributions from other groups, such as the dragon banner (draco) being introduced by Sarmatians. The authors seem to be completely unaware of Helmut Nickel's work on the contributions of steppe horsemen to the equipment and tactics of the Roman cavalry, with transmission occurring sometimes via the Celts or the Greeks and sometimes directly from the nomads to the Romans.

The Roman Cavalry is an important book and one that any scholar of Roman cavalry should buy. But the reader should remember to use the work with caution and to try to stick to the facts that are presented rather than to the conclusions that are drawn from those facts.

The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales.

Koch, John T. 1995. 2nd edition. In collaboration with John Carey. Malden, Mass.: Celtic Studies Publications. ISBN: 0-9642446 1-6 (paperback edition) 411 Pages 5 Maps

Reviewed by Michelle Ziegler, Belleville, Illinois

Although this book was written as a textbook for introductory undergraduate Celtic Studies students, it is a treasure trove for both scholars and enthusiasts. It is an extensive anthology of primary source material on the ancient and early medieval celts of Europe. Reprinted here in English translation are over 100 excerpts from Latin, Irish and Welsh primary source material.

The 45 short selections on the ancient celts span from Plato to Tacitus. Selections are grouped by topic from the earliest authors, depictions of druids, and descriptions of historic events. Most of these selections are quite short, one to three paragraphs on average.

There are 44 selections from Irish literature. Selections include excerpts form early Irish dynastic poetry, tales from the Ulster cycle and of Cu Chulainn, tales of Finn, mythical tales of pagan kings, wisdom literature, excerpts from the Book of Armagh on Patrick, and tales of Mongan. The largest selection is the complete translation of the Lebor Gabala Erenn (The Book of Invasions) is 54 pages long!

There are 24 selections from post Roman Britain. However, this small number is misleading since the excerpts are in general longer. It includes nearly all of the Historia Brittonum, several early Arthurian poems including "Preddeu Annwyn" and "Pa Gur", a complete translation of "Y Gododdin", twelve selections on the dynasty of Urien Rheged, poems relating to Cadwallon ap Cadfan and Cynddylan of Powys, a large selection of Llywarch Hen poetry and two Breton foundation legends.

While the selections are extensive, there are a few drawbacks. Many of the selections are rather short and there is little commentary on even the longer selections. There are also several conspicuous omissions in selections. There are no excerpts from St. Patrick's "Confessio" or Gildas's "On the Ruin of Britain", two of the most important primary sources of the fifth to sixth centuries. In fact, there is a general dearth of religious selections. For example, I would have liked to see a short chapter or selection from Adomnan's Life of St. Columba, the Life of St. Brigit, or the early Breton Life of St. Samson. A religious poem or two would have been nice. It also lacks selections from the Mabinogion or any of the other Welsh prose tales.

In spite of these omissions, this book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the early history and literature of the Celts. I know of no other readily available source of so many primary source materials. In the foreword, John Koch states that a third edition is planned which I eagerly await. The bottom line is it is an invaluable quick reference and a bargain for the price.

Columbanus: Studies on the Latin Writings

Lapidge, Michael, eidtor. 1997. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer. ISBN 0 85115 667 3

Reviewed by L.J. Swain, Western Michigan University

This book seeks to address one of the controversies of Columbanus studies. The editor in his preface says "the underlying intention of the present book is to reassess the arguments for the authenticity of all the Latin writings which have been attributed to Columbanus: to define once for all as it were, the corpus of his Latin writings." In my opinion the book achieves its goal.

For those readers of the Heroic Age who may not be aware of Columbanus, his life, works, and the problems this volume seeks to address, the following will hopefully provide a rough map to the difficulties involved. It is unknown where in Ireland or precisely when Columbanus was born. The accepted date, with qualification, is c. 540. According to Jonas, he was adulescentia aetas, his late adolescence before he entered monastic life at Bangor where he remained many years. Jonas regrettably doesn't tell us how many years he was in Bangor. The next significant event of his life we're told of is his call to peregrinate to the continent. Taking 12 companions with him he departs to Gaul where first he founded monasteries at Annegray, then Luxeuil . The date usually accepted for his entrance into Gaul is approximately 590. In the early 600s Columbanus ran afoul of the Frankish bishops in large part over the Three Chapters controversy and the Irish dating of Easter which followed the Johannine tradition. Further, he had become unpopular with Brunchilda, the grandmother of Theuderic II sometime between 603-607. Where he had once enjoyed royal support, he was then being royally escorted out of Gaul and back to Ireland by the king's army. He managed to escape being put back on a boat to Ireland and made his way with some companions to Bobbio in Italy and there rebuilt a church and monastery.

