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INFLUENCE OF THE TROJAN MYTH ON NATIONAL IDENTITY
AS SHAPED IN THE FRANKISH AND BRITISH TROJAN-ORIGIN MYTHS
AND THE ROMAN DE BRUT AND THE ROMAN DE TROIE
CAROL BUBON KEARNS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
The realization of such an undertaking could not have resulted
without the help of many people. First of all, I would like to thank Dr.
Christine Probes of the University of South Florida for being an
inspiration. (Despite my older age, I always wanted to be just like her!) In
addition to Dr. Probes, I am indebted to Drs. Mary Jane and David
Schenck and John Thompson for instilling in me a love for and the basic
elements of medieval French literature and culture while a student at the
University of South Florida. My deep appreciation goes to the Department
of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Florida for
accepting me into their doctoral program. (Despite a long and frequent
commute, the experience was wonderful!) Sincere thanks are due my
advisors, Dr. William Calin and Dr. George Diller, for their invaluable
guidance, analysis, and support. I am grateful to Dr. Raymond Cormier
for recommending pertinent books. A debt of gratitude goes to Dr.
Edward Klein for persistent encouragement and to Judy Johnson for her
many prayers. Lastly, I would especially like to thank my precious family
for their love and support.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOW LEDGM ENTS ........................................................................................ ii
A BST RA C T ......................................................................... ............................ v
1 INTRODUCTION .............................. .............................................. 1
2 TROJAN M YTH ............................... .......................... ............................... 8
Sacred Troy .................................................................................................... 8
Trojan Cycle................. ............................. .................. 17
Bronze Age Source .......................... ........................... ................................. 19
M yth vis-a-vis Legend ............................... ........... .............................. 22
Greek "Nation" versus Trojan "Nation" ................................................23
Warrior Ethic of the Hero ........................... .....................................31
Legacy of H ector.................................................................. ....................... 35
Conclusion .................................................................. ........... ................ 38
3 FROM FREDEGAR TO WACE: THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE OF
THE TROJAN-ORIGIN MYTH ............................................................41
Chronicle of Fredegar.........................................................47
Fredegar I....................................... ................................................. 47
Fredegar II .......................................................... .............................. 55
Liber Historiae Francorum................................... ......................... 59
A "Unique" Perspective............................ ............... ........................... 66
Historia Brittonum ................................................. .............................. 70
Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace..............................................................80
Twelfth-Century Wales ........................... ..... .......................... 96
Conclusion .............................. ... ................. ............................... 98
4 CHIVALRY AND COURTOISIE IN THE ROMAN DE BRUT
AND THE ROMAN DE TROIE................................................ .......... 101
Shaping a System of Values....................................................................... 101
Defining Chivalry and Courtoisie ........................................................... 106
The Historia vis-a-vis the Brut.......................................................... 110
Rom an de Troie ......................................... .......... ........... ... 126
Conclusion .............................. .... ............... .............................. 168
5 CONCLUSION........................................................ .............................. 170
W ORKS CITED ............................................................. ............................. 174
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................. ..... .......... ........... ... 182
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
INFLUENCE OF THE TROJAN MYTH ON NATIONAL IDENTITY
AS SHAPED IN THE FRANKISH AND BRITISH TROJAN-ORIGIN MYTHS
AND THE ROMAN DE BRUT AND THE ROMAN DE TROIE
Carol Bubon Kearns
Dr. George T. Diller
Department: Romance Languages and Literatures
The Trojan myth composed in the Iliad by Homer constitutes the
tale of a splendid and celebrated city under siege, whose monarchy
derives its strength and prestige from a long distinguished ancestry,
whose aristocratic population conducts itself in a hospitable and humane
fashion, and whose heroes generate military prowess and strive to bring
honor to themselves and their noble lineage. The appealing attitudes and
activities of the Homeric Trojans inspired medieval authors to engage
them as an integral part of a "national" identity illustrated in origin myths
and reworkings of the Iliad itself. Not pertaining to or involving the
common people; these works were learned fictions written to enhance the
prestige of the ruling classes by providing an ancient and illustrious
ancestry that legitimized ascendancy and/or a code of conduct.
Chapter 1 defines the ancient and enduring Trojan myth. Chapter
2 introduces Trojan-origin myths of the Franks and the British and
undertakes to explain why they were written during a specific period.
Chapter 3 presents the "national" ideology of chivalry and courtoisie
embodied in the Roman de Brut and especially in Benoit de Sainte-Maure's
Roman de Troie.
Along with martial and royal characteristics, instances of
"national" identity featured in the Frankish and British Trojan-origin
myths came about during a comingling of cultures at the same time as an
age of relative peace, strong leadership, and a renewal of learning favored
the creation of each unique myth and "nation." The Roman de Troie
provided a "nation" of Anglo-Norman and Angevin elite with an identity
of chivalric/courtois values to correspond to their glorious ancestors.
Whether the "nations" were related by blood ties or by a common
heritage, or a combination of the two, they could identify with a once-
great race and its tradition.
Troy and the Trojans are special by virtue of literature. The Troy of
Homer is consecrated ground considering its affiliation "with the earliest
portion of the literary treasures bequeathed to us by the ancient world"
(Maclaren 222). Moreover, the fall of Troy is "le grand 6v6nement de
l'histoire universelle" (Baumgartner, Entre fiction et histoire 19), for
nearly all of the Late Latin chroniclers recorded it. The Aeneid and
subsequent medieval Trojan-origin myths and reworking of the Iliad
were the consequence of the imaginations of countless generations. The
tale of Troy, showing a city under siege, along with its heroes, its valor
facing a superior force, its humanity, and its splendor, influenced a
constant revival of glorious Troy in myth and literature.
The Iliad's Troy was shown to be splendid in addition to being
named "sacred" by Homer. It was a "broad city," with "wide streets." It
had "lofty gates" and "fine towers." During the reign of Priam, it was in
its stage of greatest vigor. It was a city with mighty walls, extensive
enough to hold its own large population as well as its many allies who
gathered there to do battle with the Greeks. From the literary description
of the city, some scholars have calculated that more than 50,000 people
could be accommodated (Blegen 13). It had an agora where the people of
the city met, which was located in the upper city near the magnificent
palace of Priam, which Blegen describes along with the other royal
This building itself was of huge size: in addition to the halls of
state, provided with porticoes built of well-fitted hewn stones, and
the king's private apartments, it contained 50 chambers, with walls
of smoothly worked blocks, where Priam's sons lived with their
wedded wives. There were, moreover, apparently beyond a court,
12 further rooms-built of well-dressed stone and roofed-for the
king's daughters and their husbands. Other palaces, too, stood
close at hand, among them the many-roomed abode of Hector, a
'comfortable place to live in' with its spacious halls. Near-by stood
the beautiful home in which Alexander, or Paris, lived with the
lovely Helen. He himself had built it, employing the very best
builders and craftsmen to be found in Troy. (13)
As for the public buildings located high in the "holy Pergamos,"
there were the temples of Apollo and Athena, chief protectors of Troy. A
council chamber may also have been located there, as "Hector speaks to
elders and councillors, who presumably had a covered meeting-place of
some kind" (Blegen 14).
Why did Homer compose an epic poem about this particular locale,
whose heroes and destruction will be forever recalled and recreated?
Possibly the ancient Greeks who emigrated to Ionia in Asia Minor brought
a tale of the Trojan War with them, keeping it alive as a means of
establishing a link with their homeland. Perhaps the legend of a
catastrophic war with the Greeks during the heroic age 400 to 500 years
earlier was embellished and perpetuated by the native population of the
Troad, a region of northwestern Asia Minor surrounding ancient Troy, in
order to identify with fallen heroes.
Local myths and legends had been preserved at the Bronze Age
strongholds throughout Greece and Asia Minor which furnished names
for the heroes of oral tradition. The ruling classes linked their families
with the genealogies of epic heroes, notably from the Trojan War, in
order to enhance their status and prestige. An aristocratic family, the
Aeneadae, from the vicinity of ancient Troy, traced their ancestry back to
Aeneas, thus possibly influencing his prominence in the Iliad (Graf 129).
It was the Trojan myth above all that supplied the ancestral link for
the Greek nation of Homer's era, the eighth century BC, with the heroic
Bronze Age. By the enhancement of one's lineage, a race has a rational
way of including a golden age in its background. A portrait of ancestors
establishes a continuity of the present with the past. When the gap
between the mythical past and the historical present is bridged, myth
becomes reality (Graf 129).
Myth in the form of epic tales answered questions about the past,
thus presuming a keen desire for historical knowledge. To the Greeks the
Trojan myth was unquestioned history that "told of a Panhellenic
expedition against non-Hellenic peoples, and it offered an explanation for
the passing of the heroic age" (Graf 78). Various cultures in subsequent
eras also found that reviving through myth the nobility and spirit of a
romanticized past offered a means of enlightenment. The essence of
myth is its adaptability to fit the needs and imaginations of any audience
in any generation.
Myths bind men together into a society, for they maintain and
strengthen a mutual value system. Because they represent an organizing
principle, myths act as a civilizing force. As mutually shared tales, they
enhance a common heritage, thus encouraging a melding of peoples and
nations. However, throughout history a Trojan heritage was generally
reserved for the aristocracy, who claimed to make up a "nation"
connected by blood ties.
The Trojan-origin myths enclosed in the Aeneid and chronicles and
narratives from the Middle Ages are learned fictions rather than grass-
roots traditions that evolved among the common people by means of
bards down through the ages. The myths heightened the prestige of the
nobility by providing an ancient and illustrious ancestry that justified
ascendancy. Trojan myths of origin established belief systems, or
ideologies, for the Romans, Franks, Britons, and Anglo-Normans by
providing a moral validation for their attitudes and activities.
Although certain martial and royal characteristics are inherent in
all of the origin myths, each myth is unique to the culture and the age.
The Iliad initiated the tradition of Trojans as heroic warriors, builders
and defenders of a glorious and sacred city, descendants of the gods, and
star-crossed exiles whose brilliant and humane culture was cruelly and
treacherously destroyed after 10 years of war. The Aeneid, with "its
point of departure, both in matter and form, [being] Homer" (Curtius 36),
added the feature of Trojans as imperialists and responsible guardians of
the state and the gods. The Frankish origin myths, no doubt influenced
by the Aeneid, which was included in the curriculum of every medieval
schoolboy, emphasized a fierce independence. The British origin myths
underscored a warlike spirit and strong kings, but stressed a further
concept of the Aeneid, Trojans as transmitters of culture and
imperialism, the translation studio et imperii topos.
Composed during a rebirth of learning in the twelfth century,
Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and Wace's Roman de
Brut, a reworking of the Historia in the vernacular French, or romanz,
exercise the Trojan-origin myth in a story of the genealogy of the kings of
Britain dating back to Aeneas. The most celebrated is the chivalrous and
courtois King Arthur, who amasses extensive dominions and presides
over a magnificent court. Geoffrey's Historia supported racial and
dynastic aspirations in England for over 500 years, until the need for the
rise of a Germanic-origin myth in the sixteenth century (MacDougall 2,
12). The Trojan-origin myth, stressing achievements of kings, no longer
served the dominant groups (MacDougall 24).
Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie, the last of the trio of
romans antiques, stories shaped from la matiere antique written in
romanz, constitutes a version of the Trojan myth that describes the
ideology of the chivalric/courtois code for the elite of France and
England. This liberal adaptation of the Iliad provided a practical history
lesson in ethical values and refinement for a twelfth-century aristocratic
audience. The lessons, a study of military prowess, honor, affluence and
generosity, courtesy, eloquence, and courtly love, furnished examples of
expected behavior and beliefs to those who wished to mitigate violence
and to sanction courtly manners.
Aristocracy in twelfth-century France and England was like a
nation, in that it was a distinct class, essentially closed, and dependent
on the preservation of its patrimony and lineage. It was the "nation" of
Trojan descendants for whom the Troie was composed, this "nation" who
lived by its own ideology of chivalric and courtois manners.
A national identity reflects a common cultural heritage and shared
expectations. Because the Trojan myth encompasses an ideology that
many societies claimed to have inherited, it helped to form "nations"
related by blood ties and/or culture. The tale of Troy throughout
antiquity and the Middle Ages encouraged "nations" to identify with a
once-great race and its tradition-its honor, its warlike virtues, its pride
in divine or heroic ancestors, its ideology of king as symbol for political
unity, and its governing principle to safeguard and bequeath the
patrimony passed on from earlier generations.
The memory of Troy survived because of the Iliad. "It is not Troy
which sheds glory upon Homer, but Homer and the epic tradition upon
Troy" (Young 10). Predicated on myth, the Iliad and subsequent tales of
Troy were modified to correspond to the unique circumstances of every
audience. Because the influence of myth and of its related ideology lies
not in its objective truth but in its being perceived as true (MacDougall 3),
Rome, France, and Britain looked to Troy for wisdom and inspiration.
The resultant epics, origin myths, and romans revived the memory of
Troy that Homer first etched on man's mind.
The principal reason given for the sanctity of Troy in the Iliad is
the elaboration of the genealogy of its founders. In this great mythical
epic of the Greek nation, "the most famous story of the Western world"
(Tuchman 36), Homer relates how the "dearest progeny of all-powerful
Zeus" founded a colony in the Troad that preceded the legendary city of
Troy. It is Aeneas who chronicles the race of Troy:
First of all Zeus who gathers the clouds had a son, Dardanos
who founded Dardania, since there was yet no sacred Ilion
made a city in the plain to be a centre of peoples,
but they lived yet in the underhills of Ida with all her waters.
Dardania is established to lead human beings away from nature's
randomness to the stability of civilization. The polis as a civilizing force
is an enclosure nurturing life and sheltering a community of men, women
and children. It has a sacred essence because of its "spirit of enclosure
and the conferring of a human identity, the reasons Zeus initiates its
creation" (Scully, Homer and the Sacred City 25).
The city of Troy is also considered a model of civilization in the
twelfth-century Roman de Troie, not only because it is an enclosed space
8 All quotations from the Iliad are taken from Richard Lattimore's 1951
translation, entitled The Iliad of Homer.
which sustains life, but because it is a place of unconstrained power,
creation, and beauty. It "apparait come le lieu ofu s'epanouissent les
functions du savoir, de la prouesse et de la richesse ..." (Croizy-Naquet
18). Although it recalls "tous les elements stereotypes de la ville, murs,
portes, tours infranchissables, materiaux solides et precieux" (Croizy-
Naquet 368), the novel likens Troy to the courtois woman, who
represents "la ville comme lieu de raffinement et de f&condite" (Croizy-
The Iliad's Aeneas, whose destiny it is to survive the Trojan War,
"that the generation of Dardanos shall not die" (20.303), continues his
enumeration of those rulers of the Troad who traced their ancestry back
Dardanos in turn had a son, the king, Erichthonios,
who became the richest of mortal men, and in his possession
were three thousand horses who pastured along the low
To Erichthonios was born Tros, who became lord of the Trojans,
breakers of horses; and to Tros was born noble Ilos; who begat
Laomedon; who had in turn Priam, the father of "Hector the brilliant."
Aeneas, as son of Anchises, great-grandson of Tros, is a member of the
Legendary kings of the Troad were eponyms of the areas that they
ruled, thus Dardania, Troy, and Ilios, inhabitants being known as
Dardanians, Trojans, Ilians, or even Teucrians, as Teucer was an
indigenous king of the Troad.
The city of Troy itself bore two different names. In the Iliad Troy
and Ilios are used interchangeably. "Troy was perhaps originally the
more general name, applying to the whole countryside-the Troad-while
Ilios more specifically designated the actual city," (Blegen 16).
Troy, or Ilios, was founded by Ilos, and its walls described in the
Iliad were built during the reign of Laomedon, at the request of Zeus.
Poseidon relates that he and Apollo built the wall "with our hard work
for the hero Laomedon's city" (7.453). Later he claims that he alone "built
a wall for the Trojans about their city, wide and very splendid, so no one
could break into their city," while Apollo herded Laomedon's cattle "along
the spurs of Ida with all her folds and her forests" (21.446-49).
The historical Trojans of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries
BC were likewise found to be great builders. Regarding the Middle
Bronze Age citadel of Troy, the archaeologist Carl Blegen relates that "the
imposing fortifications that now rise display increased knowledge of
military engineering together with technical advances in masonry" (111).
In the Iliad, the high, white towers of Poseidon's wall overlooked
the large and beautiful plain of Troy and the river Scamander, which
flowed down through the foothills of Mount Ida. Likewise, in modern
times, "the summit of Ida commands one of the noblest landscapes in the
Levant, and was worthy of the distinction it enjoyed as an earthly throne
of Jupiter," writes Charles Maclaren (19), a Scottish topographer who
visited the Troad in 1847. He offers a delightful image of the
fountainhead of the Scamander, located at the base of Mount Ida:
Instead of collecting its water like other rivers from obscure, feeble
and scattered sources, it bursts out at once into day in a
magnificent cascade, clear as crystal, issuing forth in mystery and
sublimity from a deep cavern in the hidden recesses of the
mountain, amidst thundering echoes, and encompassed scenery of
extraordinary beauty and grandeur. (24)
Maclaren paints a picture of the Troad that resembles a locus
amoenus. Homer as well imagines the Troad an earthly paradise,
especially before the advent of war. Ernst Robert Curtius, in European
Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, remarks that Homer's ideal
landscape was pleasant and friendly, often a dwelling place for the gods;
it includes "a cluster of trees, a grove with springs and lush meadows ...
[a] carpet of flowers," (185-86).
In one vision of the locus amoenus Homer describes the
appearance on the peaks of Ida of a perpetual spring beautiful with a
carpet of flowers as Zeus and Hera embrace in a golden wonderful cloud:
"... There / underneath them the divine earth broke into young, fresh /
grass, and into dewy clover, crocus and hyacinth / so thick and soft it
held the hard ground deep away from them" (14.347-49).
Additional glimpses of the Troad's landscape offer a less attractive
sight after the onset of hostilities. The Iliad describes the lush
grasslands and the flowing rivers along with the various species of trees
as the destructive elements of war are happening around them:
... the multitudinous tribes from the ships and
shelters poured to the plain of the Skamandros, and the earth
feet and under the feet of their horses thundered horribly.
