Friday, 28 October 2016

Historia Brittonum by Nennius.

Facsimile of the the Vatican Manuscript 
of the Historia Brittonum
Historia Brittonum or History of the Britons is, as the title suggests, a history of Britain ascribed to Nennius, a Welsh monk living in the 9th Century. I am growing increasingly fond of reading Medieval histories having recently read Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain (1136) and Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731), both of which I loved, and I thought now was the time to turn to Nennius.

A common criticism of Nennius is that he is not historically accurate: this is true, he is not even remotely historically accurate. Historia Brittonum is more a mythical history. It begins, rather sweetly I thought,
Nennius, the lowly minister and servant of the servants of God, by the grace of God, disciple of St. Elbotus, to all the followers of truth sendeth health. 
Be it known to your charity, that being dull in intellect and rude of speech, I have presumed to deliver these things in the Latin tongue, not trusting to my own learning, which is little or none at all, but partly from traditions of our ancestors, partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the annals of the Romans, and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymus, Prosper, Eusebius, and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons, although our enemies, not following my own inclinations, but, to the best of my ability, obeying the commands of my seniors; I have lispingly put together this history from various sources, and have endeavoured, from shame, to deliver down to posterity the few remaining ears of corn about past transactions, that they might not be trodden under foot, seeing that an ample crop has been snatched away already by the hostile reapers of foreign nations. For many things have been in my way, and I, to this day, have hardly been able to understand, even superficially, as was necessary, the sayings of other men; much less was I able in my own strength, but like a barbarian, have I murdered and defiled the language of others. But I bore about with me an inward wound, and I was indignant, that the name of my own people, formerly famous and distinguished, should sink into oblivion, and like smoke be dissipated. But since, however, I had rather myself be the historian of the Britons than nobody, although so many are to be found who might much more satisfactorily discharge the labour thus imposed on me; I humbly entreat my readers, whose ears I may offend by the inelegance of my words, that they will fulfil the wish of my seniors, and grant me the easy task of listening with candour to my history. For zealous efforts very often fail: but bold enthusiasm, were it in its power, would not suffer me to fail. May, therefore, candour be shown where the inelegance of my words is insufficient, and may the truth of this history, which my rustic tongue has ventured, as a kind of plough, to trace out in furrows, lose none of its influence from that cause, in the ears of my hearers. For it is better to drink a wholesome draught of truth from the humble vessel, than poison mixed with honey from a golden goblet.
The piece, only forty pages long in my edition, is divided into sixty-six chapters in which Nennius starts from the age of Adam, and from there divides the history of the world into six ages:
The first age of the world is from Adam to Noah; the second from Noah to Abraham; the third from Abraham to David; the fourth from David to Daniel; the fifth to John the Baptist; the sixth from John to the judgment, when our Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.
And from there to the history of the Britons: "The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul. Taken from the south-west point it inclines a little towards the west, and to its northern extremity measures eight hundred miles, and is in breadth two hundred." He lists the thirty-three cities, including York (Cair ebrauc), Canterbury (Cair ceint), Catterick (Cair caratauc; now a small village, I list it because I was born there and was very happy to see it mentioned!), Gloucester (Cair glout), Manchester (Cair mauiguid), and of course London (Cair londein). He then notes Britain's "inhabitants consist of four different people; the Scots, the Picts, the Saxons and the ancient Britons", then writes more on the myth of Brutus and how he came to establish Briton and the ancient Britons, and from there the Picts and how they occupied the Orkney Islands (which inspired me to read the Orkneyinga Saga, 1230, which I'll be blogging about next week), then the Scots and Saxons.

Much of Historia Brittonum consists of lists of genealogy of the kings and emperors of Rome, which, admittedly, were a little tedious, but the work is fascinating as a mythical account of the origins of Britain, and accounts of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, Vortigern, and even an early myth of King Arthur, short enough to quote in full here:
Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion.The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.
There is, in some editions, a final section on the 'wonders of Britain' (de mirabilibus Britanniae): my edition didn't include this and it's thought this section wasn't written by Nennius after all. I haven't found it to read online, but there is a summary by Sean B. Palmer which is most interesting and I do very much recommend people read his post. Hopefully I'll be able to read the original soon enough! I really enjoyed reading Nennius. Inaccurate as it may be, it is interesting to learn of the perceived history of the early Medieval Age; one of the many reasons to read this short work.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Chapters XXI - XXIII of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh.
It is October 1836 and it is snowing. Edinburgh records up to five inches of snow on the 28th October, and in London about an inch has fallen: this is just the beginning of one of the coldest and indeed snowiest winters on record in the United Kingdom. This period, and the perhaps unusually snowy periods of Charles Dickens' youth influenced us more than we realise in our dreams of a white Christmas, something I will write a little about in December, but not now; after all, only a few inches have fallen so far...