During his life he is purported to have written five letters, thirteen sermons, two monastic rules, a penitential, poetry, prayers, computistical works, and possibly an oratio. In each case it has been argued both that Columbanus did and did not write the work in question. Each of the contributors to this volume address one of these areas thoroughly, (and I do mean thoroughly) discussing each work or set of works in detail to determine "once for all as it were" whether Columbanus could have been the author.

The book contains ten essays by various authors, an editor's preface, and a bibliography. To my mind the most important essays in the book are the first four and the preface. Michael Lapidge, now of Notre Dame, reviews succinctly in this essay Columbanus' scholarship as it pertains to the purpose of the volume. This brief introduction alone is a worthy survey for the student interested in doing work on Columbanus.

The first essay written by Donald Bullough is a review of Columbanus' career and the academic issues involved in dating events of his life, and further and more importantly, the dates of his works. Naturally the essay draws heavily on Jonas. The only weakness of the essay, if one may even use the term, is that Bullough pays no attention to the issues regarding Jonas' reliability or interpretation. The reason for that is of course that the essay is intended to set the ground work for discussing Columbanus' Latin works and so sets the framework for the whole volume. Nevertheless, it would have been a service for at least some comments on Jonas. With that note, however, let me say that this overview of the saint's career is detailed, informative, and in my opinion a must read for anyone interested in the subjects of Columbanus, Merovingian church, or early monastic foundations in Gaul.

The second essay deals with the letters written by Columbanus. These letters were probably written sometime between 600 when he was still in Gaul and 615 when he died. The letters deal with subjects ranging from his controversy with the Gaulish bishops, defense of the Irish date of Easter and method of monastic life, advice to his monks as he was leaving Gaul for Italy on how to conduct themselves, and the Three Chapters controversy. Neil Wright in his essay discusses the dating of these letters, the Latin style and vocabulary, the source of references and citations, the authors knowledge of the classics, and so on in order to answer the question of whether Columbanus actually penned these letters or not. He convincingly argues that he indeed did write all five.

The third essay is without question to my mind the most important of the volume. Clare Stancliffe in a 110 page essay tackles in minute detail the thirteen sermons attributed to the Irish saint. Similarly to Wright, she takes on Latin style and vocabulary, sources of classical allusions, comparison to other writers, and many other tools too numerous to detail here. This essay is long, involved, detailed, and could arguably have been expanded into a monograph. The only weaknesses I could address to it is that Stancliffe spends a lot of energy arguing against a couple of different scholars who attributed some of these sermons to another Irishman. While important in a discussion of this kind, the meticulous and scholarly argument she sets forth is more than sufficient to overtake anyone's previous attributions to others. As the careful reader will no doubt notice, these are mere quibbles about an excellent and well argued essay and volume.

Even though I have chosen to focus on these three essays and the preface, the remaining six are of equal quality and depth. The volume is completed by a seventeen page bibliography which like the other parts of the book is well worth the paper it is printed on. Even if one is not particulary interested in Columbanus and his writings, the book is worth perusing for the bibliography alone. It provides references to most of the important works in Hibernian studies, particularly as pertains to the Irish on the continent.

Dr. Lapidge has once again offered us a volume of detailed and careful scholarship. Although I give this book an A and highly recommend it for anyone, I must caution that the book is not for the general undergraduate. The reader should be somewhat familiar with the period and the outlines of Columbanus studies as well as be an upper level Latin student in order to gain from this volume.

Clovis: histoire et mémoire

Rouche, Michel, editor. 1997. 2 vols. Vol. 1: Clovis et son temps, l'événement. 929 pp. Intertexual illus., cover and 16 plates. Vol. 2: La baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l'histoire. 915 pp. Intertextual illus., cover and 15 plates. Published with the special accord of the Ministère de l'éucation Nationale and of the CNRS. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. ISBN: 2840500795

Reviewed by Gregory S. Uchrin, Catholic University of America.