They took position in the blossoming meadow of Skamandros,
And the horses standing each beside his chariot,
champed their clover and the parsley that grows in wet places.
The elms burned, the willows and tamarisks,
the clover burned and the rushes and galingale, all those
plants that grew in abundance by the lovely stream of the river.
(2.464-68, 2.775-76, 21.350-52)
Springs located just beyond the wall of the city of Troy, however,
do not impart a locus amoenus. Instead, they symbolize "that liminal
space between human and natural order" ( Scully, Homer and the Sacred
City 13). They are consigned to the city but are of nature. Their
depiction by Homer as both terrible war and refreshing peace aptly
comes while Hector and Achilles meet in final combat:
They raced along by the watching point and the windy fig tree
always away from under the Trojan wall and along the wagon-way
And came to the two sweet-running well springs. There there are
springs of water that jet up, the springs of the whirling
One of these runs hot water and the steam on all sides
of it rises as if from a fire that was burning inside it.
But the other in the summer-time runs water that is like hail
or chill snow or ice that forms from water. Beside these
in this place, and close to them, are the washing-hollows
of stone, and magnificent, where the wives of the Trojans and their
daughters washed the clothes to shining, in the old days
when there was peace, before the coming of the sons of the
"Mount Ida of the springs" afforded also a sacredness to the Troad,
as its summit, known as Gargaron, was holy ground, with an altar and a
priest. The Iliad relates how from this spot Father Zeus watched over
Greek and Trojan alike:
He came to Ida with all her springs, the mother of wild beasts,
to Gargaron, where was his holy ground and his smoking altar.
There the father of gods and of mortals halted his horses,
and slipped them from their harness, and drifted close mist about
and himself rejoicing in the pride of his strength sat down on the
looking out over the city of Troy and the ships of the Achaians.
By its gushing forth from the very foot of Zeus' throne, the river
Scamander, whose god the Olympians called Xanthus, was believed to
have an ancient sacredness. Homer stresses its sanctity by describing it
as the "whirling Xanthos, whose father was Zeus the immortal" (14.433-
34). It was worshipped with sacrifices, its priest being brilliant Hypsenor.
A man of no small importance, he "was honoured about the countryside
as a god is" (5.79).
As Ida and the Scamander were considered sacred, so indeed was
the city of Troy. One of Homer's favorite epithets for it was "sacred
Ilios." The foundation of its sanctity was not only the distinguished
genealogy of its rulers and its site on the plain commanded by Mount Ida,
source of the river Scamander, but also its divine walls built by Apollo
The sanctity of Troy was derived less from its location than from
its enclosure of civilized society within a divinely-built wall, from "its
union of temples and sacred agora" (Scully, Homer and the Sacred City
16), and from its divine protection. The agora in the Iliad was considered
sacred, for Homer calls it the "sacred circle" where "the elders / were in
session on benches of polished stone ..." (18.503-04). Although Homer
claims other cities as sacred, Zeus himself states that "for of all the cities
beneath the sun and the starry heaven / dwelt in by men who live upon
the earth, there has never been one / honoured nearer to my heart than
sacred Ilion" (4.44-46).
Hoping that the armed maiden Athena, Troy's foremost tutelary
deity, would come to the defense of the city's women and children
against the onslaught of Diomedes, Hector counsels the Trojan women to
take a sacrifice of the finest robe from the storerooms. The Iliad
recounts the unfortunate consequence:
When these had come to Athene's temple of the peak of the
citadel, Theano of the fair cheeks opened the door for them,
of Kisseus, and wife of Antenor, breaker of horses,
she whom the Trojans had established to be Athene's priestess.
With a wailing cry all lifted up their hands to Athene,
and Theano of the fair cheeks taking up the robe laid it
along the knees of Athene the lovely haired, and praying
she supplicated the daughter of powerful Zeus.
She spoke in prayer, but Pallas Athene turned her head from her.
Pallas Athena rejected the plea of the Trojan women, a
circumstance brought on no doubt by her having been snubbed in favor
of Aphrodite in the Judgment of Paris. Athena, along with Zeus, refuses
to come to the aid of "sacred Ilion," and in fact helps to bring about its
fall, as Troy, embracing the inherent fault of a city "to sustain life and
remain a part of the ongoing cycle," fails to recognize and accept its own
mortality (Scully, "The Polis in Homer" 24). Arrogance, such as
dismissing the possible consequences of the abduction of Helen and of
her marriage to Paris, largely causes the destruction of Troy in the Roman
de Troie. "... La chute de Troie ... s'explique logiquement par la
transgression d'un ordre etabli, par un orgueuil demesure ..." (Croizy-
The Palladium was one more example of Trojan sanctity. A statue
of Pallas Athena, made of wood "about four and a half feet in height,"
the Palladium had a place of honor in the Pergamum ( Tripp 441). In
myth palladia were objects made by the gods and flung from heaven.
The Palladium, a gift from Zeus to Ilos, who in turn had a temple built for
it, became the symbol of Troy's continuance and the source of its
In two epics from the Trojan Cycle, the Little Iliad and the Sack of
Ilium, Odysseus and Diomedes steal the sacred statue in order that the
city might fall. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, it is Odysseus who seizes the
Palladium and boasts that "illa nocte mihi Troiae victoria part est: /
Pergama tune vici. cum vinci posse coegi" 2 13.348-49), [on that night I
gained the victory over Troy; at that moment did I conquer Pergama when
I made it possible to conquer her] (2: 253). Another Roman legend
reveals that the sacred image, presently secure in the temple of Vesta,
was rescued by Aeneas on fleeing Troy (Tripp 441). Colette Beaune states
that "[le palladium] signifiait le transfer des empires" (48).
The extraordinary sanctity attributed to the Palladium and to
Athena as defender of Troy was recognized by generations of ancients
who came after Homer. Herodotus writes in his History of the reaction of
Xerxes, king of Persia, when he and his army reached the Scamander in
480 BC on their way to attack Greece:
Xerxes had a strong desire to see Troy, the ancient city of Priam.
Accordingly he went up into the citadel, and when he had seen
what he wanted to see and heard the story of the place from the
people there, he sacrificed a thousand oxen to the Trojan Athene..
Alexander the Great, who "carried the Iliad about with him in a
jewelled casket" (Grant 51), also displayed his belief in the sanctity of
Troy, due in part to Athena. Arrian, author of an Anabasis of Alexander
in the second century AD, writes of Alexander's conviction:
He then went up to Troy, and sacrificed to the Trojan Athena,
dedicated his full armour in the temple, and took down in its place
some of the dedicated arms yet remaining from the Trojan war,
which it is said, the hypaspist henceforth used to carry before him
into battle. (51)
Ovid acknowledged the sanctity of the Palladium in the Fasti:
moenia Dardanides nuper nova fecerat Ilus
(Ilus adhuc Asiae dives habebat opes):
creditur armiferae signum caeleste Minervae
urbis in Iliacae desiluisse iuga.
cura videre fuit, vidi templumque locumque:
hoc superest illac, Pallada Roma tenet. (6.419-24)
[Ilus, descendant of Dardanus, had lately founded a new city (Ilus
was still rich and possessed the wealth of Asia); a celestial image of
armed Minerva is believed to have leaped down on the hills of the
Ilian city. (I was anxious to see it: I saw the temple and place; that
is all that is left there; the image of Pallas is in Rome.)] (350-51)
While fashioning Rome as the new daughter of Troy, Virgil's Aeneid
makes sanctity one of the prominent features of transference. This
transmission, or translation, did not come from the Palladium, however,
but rather it came primarily by means of the household gods carried out
of the burning city by Aeneas and Anchises. The total action of the
Aeneid "moves with the household gods of Priam, from Troy to New
Troy" (Frye 318).
By the reign of Augustus, Aeneas had become the prototype for the
Trojans, affirms Karl Galinsky in Aeneas. Sicily, and Rome (3). "His pietas
was that quality for which he was known best and which came to
overshadow all his other traits" (4). The legend of Aeneas reflected on
the overall Trojan legend, as the Romans saw the piety and sense of duty
shown by Aeneas toward family and the gods as trademarks of the
typical Trojan warrior, whose familial duty it had been to fight for the
defense of the sacred city of Troy. Because Aeneas is the exemplary
Trojan, he becomes the embodiment of all Trojans (Graf 54).
The Trojan myth has been preserved and recreated by literature.
Because of the imaginative genius of Homer, the legacy of a primitive,
heroic period reached its culmination. The Iliad and the Odysse,
although the earliest literature of ancient Greece, are considered
masterpieces. They were viewed not only as chronicles of important
historical events and heroes, but also as a guide to morality. "The Greeks
regarded Homer as their teacher par excellence" (Graf 62). His works
comprised lessons in heroism and patriotism, hospitality and love of
family, wisdom and personal honor. People took the performance of
heroes such as Agamemnon, Diomedes, Odysseus, Achilles, and Hector
"as a guide to the proper demeanour in analogous situations" (Kirk 290).
The Iliad and the Odyssey were succeeded by other heroic poems,
which evolved into the Trojan, or Epic, Cycle. These post-Homeric
legends, composed from the eighth to the sixth century BC, were integral
parts of the Homeric tradition, as they filled in the gaps left by the Iliad
and the Odyssey and completed the cycle of events that made up the
The works of the cyclic poets have come down to us "in a summary
made by Proclus in the second century AD [and] preserved by the
Byzantine scholar Photius in the ninth century AD" (Scherer 219). These
works greatly enhanced the scope of the Trojan legend, thus providing
succeeding generations of artists a treasure trove of source material. The
lyric poets and great tragedians of ancient Greece also took up Trojan
themes and were included in the Homeric tradition.
The next six works, along with their poets, constitute the Trojan
Cycle: the Cypria, named for Cyprus, home of its supposed author,
Stasinus, provides an introduction to the Iliad, which combines the events
from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis to the Trojan War, including the
Judgment of Paris; the AethioDis and the Sack of Ilium ascribed to
Arctinus of Miletus, the Little Iliad, attributed to Lesches of Lesbos, and
the Nostoi, or 'Returns', take in the events that occur from the end of the
Iliad to the beginning of the Odyssey, including the death of Achilles, the
destruction of Troy, and the fortunes of the heroes on their return home
after the war; the Telegonia, a late cyclic epic, ascribed to Eugammon of
Cyrene in the sixth century BC, relates the death of Odysseus at the
hands of Telegonus, his son by Circe.
The notion of greatness throughout the ages of the legend of Troy
does not depend on any correlation to historical reality. "[It] lies rather
in the beauty and the variety it has called out of the creative imaginations
of artists, from Homer down to modern times" (Young 1). Barbara
Tuchman claims that "all of human experience is in the tale of Troy" (36).
Its scope being too vast to be exhausted in one version or form,
numerous artists have had the opportunity to illuminate its brilliance.
Margaret Scherer lists at least 80 known authors, from Homer to the
tenth century AD, who formulated literature about the Trojan War, and
submits an additional 114 well-known authors and musicians who
composed works about Troy from the twelfth century AD to the present
day. She offers an extensive selection of works of art that depict Trojan
themes, including tapestries, vases, enamels, ivories, manuscripts,
paintings, sculptures, which are extant today.
Bronze Age Source
Legends that contributed to the epics of Homer and the cyclic
poets were developed under conditions that did not encourage a unity of
tradition. It was during the Greek Dark Ages, the twelfth to the ninth
centuries BC, a time of small tribal units and warrior aristocracies, that
the tales of the heroes of the Trojan War first evolved. This chaotic era
comprised the aftermath of the disintegration of the great cities of the
Mycenaean Age which had been highly centralized and bureaucratic
societies governed by kings (Scully, Homer and the Sacred City 2). It was
during this period that bards refined the story of the fall of Troy.
The Dark Ages of Greece, not unlike the Dark Ages of western
Europe, was a bleak period of limited communication, decreased material
prosperity, and few illustrations of writing and the fine arts. Because
men nostalgically envisaged an ideal, heroic past, epic poems drawing
upon legendary subject matter, especially from the Mycenaean
civilization, were composed and sung.
The militarist palace culture of the Mycenaean Age, which poets
romantically interpreted, was at its height from 1450 to 1200 BC.
Agamemnon of the Iliad was likened to the historical king of Mycenae.
Homer showed him to be "the most powerful king in Greece, and he
wielded some sort of loose overlordship over the other independent
kings of mainland Greece, Crete, and some of the islands" (Michael Wood
Greek rulers of the ancient fortress cities, such as Tiryns, Pylos,
Corinth, Thebes, Athens, and Mycenae, shared a common language and a
common culture. They were the leaders of the expedition against Troy.
The Trojan War was one of the last great ventures of the Mycenaean
Greeks, known historically, as well as in literature, as Achaeans, Danaans,
or Argives, their eponyms being traditional rulers in the Peloponnesus.
Legends of events and warriors of the Late Bronze Age heroic
culture, in which the Mycenaean Age fit, were transmitted in an oral
tradition from bard to bard down through the generations. Oral tradition
causes tales to be changed in the telling; they are "told and retold,
reshaped and refitted to meet their audience's changing needs" (Erdoes
xi). Near the end of the oral tradition, with the revival of towns and
historical memory, in the eighth century BC, Homer, living in an Ionian
colony on the western edge of Asia Minor, shaped the Iliad and the
Odyssey. Although the exploits are mythical, the names of the great
warriors are traceable to the Mycenaean age (Grant 29).
G.S. Kirk calls Homer "a crucial if ambiguous figure in the
transmission of myths" (95). He explains a portion of the uncertainty
surrounding the poet that we know as Homer:
He stands at the very beginning of western literary history ..., and
as a person we know very little about him; but then neither did the
classical Greeks themselves. He lived across the Aegean,
somewhere in lonia,... probably during the middle and latter part
of the eighth century B.C.... Whether the composer of the Iliad
was also responsible for the Odyssey has been debated from
antiquity and is perhaps no longer very important. What matters is
that both poems, despite minor differences, are alike in
background, language and heroic values, and that they make
equally heavy use of traditional narrative derived from earlier
The Iliad and the Odyssey are a mythical, imaginative depiction of the
Mycenaean age, while at the same time they are filled with figures that
are "historicizing if not actually historical" (Kirk 96-97). Whether the
important political characters like Agamemnon and Priam were in origin
actual people is uncertain, nevertheless they were historically based
Myth vis-a-vis Legend
A traditional tale grounded in history is generally called a legend,
while one that has no historic basis is designated a myth. Therefore, the
Troy Tale may be determined as either myth or legend. Fritz Graf defines
myth as a traditional tale that "makes a valid statement ... about
everything on which human existence depends" (3) and has close ties to
the value system of a society (55). The Trojan myth, as exemplified by
the Iliad, afforded a moral beacon to the Greek people, thus serving as an
ideology and a civilizing force.
Although myths and legends, as transmitted tradition, are shaped
to fit the audience, the poet's freedom to alter them is limited. By the
time that Homer was composing his epics, the celebrated story of Troy
contained certain fixed events to which tradition had given the authority
of fact. Historical legends enabled Homer to select alleged facts from the
past that were usable in the present. "The legend, by acquiring poetic
and narrative form, hardly loses historical significance. On the contrary,
it takes on increased historical value" (Uitti 67). The Iliad grew into a
national epic that bound men together into a society by enhancing a
common heritage and mythology.
Similar to the Iliad, the legend of Troy narrated in the Roman de
Troie in the twelfth century was adapted to suit its audience and made to
adhere to certain fixed events inherited from earlier tales. Episodes of
courtly love and other courtois themes are inserted within an epic
leitmotif of war and of heroic warriors dying for the cause of national
loyalty. Emmanuele Baumgartner, drawing on the Troie's series of 23
battles, describes a characteristic scene of action:
[Benoit] met en place tout un rituel de la bataille, evoquant
inlassablement le d6ferlement radieux des corps d'armee au matin
des combats, le flamboiement splendid des armes et des
enseignes, les horreurs de la m&lee, du carnage anonyme,
l'acharnement des combats, la plaine jonchee, le soir, de morts et
d'agonisants et le temps des troves ofu fument interminablement
les bfichers. (Le Roman de Troie 12)
Besides his transmission of the savage grandeur of war, Benoit de
Sainte-Maure conveys the fervor of duty to one's people, or "nation." On
both sides in the Troie, "'nation' est... synonyme de naissance dans le
sens d'extraction, rang, famille, race" (Kelly 56). In his comparison of the
Iliad to the earliest French chansons de gestes, Louis Petit de Julleville
could have taken into account the Roman de Troie:
La douleur et la mort occupent une large place, la force physique y
est en gloire,... la religion pen&tre,... mais ce qui domine et
&chauffe toute cette poesie des ages simples, c'est l'esprit national.
... II faut un people ... qui meure volontiers pour sa defense ou
pour sa gloire. (50-51)
In the Iliad as well as in the Troie a spirit of nationalism pervades
both the Greek and the Trojan camps, but whereas Benoit underscores
the importance of bloodlines, Homer emphasizes that each side embraces
its own distinctive type of nation.
Greek "Nation" versus Trojan "Nation"
The legend of the Trojan War as played out in the Iliad was
considered by the Greeks to be a chronicle of their nation. The term
'nation', in this instance, denotes a group of people who share a history
that leads to common customs and a common spirit and a desire to live
together. In the Iliad the Achaeans belong to this kind of nation. They
distinguish themselves from the Trojans because they have a common
language and they form an organic coalition of states. "Because Greek is
their common language, the units of the Achaean army form ... a
kosmos, an 'ordering' of tribes and [clans]" (Mackie 19). An element of
their unity is evidenced by the following action: "But the Achaian men
went silently, breathing valour, / stubbornly minded each in his heart to
stand by the others" (3.8-9). The Achaeans give their lives for the nation.
The Trojan army, on the other hand, is a disparate group of allies
who come together to defend Priam's Troy. Homer's lines of verse, "the
Trojans came on with clamour and shouting, like wildfowl, / as when the
clamour of cranes goes high to the heavens" (3.2-3), show the Trojans'
lack of cohesion. Because they cry out in varied dialects, "the Trojans,
for want of a common language, do not exhibit kosmos" (Mackie 19).