October 1836 also saw the return of Charles Darwin: he arrived in Falmouth in Cornwall on HMS Beagle having collected data to develop the theory of evolution (in January 1836, two months before the first instalment of Pickwick Papers, Darwin had just arrived in Australia). And, of course, October 1836 saw the eighth instalment of The Pickwick Papers.

Chapter XXI
In which the Old Man Launches Forth into his Favourite Theme, 
and Relates a Story About a Queer Client

'The Last Visit of Heyling to the Old Man'
by Phiz.
In the seventh instalment we left Mr. Pickwick in a state of alarm, having been informed by the solicitors Dodson and Fogg that he is to be sued for £1,500 for breach of promise. To steady his nerves he takes a brandy and warm water at Gray's Inn where he meets Jack Bamber, who was on the point of telling a tale when the instalment concluded. After a month of waiting we now learn what Jack has to say: after some brief ghost stories, perfect for Halloween, he tells The Old Man's Tale about the Queer Client. It begins,
‘It matters little,’ said the old man, ‘where, or how, I picked up this brief history. If I were to relate it in the order in which it reached me, I should commence in the middle, and when I had arrived at the conclusion, go back for a beginning. It is enough for me to say that some of its circumstances passed before my own eyes; for the remainder I know them to have happened, and there are some persons yet living, who will remember them but too well. 
‘In the Borough High Street, near St. George’s Church, and on the same side of the way, stands, as most people know, the smallest of our debtors’ prisons, the Marshalsea. Although in later times it has been a very different place from the sink of filth and dirt it once was, even its improved condition holds out but little temptation to the extravagant, or consolation to the improvident. The condemned felon has as good a yard for air and exercise in Newgate, as the insolvent debtor in the Marshalsea Prison. 
‘It may be my fancy, or it may be that I cannot separate the place from the old recollections associated with it, but this part of London I cannot bear. The street is broad, the shops are spacious, the noise of passing vehicles, the footsteps of a perpetual stream of people—all the busy sounds of traffic, resound in it from morn to midnight; but the streets around are mean and close; poverty and debauchery lie festering in the crowded alleys; want and misfortune are pent up in the narrow prison; an air of gloom and dreariness seems, in my eyes at least, to hang about the scene, and to impart to it a squalid and sickly hue.
‘Many eyes, that have long since been closed in the grave, have looked round upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the gate of the old Marshalsea Prison for the first time; for despair seldom comes with the first severe shock of misfortune. A man has confidence in untried friends, he remembers the many offers of service so freely made by his boon companions when he wanted them not; he has hope—the hope of happy inexperience—and however he may bend beneath the first shock, it springs up in his bosom, and flourishes there for a brief space, until it droops beneath the blight of disappointment and neglect. How soon have those same eyes, deeply sunken in the head, glared from faces wasted with famine, and sallow from confinement, in days when it was no figure of speech to say that debtors rotted in prison, with no hope of release, and no prospect of liberty! The atrocity in its full extent no longer exists, but there is enough of it left to give rise to occurrences that make the heart bleed.
He goes on to tell of a man imprisoned, forced to watch his wife and child starve to death, and who vows revenge on those who imprisoned him, his father and father-in-law. When his father dies the man inherits, and so is released from prison a rich man. First, he watches his brother-in-law drown whilst his father-in-law begs for help, then he buys his father-in-laws debts, making his life yet more miserable. When he finally tells his father-in-law that this is his revenge, the father-in-law dies. The story concludes,
‘Beneath a plain gravestone, in one of the most peaceful and secluded churchyards in Kent, where wild flowers mingle with the grass, and the soft landscape around forms the fairest spot in the garden of England, lie the bones of the young mother and her gentle child. But the ashes of the father do not mingle with theirs; nor, from that night forward, did the attorney ever gain the remotest clue to the subsequent history of his queer client.’
And with that, Bamber leaves, followed by Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller.

