Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mythic Origins II

Not too far back but far enough I made a post about Mythic Origins. There were several helpful comments, but I'll stop at the top down.

Brandon H. added:
Depending on where you begin or how you classify "origins," Gildas' On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain could be included.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain; there is, however, the complication of Gildas, Bede, and Geoffrey blending together because of the use of compounding sources as each writes.

Would they? I think what I'm after at the moment is works that explain the origins of a people or group. So while Gildas' letter/sermon is a source text, and explains something about early Anglo-Saxon England (maybe), I don't think I'd count it as a text of mythic origins. Likewise Geoffrey's History certainly seeks to justify Norman rule and explain the new state of the world, but is it really "mythic origins?"

SO I guess this is pushing me to define what I mean by "mythic origins" as opposed to "mythic history".

I think the same might go for the Heimskringla, adn the other I confess I only know by name, and haven't read it. A candidate for Medieval Lit I didn't Know....

And I agree, the Quran I think needs to be in the list!

Thanks Brandon!

Matthew Gabriele, co-blogger at Modern Medieval queries:

I'm not trying to be a pain but couldn't almost anything be a story of "origins"? For example, the Oxford Chanson de Roland tells of the "origin" of a monarchy and a nobility, as well as the foundation of Christendom and Francia.

To answer the question, well, I suppose it depends on how you define origins. But I'm attempting in this case to define it as texts which explicitly not just explain the way things are, but explain the beginnings whether of the world, a people, a kingdom, the church etc, produced in the Medieval period.

So I'd disagree about Roland, at least in the Digby mss. What we encounter there is a Francia already centuries old, a "conflict" centuries old, all the nobility have titles and lands and relationships and reputations, and the battle isn't about Charlemagne's monarchy per se. It does I think seek to explain in part the right of the king trumping the right of his nobles if the two come into conflict, but that's not really an origin myth, at least as I am defining it for the purposes of my list.

John Jarret suggested Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards and the Russian Chronicle. Anything Irish or Welsh that fits the bill? What else?

Here's the original list with the new additions at the bottom:

Bede's Ecclesiastical History
Jordanes Getica
Isidore Gotorum
Gregory of Tours History of the Franks
Planctus for William Longsword
Laymon's The Brut
Snorri Sturlson Prose Edda
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards
Russian Chronicle
Icelandic Landnamabok
the Hadith

Edit: Added Gregory of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain

Song of Roland
Gildas the Wise's Ruin of Britain


Paul said...

I'm confused that you seem to regard Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia as a questionable case. While there are, of course, important differences between Geoffrey and Wace and Lawman, in relating the origins of the Britons (and the advent of the Anglo-Saxons), they seem roughly equal. Could you clarify what makes you ready to accept the vernacular texts but unsure about Geoffrey?

theswain said...


Good point, and I took up the work and reread the first book, and you're quite right, it fits. So I've edited the post accordingly.

Thanks for proving me wrong!