The lack of harmony in the Trojan ranks is temporarily righted by a
scheme arranged by Zeus. While holding assembly on the heights of
Pergamon, the Trojans are visited by the messenger of the gods, Iris, who,
disguised as the sentry, Polites, addresses his brother:
Hektor, on you beyond all I urge this, to do as I tell you:
all about the great city of Priam are many companions,
but multitudinous is the speech of the scattered nations:
let each man who is their leader give orders to these men,
and let each set his citizens in order, and lead them. (2.802-06)
The Trojan allies are companions-in-arms, but they do not embody
a united community like the Greeks. Hector serves as their commander,
but he does not function as the overlord of equal warlords, as does
Agamemnon. Indeed, a lack of shared intent and resolve is manifest
among the diversified troops. The Trojans, in order to defend their city,
are forced at times to provide their allies with gifts. Hector cries out to
his companions: "I wear out my own people for presents / and food,
wherewith I make strong the spirit within each one of you" (17.225-26).
Each ally of Hector and the Trojans is a nation unto itself. National
identification is based on race, not on the Greek commonality and
collectivity of culture. The term 'nation' corresponds to a people and is
determined by blood ties, the genealogical link that accounts for innate
and common qualities. Because the strength of the Trojan nation "lies
with the genealogy of one house and one family, the stability can rest...
in the unbroken line of that family" (Scully, "The Polis in Homer" 9).
In the eighth century BC the primitive Hellenic nation was
beginning to develop, and communication within and without Greece was
increasing. "As [Greeks] came into contact with other cultures and
achieved greater inland mobility, they grew aware of themselves as an
independent group, as Hellenes" (Graf 78). Panhellenism, evidenced in
the inception of the Olympic Games in 776 BC, was evolving. Homer,
composing his tale of Troy during this period, was molding the story of
one nation based on a society with a common cultural heritage vis-A-vis
one based on an aristocratic household whose distinguished bloodlines
dated from ancient times.
Jacques Perret, although speaking of Rome at the dawn of its
Empire, helps to explain the timing of the fabrication of the Iliad and the
other foundation myths, namely the Aeneid:
On peut poser comme un axiome de valeur universelle qu'une
communaute, qu'un people ne possede une histoire de ses origins
que lorsqu'il a acquis une signification historique, de sorte qu'il y a
int6ret pour lui ou pour les autres a d&couvrir son origine. Seuls
les peuples important racontent I'histoire de leurs origins et cette
histoire ne se forme qu'apres le commencement de leur importance
et de leur puissance. (xii)
When the Iliad was being shaped, at "l'aurore d'une civilisation"
(Petit de Julleville 51), feelings of nationhood were emerging. Although
the national epic of Rome, the Aeneid, was "le produit longuement
elabore, d'une civilisation raffinee" (Petit de Julleville 50), nevertheless, it
was composed at the dawn of the Roman Empire when the new ruling
Julio-Claudian family was seeking legitimacy; likewise, the Historia
Regum Britanniae and the Roman de Brut were written at the onset of the
Anglo-Norman dynasty. The Trojan legend, expanded and altered by
successive generations, was considered a major source of each nation's
history from the time of ancient Greece as far as ancient Rome up to
medieval France and England.
Whether Homer was composing a foundation myth for a nation
predicated on an organized community or for one built around a dynasty
linked by blood ties or for a synthesis of the two, he illustrated the view
of life of a knightly ruling class for an audience comprised of the upper
classes. Throughout Greece aristocratic families perpetuated an
impeccable pedigree dating from Mycenaean times. Leaders in Homer's
lonia took the names of heroes from the Trojan War to enhance their
status and to validate their authority.
As Homer evokes an image of "a noisy mixture of nations, speaking
many tongues" defending against a united "collection of Greek forces"
(Mackie 10, 7), he is showing a conflict between East and West, which
persisted through the Middle Ages. Although he lived before the strife
between Greece and Persia, "Ionian ... Greek settlers on the coast of Asia
Minor-ancestors of Homer himself-had clashed, perhaps in the ninth
century, with Asian peoples ..." (Grant 33). Herodotus writes that in the
view of the Persians, "it was the capture of Troy that first made them
enemies of the Greeks" (42). Thus, he implies that the subsequent
conflict between East and West had its origins with the capture of Troy
Troy as both a historical and a legendary city held a commanding
position as a Bronze Age crossroads of trade routes between Europe and
Asia. Although archaeological remains bear out that the Trojan culture
looked westwards toward the Greeks rather than toward its Asian
neighbors, the Iliad shows the Trojan army to be a coalition of allies from
neighboring communities in Asia Minor. According to Michael Grant, the
East-West aspect of the siege of Troy is reflected in the Iliad in the
difference between the unified Greeks and "the oriental cosmopolitanism
of the Trojan ranks" (33):
So thronged beat upon beat the Danaans' close battalions
steadily into battle, with each of the lords commanding
his own men; and these went silently, you would not think
all these people with voices kept in their chest were marching;
silently, in fear of their commanders; and upon all
glittered as they marched the shining armour they carried.
But the Trojans, as sheep in a man of possessions' steading
stand in their myriads waiting to be drained of their white milk
and bleat interminably as they hear the voice of their lambs, so the
crying of the Trojans went up through the wide army.
Since there was no speech nor language common to all of them
but their talk was mixed, who were called there from many far
The contrast between the harmonious Greeks and the babel and
disorder of the Trojan forces results from a difference in the culture and
ideology of each nation. The national ideology of either the Trojan race
or the union of Greek states refers to a belief system that articulates the
way each society thinks of itself, the values and customs it holds dear,
and the traditional symbols of the collective imagination.
In the Iliad the ideology of the Greeks identifies with the web of
Homeric city-states, where order is preserved by the use of social blame.
Conversely, the Trojans live in a praise culture that focuses on the oikos,
'aristocratic household'. "Trojan praise ... is aligned in the narrative
with a type of community that defends the oikos as its center of stability
and organization, and relies on guest-friends connected with this
household for help in doing so" (Mackie 129).
Philotes, 'loyalty to one's friends', and aids, 'shame' or 'fear of
disgrace', are important virtues for the Achaeans, as two of the attributes
of a national ideology to advance cooperation and order. Ajax exhorts
his men with words that encourage a cohesive community:
Dear friends, be men; let shame be in your hearts, and discipline,
and have consideration for each other in the strong encounters,
since more come through alive when men consider each other,
and there is no glory when they give way, nor warcraft either.
Unlike the Achaeans, kleos, 'praise' or 'fame', and charis,
'gratitude', are the virtues that the Trojans and their allies seek. Hector,
while musing about immortality for himself on the field of battle, rallies
his forces, who reciprocate with noisy excitement:
'Trojans and Dardanians and companions in arms: hear me.
Now I had thought that, destroying the ships and all the Achaians
We might take our way back once more to windy Ilion,
But the darkness came too soon, and this beyond all else rescued
the Argives and their vessels along the beach where the sea breaks.
Tomorrow [Diomedes] will learn his own strength, if he can stand
my spear's advance; but sooner than this, I think, in the foremost
he will go down under the stroke, and many companions about him
as the sun goes up into tomorrow. Oh, if I only
could be as this in all my days immortal and ageless
and be held in honour as Athene and Apollo are honoured
as surely as this oncoming day brings evil to the Argives.'
So Hektor spoke among them, and the Trojans shouted approval.
The ideology of Panhellenic order and cohesiveness is called into
question by the disruption that Achilles introduces to it. He does not
adequately concern himself with philotes or aids, 'loyalty' or 'shame', in
his dealings with his fellow Achaeans. Ajax reproaches him because "for
the sake of one single girl" (9.637-38), Briseis, whom Agamemnon chose
to abduct from him, he "does not remember that friends' affection /
wherein we honoured him by the ships, far beyond all others.... Respect
your own house, we are under the same roof with you" (9.630-31, 640).
Achilles imagines himself a xenos, an 'outsider', whom the
Achaeans do not treat with kleos and charts, 'praise' and 'gratitude'. He
receives no reciprocation for all the heroic fighting that he has performed
for them. Addressing Odysseus, who has just appealed to him to return
to the war, Achilles laments the lack of honor and fair treatment shown
to him by Agamemnon:
do I think the son of Atreus, Agamemnon, will persuade me,
nor the rest of the Danaans, since there was no gratitude given
for fighting incessantly forever against your enemies.
Fate is the same for the man who holds back, the same if he fights
We are all held in a single honour, the brave with the weaklings.
A man dies still if he has done nothing, as one who has done much.
Nothing is won for me, now that my heart has gone through its
in forever setting my life on the hazard of battle.
For as to her unwinged young ones the mother bird brings back
morsels, wherever she can find them, but as for herself it is
such was I, as I lay through all the many nights unsleeping,
such as I wore through the bloody days of the fighting,
striving with warriors for the sake of these men's women.
But I say that I have stormed from my ships twelve cities
of men, and by land eleven more through the generous Troad.
From all these we took forth treasures, goodly and numerous,
and we would bring them back, and give them to Agamemnon,
Atreus' son; while he, waiting back beside the swift ships, would
take them, and distribute them little by little, and keep
All the other prizes of honour he gave the great men and the
are held fast by them, but from me alone of all the Achaians
he has taken and keeps the bride of my heart. ... (9.314-36)
Achilles defies convention by blaming and insulting the regal
commander-in-chief, Agamemnon. Nestor warns him not to match his
strength with the king, "since never equal with the rest is the portion of
honour / of the sceptred king to whom Zeus gives magnificence" (1.278-
79). Achilles' lack of responsiveness to aids, 'shame', is potentially
dangerous, for his perception of one's place in the social structure and of
the obligations that accompany that place could upset the hierarchical
order of the Achaean community.
The two cultures portrayed by Homer, including their ideologies,
were representations for future nations. Aspects of a dynastic praise
culture based on the stability of the aristocratic household appeared in
the ruling classes of medieval France and England, while qualities of a
unified blame culture based on commonality of territory and culture
surfaced by the fifteenth-century. Neither belief system is balanced, as
evidenced in the Iliad. With the loss of Hector, the Trojan society
exposes itself as an aristocratic household in decline, while the political
superiority of the Achaean community is complicated by the presence of
the dissident Achilles.
Warrior Ethic of the Hero
Despite singular distinctions, the Greeks and the Trojans share a
glorified ideal of the warrior ethic as an element of their national
identities. Gaining permanent honor by dying gloriously is fundamental
to the warrior-hero. He must demonstrate superior authority and
courage, as he is a member of the "governing class, the propertied class,
and also the class on which the burden falls of maintaining the
community" (Redfield 9). For his services he acquires a social status that
garners him privileges as compensation. The role and reward of the
godlike warrior is elucidated by Sarpedon, lord of the Lycians, an ally of
Troy, as he addresses his comrade in arms:
Glaukos, why is it you and I are honoured before others
with pride of place, the choice meats and filled wine cups
in Lykia, and all men look on us as if we were immortals,
and we are appointed a great piece of land by the banks of
good land, orchard and vineyard, and ploughland for the planting
Therefore it is our duty in the forefront of the Lykians
to take our stand, and bear our part of the blazing of battle,
so that a man of the close-armoured Lykians may say of us:
'Indeed, these are no ignoble men who are lords of Lykia,
these kings of ours, who feed upon the fat sheep appointed
and drink the exquisite sweet wine, since indeed there is strength
of valour in them, since they fight in the forefront of the Lykians.'
The warrior espouses his mortality, but at the same time fancies
himself a member of an enduring family tree. Glaucus, second in
command of the Lycians, clarifies this duality for his adversary,
... why ask of my generation?
As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.
But Hippolochos begot me, and I claim that he is my father;
he sent me to Troy, and urged upon me repeated injunctions,
to be always among the bravest, and hold my head above others,
not shaming the generation of my fathers.... (6.145-48, 206-09)
Although a concept of the warrior ethic proclaims that an
individual gains honor and glory by boldly embracing death during
combat, neither Hector nor Achilles willingly seeks death for his "nation."
However, each aims for the singular honor and glory of the hero. Michael
Grant claims that "one of the Iliad's outstanding contributions to human
civilization, for good or for evil, is its concept of the hero" (44-45). "The
hero is the ideal personal type whose being is centered upon nobility and
its realization ..." (Curtius 167). He makes honor his foremost code, and
glory his driving force. It was an honor of moral excellence, personal
respect and prestige. "It was a glory of military and athletic prowess,
hereditary arrogance and aristocratic class privilege" (Grant 45).
Achilles, reproached and woefully deprived of the honor due him
by Agamemnon and the Achaeans, nevertheless fits the profile of the epic
hero defined by Northrop Frye. "If superior in degree to other men but
not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader. He has authority,
passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what he
does is subject both to social criticism and to the order of nature" (33-
Achilles possessed an excellence in speech and combat that were
attained in the royal household of Agamemnon under the tutelage of
Phoenix, who reminisces about their first days at court:
... Peleus the aged horseman sent me forth with you
on that day when he sent you from Phthia to Agamemnon
a mere child, who knew nothing yet of the joining of battle
nor of debate where men are made pre-eminent. Therefore
he sent me along with you to teach you of all these matters,
to make you a speaker of words and one who accomplished in
In combat with Hector, Achilles radiates military fervor, for not
only his bronze armor but also his passion for battle make him shine
"like the flare of blazing fire or the sun in its rising" (22.135). Homer
relates Hector's reaction to the brilliant Achilles as well as his own dark
And the shivers took hold of Hektor when he saw him, and he
could no longer
stand his ground there, but left the gates behind, and fled,
and Peleus' son went after him in the confidence of his quick feet.
But when for the fourth time they had come around to the well
then the Father balanced his golden scales, and in them
he set two fateful portions of death, which lays men prostrate,
one for Achilleus, and one for Hektor, breaker of horses,
and balanced it by the middle; and Hektor's death-day was heavier
and dragged downward toward death, and Phoibos Apollo forsook
him. (22.136-38, 208-13)
Besides his brilliant skills in warfare and rhetoric, Achilles
commands a heroic clarity of intellect which is the basis of his resistance
to do what is not honorable. When asked to return to the fighting, the
hero cannot choose to be reconciled to insult and discourtesy, he can
only come back under compulsion (Redfield 105). Achilles' refusal to
fight is an affirmation of the honor of the warrior ethic; "the
absoluteness of that affirmation makes Achilles the greatest of heroes"
Achilles' larger-than-life image is contrasted with the more human
figure of Hector. Although he is a creature of terror to the Achaeans,
Hector is compassionate and gracious and a beloved member of the
Trojan community. Helen speaks warmly of her brother-in-law: "There
was no other in all the wide Troad who was kind to me, and my friend"
(24.774-75). His sister Cassandra presents him as "a great joy to his city,
and all his people" (24.704). Andromache, his wife, portrays him as the
defender, "who guarded / the city, and the grave wives, and the innocent
children" (24.729-30). Homer names him "Hektor shepherd of the
Legacy of Hector
In the "nation" of Troy inheritance secures the permanence of the
oikos, 'aristocratic household'. After 10 years of war, Hector is the sole
surviving qualified heir of Priam, as he is the only son left who is worthy
of commanding the Trojan forces and of defending the city. "As future
king, he embodies the continuity of the [nation]. As such he is his
father's hope for the maintenance of royal privileges within the family
[oikos]" (Redfield 113).
Hector is mindful of his duty to preserve the royal family of Troy
and thus the Trojan race, but, as a warrior, he is obligated to test his
limits. An obligation to the warrior ethic leads Hector to an acute
sensitivity toward nemesis, 'moral disapproval of others', and toward
aids, 'shame', hence he reproaches Paris for a lack of these somewhat
Strange man! There is no way that one, giving judgment in
could dishonour your work in battle, since you are a strong man.
But of your own accord you hang back, unwilling. And my heart
is grieved in its thought, when I hear shameful things spoken about
by the Trojans, who undergo hard fighting for your sake.
Paris, fully acceptive of his fallible nature, responds to his brother:
"But beyond his strength no man can fight, although he be eager"
(13.787). Hector, on the other hand, fearing nemesis, 'disgrace', and
desiring glory and the flow of tradition, cannot afford to surrender to his
human inclination. He explains himself to Andromache, who has begged
him to quit the war and remain with her and their son on the rampart:
... yet I would feel deep shame
before the Trojans, and the Trojan women with trailing garments,
if like a coward I were to shrink aside from the fighting;
and the spirit will not let me, since I have learned to be valiant
and to fight always among the foremost ranks of the Trojans,
winning for my own self great glory, and for my father. (6.441-46)
Unlike Achilles, whose military prowess is spontaneous, Hector had
to master being valiant. Both heroes are identical, however, in that they
must confront the individual impulse to win kleos, 'praise', preferably
outside of their own community and beyond the immediate future. In
conversation with Andromache, Hector imagines the inevitable glory that
will befall him and his family:
'For I know this thing well in my heart, and my mind knows it:
there will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish,
and some day seeing you shedding tears a man will say of you:
"This is the wife of Hektor, who was ever the bravest fighter
of the Trojans, breakers of horses, in the days when they fought
... Then taking up
his dear son he tossed him about in his arms, and kissed him, and
lifted his voice in prayer to Zeus and the other immortals: 'Zeus,
and you other immortals, grant that this boy, who is my son, may
be as I am, pre-eminent among the Trojans,
great in strength, as am I, and rule strongly over Ilion.'
(6. 447-49, 459-61, 473-79)
Hector acknowledges the mortality of Troy, but also appreciates
that he is Troy's only hope for survival. As the chief military and
spiritual leader of the Trojan defense, if he dies, the community dies with
him. Though he and his city cannot escape their destiny, he understands
that they will gain everlasting glory if they perish honorably. During his
encounter with Achilles, realizing death is near, Hector counsels himself:
"Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious, / but do some big
thing first, that men to come shall know of it" (22.304-05). Hector's
interest is in the kleos that compensates the hero for his fate (Mackie 99),
a glorious death about which songs will be sung for generations to come.
