Thursday, January 21, 2021

Legends of Troy: Brutus of Troy

The story goes that the "Britain" part of "Great Britain" comes from the name of a certain Brutus, who was a Trojan. He is described as a descendent of Aeneus, who was a survivor of the war.  

The Greeks supplied Brutus with a large number of ships and the Trojans departed, landing eventually in Totnes, in Devon. Later, Brutus founded ‘New Troy’ on the banks of the River Thames. ‘New Troy’ would become the great city known today as London. It was Brutus who gave his name to the island and caused it to be called Britain. He decreed that the people would henceforth be called Britons and the language British.

That is an outline of the story.  Where did it come from?   

The myth of Brutus has no basis in real history but was invented in the Dark Ages to provide Britain with a noble origin linked to the great mythologies of Rome and Greece, and in about 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth developed his story and asserted that he founded London as Trinovantum, the new Troy in the West.

The Wikipedia article on Brutus relates several different genealogies and tales, and I will not repeat all of that. But I will quote them here:

Early translations and adaptations of Geoffrey's Historia, such as Wace's Norman French Roman de Brut, Layamon's Middle English Brut, were named after Brutus, and the word brut came to mean a chronicle of British history. One of several Middle Welsh adaptations was called the Brut y Brenhinedd ("Chronicle of the Kings"). Brut y Tywysogion ("Chronicle of the Princes"), a major chronicle for the Welsh rulers from the 7th century to loss of independence, is a purely historical work containing no legendary material but the title reflects the influence of Geoffrey's work and, in one sense, can be seen as a "sequel" to it. Early chroniclers of Britain, such as Alfred of Beverley, Nicholas Trivet and Giraldus Cambrensis began their histories of Britain with Brutus. The foundation myth of Brutus having settled in Britain was still considered as genuine history during the Early Modern Period, for example Holinshed's Chronicles (1577) considers the Brutus myth to be factual.
The 18th-century English poet Hildebrand Jacob wrote an epic poem, Brutus the Trojan, Founder of the British Empire, about him, following in the tradition of the Roman foundation epic the Aeneid.  Brutus is an important character in the book series The Troy Game by Sara Douglass.
Geoffrey's Historia says that Brutus and his followers landed at Totnes in Devon. A stone on Fore Street in Totnes, known as the "Brutus Stone", commemorates this.

A history of the Brits was called a brut.  And thus Brutus is thought to have have lent his name not only to the island and its inhabitants, but also to the term used to name histories of the island and its people.  

Another level of the legend involves two stones, the so-called London Stone, and the Brutus Stone in Totnes.  The latter of these is supposed to come from the place where Brutus first touched the shores of England.  Because people used to stand on this stone to make announcements, known as bruiters, its name recalls both the founder and the function.  This stone is a simple tourist attraction. 

The London Stone is another story.  It is often confused with the Brutus Stone.  The confusion might arise from their having a similar function. Both were bruiters stones. So, by the steady but mysterious laws of the transmigration of homophones, each was a Brutus Stone.  But then:

The Short English Metrical Chronicle, an anonymous history of England in verse composed in about the 1330s, which survives in several variant recensions (including one in the so-called Auchinleck manuscript), includes the statement that "Brut sett Londen ston" – that is to say, that Brutus of Troy, the legendary founder of London, set up London Stone. This claim suggests that interest in the Stone's origin and significance already existed. However, the story does not seem to have circulated widely elsewhere, and was not repeated in other chronicles.

There is at least this one connection between the London Stone and Brutus in the literature, beyond the mere similarity between his name and the word bruiters.  

Meanwhile, in 1798 John Carter referred to the London Stone as ‘the symbol of this great City’s quiet state … “fixed to its everlasting seat”’. Following him, Thomas Pennant said in 1793 that the London Stone was ‘preserved like the Palladium of the City’. That was no more than a metaphor, but in 1828 Edward Brayley elaborated this, commenting that the London Stone was ‘like the Palladium of Troy [and] the fate and safety of the City was argued to be dependent on its preservation’.

The Palladium, eh?  That was an ancient, wooden image of Pallas Athene which allegedly fell from heaven into Troy.  On it the fate of Troy, and later the fate of Rome, were thought to hang.  It was not long before the London Stone was thought to be not merely like the Palladium, but in fact a part of the Palladium.   

The man who effected the transformation was the Reverend R.W. Morgan in his The British Kymry: or Britons of Cambria (1857)—an amazingly imaginative work which attempted to reclaim London for Welsh culture. Morgan seized on the idea that the London Stone had been the pedestal of the original Palladium. Brutus had brought it with him from Italy and placed it in Diana’s temple, and ‘on it the British kings were sworn to observe the Usages of Britain. It is now known as “London Stone”.’ This presupposes that Aeneas had managed to lug it out of Troy during the city’s destruction, something Virgil does not mention, and that Brutus (who, in the myth, was Aeneas’s great grandson) had been able to take it with him when he was exiled from Italy – which is rather ridiculous – and that it stayed with him throughout his wanderings.

This move sees the London Stone as an actual sacred object from Troy, not just a rock associated with a person from Troy.  In 1937 Lewis Spence wrote about the stone in Legendary London.  

Unaware that Morgan had made this up less than eighty years before, Spence wrote knowingly of the stone as ‘the original communal fetish [stone] of London which represented the guardian spirit of the community’. Subsequent writings about the London Stone have built on this and have helped carry the myth of Brutus forward, wonderfully alive, into the twenty-first century.

So the legend of Brutus and the London Stone continue to grow, even though historians and researchers find the entire affair unlikely.  


No comments:

Post a Comment

24 Anomalies in the Plain of Troy

"From Hısarlık, we can see several other mounds." In Search of the Real Troy