Chapter XXII
Mr. Pickwick Journeys To Ipswich And Meets with a Romantic Adventure with a 
Middle-aged Lady in Yellow Curl-Papers

'The Middle Aged Lady in the Double-Bedded
Room' by Phiz.
After that thoroughly miserable 21st chapter, we have an awkward interlude: Mr. Pickwick again finds himself in a scrape not befitting to his dignity. One night whilst staying at an inn, following dinner with a Mr. Peter Magnus Pickwick retires to bed, however realises he has left his watch in the dining room. He goes to retrieve the watch however is unable to find his way back to his bedroom. After several attempts to find that right bedroom he succeeds, or at least he thinks he does, and settles down in bed, but then -
... he was suddenly stopped by a most unexpected interruption: to wit, the entrance into the room of some person with a candle, who, after locking the door, advanced to the dressing-table, and set down the light upon it. 
The smile that played on Mr. Pickwick’s features was instantaneously lost in a look of the most unbounded and wonder-stricken surprise. The person, whoever it was, had come in so suddenly and with so little noise, that Mr. Pickwick had had no time to call out, or oppose their entrance. Who could it be? A robber? Some evil-minded person who had seen him come upstairs with a handsome watch in his hand, perhaps. What was he to do? 
The only way in which Mr. Pickwick could catch a glimpse of his mysterious visitor with the least danger of being seen himself, was by creeping on to the bed, and peeping out from between the curtains on the opposite side. To this manoeuvre he accordingly resorted. Keeping the curtains carefully closed with his hand, so that nothing more of him could be seen than his face and nightcap, and putting on his spectacles, he mustered up courage and looked out.
It is a middle aged lady who, to Pickwick's horror, proceeds to get herself ready for bed. After a very painful few minutes of wondering what he should do, he reveals himself and gets booted out of the room accordingly where he waits for Sam Weller to rescue him.

Chapter XXIII 
In Which Mr. Samuel Weller Begins to Devote his Energies to the 
Return Match between Himself and Mr. Trotter

In the final chapter of this instalment the search for Mr. Jingle and Mr. Trotter continues. There are some terse words exchanged between Sam Weller and his father, and eventually Sam manages to catch up with Trotter:
‘Hollo, you Sir!’ shouted Sam fiercely.
The stranger stopped.
‘Hollo!’ repeated Sam, still more gruffly.
The man with the horrible face looked, with the greatest surprise, up the court, and down the court, and in at the windows of the houses—everywhere but at Sam Weller—and took another step forward, when he was brought to again by another shout.
‘Hollo, you sir!’ said Sam, for the third time.
There was no pretending to mistake where the voice came from now, so the stranger, having no other resource, at last looked Sam Weller full in the face.
‘It won’t do, Job Trotter,’ said Sam. ‘Come! None o’ that ‘ere nonsense. You ain’t so wery ‘andsome that you can afford to throw avay many o’ your good looks. Bring them ‘ere eyes o’ yourn back into their proper places, or I’ll knock ‘em out of your head. D’ye hear?’
Trotter reveals no information about Jingle's plans, but he does share one thing of interest, his new relationship with a cook "who has saved up a little money". Weller then tells him in no uncertain terms to meet him in the Great White Horse public house at eight o' clock that evening. Trotter leaves, and Weller tells Pickwick he has a plan, however the chapter finishes with the words "Whether it was done in good time, or not, will be seen hereafter." We must wait for November's instalment...

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Enter Ghost": Top Ten Creepy Shakespeare Quotes for Halloween.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a Halloween freebie and I can't resist! Here are some of my favourite creepy Shakespeare quotes, full of dark omens, owls, ghosts, and sprites...

1) From Hamlet (1603)

2) From Macbeth (1606)

3) From Henry IV Part I (1597)

4) From Julius Caesar (1599)

☠  ☠

☠  ☠

6) From Henry VI Part III (1591)

☠  ☠

7) From Macbeth (1606)

☠  ☠

8) From Macbeth (1606)

☠  ☠

9) From A Midsummer Night's Dream (1600)

☠  ☠

10) From The Rape of Lucrece (1594)

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Happy Halloween!

The Plays of Terence.