Lattimore calls Hector the "accidental triumph" (37). Although not
as impressive in beauty, courage, and strength as Achilles, he "is still the
hero who forever captures the affection and admiration of the modern
reader, far more strongly than his conqueror has ever done" (36-37).
Largely through the character of Hector, the Trojans have endeared
themselves to the psyche of modern man. During the Middle Ages,
Trojan heroes were first and foremost images of chivalric warriors.
Hector was proclaimed one of these heroes, leading authors to liken him
to prestigious leaders of the Crusades (Beaune 21, 48-49). He was
declared one of the Nine Worthies as a representative of the ancient
heroes, along with Alexander and Caesar (Huizinga 61).
Hector represents the courageous, yet vulnerable, hero, who,
appreciating his fate, tries desperately to die bravely and win renown, but
fails in the end. "It is a terrible moment when this mighty man quails
and runs before Achilles" (Grant 39). C.P. Cavafy, a Greek poet writing in
the twentieth century, poignantly captures the bond between Hector and
ourselves in this excerpt from his poem, "The Trojans":
Our efforts are like those of the Trojans.
We think that with resolution and daring
We will alter the downdrag of destiny.
But when the great crisis comes,
Our daring and our resolution vanish;
And we run all around the walls
Seeking to save ourselves in flight.
However, our fall is certain. Above
On the walls, the dirge has already begun. (14)
Whether or not Priam's Troy fell gloriously is both immaterial and
inconclusive. Famed archaeologists, Wilhelm D6rpfeld and Carl Blegen,
differ as to the cause of its destruction. Did its ruin come by way of
earthquake or siege or a combination of the two? The question remains
open, as the phase of archaeological Troy that was Priam's city has not
been definitively fixed.
The city that fell to the Greeks, according to D6rpfeld, was the
stratum labeled Troy VI, whereas Blegen maintains that it was Troy VIIa.
Blegen does concede, however, that with the appearance of Troy VI in the
Middle Bronze Age a distinct break with the past was made. The Trojans
of this era were known as great builders. Also, in the first stratum of
Troy VI horse bones were discovered for the first time.
Michael Wood asserts that Troy VI, because of a certain type of
Mycenaean pottery found there, had to fall around 1250. "Troy VIh,...
the last phase, the city of fine walls and towers, ... was therefore the city
known to the Mycenaeans at the peak of the power of the palaces in
mainland Greece in both the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries, and the
masses of Mycenaean imports prove it" (200). Troy VIIa, on the other
hand, was destroyed around 1180, a time after the golden age of the
mainland palaces. It was a city of shanties and tenements.
In reality, the Troy of the Iliad, "was the equivalent of a walled
palace,... a royal city on a little hill, sheltering a few hundred people
with a few thousand more living around it" (Michael Wood 5). The citadel
of a city that went back at least as far as 1500 BC (Michael Wood 248 ), it
was, however, the stronghold of a long-lasting dynasty of Trojan kings.
How then did this Late Bronze Age fortress city become what
Christopher Morley calls in the Prologue to his Trojan Horse "earth's
most famous town?" Because it was based on myth, the tale of Troy
could be recreated to accommodate any society of any era. As stated by
Morley, Troy "belongs to everybody, and to all times at once." It is a
place of perpetual spring, a dream world, where time is unimportant. Let
us imagine Troy as that classic locus amoenus:
You must build it in your own mind. Put it on a rocky hillside
above a channel of shallowing green water. Put over it your own
favorite sky; give it your most familiar birds and flowers, sounds
and savors. Just for a moment, concentrate on essentials: the wide
freshness of sunny air, the breath of pine and fern and cedar, the
clear blue spread of distant sea, the snake on the stone still warm
at dusk. How many million years did it take him to counterfeit that
lichen pattern, and what is time to him?
Or to us .... (1)
Or, let us picture Troy as the eternal mythic city that shapes itself
so as to live forever in the memory of mankind:
Imagine, please,... a stylized medieval stronghold, with
walls and towers and battlements. Conical turrets are washed in
sunset, against the darkening lavender of Mount Ida. Dear to any
city is a neighboring mountain, even if only a hill. It gives
somehow a sense of solid permanence; which we terribly need.
As we look carefully, it's odd: among medieval walls and
classic temples we see perpendicular modern skyscrapers, radio
towers, filling stations.... (Morley 2-3)
Although Homer's Troy, as a "sacred city," was reluctant to
embrace its vulnerability and as a result was left unprotected by the gods
and destroyed, mankind throughout the ages has succeeded in
resurrecting it to its former glory. Different generations gleaned from
the Troy Tale elements expressive of their age. Troy was rebuilt again
and again, its immortality the consequence of the power of myth and
FROM FREDEGAR TO WACE: THE UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE
OF THE TROJAN-ORIGIN MYTH
In Western Europe during the twelfth century men's hearts and
minds were waking to a new appreciation of the world (Heer 101). There
was a revived vigor of intellectual and literary life. This renewal was
reflected in historical works. The writing of chronicles, usually historical
accounts of events arranged in sequence of time, without analysis or
interpretation, called for an open mind ready to reflect on a profusion of
knowledge. However, "in medieval histories, fact and fiction often
overlapped" (Blacker xi). In fact, sometimes myth was created to
authenticate historical narrative (Seaman 4). Wace's Roman de Brut,
issued circa 1155, and the work from which it was adapted, Geoffrey of
Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, published around 1138, were
based on myth and legend, although were perceived largely as history.
The Historia and the Brut were the result of the rebirth of interest
in classical antiquity and in the search for origins in twelfth-century
England. The medieval chronicler believed a great people should have a
glorious past, and the founders of a great nation should be heroic
(Kendrick 1). Brutus, the eponymous hero of the Britons, was granted
verisimilitude because he was linked with a major event in world history,
the fall of Troy.
The Brut and the Historia begin with an account of the birth and
upbringing of Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas.2 After being banished
from his country, like Aeneas, he wanders from region to region and risks
bold adventures. Ultimately, he and his followers reach their destination,
the island of Britain, where he becomes the ruler of these recent
inhabitants, the Britons. The tale resumes with the heroic exploits of a
long line of British kings. Constantine I was the king who captured Rome
and made himself emperor; Vortigern invited in the Saxons; Arthur
subdued most of western Europe and had a court whose splendor was
superior to all others. After Arthur was mortally wounded, the country
was beset with dissension. (MacDougall 8-11). MacDougall closes with
the following statement:
There was a brief revival of the hope of the Britons under the rule
of the last British king, Cadwallader, but the pestilence and famine
forced them to leave the island altogether and take refuge in
Brittany. Britain was now destitute of its ancient inhabitants
except for a remnant in Wales. The Angles and Saxons had finally
As regards scholastic activity in twelfth-century England and
France, R. W. Southern maintains that England was "a colony of the
French intellectual empire, important in its way and quite productive, but
still subordinate" (158). He adds that "the strongest creative impulse in
England in the early twelfth century was historical" (160). Important
chroniclers of the first half of the century were the Anglo-Norman
2 In the precursor to Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae, the Historia
Brittonum, Brutus is the grandson of Aeneas.
William of Malmesbury, a renowned monk-historian, who authored a
history of England beginning with the arrival of the Saxons, entitled the
Gesta Regum Anglorum; the Anglo-Norman archdeacon Henry of
Huntingdon, who wrote the Historia Anglorun, a history of the English
from the earliest times to the present day; and the Welshman, or Breton,3
Geoffrey of Monmouth, an Augustinian canon living in Oxford, who in his
Historia filled out the gaps in British history unrecorded by the earlier
All three authors found it necessary that their people's history
should be known. Though involved with the new Anglo-Norman regime,
namely with Henry I and/or the usurper, King Stephen, and other
distinguished Anglo-Norman noblemen, each author was principally
interested in explaining the prodigious rise in influence and importance
of his own race, either the Anglo-Saxons or the Welsh, that is, the Britons,
and the various internal conflicts which had troubled their history (Heer
278). Wace, a Norman, published his work a year after Henry II began his
reign in 1154, almost 20 years after Geoffrey's Historia appeared.
The Norman Conquest was an important reason for the rise in
historical writing in twelfth-century England. The native English sought
not only to validate their property rights but also to preserve their
cultural past. Southern professes that the adopting of Old English
3 Geoffrey was from the vicinity of Monmouth in southeast Wales, but his
racial origin is uncertain. Neil Wright concludes that he was a
"normanised Celt" (x).
history and legends, as well as intermarriage and "the gradual
replacement of English by French as the vernacular of cultivated people
even of English descent,... all these things helped to produce a single
nation at the top ..." (138).
For this distinctive "single nation," which comprised the Anglo-
Norman aristocracy, the new era precipitated the desire to define its
recently blended heritage and to justify its supremacy to those its armies
had conquered (Blacker xii). The elite, both at court and at local
aristocratic centers of culture, patronized authors who proclaimed the
legitimacy of their rule, strengthened their authority, and heightened
their prestige. The Historia and the Brut presented a genealogy of kings,
although mythical, that served Anglo-Norman dynastic ideological
interests. Genealogy allowed the ruling dynasties to present the past
(and by implication the future) in terms of their own history (Dumville
A new Anglo-Norman culture was developing that was interested in
its distinctive past, a history that would determine the budding nation's
identity and serve as a precedent for its political ambitions. Wace and
Geoffrey helped to heighten the prestige of the new regime as well as to
establish a political identity by furnishing it with its own unique national
origin myth. They associated the origins of the history of the British
nation with the glorious civilizations of Troy and Rome. The Historia and
the Brut helped draw the various peoples of the island together, because
now the Anglo-Normans as well as the native English and Britons could
take pride in the ancient British past.
An origin myth provides a superiority that justifies the mastery
over other nations. By reason of the Trojan-origin myth, ancestry became
the standard for proving legitimacy of social rank. To trace one's lineage
to a distant ancestor, preferably one that was powerful and
distinguished, became an integral part in establishing the legitimacy of
dynastic authority and right (Seaman 3). The Trojans represented the
prototypical heroes of an ancient and splendid civilization, their legacy
being upheld and propagated by the Romans through Virgil's Aeneid. An
essential element of the Roman legacy that transferred to the Franks,
Britons, and consequently to the Anglo-Normans was a predilection for
Henry I, king of England from 1100 until December, 1135, was
aware of France's Trojan-origin myth and perhaps became the stimulus
for Geoffrey to compose the Historia. However, Tatlock contends that
Geoffrey had no motivation other than racial patriotism (427). Both he
and Wace intended to entertain and inform the Anglo-Norman nobility
that was interested in the ancient history and legends of its adopted land.
The appeal was due to the rapid advance of literary culture among this
Tatlock suggests that because "patriotism attaches to the land as
well as the race," heroic stories that presented "a splendid picture of
events in the island for many many centuries back would also gratify its
actual rulers," (427). The present rulers of England, therefore, were
justified in not having a direct lineage to the ancient Britons. The
glorious past and power of the Britons could be transferred to the Anglo-
Normans because the two races had inhabited and ruled the same land.
Edmond Faral in La Legende arthurienne, nonetheless, gives an
account of a Norman Trojan-origin myth. It was the imaginative
undertaking of the clerk Dudon de Saint-Quenton in the early eleventh
century (289), and Guillaume de Jumieges, who embellished it and
dedicated it to William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century (292).
Although it is tainted with absurdities, Faral claims that the motive for its
composition was "l'exemple... [de] la 16gende de l'origine troyenne des
Henry I was indeed curious about the earliest history of his chief
rivals, the kings of France. Henry of Huntingdon states in his Historia
Anglorum that the king had spent the year of 1128 fighting in Normandy,
and that when he enquired the origin and early history of the Frankish
kingdom, someone who was not uneducated replied:
Regum potentissime, sicut plereque gentes Europe, ita Franci a
Troianis duxerunt originem. Antenor namque cum suis profugus
ab excidio Troie, in finibus Pannonie civitatem Siccambriam nominee
edificavit. Verum post mortem Antenoris, constituerunt sui duces
super se, Torgotum et Franctionem, a quo Franci sunt appellati.
4 The quote is taken from Diana Greenway's 1996 edition of Henry.
Archdeacon of Huntingdon: Historia Anglorum The History of the
[0 most powerful of kings, like most nations in Europe, the Franks
took their origin from the Trojans. For Antenor, with his followers,
fled from the fall of Troy to the boundaries of Pannonia and built a
city called Siccambria. But after Antenor's death, they set up as
dukes over them Torgot and Francio, from whom the Franks were
named.] (Greenway 478)
Henry of Huntingdon then gives a genealogy of the kings of France.
Chronicle of Fredegar
Let us now turn to a description and interpretation of the Frankish
origin myths found in the Chronicle of Fredegar and in the Liber
Historiae Francorum, together with an effort to justify their composition.
The Chronicle of Fredegar is the first known written work that embraces
the claim that the Franks were descended from the Trojans. Compiled in
the first half of the seventh century, the Chronicle may have had more
than one author, "almost certainly none of whom were named Fredegar"
(Collins 81). Convenience is best served, however, by retaining the
traditional name of Fredegar as the assumed author.
Fredegar's account, like most chronicles of Late Antiquity and the
early Middle Ages, was a compilation of detailed historical and biblical
information that provided a narrative outline of human history from
Adam up to the present age, with especial emphasis being placed on the
author's own times. In his prologue Fredegar makes a characteristic
medieval statement about the world growing old thus relinquishing the
finer points of wisdom, so he must pass on to posterity whatever he has
Around the year 613, the "first" Fredegar, a Burgundian, "decided
to attach some local annals to a short chronicle of his own. The annals
seem to have covered the period 584-604, though they may have gone
back further. His chronicle covers the period 604-613" (Wallace-Hadrill
73-74). A hand book of world chronology that comprised material by
Jerome, Hydatius, and Isidore, and data from the Liber Generationis, a
frequent preface to early Middle Ages' chronicles, may have been added
at this time.
Into an abridgement of the Liber Generationis, the Latin translation
of a world chronicle by a third century bishop of Rome, Hippolytus, two
words, Trociane and Frigiae, were added by Fredegar. They were
inserted into this work's list of descendants of Noah's son Japhet. "He
wishes it to be understood that the Trojans, and especially such of them
as the Frigii, or Franks as he later explains, as made their way west, could
trace their descent to a respectable son of Noah" (Wallace-Hadrill 79), for
it was widely held that after the Flood, Japhet was the originator of the
Gentiles, whose progeny occupied Europe.
Fredegar also included in his Chronicle a version of the Latin
translation and continuation of the Greek chronicle of Eusebius of
Caesarea composed by St. Jerome in the late fourth century AD (Collins
85). The combined work, commonly called the Eusebius-Jerome
Chronicle, became the customary encyclopedia of chronology in the West,
establishing the precedent to link sacred history with the reigns of kings
and their chronology, kings being the symbol of the whole nation.
Fredegar also attached a story regarding the Trojan origin of the
Franks to his extractions from the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle. In his
Trojan-origin myth he created a distinguished background for the Franks
by identifying their early kings as Trojans and by showing them to be a
fierce, freedom-loving, warlike people superior to the Romans,
nonetheless, their blood relatives.
Like Aeneas and his fellow Trojans, the Franks migrated from Troy
after its destruction and endured a long, treacherous journey before
arriving in their new homeland. Edward James contends, that "it was
impossible to acquire any learning in the sixth century without
discovering, from Virgil, that Rome itself had been founded by refugee
A Trojan-Gaulish legend existed by the fourth century AD. A
Roman historian of the time, Ammianus Marcellinus, confirms in his
chapter on the origin of the Gauls that after the sack of Troy some of
those fleeing from the Greeks occupied Gaul, which was uninhabited (The
Later Roman Empire 84). Wallace-Hadrill claims that "tales of Troy were
familiar to educated Gallo-Romans of the Later Empire" (80). Kurth
maintains that Fredegar's tale was essentially a learned fiction, not a
legend of the common people:
Cette legende aura le caractere de toutes les fictions du mime
genre. Elle sera de provenance erudite et nullement populaire, elle
se confinera dans le monde des livres, et elle ne se repandra jamais
dans les masses. En un mot, ce ne sera pas une creation vivante du
genie poetique de la nation, ce sera un fabricat du pedantisme des
Whether or not Fredegar was the originator of his Frankish-Trojan
tale cannot be determined. No doubt much of what he wrote was his own
invention, but much was legend and much was convoluted history. The
following is the Frankish Trojan-origin myth of Fredegar I in an
Priamo primo regi habuerunt; postea per historiarum libros
scriptum est qualiter habuerunt regi Friga. Postea partiti sunt in
duabus partibus. Una pars perrexit in Macdoniam: vocati sunt
Macedonis secundum populum a quem recepti sunt, et regionem
Macedoniae, qui oppremebatur a gentes vicinas ; invitati ab ipsis
fuerunt, ut eis praeberent auxilium. Per quos postea cum subiuncti
in plurima procreatione crevissent, ex ipso genere Macedonis
fortissimi pugnatores effect sunt: quod in postremum in diebus
Phyliphy regis et Alexandri fili sui fama confirmat, illorum
fortitudine qualis fuit.
Nam et illa alia pars, quae de Frigia progessa est, ab Olexo
per fraude decepti, tamen non captivati, nisi exinde eiecti, per
multis regionibus pervacantis cum uxores et liberos, electum a se
regi Francione nomen, per quem Franci vocantur. In postremum,
eo quod fortissimus ipse Francio in bellum fuisse fertur, et multo
tempore cum plurimis gentibus pugnam gerens, partem Asiae
vastans in Eurupam dirigens, inter Renum vel Danuvium et mare
Ibique mortuo Francione, cum iam per proelia tanta quae
gesserat parva ex ipsis manus remanserat, duces ex se
constituerunt. Attamen semper alterius dicione negantes, multo
post tempore cum ducibus transaegerunt usque ad tempore
Ponpegi consolis, qui et cum ipsis demicans seo et cum reliquas
gentium nations, quae in Germania habitabant, totasque dicione
subdidit Romanam. Sed continue Franci cum Saxonibus amicicias
inientes, adversus Pompegium revellantis, eiusdem rennuerunt
potestatem. Pompegius in Spaniam contra gentes demicans
plurimas, moretur. Post haec nulla gens usque in presented diem
Francos potuit superare, qui tamen eos suae dicione potuisset
subiugare. Ad ipsum instar et Macedonis, qui ex eadem
generation fuerunt, quamvis gravia bella fuissent adtrite, tamen
semper liberi ab externa domination vivere conati sunt. Tercia ex
eadem origine gentem Torcorum fuisse fama confirmat, ut, cum
Franci Asiam pervacantis pluribus proeliis transissent, ingredients
Eurupam, super litore Danuviae fluminis inter Ocianum et Traciam
una ex eis ibidem pars resedit. Electum a se utique regem nomen
Torquoto, per quod gens Turquorum nomen accept. Franci huius
aeteneris gressum cum uxores et liberes agebant, nec erat gens qui
eis in proelium potuisset resistere. Sed dum plurima egerunt
proelia, quando ad Renum consederunt, dum a Turquoto menuati
sunt, parva ex eis manus aderat. A captivitate Troge usque ad
primam olympiadem fiunt anni 406.