One of the most important events held during the year-long celebration of the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Clovis in 1996 was the "Colloque international d'histoire" held at Reims from the 19th through the 25th of September. Six years of effort in organizing this six-day long colloquium held in two simultaneous sessions resulted in over 100 papers, not only upon Clovis and the conversion of the Franks, but upon many other topics of interest to scholars investigating the late antique and early medieval periods. The two volumes of this publication contain the results of those two sessions: the first, "Clovis et son temps, l'événement," deals with the event itself and its historical environs; the second, "La baptême de Clovis, son écho à travers l'histoire," deals with the historiographic issues that surround this event.

A review of such a monumental publication can only provide a summary overview of its contents. The first volume consists of forty-six papers dealing with European history during third through seventh centuries. The basic method of the colloquium was a comparative one, because, as Rouche says in his Introduction, the baptism of Clovis can only be comprehended, explained and analysed in such a method. Rouche notes three major factors which entered into this comparison, the religious beliefs and practices of the Germanic peoples, the political and social laws of Christian Rome, and finally, the event of the conversion itself. The first session of this colloquium consisted of nine seatings dealing with Germanic paganism; the state of the Church up to the sixth century; Germanic Arianism; the liturgy of baptism; the actual baptism of Clovis; the political and religious issues during the reign of Clovis; political and economic studies of the fifth and sixth centuries; the army and power; and finally the heritage of Clovis.

One of the major thrusts of the recent research in this area has of course been the confrontation of data gathered from the traditional sources versus data gathered from archaeology. Whereas archaeological materials formerly took their interpretative direction from the sources, it is now recognized that this can no longer be considered appropriate, particularly in the area of the ethnological identification of finds. What would formerly have been readily identified as Gallo-Roman, Frankish or Gothic artifacts can no longer be identified with certainty because of the mingling and mutual influences of these cultures.

The Franks are thus placed into a context of a heterogenous culture, admitting elements of the Celtic, Gallic, Roman and Germanic peoples of Gaul. This heterogeneous culture also saw not only a racial confrontation, but also a religious confrontation in terms of late Roman and Germanic paganism and both Roman and Arian Christianity. Moreover, the conversion of Clovis and of the Franks must be seen in terms of its political ramifications with respect to an Empire still strong in the East, but in the West slowly giving rise to the political entities of the early medieval period, with the political and economic concerns of these new relationships. In all these areas, new research has mandated the re-interpretation of our traditional sources and the historical understanding of the conversion can only be seen in the light of this research. Volume 2 of this set goes far in delineating the new and more informed interpretations.

The second volume deals with more historiographical concerns and contains fifty-seven papers delivered in 12 seatings: the sacralization of the king of the Franks; the ideal of Clovis, the roi fondateur; the medieval historiography of Clovis; two seatings on the baptism of the Slavic peoples; the Hungarians and the Franks in history, epic and during the Crusades; the conversion of Clovis in the modern epoch in comparison with modern conversions (from papers delivered in the regular session as well as a separate seating of the Société de l'Histoire de l'église de France); the influence of Clovis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; a retrospective on the fourteenth centennial of the baptism in 1896; Clovis in artistic memory; and a final session on the archaeological finds of recent years concerning the Franks and northern Gaul.

This volume is less cohesive than the first, covering, as one can see, many varied issues of interest arising from the fifteen centuries subsequent to Clovis's baptism, not only on history and historical writing, legend, religion and art, but also of its influence as a seminal event in European history. To the late antique or early medieval historian, the first three subsessions are of primary importance, for these studies are the most useful in the area of textual criticism, for one's ability to judge the biases of later sources for the early Franks. However, although some of the later sessions may not deal with the "medieval" period, none of them are without interest because of the tremendous impact of this event on succeeding generations. The influence of Clovis in later years affected the historical perspective of those times: in an age when Clovis was put forth as a romantic or a religious ideal, the historical writings of that period reflected that ideal. In essence, the question is put to us by the seating on the fourteenth centennial: what will the sixteenth centennial see with respect to our views of Clovis and his conversion?

To single out any articles in such a vast array of materials could only serve to demonstrate the interests of the reviewer. All the papers in these volumes are thought-provoking and finely crafted studies for the student of late antique and early medieval Gaul and its historical milieu.

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