Publius Terentius Afer, or Terence as he is best known, is a 2nd Century B.C. Roman dramatist, possibly of Libyan descent, born around 184 B.C. and dying about 159 B.C. at the very young age of 25. He wrote six comedies in his short life, all of which have survived:
  • Andria (The Girl from Andros, 166 B.C.)
  • Hecyra (The Mother-in-Law, 165 B.C.)
  • Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor, 163 B.C.)
  • Eunuchus (The Eunuch, 161 B.C.)
  • Phormio (161 B.C.)
  • Adelphoe (The Brothers, 160 B.C.)
I've been spending the past few weeks reading them, and because, though I enjoyed these comedies, I don't have a great amount to say about them, so I thought it best say a little about them in one post rather than in six separate posts. That said, I have already read Andria and given that a separate post, so here are my thoughts on the remaining five plays:

Hecyra, or The Mother-in-Law

Hecyra, or The Mother-in-Law was Terence's second play which was first performed in 165 B.C. however, oddly enough, it wasn't performed without interruption until 160 B.C. It was inspired by a play by Apollodorus of Carystus (also titled Hekyra, or The Mother-in-Law) and is about a young man, Pamphilus, the son of Laches and Sostra, who has fallen in love with a prostitute, Bacchis. Nevertheless he is rather struck by Philumena (the daughter of Phidippus and Myrrhina) and one day he rapes her, and takes her from her a ring which he gives to Bacchis. A short time passes, and Pamphilus agrees to an arranged marriage: his wife will be Philumena, the woman he raped, however she has kept this a secret and Pamphilus is unaware it was she he raped. Now Pamphilus is married Bacchis rejects him, and so he becomes increasingly in love with his new wife. Philumena meanwhile realises she is pregnant from the rape and is in fear her secret will be discovered, especially by Sostra, the mother-in-law of the title, who is left wondering why Philumena has apparently become very much against her. It is of course inevitable that the secret will be discovered, but I shall leave it there for readers to find out!

Heauton Timorumenos, or The Self-Tormentor

Heauton Timorumenos was first performed in 163 B.C. and appears to be inspired by Menander's play of the same title (only fragments survive of Menander's play so it is difficult to make that judgement). The 'self-tormentor' of the play is Menedemus, who in the first part of the play explains to his neighbour Chremes that his son Clinia has gone to the east as a soldier having taken a good telling off a little more to heart than Menedemus intended. When Clinia returns, accompanied by Clitipho, Chremes' son, he begs that Chremes doesn't tell Menedemus he has returned. Clinia is then reunited with his lover Antiphila (this relationship originally incurred Menedemus' wrath), who is accompanied by Bacchis, a prostitute with whom Clitipho is in love. Neither of the men want their fathers to find out about their lovers, and they are aided by Chremes' slave Syrus, who is very much like an ancient Roman Jeeves. What follows is a rather confusing account of Chremes essentially trying to sort everyone out and tell everyone what they should and should not be doing, whilst Syrus attempts to enable the various affairs. The irony is that Chremes, apparently so moral, has a secret of his own that his wife Sostra is on the point of exposing, and as he tries to organise everyone he is unaware of the many plots in his own household. It is a very complicated play indeed, perhaps a little too complicated to enjoy.

Eunuchus, or The Eunuch

Eunuchus was first performed in 161 B.C. with unprecedented success. It's essentially a re-write of Menander's play Eunouchos and tells the story of a young man, Phaedria, and his lover Thais (a prostitute): Parmeno, the slave of Phaedria, acts as an adviser to Phaedria during his stormy relationship. At the start of the play Phaedria is lamenting over his recent argument with Thais whilst Parmeno consoles and advises him. Thais then appears and we learn of the soldier Thraso who is interested in her, and he is very rich. He intends to give Thais a slave girl, Pamphila, who in fact is Thais' sister, unbeknown to Thraso. Thais plans to then return Pamphila to her brother Chremes. Nevetheless Phaedria is worried by it all and longs to marry Thais, and to prove his love he gives her two gifts: an Ethiopian slave girl and a eunuch.

Later, when Pamphila arrives, Phaedria's brother Chaerea falls for her on the moment he sees her, and, at the port, tries to follow her but loses her in the crowd. Parmeno however is able to guide him to her, telling him of the story. So that he may be close to her he decides that he will replace the eunuch to get access to the house. When he is finally alone with her he is apparently overcome and rapes her, which threatens to ruin the household. Phaedria intervenes however and, as comedies go, everything is sorted out in the end.