... Primus rex Latinorum tune in ipso tempore surrexit, eo
quod a Troia fugaciter exierant, et ex ipso genere et Frigas: fuerunt,
nisi per ipsa captivitate Troiae et inundatione Assiriorum et eorum
persecution, in duas parties egressi et ipsa civitate et region.
Unum exinde regnum Latinorum ereguntur et alium Frigorum....
Aeneas et Frigas fertur germani fuissent. (SSRM 45-47)
[The first king they had was Priam; it is written throughout
books of history how later they had Frigas as their king. Afterwards
they were divided into two groups. One reached Macedonia and
they were called Macedonians after the people by whom they were
received and after the region of Macedonia. They had been invited
by these people, who were being oppressed by the neighboring
tribes, so that they could offer them help. After they were united
with these people, they grew numerous in offspring. From this
tribe the bravest Macedonian warriors were created and their
reputation later confirmed this in the days of King Philip and his
son Alexander-such was their bravery.
That other group, however, which set out from Phrygia,
having been deceived through treachery by Ulysses, were none the
less not taken prisoner but driven out from there and, traveling
through many regions with their wives and children, they chose
from among themselves Francio for their king. And it was after
him that later they were named 'Franks' because this Francio is said
to have been very brave in battle. Waging war for a long period
with many tribes, devastating part of Asia, and turning toward
Europe, [the group] settled down between the Rhine, the Danube,
and the sea.
And there Francio died. Since only a small band of them
remained because of the wars they had waged, they set up duces
from their own number. And constantly spurning foreign
domination, they carried on for a long time with their duces until
the time of the consul Pompey, who, fighting both with them and
with the other nations of tribes who lived in Germany, brought
them all under Roman domination. But the Franks quickly entered
an alliance with the Saxons and, rebelling against Pompey, cast off
his authority. Pompey died fighting against many tribes in Spain.
From after these events up to the present day no tribe has been
SThe original writings of both Fredegars and the anonymous author of
the Liber Historiae Francorum are found in the Monumenta Germaniae
Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum, 2, abbreviated SSRM.
able to conquer the Franks, but rather they were able to subjugate
them to their own authority. And in the example of the
Macedonians, who were of the same stock, although they had been
worn away in deadly wars, none the less they have always
undertaken to live free from external domination. Tradition
confirms that there was a third tribe from the same origin, the
Turks, and that when the Franks in their travels and many battles
crossed over and entered Europe, a group of them settled in that
same place, above the bank of the river Danube between the ocean
and Thrace. They elected from their midst a king named
Turquotus from whom they got their name, 'Turks'. The Franks
made this journey with their wives and children and there was no
tribe who was able to resist them in battle. But since they waged
many wars, and since their numbers were diminished by
Turquotus, when they settled near the Rhine a small band
remained. From the taking of Troy to the first Olympiad 406 years
... Then in that same time the first king of the Latins
[Aeneas] arose and, seeing that they had fled from Troy, he was
from the same family as Frigas. Through the same taking of Troy
and the inundation of Assyrians and their persecution they had
gone out in two groups from that city and region. From this they
established one kingdom of Latins and another of Phrygians....
Aeneas and Frigas are said to have been brothers.] (Gerberding 14-
A main element of the Trojan legend clearly evident in this version
is the prowess of the warriors. The Franks represent a warlike culture
that strives to be free and independent, but sufficiently powerful and
daring to conquer other peoples.
The reference to King Frigas and the country Phrygia probably
comes from passages in the Aeneid where the Trojans are sometimes
called Phrygians. The mention of Turks and Turquotus may designate
Teucri or Teucrians, one of the names for Trojans used by Virgil.
According to Faral, Fredegar confused the Alexander, "c'est-a-dire
Paris," mentioned in the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle with Alexander of
Macedonia ( Leende 276). Faral states that the origin of the term
'Macedonians' "peut-etre est-ce d'une mauvaise lecture de s. J&rome, qui
note ... que les Phrygiens etaient anciennement nomm6s Maeones, nom
rare a la connaissance de notre auteur, et qu'il aura lu comme
The allusion to Turks and Macedonians may have originated from
the decision of the Emperor Probus (276-82) to exile Frankish prisoners
of war in the Black Sea area. He had also settled great numbers of Franks
on the banks of the Rhine (Gibbon 288). Gibbon relates how a band of
the rebellious Franks from the shores of the Black Sea confiscated ships
and made their way back to their home in the Rhineland:
They easily escaped through the Bosphorus and the Hellespont,
and, cruising along the Mediterranean, indulged their appetite for
revenge and plunder by frequent descents on the unsuspecting
shores of Asia, Greece, and Africa. The opulent city of Syracuse ...
was sacked by a handful of barbarians, who massacred the greatest
part of the trembling inhabitants. From the island of Sicily the
Franks proceeded to the Columns of Hercules, trusted themselves
to the ocean, coasted round Spain and Gaul, and, steering their
triumphant course through the British Channel, at length finished
their surprising voyage by landing in safety on the ... Frisian
shores. (I, 289)
The location "between the Rhine, the Danube, and the sea" likely
means the area that today includes the Netherlands and the area north of
the German lower Rhine, the traditional home of the Franks (Gerberding
11). Like Aeneas, the Franks in Fredegar's story did not reach the final
home of their people. They settled near the mouth of the Rhine and were
known as Salian Franks.
Ammianus Marcellinus mentions the Salian Franks in a statement
he makes about the Emperor Julian, who reigned from 360 to 363:
"Quibus paratis petit primos omnium Francos, eos uidelicet, quos
consuetudo Salios apellauit, ausos olim in Romano solo apud Toxandriam
locum habitacula sibi figere praelicenter" (17, 8.3).6 [His first objective
was the Franks, those specifically who are usually called Salii; they had
had the temerity in the past to settle themselves on Roman soil at
Toxandria" (17, 8.3)]. The Franks were moving southward during the
middle of the fourth century into Toxandria, a district roughly equivalent
to present-day Belgium, and about a century later, in 450, they began
Wallace-Hadrill writes that the actual Salian chieftains of the
Toxandrian period were Faramund, Clodio, Merovech, and Childeric I
(158), names later given to the first Merovingian kings. The early Trojan-
origin myths of the Franks recalled the Frankish petty kings who ruled
during the fifth century, but they did not designate the Merovingian
dynasty, which originated in the latter quarter of the fifth century.
The region "super litore Danuviae fluminis inter Ocianum et
Traciam" [above the bank of the river Danube between the ocean and
Thrace] may denote the Roman province, Dacia, a region roughly
equivalent to present-day Romania. Fredegar may also have meant
'Original quotations of Ammianus Marcellinus are from his Rerum
Gestarum Libri Oui Supersunt, the 1978 edition of Wolfgang Seyfarth.
Pannonia, approximately modern Hungary and Croatia, a Roman province
whose name the Franks knew well but whose location was ambiguous.
The statement "a captivitate Troje usque ad primam olympiadem
fiunt anni CCCCVI" [from the taking of Troy to the first Olympiad 406
years elapsed] was copied from the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle
(Gerberding 17). The phrase "inundatione Assyriorum" [an onslaught of
Assyrians] rather than "Graecorum" [of Greeks] may have been written
because one of the chronological standards of the Eusebius-Jerome
Chronicle, the Regum Assyriorum, provided a significant chronology of
the reign of ancient rulers (Wallace-Hadrill 79).
In associating the Franks with the Romans Fredegar demonstrates
that, although their first kings are brothers, the Franks have their own
origins and development distinct from the Romans. By casting off
Roman domination, the myth demonstrates that the Franks pride
themselves not only on their prowess in battle but also on their great love
Around 642, the "second" Fredegar, probably a Burgundian like his
predecessor, began writing his narrative. Wallace-Hadrill maintains that
"it would not be surprising if he were also a layman and a man of some
standing in the Burgundian court of the mid-seventh century" (75). He
attached a summary of the first six books of Gregory of Tours' sixth-
century Historia Francorum, stopping at the year 584, to the original
chronicle. "Thus he had what he probably called five chronicles: the
Liber, Jerome, Hydatius, Isidore and Gregory; and to them he proceeded
to add a sixth, namely the annals and chronicle of his Burgundian
predecessor, continued by himself from 614" (Wallace-Hadrill 76).
Fredegar II inserted his particular Trojan-origin story into his
epitome of Gregory of Tour's Historia. However, Gregory had not
suggested a Frankish-Trojan connection, possibly because he believed the
Franks were distinguished only on account of their Christianity, not for
their racial heritage. This Trojan legend was a reworked version of the
earlier tale of 613. The second author chronicled the early kings and
satisfied racial pride, but he did not make reference to the Romans. He
does imply, nevertheless, that the Franks and the Romans have a
common ancestry. Here is a shortened version of his interpretation of
the Frankish-Trojan legend:
De Francorum vero regibus beatus Hieronimus, qui jam olym
fuerant scripsit, quod prius Virgilii poetae narrat storia: Priamum
primum habuisse regi; cum Troja fraude Olexe caperetur, exinde
fuissent egressi; postea Frigam habuissent regem; befaria division
partem earum Macedonia fuisse adgressa; alii cum Friga vocati
Frigiis, Asiam pervacantes, litoris Danuvii fluminis et mare
Ocianum consedisse; dinuo byfaria devisione Eurupam media ex
ipsis pars cum Francionem eorum rege ingressa fuisse. Eurupam
pervacantis, cum uxoris et liberis Reni ripam occupant, nec procul
a Reno civitatem ad instar Trogiae nominis aedificare conati sunt.
Captum quidem, sed inperfectum opus remansit. Residua eorum
pars, que super litore Danuvii remanserat, elictum a se Torcoth
nomen regem, per quem ibique vocati sunt Turchi; et per
Francionem hi alii vocati sunt Franci, multis post temporibus cum
ducibus externas dominationis semper negantes....
Franci electum a se regi, sicut prius fuerat, crinitum,
inquirentes dilegenter, ex genere Priami, Frigi, et Francionis super
se creant nomen Theudemarem, filium Richemeris. (SSRM 93-95)
[Saint Jerome wrote about who the kings of the Franks
formerly were and before him the poet Virgil's history relates this:
that they had Priam as their first king; that when Troy was taken by
the trickery of Ulysses they set out from there; that later they had
Friga as their king. A two-part division occurred and one group
came to Macedonia; the others, called the Frigii, travelled through
Asia with Friga and settled on the shore of the river Danube and
the ocean. Again there was a two-part division and a group
comprising half of them with Francio their king entered Europe.
Travelling across Europe with their wives and children they
occupied the bank of the Rhine and not far from the Rhine they
undertook the building of the city in the image of and with the
name of Troy. It was indeed begun, but the task remained
uncompleted. The remaining group of them, who stayed on the
bank of the Danube, elected a king from among themselves named
Torcot, after whom they were called 'Turks' and after Francio the
other were called 'Franks'. For many years following, they with
their duces continually warded off foreign domination.
The Franks chose from among themselves a long-haired king,
just as there had been in earlier times. Carefully taking him from
the family of Priam, Friga, and Francio, they established over
themselves a man named Theudemar, son of Richemer....]
The second Fredegar could claim the authority of Jerome for the
names of the first Frankish kings, Priam, Friga, and Francio, because his
predecessor had introduced his Trojan-origin story as a passage in the
text of the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle that he included in his own
Chronicle (Gerberding 16).
The chief influence on Fredegar II for writing his particular Trojan
legend came from Gregory of Tour's claim that the historians of the
Franks never recorded the names of their kings (11.9). The inability of
Gregory to discover a kingly tradition led Fredegar to make his purpose
for composing his legend the ability to name these kings (Gerberding 17).
Both Gregory and Fredegar needed to sanction Frankish
ascendancy. Gregory was presumably seeking a glorious past for the
Franks and the subsequent Merovingian dynasty in order to justify their
seizure of Roman Gaul. Fredegar satisfied the glorious heritage and the
legitimacy of Merovingian authority by means of his Trojan-origin myth.
The reference by both Fredegars to duces as rulers of the Franks
during a period of many years after the death of Francio affirms the
possibility that an uninterrupted line of kings was lacking. Because
Fredegar II claims that the duces governed until a new dynasty of long-
haired kings emerged as Frankish leaders, he is indicating that Priam,
Frigas, and Francio were long-haired kings. The vogue of long-haired
royalty was common among the Germanic peoples; however, the practice
remained the prerogative of the Merovingians long after it disappeared
from the other tribes.
Fredegar produced the names of Theudemar and Ricimer from a
statement in Gregory's Historia Francorum asserting that "Theudemer"
was the son of "Richemer" and a long-haired king of the Franks (11.9).
Ricimer, an actual Roman general of Visigothic and Suevic blood, was
known as the Kingmaker, inasmuch as he raised up and demoted
emperors in the last years of the Western Roman Empire. Gregory may
have confused him with the Roman Egidius, the master-general of Gaul at
the time of Ricimer. Egidius had been elected temporary king by the
Franks to replace Childeric, the father of Clovis, who was exiled to
Thuringia in central Germany. Gibbon explains the circumstances:
The Franks, who had punished with exile the youthful follies of
Childeric, elected the Roman general for their king;... and when
the nation at the end of four years repented of the injury which
they had offered to the Merovingian family, [Egidius] patiently
acquiesced in the restoration of the lawful prince. (2, 320-21)
Faral claims that Fredegar confused the name of Troy, "ad instar
Trogiae," with the modern German city of Xanten, located on the lower
Rhine, which is "au voisinage d'une ancienne Colonia Traiana, denommee
Troia minor pendant tout le moyen age" (Legende 279).
Liber Historiae Francorum
The Chronicle of Fredegar and the Historia Francorum by Gregory
of Tours are two of the three major works of history that profile the two
and a half centuries of Merovingian rule, from 481 to 751. The third
history of the Merovingians, the Liber Historiae Francorum, whose author
is unknown, was written in 727 near Paris. Gregory's and Fredegar's
works have enjoyed a better reputation among historians than the LHF,
but they have been less popular. "This little book was the most widely
read and the most frequently copied of all early medieval Frankish
historical works" (Gerberding 3).
The LHF-author brings us another version of the Frankish Trojan-
origin legend. Because his account is so unlike that of Fredegar,
Gerberding concludes that the Frankish Trojan-origin stories were
widespread and varied by the time the LHF-author wrote, and that
Fredegar was not the inventor of the Frankish-Trojan legend (18). Here is
an account of the first four books of the Liber Historiae Francorum:
Principium regum Francorum eorum que origine vel gentium
illarum ac gesta proferamus. Est autem in Asia opidum
Trojanorum, ubi est civitas quae Illium dicitur, ubi regnavit Aeneas.
Gens illa fortis et valida, viri bellatores atque rebelles nimis,
inquieta certamina objurgantes, per gyrum finitima debellantes.
Surrexerunt autem reges Grecorum adversus Aeneam cum multo
exercitu pugnaveruntque contra eum caede magna, corruitque illic
multum populus Trojanorum. Fugiit itaque Aeneas et reclusit se in
civitate Illium, pugnaveruntque adversus hanc civitatem annis
decim. Ipsa enim civitate subacta, fugiit Aeneas tyrannus in Italia
locare gentes ad pugnandum. Alii quoque ex principibus, Priamus
videlicet et Antenor, cum reliquo exercitu Trojanorum duodecim
milia intrantes in navibus, abscesserunt et venerunt usque ripas
Tanais fluminis. Ingressi Meotidas paludes, navigantes
pervenerunt intra terminos Pannoniarum just Meotidas paludes et
coeperunt aedificare civitatem ob memorial eorum
appellaveruntque earn Sicambriam; habitaveruntque illic annis
multis creveruntque in gentem magnam.
Eo itidem tempore, gens Alanorum prava ac pessima
rebellaverunt contra Valentinianum, imperatorem Romanorum ac
gentium. Tunc ille exercitum movit hostem magnam de Roma,
contra eos perrexit, pugnam iniit superavitque eos atque devicit.
Illi itaque caesi super Danubium fluvium, fugierunt et intraverunt
in Meotidas paludas. Dixit autem imperator: "Quicumque potuerit
introire in paludes istas et gentem istam pravam eiecerit, concedam
eis tribute donaria annis decim." Tune congregati Trojani fecerunt
insidias, sicut erant edocti ac cogniti, et ingressi in Meotidas
paludes cum alio populo Romanorum, ejeceruntque inde Alanos
percusseruntque eos in ore gladii. Tune appellavit eos
Valentinianus imperator Francos attica lingua, hoc est feros, a
duritia vel audacia cordis eorum.
Igitur post transactos decim annos, misit memoratus
imperator exactores una cum Primario duce de Romano senatu, ut
darent consueta tribute de populo Francorum. Illi quoque, sicut
erant crudeles et immanissimi, consilio inutile accept, dixerunt ad
invicem: "Imperator cum exercitu Romano non potuit eicere
Alanos de latibulis paludarum, gentem fortem ac rebellem: nos
enim, qui eos superavimus, quur solvimus tribute: Consurgamus
igitur contra Primarium hunc vel exactoribus istis percutiamusque
eos et auferamus cuncta quae secum habent et non demus
Romanis tribute et erimus nos jugiter liberi." Insidiis vero
praeparatis, interficerunt eos.
