Brutus of Troy


Brutus of Troy

Brutus (Brut, Brute, Welsh Bryttys), a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. This legend first appears in the "Historia Britonum", a 9th century historical compilation attributed to Nennius, but is best known from the account given by the 12th century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth in his "Historia Regum Britanniae". However, he is not mentioned in any classical text and is not considered to be historical.

"Historia Britonum"

The "Historia Britonum" states that "The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul" who conquered both Spain and Britain. A more detailed story, set before the foundation of Rome, follows, in which Brutus is the grandson or great grandson of Aeneas.

Following Roman sources such as Livy and Virgil, the "Historia" tells how Aeneas settled in Italy after the Trojan War, and how his son Ascanius founded Alba Longa, one of the precursors of Rome. Ascanius married, and his wife became pregnant. In a variant version, the father is Silvius, who is identified as either the second son of Brutus, previously mentioned in the "Historia", or as the son of Ascanius. A magician, asked to predict the child's future, said it would be a boy and that he would be the bravest and most beloved in Italy. Enraged, Ascanius had the magician put to death. The mother died in childbirth.

The boy, named Brutus, later accidentally killed his father with an arrow and was banished from Italy. After wandering among the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea and through Gaul, where he founded the city of Tours, Brutus eventually came to Britain, named it after himself, and filled it with his descendants. His reign is synchronised to the time the High Priest Eli was judge in Israel, and the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines. ["Historia Britonum" , ]

A variant version of the "Historia Britonum" makes Brutus the son of Ascanius's son Silvius, and traces his genealogy back to Ham, son of Noah. [Morris 1980, p. 19.] Another chapter traces Brutus's genealogy differently, making him the great-grandson of the legendary Roman king Numa Pompilius, who was himself a son of Ascanius, and tracing his descent from Noah's son Japheth. ["Historia Britonum" ] These Christianising traditions conflict with the classical Trojan genealogies, relating the Trojan royal family to Greek gods.

Yet another Brutus, son of Hisicion, son of Alanus the first European, also traced back across many generations to Japheth, is referred to in the "Historia Britonum". This Brutus's brothers were Francus, Alamanus and Romanus, also ancestors of significant European nations. ["Historia Britonum" ]

"Historia Regum Britanniae"

Geoffrey of Monmouth's account tells much the same story, but in greater detail. [Geoffrey of Monmouth, "Historia Regum Britanniae" , ] In this version, Brutus is explicitly the grandson, rather than son, of Ascanius; his father is Ascanius' son Silvius. The magician who predicts great things for the unborn Brutus also foretells he will kill both his parents. He does so, in the same manner described in the "Historia Britonum", and is banished. Travelling to Greece, he discovers a group of Trojans enslaved there. He becomes their leader, and after a series of battles and some judicious hostage-taking, forces the Greek king Pandrasus to let his people go. He is given Pandrasus's daughter Ignoge in marriage, and ships and provisions for the voyage, and sets sail.

The Trojans land on a deserted island and discover an abandoned temple to Diana. After performing the appropriate ritual, Brutus falls asleep in front of the goddess's statue and is given a vision of the land where he is destined to settle, an island in the western ocean inhabited only by a few giants.

After some adventures in north Africa and a close encounter with the Sirens, Brutus discovers another group of exiled Trojans living on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea, led by the prodigious warrior Corineus. In Gaul, Corineus provokes a war with Goffarius Pictus, king of Aquitaine, after hunting in the kings forests without permission. Brutus's nephew Turonus dies in the fighting, and the city of Tours is founded where he is buried. The Trojans win most of their battles but are conscious that the Gauls have the advantage of numbers, so go back to their ships and sail for Britain, then called Albion. They meet the giant descendants of Albion and defeat them.

Brutus renames the island after himself and becomes its first king. Corineus becomes ruler of Cornwall, which is named after him. [It is interesting that Cornwall is given a distinct identity predating England, Scotland or Wales. Cornishmen and women continued to regard themselves as descendents of Corineus until well into the early modern period.] They are harassed by the giants, but kill all of them but their leader, Gogmagog, who is saved for a wrestling match against Corineus. Corineus throws him over a cliff to his death. Brutus then founds a city on the banks of the River Thames, which he calls Troia Nova, or New Troy, siting his palace where is now Guildhall and a temple to Diana on what is now St Paul's (with the London Stone being a part of the altar at the latter). The name is in time corrupted to Trinovantum, and is later called London. [The name Trinovantum, supposedly derived from "Troia Nova", is derived from the Trinovantes, a people of Iron Age Britain.] He creates laws for his people and rules for twenty-four years. He is buried at a temple at Tower Hill. After his death the island is divided between his three sons, Locrinus (England), Albanactus (Scotland) and Kamber (Wales).

Legacy

Early translations and adaptations of Geoffrey's "Historia", such as Wace's Norman French "Roman de Brut", Layamon's Old English "Brut", were named after Brutus, and the word "Brut" came to mean a chronicle of British history. A Middle Welsh adaptation was called the "Brut y Brenhinedd" ("Brut" of the Kings"), and a sequel recounting the Welsh rulers from the 7th century on, in which Brutus makes no appearance, was known as the "Brut y Tywysogion" ("Brut" of the Princes").

Geoffrey's "Historia" says that Brutus and his followers landed at Totnes in Devon. A stone on Fore Street in Totnes, known as the "Brutus Stone", commemorates this.

Notes

References

*Translation of "Historia Brittonum" from J.A. Giles, "Six Old English Chronicles", London: Henry G. Bohn 1848. [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/nennius-full.html Full text from Fordham University] .
*John Morris (ed), "Nennius: Arthurian Period Sources Vol 8", Phillimore, 1980
*Geoffrey of Monmouth, "The History of the Kings of Britain", translated by Lewis Thorpe, Penguin, 1966
*"The British History of Geoffrey of Monmouth", translated by Aaron Thompson, revised and corrected by J. A. Giles, 1842
*Bulfinch's Mythology


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