Phormio was first performed in the same year as The Eunuch, in 161 B.C., and, like Hecyra it was based on a play by Apollodorus of Carystus; Epidikazomenos, or The Claimant. In it we meet two brothers,  Demipho and Chremes, the latter of whom is married to Nausistrata, and together they have a son, Phaedria (hard now to ignore that Terence recycles many names for his plays). Each year Chremes travels to Lemnos to collect the rent of his wife's various properties, and each time he stays longer than is necessary and brings home less than he ought. His wife suspects nothing more than incompetence, but it is revealed that he has in fact a second 'wife' and a daughter, Phanium, and furthermore in Lemnos he is known by the name Stilpho. Demipho, meanwhile, has a son - Antipho, and it's agreed that he should marry Phanium, and pass her off as the daughter of a friend. However Geta, a slave, rather scuppers the plans after the two sons, spoilt and unpleasant, make his life difficult. When Demipho and Chremes return from Lemnos they find the pair virtually uncontrollable and in love with unsuitable women. Antipho meanwhile falls in love with a girl, who turns out to be Phanium, but her maid Sophrona tells him she will not consent to Phanium leaving her care except in marriage. This risks revealing Chremes' secret, but, with the help of Phormio, a rather shady character who goes on to exploit the miseries of the other characters, they manage to come up with a plan. This is I think my least favourite of Terence's plays: too complicated to be enjoyable.

Adelphoe, or The Brothers

Adelphoe is Terence's final play and was first performed in 160 B.C. As with The Eunuch, The Self-Tormentor, and The Girl from Andros, this play was inspired by a work of Menander's, this time Adelphoi as well as a play from another author - Diphilus (his work again of the same title Adelphoi). The brothers of the title are Demea and Micio, and Demea decides to split up his two sons Aeschinus and Ctesipho: Dema will raise Ctesipho, and Micio Aeschinus with the object of seeing which makes the better father, both with sharply contrasting methods. Aeschinus ends up raping a girl, Pamphila, the daughter of Sostrata, and must now marry her. Meanwhile Ctesipho, brought up very strictly by Dema, falls in love with a slave. To protect his brother Aeschinus takes responsibility for Ctesipho's actions, however Sostrata is made aware and believes that Aeschinus is on the point of deserting her daughter, who has now given birth. Things typically get very complicated very quickly, though the resolution is still somewhat of a surprise.

Terence's plays are typically the comedies of old: highly complicated and farcical at times, though occasionally mildly amusing. He is not my favourite playwright by any stretch, but I think it's important to read him given his influence on some of our most famous writers, Shakespeare, Molière, Wycherley, and Udall in particular. The morality of the plays, frequently centred around rape, are highly questionable, some excuse them simply as they show immorality very well, and it is certainly eye opening to read of ancient attitudes towards rape. I'm glad I've finally read Terence and, though it's unlikely I'll ever revisit them, they can at times be fairly good fun.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Exiles by James Joyce.

Exiles is James Joyce's only play, completed in 1915 and first published in 1918 between A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), and, like Portrait of an Artist, it is rather autobiographical. Unfortunately, it's generally agreed to be his least successful work.

Exiles tells the story of Richard Rowan (a writer), his common-law wife Bertha and his friend Robert Hand, and Robert's cousin Beatrice, recently recovered from a life-threatening illness. Richard and Bertha have recently returned to Dublin from Rome. We find Bertha jealous of the close relationship of Richard and Beatrice; Robert, meanwhile, is jealous of Richard and Bertha. Robert attempts to seduce Bertha, Bertha tells Richard and he advises her to do what is right for her. When they meet again, following an awkward moment between Richard and Robert, Bertha and Robert are left alone, and what occurs is largely left to the audience's imagination. As this love-triangle plays out, Richard must also decide whether or not to settle down in Dublin and teach at the university or live, as Joyce himself did, as an 'exile'.

It is a fairly simple play, certainly not the finest I've read by a long stretch, but entertaining enough. Joyce was very influenced by Ibsen, and from the little I've read of Ibsen I see this in Exiles, the psychological drama of conflict imposed on these exiles living almost on the edge of society, their unusual relationships very much outside the norm, and their various attempts at a resolution. Because I've read so little Ibsen I'll have to refrain from saying any more on that topic and simply recommend an article from the New York Times - Revaluing James Joyce's 'Exiles' by James T. Farrell (1946). It is an entertaining play, I dare say memorable (though time will tell), but I can see why this is James Joyce's least popular work. Still, it's a must-read for Joyce fans, and I'd be curious to know what Ibsen fans make of it.

Exiles was my 43rd title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Marina by T. S. Eliot.

Further Reading


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