Audiens hec imperator, in furore et ira nimis succensus,
praecepit hostem commovere Romanorum et aliarum gentium cum
Arestarco principem militia, direxeruntque aciem contra Francos.
Fuit autem ibi strages magna de uterque populo. Videntes enim
Franci, quod tantum exercitum sustinere non possint, interfecti ac
cesi, fugierunt; ceciditcue ibi Priamus eorum fortissimus. Illi
quoque egressi a Sicambria, venerunt in extremis partibus Reni
fluminis in Germaniarum oppidis, illucque inhabitaverunt cum
eorum principibus Marchomire, filium Priamo, et Sunnone, filio
Antenor; habitaveruntque ibi annis multis. Sunnone autem
defunct, acciperunt consilium, ut regem sibi unum constituerent,
sicut ceterae gentes. Marchomiris quoque eis dedit hoc consilium,
et elegerunt Faramundo, ipsius filio, et elevaverunt eum regem
super se crinitum. Tunc habere et leges coeperunt, quae eorum
priores gentiles tractaverunt his nominibus: Wisowastus,
Wisogastus, Arogastus, Salegastus, in villabus quae ultra Renum
sunt, in Bothagm, Salechagm et Widechagm. (SSRM, 241-44)
[Let us set forth the beginnings of the kings of the Franci,
their own origin, and that of the peoples as well as their deeds. In
Asia there is a stronghold of the Trojans where a city called Ilium is
in which Aeneas ruled. This people was strong and mighty, men
exceedingly prone to warring again and again, provoking constant
combat, and conquering the neighboring lands all around them.
But the kings of the Greeks rose up with a great army against
Aeneas and they fought against him in a great slaughter and there
a great army of Trojans fell. Aeneas fled and shut himself up in
the city of Ilium and they fought against this city for ten years.
For, after the city was captured, king Aeneas fled to Italy to engage
peoples there for the fight. Others of the leading men, that is,
Priam and Antenor, with the remaining Trojan army, 12,000
soldiers, boarded ships, escaped, and came to the banks of the
river Don. And having entered the Sea of Azov, they arrived within
the borders of the Pannonians adjacent to the Sea of Azov and they
began to build a city to be a memorial to themselves and they
called it Sicambria. And there they lived for many years and grew
into a great people.
At the same time the depraved and evil people of the Alans
rebelled against Valentinian, emperor of Romans and peoples alike.
Then he raised a huge army and went out from Rome against them.
He engaged them in battle, overcame them, and defeated them.
Since they were defeated, they fled across the river Don and
entered the Sea of Azov. Then the emperor said, 'Whoever shall be
able to enter this marshland and to force out this evil people, for
them I shall cancel tribute payments for ten years.' Then, having
come together, the Trojans prepared ambushes and, as they had
been taught to do that and as they also knew the area, they entered
the Sea of Azov along with another army of Romans, drove the
Alans from there, and cut them down with the sword. Then the
Emperor Valentinian named them 'Franks' which means 'wild' in
the Attic language because of the hardness and bravery of their
Therefore after ten years had passed, the above-mentioned
emperor sent tax collectors together with Duke Primarius from the
Roman senate in order to collect the customary tax from the Franci.
They, however, because they were wild and uncivilized, having
taken counsel to their own detriment, said one to another, 'The
emperor with the Roman army was not able to eject the Alans, a
strong and defiant people, from their hiding places in the
marshlands. Why then should we, who conquered them, pay
tribute? Let us therefore rise up against this Primarius and these
collectors and let us destroy them and let us not pay taxes to the
Romans and we shall be perpetually free.' And indeed they
prepared ambushes and killed them.
When the emperor heard this he was consumed with fury
and great anger. He ordered an army of Romans and other peoples
with Aristarcus, the Princeps Militae, to be assembled and sent it
against the Franci. And there was a great slaughter of each army.
The Franci, who were being cut down and killed, saw that they
could not resist such a great army and took to flight. And there
Priam, the bravest of them fell. They therefore left Sicambria and
came to the farthest reaches of the river Rhine in the strongholds
of the Germanies. And here they settled with leaders Marchomir,
Priam's son, and Sunno, the son of Antenor, and they lived there
for many years. When Sunno died, they decided to establish one
king for themselves just as other peoples had. Marchomir gave
them this plan and they chose his son, Faramund, and raised him
over them as their long-haired king. Then they began to keep the
laws negotiated by the leaders of the people named Wisowastus,
Arogastus, and Salegastus in their dwelling places beyond the
Rhine, in Bothagm, Salechagm, and Widechagm.]
The author, not unlike the two Fredegars, values the characteristic
courage and independence of the Trojans as well as the significance of
their kings. The original Frankish king, or leader, and his descendants
intrigued all three writers, for they were the root of an honorable lineage.
Priam is the ultimate source of the kings of the Franks in the three
myths, although Priam, Friga, and Francio of the earlier myths are
balanced against Priam, Marchomir, and Faramund of the LHF.
The LHF-author, like the first Fredegar, illustrates the consequence
of the Romans in Frankish history. The Franks were closely associated
with the Roman world and way of life, and their warriors were both allies
and antagonists of the Roman military. Mythically the Romans are
kinsmen, but because they are also adversaries, they are beneficial in
exposing the fierceness and freedom-loving spirit of the Franks that the
authors are eager to relate.
The relevance of Sunno and Marcomer is suggested by Gregory of
Tours. Referring to the Historia of Sulpicius Alexander, he claims that
the Franks invaded the Roman province of Germania under the
leadership of Genobaud, Marcomer and Sunno (11.9). He further states
that Marcomer and Sunno were royal leaders, or regales, of the Franks,
being uncertain if regales means chieftains who exercised a kingly
function or indeed true kings (11.9).
One of Gregory's sources for an account of Marcomer and Sunno
may have been Claudian, a Roman poet of the late fourth century, who
wrote that the Ripuarian Franks of the Middle Rhine had recently revolted
under Marcomer and Sunno (Wallace-Hadrill 151). Ian Wood reports that
"Sulpius Alexander recorded conflict in 389 between Arbogast, a Frank
who held high military office in the empire, and two regales, or petty
kings, of the Franks, Sunno and Marcomer ..." (36).
In her remarks concerning the traditional code of laws of the Salian
Franks, the lex Salica, Colette Beaune generally agrees with the LHF-
Quatre grands du royaume, choisis entire les Francs, Wisogast,
Arogast, Salegast, Widogast, ont fixed par ecrit la teneur de cette loi
apres trois assemblies, tenues dans les villages de Ratheim,
Saleheim et Widoheim, situes outre-Rhin. Cela eut lieu 'sous le
regne du premier roi des Francs chretien [Clovis]' (264).
However, the LHF-author claims that the enactment of the Salic Law
coincides with the establishment of Faramund as the first Frankish king.
"Pour lui, Pharamond est le premier roi des Francs et la loi salique les
premieres lois de ce people" (Beaune 266). Because the LHF-author called
Faramund a "long-haired king," that is, "elevaverunt eum regem super se
crinitum," he is considered the first Merovingian, although his grandson,
King Merovech, endowed the dynasty with his name.
The LHF-author may have taken his account of the Franks'
residence in Pannonia after the fall of Troy from Gregory's Historia,
which claims that the Franks came originally from Pannonia (1,9). The
city of Sicambria that the Franks built in Pannonia may refer to a Roman
legion post located near modem Budapest, for Gerberding claims that
this location was actually known as Sicambria in the late medieval
Hungarian national chronicles (21).
Because of the construction of the city of Sicambria by the Franks,
Colette Beaune asserts that the Trojans are the ancestors of the
seigneurss d6fricheurs du XIIe siecle qui font surgir seigneuries nouvelles
et villages fortifies" (52). She terms the Franks les Sycambriens" and
concludes that their art was not only that of war, but also of "la cloture
des villes" (24).
The term 'Sicamber' appeared in the Historia Francorum as an
expression for 'Frank' at the time of the baptism of Clovis, as Gregory of
Tours states that St. Remy addressed the king of the Franks as 'Sicamber'
(II, 31). Kurth lists several lives of saints and histories from the sixth and
seventh centuries where "les Francs sont qualifies de Sicambres" (525).
He relates that "il suffit d'un coup d'oeil rapide sur ces divers textes pour
se convaincre que tous, sans exception, prennent ici le mot de Sicambre
comme un synonyme pur et simple de celui de Franc" (527).
The Sea of Azov was named the Palus Maeotis, the Maeotic Swamp,
by the Romans, and because the Franks indeed did inhabit the swamps
that were located on the lower Rhine, the author of the LHF may have had
an inkling of primitive Frankish history. As to the location of the Alans
near the river Don and the Sea of Azov, he managed to place them
correctly (Gerberding 22). Ammianus Marcellinus contends that the
Alans lived beyond the river Don, considered to be the boundary between
Europe and Asia, and that raiding and hunting expeditions took them as
far as the Sea of Azov (31,2).
Gerberding explains how the LHF-author may have obtained his
These early medieval descriptions followed Roman and Greek
cosmographical conceptions of the world and pictured it as a disc
of land surrounded by the ocean.... [Asia] is separated from
Europe and Africa by a line of water consisting of the river Don, the
Sea of Azov, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Nile .... The
river Don (Flumen Tanais) and the Sea of Azov (Meotides Paludes)
feature much larger than their actual size warrants; in fact they
share the limelight with the Nile and the Mediterranean. (25-26).
A "Unique" Perspective
At the time that the Trojan-origin myths were being recorded in the
Liber Historiae Francorum and Chronicle of Fredegar, the Frankish state
was undergoing a period of comparative peace and unity after cycles of
great civil unrest. Richard Waswo believes that peace is necessary for the
development of culture, be it "of grain and grapes, of poems and
When the "first" Fredegar was writing in 613, Clotaire II was the
sole king of the Franks after a century of several divisions and
reunifications. After his death, his son Dagobert I, who had been ruler of
the eastern Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, became king of the primary
dominions of the Frankish kingdom, namely Austrasia, the western
kingdom of Neustria, and Burgundy.
In the early eighth century when the Neustrian author of the Liber
Historiae Francorum was writing, Charles Martel, a Carolingian and
Austrasian, after 75 years of rois fainaants, became undisputed ruler of
the Franks. He displaced the traditional Neustrian noble class, the Franci,
though not the Merovingian king.
Fredegar and the LHF-author no doubt detected that times were
relatively peaceful. Wallace-Hadrill writes that whether or not Fredegar
was interested in unity, he was aware "that Clothar's sixteen years of sole
rule were, on the whole, a happy time" (216). Because the LHF-author
claims that the imprisoned Charles Martel escaped with the help of the
Lord (LHF-51), Gerberding asserts "that the author welcomed Martel's
advent as an intervention of God and Martel himself as the strong man
who could quell... the civil wars among the Franci" (171).
Aside from a cessation of hostilities, another feature of the period
in which the origin myths were produced was the integration of cultures
and factions. At the time that the two Fredegars were writing their
Chronicle, although the Merovingian dynasty had been in existence for
over 100 years, a distinct national consciousness was just beginning to
form. A uniqueness was impossible in the early years of the dynasty,
because "Roman traditions were too strong to allow national separatism
to dominate the ideas of the new leaders" (Koht 265). By the early
seventh century, "the new kingship, like the new age, is neither
specifically Germanic nor Roman" (Wallace-Hadrill 209). The Franks had
blended the various cultures into a distinctive French nation.
The Franks had now arrived at a particular stage of development
that the Greeks and Romans had achieved at the time that their national
origin myths were composed. The people of Greece were emerging from
a "dark age" and evolving into an enlightened and powerful culture, and
the Romans were ending 50 years of civil wars and embarking on a new
era of peace and empire. Because the period of volatility and fluidity had
temporarily ceased, the nation seized the opportunity to reflect on its
history. Jacques Perret claims that a people recount the history of their
origins only after the beginning of their importance and their strength
(xii). During its entire existence, the Merovingian kingdom had been the
greatest state in western Europe, and "the reigns of Clothar II (584-629)
and Dagobert I (623/29-39) can be seen as marking the apogee of
Merovingian power, both at home and abroad" (Ian Wood 140). Fredegar I
began writing his Chronicle with its Trojan-origin myth in 613, and
Fredegar II composed his myth around the year 642.
Perret also concludes that it is only the important people who
recount the history of their origins (xii). Gregory of Tours, the two
Fredegars, and the LHF-author wrote primarily for and about the ruling
classes. While these men were writing, the aristocracy happened to be
literate and to surround itself with men of talent. In The Literacy of the
Laity in the Middle Ages, Thompson claims that "notwithstanding their
coarseness and brutality the Merovingian kings were culturally above the
level of the early Carolingians.... Whereas ... very likely all of them
were able to write, Pepin the Short was unable to do so, and Charlemagne
did not learn to write until late in life" (5). However, the LHF-author
contends that Charles Martel was both well-educated and effective in
battle (LHF 49). Ian Wood gives us some idea of the education of the elite
at the time of Fredegar:
Most royal officials would have had to read and write, and these
skills seem to have been reasonably widespread among the political
classes, and among the abler servants: although Merovingian Latin
was not classically correct, there is nothing to suggest that
illiteracy was the norm in the upper levels of society in the seventh
century. The kings of the Merovingian period were unquestionably
literate, which is more than can be said for many later medieval
Although the Trojan-origin myth was not the basis of the Chronicle
of Fredegar and the Liber Historiae Francorum, the reason for its
inclusion is significant. It designates that unique stage of the Frankish
nation's development when the Trojan pedigree became meaningful. For
the Frankish ruling classes, known as the Franci, the origin myth meant a
glorious and ancient lineage, thus dignifying their realm. It implied
imperial destiny, thus lending legitimacy and power to the heirs. George
Huppert claims that "it established one's blood relationship with the
Romans. It justified one's title to the possession of parts of the Roman
The Frankish nation was dawning on a new age, at least
temporarily, and it needed a distinctive identification. This trademark of
national identity was encompassed in an exceptional Trojan-origin myth.
It characterizes the Franks as noble descendants of heroic figures, who
are exiled from glorious Troy and travel west from Asia to the far reaches
of the Rhine. The Franks are a courageous, warlike people whose
principal aim is to remain free from subjugation but likewise unimpeded
from vanquishing their neighbors. Their ancient kings and duces leave a
proud and notable legacy for future generations of kings.
The Trojan-origin myth featured the Franks and their leaders prior
to that period when they reached their Rhine homeland. It was the long-
haired kings of the Merovingian dynasty who led the Franks into Roman
Gaul. After years of war and conquest they founded a new Troy in
Clovis was the founder of the Frankish kingdom and the first
Merovingian ruler, as he became king of both the Salian and the Ripurian
Franks. Before his death in 511 most of present-day France and part of
Germany were under his control. Fredegar II inserted into his resume of
Gregory's Historia an exclusive supernatural origin myth of the
Merovingian family that is quite unlike the Frankish origin myth. He
claims that Merovech, the grandfather of Clovis, is presumably conceived
when his mother, the wife of Chlodio, goes swimming and encounters a
sea-monster, called a Quinotaur. This remarkable tale suggests that the
Merovingians sought to be distinctive from other Frankish dynasties (Ian
Wood 39 & Wallace-Hadrill 220).
The Trojan-origin myth of the Franks differed from that of the
Romans depicted in the Aeneid, in that the Franks lacked a single hero.
Aeneas alone had characterized the Roman qualities of duty and
obedience to country and the gods, whereas the Frankish kings and
warriors collectively portrayed a fierce independence that symbolized the
In the early Middle Ages, the Britons of Wales also developed a
Trojan-origin myth. Their myth evolves from the Aeneid more intimately
than does that of the Franks. It was first recounted in the Historia
Brittonum in the early ninth century, but its impact did not reach its full
potential until Geoffrey of Monmouth included it in his Historia Regum
Britanniae 300 years later.
Tatlock claims that "Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum
Britanniae is one of the most influential books ever written, certainly one
of the most influential in the middle ages" (3). It is one of the the most
important literary products of the Anglo-Norman period. "A pseudo-
history of great imaginative power, it exercised a far-reaching influence
which quite overshadowed that of the more sober histories of Geoffrey's
contemporaries, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon"
(Wright vii). Nonetheless, the Historia Brittonum is taken seriously by
modern historians and literary scholars. They look upon Geoffrey's
Historia as a "learned fiction," whereas many have come to regard the
Historia Brittonum as a meaningful source of early insular historical data
(Dumville VII, 21).
Geoffrey does not cite as a reference the Historia Brittonum as he
does Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum and Gildas' De Excidio
Britanniae et Conquestu. but he does borrow a substantial amount of
material from it, including the Trojan-origin myth. Possibly Geoffrey
thought that the Historia Brittonum was Gildas' work (Dumville VII, 19).
The Trojan-origin myth of the Britons, first related in the Historia
Brittonum, was written down about 829/30. The work itself is of
complex origin but was composed partly by a cleric named Nennius from
southeastern Wales, who, for the sake of convenience, will be represented
as the author. Like Fredegar, Nennius attached deeds of dynastic rulers
to the universal chronologies of Eusebius, Jerome, and Isidore (Waswo
51). He wished to defend and preserve British traditions and culture
during a period of emerging national awareness.
The following is an outline of the Historia by chapters:
1-6. A summary of the six ages of the world.
7-9. A description of the island of Britain.
10-11. An origin story, tracing the Britons to an eponymous
founder Bruto (or Britto)....
12. The arrival of the Picts.
13-15. Origin stories of the Scots (Irish).
16. A computation of the arrival date of the Saxons in
17-18. Origin story and genealogy connecting the Britons
with Brito, a descendant of Japheth, son of Noah.
19-30. The career of Rome in Britain and the final departure
of the Romans after an intermittent rule of 348 years.
31-49. The career, downfall, and death of the wicked British
50-55. The life and deeds of St. Patrick, apostle to the Irish.
56. The battles of Arthur.
57-61. Saxon genealogies.
62-65. The war between the Britons and the Saxons to ca.
66. Another computation of the dates of main figures in
66-67. Cities and marvels of Britain; a set of annals
containing various events of British history, and a set
of Welsh genealogies. (Hanning 92)
David Dumville, who believes the Historia Brittonum was compiled
by only one person, asserts that the author attempted to write a
connected history of the Britons and "to provide a smooth account of a
period of history by combining all the available, and often wildly
contradictory, witnesses into a slick, coherent, and 'official' whole" (VII,
5). Both Faral and Dumville conclude that Nennius did not lack literary
skill, but undertook to harmonize and interpret insufficient material.
Believing that there is a learned element to the work, Faral writes:
L'Historia Brittonum n'est pas une composition de caractere
populaire. Sans doute 1'apparence est-elle autre. Le decousu de la
compilation telle que la presentent les textes recent et amplifies,
ce fatras de traditions incoherentes et pueriles, ce style amorphe,
indigent, incorrect, font penser au travail d'intelligences
6C1mentaires, obscurcies par l'ignorance et la superstition.
Pourtant, quand on consider l'ceuvre dans sa forme premiere, on y
decouvre un effort de combinaison, des proc6ds d'information,
des connaissances, des intentions, qui denoncent en I'auteur un
clerc de quelque experience.... On voit... qu'on est en presence
d'un travail d'un clerc, --non pas d'un clerc inerte et passif, mais
d'un clerc qui s'efforce de comprendre et de concilier entire elles les
donnees divergentes des auteurs qui l'avaient precede. (Lgeende
The ambiguous tradition that Nennius wished to understand and
interpret was the origin myth of the Britons. He includes two origin
myths, but it is his secular Trojan-origin myth that Geoffrey of
Monmouth masterfully adapted for use and shaped into a more elaborate
The myth developed by the two British authors has a closer
correlation with the Aeneid than did the origin myth of the Franks. Like
the Aeneid, the origin myth of the Britons is chiefly a foundation myth, in
which the Trojans were culture-bringers by means of conquest and
settlement, while the Frankish origin myth was strictly a pedigree myth
that affirms an illustrious ancestry and foreordained sovereignty (Waswo
The writers of the Frankish origin myths were cognizant that
historically the Franks encountered an established culture when they
invaded their final homeland, Roman Gaul, in the fifth century AD,
whereas Nennius and Geoffrey were writing about Britons who, on
reaching their final destination, seize a savage land during an era not
long after the Trojan War.
Nennius may have derived his impetus for a British Trojan-origin
myth from an awareness of the early Frankish myths. Faral claims that
jealousy of Frankish power played a part in the creation of the Briton's
L'instauration de l'empire franc etait un fait accompli et la l1gende
de l'origine troyenne du people franc brillait, come un objet
d'envie, aux yeux des nations, quand l'interpolateur de l'Historia
Britonum... s'est avise de doter le people breton d'une
ascendance semblable a celle des Francs: il a fait de Brutus, issu
d'tEne, son premier prince et son eponyme. (Lgende 174)
The following is Nennius' secular Trojan-origin myth of the Britons
found in the Historia Brittonum:
Aeneas igitur post troianum bellum cum Ascanio filio suo
venit ad Italiam et, superato Turno, accept Labinam filiam Latini
regis Italiae in coniugium, filii Fauni, filii Pici filii Saturni. Et post
mortem Latini Aeneas regnum obtinuit Romanorum. (Ascanius
autem Albam condidit, et postea uxorem duxit.) Et peperit Labinia
Aeneae filium nominee Silvium.
Ascanius autem duxit uxorem quae concipiens gravida facta
est. Et nuntiatum est Aeneae quod nurus sua gravida erat et
praegnans. Et misit ad Ascanium filium suum ut metteret magum
suum ad considerandam uxorem suam ut exploraret quid haberet
it utero, masculum vel feminam. Et venit magus et consideravit
uxorem. Et dixit Ascanio, Aeneae filio, quod masculum haberet in
utero mulier et filius mortis erit quia occidet patrem suum et
matrem et erit exosus omnibus hominibus. (Propter hanc
vaticinationem occisus est magus ab Ascanio.) Sic event. In
nativitate illius mulier mortua est. Et nutritus est filius,
vocatumque est nomen eius Bruto. Post multum vero intervallum
iuxta vaticinationem magi, dum ipse luderet cum pueris, ictu
sagittae occidit patrem suum non de industrial sed casu. Et per hoc
expulsus est ab Italia. Et armilis fuit.
Et pervenit ad insulas maris Terreni, et expulsus est inde
causa occisionis Turni quem Aeneas occidit. Et pervenit usque ad
Gallos, et ibi condidit civitatem Torronorum quae vocatur Turnis.
Et postea ad istam pervenit insulam quae a nominee suo nomen
acceptit, id est Brittannia; et implevit ear cum suo genere et
habitavit in ea. Ab illo autem tempore habitat est Bryttania usque
in hodiernum diem. (Dumville 65-67)7
[Aeneas, after the Trojan war, came with his son Ascanius to
Italy, and, having vanquished Turnus, took to wife Lavinia, the
daughter of Latinus, son of Faunus, son of Picus, son of Saturn; and
after the death of Latinus, he obtained the kingdom of the Romans.
(Ascanius, too, built Alba, and afterwards married a wife.) And
Lavinia bore to Aeneas a son, named Silvius.
Ascanius, likewise, married a wife who conceived and became
pregnant. And it was told Aeneas that his daughter-in-law was
pregnant. And he sent to Ascanius his son that he should send his
magician to examine his wife to search what she held in her womb,
whether male or female. And the magician came and examined the
wife. And he said to Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, that the woman
held in her womb a male and he will be a son of death, because he
will slay his father and his mother, and he will be hated of all men.
(It was on account of this prediction that the magician was slain by
Ascanius.) So it happened. The woman died at his birth. And the
son was nurtured and was called by the name Brutus. Indeed after
a long interval, in accordance with the prediction of the magician,
while he was playing with others, he slew his father with the shot
of an arrow, not of design but by accident. And, for this cause, he
was driven from Italy.
And he came to the islands of the Tyrrhene Sea and was
driven out by the Greeks on account of the death of Turnus, whom
Aeneas had slain. And he arrived among the Gauls, and there
founded the city of the Turoni, which is called Turnia (Tours). And
afterwards he arrived in this island, which took a name from his
name, to wit, Britain; and he filled it with his own stock, and he
dwelt there. Besides, from that day Britain has been inhabited even
to this day.] (Wade-Evans 38-39)
Brutus was forced to flee his community and become an exile,
similar to Aeneas and the earliest ancestors of the Franks. Brutus, like
his counterparts, also encountered adventure in other lands before
7 The excerpt from the Historia Brittonum is taken from the 'Vatican'
Recension, Volume 3, edited in 1985 by David Dumville.
arriving in his new homeland. Nennius fails to mention if it is necessary
for Brutus to subjugate this new land, but this first king of Britain does
colonize it with his fellow Trojans and brings enduring civilization.
The British origin myth was created after the Britons were forced
westward into Wales by the hostile Saxons, whereas the Franks had
fashioned their myth while still a dominant people with militaristic
designs. Richard Waswo, in The Founding Legend of Western Civilization
From Virgil to Vietnam, claims that the origin myth of the Welsh, or
Britons, had a more scholarly and cultural kind of legitimation, rather
than a political one, because its emphasis was lineal succession, "to the
exclusion of any direct claims or threats of ferocity or independence as
made in the Frankish chronicles" (51). Both nations, however, used the
premise of legitimation due to an ancient and prestigious genealogy. In
the ninth century lineal succession was the type of political tool used as a
means of propaganda by Welsh dynasties to sanction their particular
claim to sovereignty.
Although Britons were considered a defeated people by the Saxons,
perhaps the new dynasty established in North Wales in the early ninth
century did not deem itself as such. It was a budding nation beginning to
sense its prominence and power. A period of renewed scholarship and
relative peace led to a scrutiny of its historic importance. Its claim to
legitimacy was its hereditary descent, thus there was incentive to
discover illustrious Trojan origins.
The early ninth century was a time of national revival among the
Britons, especially in North Wales, or Gwynedd (Hanning 94-95). The
king, an outsider, Merfyn Frych, founded a new dynasty in 825, and was
succeeded by his son, Rhodri Mawr, who united the greater part of Wales
into a single nation. North Wales was also beginning to emerge as a
center of British learning. Nora Chadwick claims that Gwynedd had an
enlightened court which had learned by exchange with both Ireland and
the Continent the value of learning and letters, and the importance of the
written word (16-17). Wade-Evans writes that "it would in fact seem as
though the advent of Merfyn ... inaugurated a new forceful period in the
history of Wales.... In Ireland his court was known as a rendevous of
learned men..." (16).
North Wales was in touch with the native North British oral
traditions (Chadwick 7), including the tales of Arthur from the post-
Roman era. These heroic tales were preserved by professional bards
down through the centuries, and were finally written down beginning in
the eighth century. "Native heroic poetry... of a people in its defeat...
served as a constant reminder of their splendid past, and a constant hope
of a still greater future" (Chadwick 12). There arose in the ninth century
the prospect that the Saxons might at last be driven from the island of
Britain (Hanning 95). Nennius contributed to this anticipation with a
fanciful account of his nation's heroic past.
Nennius possibly created a Trojan-origin myth because the British,
as a conquered and dispersed people, could identify with the Trojans of
the Aeneid. Because Troy, in the guise of Rome, rose again to lost
splendor thanks to the exploits of Aeneas and his descendants, Nennius
conceivably hoped to inspire the Britons to renewed glory by illustrating
for them that the two peoples were of a similar distinguished ancestry.
Aeneas and thus the Romans set the precedent of imperial greatness for
In the preface of some manuscripts of the Historia Brittonum
Nennius professes to be the disciple of Elvodugus, the man credited with
having changed the date of Easter among the Britons in 768,
consequently conforming the Celtic Church with the Church of Rome.
Because Elvodugus is believed to be the Elfoddw who, in the Annales
Cambriae of the tenth century, is referred to as the archbishop of
Gwynedd, Nora Chadwick posits that Nennius could be associated with
the same area (44). Dumville claims that Nennius was working in
Gwynedd, perhaps at the court of the king, Merfyn Frych (VII, 21).
Scholarly activity helped to fortify the position of the new rulers in
Gwynedd and to enhance their prestige, especially the documenting of
genealogies and origin stories. Royal genealogies constituted a legal title
to rule, and "membership of the relevant royal dynasty seems to have
been the appropriate requirement for succession to the throne" (Dumville
XV. 84). Merfyn, through his father, claimed to be of the lineage of
Magnus Maximus, the last British ruler of Rome, who died in 388.
Maximus represented the preeminent lineage to the Welsh, and Rome
meant a link with Troy. On the side of his mother, Merfyn was from the
line of the founder of the First Dynasty of Gwynedd, the legendary
Apart from the Trojan-origin myth, Nennius related the foundation
story of Cunneda Wledig, who with eight of his sons, left Manaw, a
kingdom along the banks of the Firth of Forth, for Gwynedd in the post-
Roman era. These "Men of the North" expelled the Irish settlers, and
Cunneda became the head of a new dynasty. His sons and descendants
brought unity to the Welsh nation and gave their names to other
kingdoms throughout the land. Cunneda's example established the
precedent for an outside dynasty coming to power in Gwynedd,
particularly that of Merfyn, who was the founder of the Second Dynasty
Nennius was writing in a learned culture at a time of relative unity
and stability, not unlike the situation in which Fredegar was writing his
Chronicle. He was compiling a history and a Trojan-origin myth for a
"nation" of the elite that was beginning to study its origins, similar to the
performance of the authors of the Frankish myths when their "nation"
realized that it was a singular people. The scholars and nobles of the
Britons and Franks wanted to be the ancestral equals of the Romans, but
at the same time they wanted to be independent of them, to have their
own distinct culture and their separate glorious origin myth.
Robert Hanning asserts that "in the late eighth-and early ninth-
century, [there] was an increased self-awareness and self-confidence on
the part of the learned segment of European society" (101). Because the
origin myth, as a pedigree myth, conveyed the fact that the Welsh were
Romans as well as Britons, the vital educated class envisioned their
nation's potential for political and cultural influence.
Robert Leckie, writing in regard to the Anglo-Saxons of the early
Middle Ages, states that the preserving of pedigrees, or genealogies,
showed a desire on the part of individual enclaves to establish political
identity. Their political survival depended on a degree of distinctiveness
(11). In like manner the North Wales kingdom of Merfyn and Rhodri also
developed its own distinguishing genealogy in order to maintain its
survival and sovereignty.
Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace
In the ninth century Nennius drafted for the British "nation" a
prestigious pedigree in the form of a unique origin myth. However, this
particular Trojan-origin myth did not have much political impact until
Geoffrey of Monmouth's enhancement of it in the twelfth century.
Geoffrey's intended audience was the educated and ambitious Anglo-
Norman aristocracy. They, not the Britons, were the beneficiaries of its
political implications. Inasmuch as the Anglo-Normans were a people
advancing toward nationhood, Geoffrey's accomplishment can be
weighed by their acceptance of his chronicle as a great national myth
The success of Geoffrey's Historia can also be measured by the
number of extant manuscripts. "Nearly two hundred medieval
manuscripts are known to have survived, about fifty dating from the
twelfth century" (Gransden 201). Jean Blacker adds that "there were
many verse and prose translations into Welsh, Middle English, and Old
French, Wace's Brut being one of the most popular of these in the twelfth
century" (17). "The Brut is extant in twenty complete manuscripts and
eight manuscripts containing twelve fragments" (Blacker 177).
Wace was a Norman born on the island of Jersey about 1110,
educated at Caen and then in the lie de France. He returned to Caen
where he wrote poems in Old French, romanz. "The enormous success of
the Historia Regum Britanniae must have made Wace realise he could
redirect his talents as a 'translator' from Latin into French" (Weiss xii).
Wace was ambitious and thus wrote on timely subjects in order to gratify
the new Angevin monarchy, Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine,
and other members of the powerful aristocracy from whom he
anticipated compensation. Margaret Houck describes Wace's audience
and his design for writing :
He wrote to please those who could pay him for his writing; that is,
for persons of wealth and standing. His readers-not clerics, but
rather nobles with a taste for storytelling, rich amateurs of
literature, men of affairs-obviously preferred poems in the
vernacular to poems in Latin; the popularly spoken language,
probably because it was more familiar, was more agreeable to their
Whereas Geoffrey tried to make propaganda sound like history,
Wace believed that he was transmitting knowledge. In the first lines of
the Roman de Brut, Wace emphasizes his concerned for imparting the
truth. Resembling the writers of the Frankish Trojan-origin myth, Wace
seeks to recount the hereditary sequence of early kings:
Ki vult oir e vult saveir
De rei en rei e d'eir en eir
Ki cil furent e dunt il vindrent
Ki Engleterre primes tindrent,
Quels reis i ad en ordre eii,
E qui anceis e ki puis fu,
Maistre Wace I'ad translate
Ki en conte la verite. (1-8)8
The Brut presented a history of the Britons to a far wider audience
than did the Historia. It became more accessible to a public which might
otherwise have never learned of it, for the majority of the Anglo-Norman
nobility in 1155 could comprehend only French (Blacker 142). Jean
Blacker further suggests that the vernacular also acted as a vehicle of
cultural affirmation for Anglo-Normans (143). A history of the island
composed in their own language helped to fuse the new masters with the
land and its people.
Wace, unlike Geoffrey, did not see the Trojans as a privileged
group, but rather as one of a series of peoples, like the Romans, Saxons,
Danes, and Normans, who had occupied Britain over the centuries.
Although he recognizes that the Britons are the descendants of Aeneas
and thus of the Trojans, Wace is not interested in defining the political
import of this ancestry.
The differing viewpoints of Geoffrey and Wace as to the integrity of
the royal lineage is illustrated in a scene where the Greek king gives a
8 Our excerpts are from the 1999 edition of Wace's Roman de Brut A
History of the British by Judith Weiss, who consulted Ivor Arnold's 1938
edition of the Brut along with other authors' editions.
farewell speech to Brutus and his band of Trojans. The exiles have just
defeated a Greek force and are preparing to set sail. Geoffrey's account
of the address of the king, who has promised his daughter in marriage to
Brutus, testifies to the author's admiration for Trojan honor and prestige:
... Solatium habere videor, quia filiam meam tante probitatis
adolescent daturus sum, quem ex genere priami & anchise
creatum, & nobilitas quae in ipso pululat, & fama nobis cognita
declarat. Quis etenim alter exules troiae in servitutem tot &
tantorum principum positos eorundem vinculis eriperet? (I. xi)'
[I take some comfort in the knowledge that I am about to give my
daughter to a young man of such great prowess. The nobility
which flourishes in him, and his fame, which is well-known to us,
show him to be of the true race of Priam and Anchises. Who other
but he could have freed from their chains the exiles of Troy, when
they were enslaved by so many mighty princes?] (Thorpe 63)
Wace's adaptation of the speech is harsh, conceding little to Trojan
Ma file avrez, n'en pus faire el,
Mais a mun enimi mortel,
A cruel home e a felun
La durrai, u jo voille u nun;
Mais alques me confortera
Ke gentilz horn e pruz l'avra. (577-582)
Despite the fact that Wace acknowledges Brutus' courage and noble
ancestry, he shows that goodness does not accompany nobility.
Nevertheless, he sees the advantage of the king's daughter marrying a
bold man of rank.
Wace's Brut, composed in lucid, simple Old French, consisted of
15,000 lines in eight-syllable couplets. The content did not differ
9 Quotes from the Historia Regem Britanniae are taken from Acton
Griscom's 1929 The Historia Regem Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
substantially from that in Geoffrey's Historia. Margaret Houck states that
"most of the alterations made by Wace have their source in his style as a
narrative poet" (167). He frequently includes additional description and
dialogue, and gives a more vivid portrayal of character. He adds drama
to the events. Judith Weiss contends that Wace sometimes takes it upon
himself to explain more than seems warranted, but this may have as
much to do with the audience's needs as his own pedantry (xxiv). He
clarifies passages for an audience less familiar with the ancient classics
than were Geoffrey's readers.
An estimate of the different writing styles of Geoffrey and Wace
can be determined from the Trojan-origin myth in each man's work.
Geoffrey's myth is an embellishment of the secular origin myth in the
Eneas post troianum bellum excidium urbis cum ascanio filio suo
diffugiens, italiam navigio adivit. Ibi cum a latino rege honorifice
receptus esset invidit turnus rex rutilorum & cum illo congressus
est. Dimicantibus ergo illis praevaluit eneas peremptoque turn
regnum italie & laviniam filiam latini adeptus est. Denique
supreme die ipsius superveniente, ascanius regia potestate
sublimatus, condidit albam super tyberim, genuitque filium cuius
nomen erat silvius. Hic furtive veneri indulgens, nupsit cuidam
nepti lavinie, eamque fecit praegnantem. Cumque id ascanio
patricompertum esset, precepit magis suis explorare quem sexum
puella concepisset. Certitudine ergo rei comperta dixerunt magi
ipsam gravidam esse, puero qui patrem & matrem interficeret.
Pluribus quoque terris in exilium peragratis ad summum tandem
culmen honors perveniret. Nec fefellit eos vaticinium suum. Nam
ut dies parts accessit, edidit mulier puerum & in nativitate eius
mortua est. Traditur autem puer ille obstetrici & vocatur brutus.
Postremo cum ter quini anni emensi essent, comitabatur iuvenis
patrem in venando, ipsumque inopino ictu sagitta interfecit. Nam
dum famuli cervos in occursum eorum ducerent brutus telum in
ipsos dirigere affectans, genitorem sub pectore percussit. Quo
mortuo expulsus est ab italia indignantibus parentibus ipsum
tantum facinus fecisse. Exulatus ergo adivit parties grecie & invent
progeniem heleni filii priami quae sub potestate pandrasi regis
grecorum in servitutem tenebatur. (I. iii)
[After the Trojan war, Aeneas fled from the ruined city with
his son Ascanius and came by boat to Italy. He was honourably
received there by King Latinus, but Turnus, King of the Rutuli,
became jealous of him and attacked him. In the battle between
them Aeneas was victorious. Turnus was killed and Aeneas seized
both the kingdom of Italy and the person of Lavinia, who was the
daughter of Latinus.
When Aeneas' last day came, Ascanius was elected King. He
founded the town of Alba on the bank of the Tiber and became the
father of a son called Silvius. This Silvius was involved in a secret
love-affair with a certain niece of Lavinia's; he married her and
made her pregnant. When this came to the knowledge of his father
Ascanius, the latter ordered his soothsayers to discover the sex of
the child which the girl had conceived. As soon as they had made
sure of the truth of the matter, the soothsayers said that she would
give birth to a boy, who would cause the death of both his father
and his mother; and that after he had wandered in exile through
many lands this boy would eventually rise to the highest honour.
The soothsayers were not wrong in their forecast. When the
day came for her to have her child, the mother bore a son and died
in childbirth. The boy was handed over to the midwife and was
given the name Brutus. At last, when fifteen years had passed, the
young man killed his father by an unlucky shot with an arrow,
when they were out hunting together. Their beaters drove some
stags into their path and Brutus, who was under the impression
that he was aiming his weapon at these stags, hit his own father
below the breast. As the result of this death Brutus was expelled
from Italy by his relations, who were angry with him for having
committed such a crime. He went in exile to certain parts of
Greece; and there he discovered the descendants of Helenus,
Priam's son, who were held captive in the power of Pandarasus,
King of the Greeks.] (Thorpe 54-55)
The style is terse and concise. Geoffrey borrowed the theme from
Nennius but reworked it to accommodate an educated twelfth-century
audience. Much of the early narrative reflects the Aeneid, but the story of
Brutus is unique to the Britons. The Aeneid does relate, however, that
Helenus did arrive in Greece. Virgil lets Aeneas describe the
Hic incredibilis rerum fama occupat auris
Priamiden Helenum Graias regnare per urbes
coniugio Aecidae Pyrrhi sceptrisque potitum
et patrio Andromachen iterum cessisse marito. (3.294-97)1
[An unbelievable story reached our ears:
That Helenus, the son of Priam, now
Ruled over cities of the Greeks, as heir
To Pyrrhus' wife and power; Andromache
Had found again a husband of her nation.] (Fitzgerald 76)
Pandarasus, however, appears to be an invention of Geoffrey.
Wace translated and adapted Geoffrey's version for a generation
that he considered not well acquainted with the Aeneid. The following is
Wace's lengthy paraphrase of Geoffrey's account:
Si cum li livres le devise,
Quant Greu ourent Troie conquise
E eissillie tut le pals
Pur la venjance de Paris
Ki de Grece out ravi Eleine,
Dux Eneas a quelque peinne
De la grant ocise eschapa.
Un fiz aveit k'il en mena
Ki aveit nun Ascanius;
N'aveit de fiz ne fille plus.
Ke de parenz, ke de maisnees,
Ke d'aveir out vint nes chargiees.
Par mer folead lungement;
Maint grant peril, maint grant turment
E maint travail li estut traire.
Empres lung tens vint en Itaire:
Itaire esteit dune apelee
La terre u Rome fu fundee.
N'ert de Rome encor nule chose,
Ne fu il puis de bien grant pose.
1o The passage is taken from Johannes Gotte's 1960 edition of Aeneis by
P. Vergilius Maro.
Eneas out mult travaillied,
Mult out sigle, mult out nagied,
Mainte grant mer out trespassee
E mainte there avironee.
En Itare est venue a rive
En une terre plenteive,
Bien pruef d'illuec u Rome siet,
La u li Teivres en mer chiet.
Latins, uns reis, k'iloec maneit,
Ki tut cel regne en pais teneit,
Riches huem e mananz asez,
Mais velz esteit e trespassez,
Ad Eneam mult enore.
De sa terre li ad dune
Grant parties sur la marine;
E estre le gre la reine
Li pramist sa fille a duner
E de sun regne enheriter.
N'aveit fors li enfant ne eir,
[Apres lui deveit tut aveir].
La fille ert mult bele meschine,
Si ert apelee Lavine,
Mais prendre la Turnus
Ki de Toscane ert sire e dux.
Cil Turnus, ki ert sis veisins,
Riches huem mult, sout ke Latins
Sa fille a Eneam dunout;
Dolenz en fu, envie en out,
Kar il l'aveit lunges amee
E ele lui ert graantee.
A Eneam grant guerre en fist,
Cors contre cors bataille en prist;
Chevaliers ert hardiz e forz,
Mais il en fu vencuz e morz.
Dune out Eneas la meschine,
Reis fu e ele fu reine.
Ne trova puis ki li netist
Ne de rien li contr'esteiist. (9-66)
Wace briefly remarks on the circumstances of the Trojan War, then
embellishes Geoffrey's narrative on Aeneas, his escape from Troy, his
wanderings until his arrival in Italy, and his winning of Lavinia and of the
kingdom of her father, Latinus. After noting the reigns of Aeneas and his
son Ascanius, Wace proceeds with an account of Silvius, Ascanius' son:
II out amee une meschine
Celeement, niece Lavine;
Od li parla, cele concut.
Kant Aschanius 1'apercut,
Venir fist ses sortisseors
E ses sages devineors;
Par els, co dist, vuleit saveir
Kel enfant deit la dame aveir.
Cil unt sorti de devine
E co unt en lur sor trove
Ke un fiz ke la dame avra
Sun pere e sa mere ocirra
E en eissil chaciez sera,
Mais puis a grant honur vendra.
Issi fu veir come il distrent
E si avint cum il pramistrent,
Kar al terme ke il nasqui
Murut la mere, e il vesqui:
Morte fu de 1'enfantement
E li fiz fu nez sauvement,
Si li fu mis cist nun Brutus.
Quinze anz aveit e nient plus,
Kant od sun pere en bois ala,
Ki a male ure l'i mena.
A mal ear ensemble alerent,
Une herde de cerfs troverent.
Le peres al fiz les aceinst
E li fiz a un fust s'estreinst;
A un cerf traist k'il avisa,
Mais la saiete trespassa;
Sun pere feri si l'ocist,
Mais de sun gr6 nient nel fist.
Tuit si parent s'en coruscerent
E del regne Brutun chacerent.
Cil passa mer, en Grece ala;
De cels de Troie iluec trova
Tute la lignee Eleni
Un des fiz al rei Priami,
E d'altres lignages asez
Ke l'on aveit enchaitivez. (115-154)
Brutus' birth brings tragedy to his father, Silvius, and to his
mother, the niece of Lavinia. Wace's account of the misfortune of Brutus
and the cause of his exile is remarkably similar to Geoffrey's report,
which in turn closely parallels Nennius' singular story, although Nennius
did not proclaim Silvius the father of Brutus in all versions of his origin
Before arriving at their final destination in Britain, Brutus and his
fellow Trojans face many challenges. In Greece Brutus gains a reputation
for military prowess, and before long wins the freedom of his fellow
Trojans being held captive there. With Brutus as their leader the Trojans
then set sail with a huge fleet across the Mediterranean Sea, through the
Pillars of Hercules, along the coast of France, where they cast anchor at
the mouth of the Loire. They battle native French assailants, appropriate
much booty, and finally sail to the "promised land" of Britain.
Geoffrey outlines the condition of Britain before and after the
Erat tunc nomen insulae albion quake a nemine exceptis paucis
hominibus gigantibus inhabitabatur. Amoeno tamen situ locorum &
copia piscosorum fluminum nemoribusque preelecta; adfectum
habitandi bruto sociisque inferebat. Peragratis ergo quibusque
provinciis, repertos gigantes ad cavernas montium fugant. Patriam
donante duce sortiuntur. Agros incipiunt colere, domos edificare,
ita ut in brevi tempore terram ab ovo. Denique brutus de nominee
suo insulam brittanniam appellate, sociosque suos brittones.
Volebat enim ex derivatione nominis memorial habere perpetuam.
Unde postmodum loquela gentis quae prius troiana sive curvum
grecum nuncupabatur, dicta fuit brittannia.... Diviso tandem
regno, adfectavit brutus civitatem aedificare. Adfectum itaque
suum exsequens circumivit totius patrie situm, ut congruum locum
inveniret. Perveniens ergo ad thamensem fluvium deambulavit
litora, locumque nactus est proposito suo perspicuum. Condidit
civitatem itaque ibidem, eamque troiam novam vocavit....
Postquam igitur praedictus dux praedictam urbem condidit,
dedicavit eam civibus iure victories, deditque legem qua pacific
tractarentur. Regnabat tune in iudea heli sacerdos, & archa
testament capta erat a philisteis. Regnabant etiam in troia filii
hectoris, expulsis posters antenoris. Regnabat it italia silvius
eneas eneae filius avunculus bruti latinorum tertius. (I. xvii-xviii)
[At this time the island of Britain was called Albion. It was
uninhabited except for a few giants. It was, however, most
attractive, because of the delightful situation of its various regions,
its forests and the great number of its rivers, which teemed with
fish; and it filled Brutus and his comrades with a great desire to
live there. When they had explored the different districts, they
drove the giants whom they had discovered into caves in the
mountains. With the approval of their leader they divided the land
among themselves. They began to cultivate the fields and to build
houses, so that in a short time you would have thought that the
land had always been inhabited.
Brutus then called the island Britain from his own name, and
his companions he called Britons. His intention was that his
memory should be perpetuated by the derivation of the name. A
little later the language of the people, which had up to then been
known as Trojan or Crooked Greek, was called British, for the same
Once he had divided up his kingdom, Brutus decided to build
a capital. In pursuit of this plan, he visited every part of the land in
search of a suitable spot. He came at length to the River Thames,
walked up and down its banks and so chose a site suited to his
purpose. There then he built his city and called it Troia Nova....
When the above-named leader Brutus had built the city about
which I have told you, he presented it to the citizens by right of
inheritance, and gave them a code of laws by which they might live
peacefully together. At that time the priest Eli was ruling in Judea
and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines. The
sons of Hector reigned in Troy, for the descendants of Antenor had
been driven out. In Italy reigned Aeneas Silvius, son of Aeneas and
uncle of Brutus, the third of the Latin Kings.] (Thorpe 72-74)
Wace likewise shows the culture-bringing character of the Trojans:
Quant la terre fud neiee
Des gaianz e de lur lignee,
Le Troien s'aseiirerent,
Maisuns firent, terres arerent,
Viles e burcs edifierent,
Blez semerent, blez guaainerent.
La terre aveit nun Albion,
Mais Brutus li chanja sun nun,
De Bruto, sun nun, nun li mist,
Bretainne apeler la fist;
Les Troiens, ses compainuns
Apela, de Bruto, Bretuns
Bien tost fu la gent si creie
E si par la terre espandue,
Vis vus fust que lunch tens eust
Que Bretainne poplee fust.
Brutus esguarda les montainnes,
Vit les valees, vit les plainnes,
Vit les mores, vit les boscages,
Vit les eues, vit les rivages,
Vit les champs, vit les praeries,
Vit les porz, vit les pescheries,
Vit sun people multepleier,
Vit les terres bien guainier;
Pensa sei que cite fereit
E que Troie renovelereit.
Quant il out quis leu covenable
E aaisiez e delitable,
Sa cite fist desur Tamise;
Mult fud bien faite e bien asise.
Pur ses anceisors remember
La fist Troie Nove apeller;
A cel terme que jeo vus di
Ert de Judee prestre Heli,
E Philistin en lor contree
Ourent I'arche e la lei portee.
Quant Brutus out sa cite fete
E de la gent grant masse atraite,
Citedeins i mist e burgeis
Si lur duna preceps e leis
Ke pais e concorde tenissent
Ne pur rien ne se mesfeissent. (1169-80, 1205-24, 1247-56)
The founding hero, Brutus, and his compatriots, after removing the
natives, cultivate the land, instill the British language, build cities,
including a new Troy, and establish a code of laws.
The giants represent uncivilized beings that the culture-bringers
must destroy before settling the land. The fact that the island will be
devoid of inhabitants other than the Trojans implies that all Britons,
being from the same bloodline, were able to trace their lineage back to
Rome and Troy.
The Trojan-origin myth in the Brut and the Historia is both a
pedigree myth and a foundation myth. As a pedigree myth it confers
status and distinction on a people by virtue of their genealogy, granting
them the authority to dominate. This genealogy may be fictitious or, as
Tatlock suggests, it may be a pedigree of patriotism. As a foundation
myth, the Trojan-origin myth likewise bestows dominion. Brutus and his
fellow Trojans bring civilization to a primitive land and rule it as a
Colette Beaune reveals that in their origin myths the French began
to grant civilizing impetus to Trojan ancestors later than did Geoffrey
and Wace to the Britons. With the passage of time the Franks began to be
perceived as transmitters of culture. Beaune, paraphrasing a twelfth-
century romance, Parthonopeus de Blois, shows the civilizing role of the
Franks. The Merovingian prince speaks of his ancestors:
Troie fut moult de grand noblesse, de grand honneur, de grande
richesse, plantee de chevaliers.... France avait lors nom Galles,
n'y avait chateaux ne tours, ne nobles cites, ne beaux bourgs. Ainsi
demeurait toute la gent 6parsement.... Le pays de France etait
gastine, de bois plaine. N'y avait roi ne duc ne comte. Marcomir
leur fit former riches chateaux et fortes cites et leur enseigna a
vivre ensemble. (51)
The Frankish myths in time evolved so as to incorporate all the
peoples of France, namely the Gauls, into the Trojan-origin myth. Like
the part played by Brutus and the Britons, the civilizing role of the Trojan
founders in France was expressed by the construction of towns and
cities, the appropriation of a language, and the mandating of laws to
maintain peace and harmony. Beaune stipulates the principal cultural
contributions of France's Trojan forefathers:
Apris 1300, les m6rites de la civilisation gauloise que l'on
redecouvre lentement sont systematiquement portes au credit des
Troyens, don't le r61e civilisateur se trouve grand. Ce r6le
s'exprime surtout dans trois domaines, la foundation et la
fortification des villes, la sup6riorite de legislation et enfin la
In the Historia and the Brut, the concepts of imminent imperialism
and culture-building precede the landing in Britain of Brutus and the
other Trojan escapees. In a message delivered to the band of exiles
during a brief stop on a Mediterranean island, the goddess Diana reveals
that their future home is a worthy site for reviving Troy and a new
prestigious line of kings. The following excerpt is Geoffrey's account of
Brute sub occasu solis, trans gallica regna,
Insula in Oceano est, habitat gigantibus ohm.
Nunc desert quidem, gentibus apta tuis.
Illa tibi fietque tuis locus aptus in aevum.
Hec erit & natis altera troia tuis.
Hic de prole tua reges nascentur, & ipsis
Totius terre subditus orbis erit. (I. xi)
[Brutus, beyond the setting of the sun, past the realms of Gaul,
there lies an island in the sea, once occupied by giants. Now it is
empty and ready for your folk. Down the years this will prove an
abode suited to you and to your people; and for your descendants
it will be a second Troy. A race of kings will be bor there from
your stock and the round circle of the whole earth will be subject
to them.] (Thorpe 65)
Wace's paraphrase closely conforms to the original:
Ultre France, luinz dedenz mer
Vers Occident, purras trover
Une ille bone e abitable
E a maneir mult delitable.
Bone est la terre a cultiver,
Gaiant i soelent abiter.
Albion ad non, cele avras,
Une Troie nove i feras.
De tei vendra real ligniede
Ki par le mund iert esalciede. (681-90)
Wace's expression, "reial ligniede ki par le mund iert esalciade," as
well as Geoffrey's statement, "ipsis totius terrae subditus orbis erit," may
be suggesting the coming greatness of the present audience, the powerful
Anglo-Norman nobles, but the language surely intimates the future glory
of Arthur and his mastery over most of western Europe. The
introduction of the exploits of Arthur set a precedent for the scheme of a
dominant Britain. By showing the British to be a once-great people with
extensive territories Wace and Geoffrey could not only raise the status of
this distinguished race in the eyes of their new Norman overlords but
also suggest a model to the Norman kings in their imperialistic ambitions
Wace translated the Historia at the beginning of the Angevin
monarchy, his incentive no doubt to support Henry's political purposes.
Even by the time of his coronation Henry held vast territories in France
and ruled over one of the most extensive realms in western Europe. "It is
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