The similarities between Greco-Roman mythology and British mythology are quite striking, revealing the vibrant Classical tradition that influenced British culture during the time of the Roman Conquest. And just possibly, the strong connection between the visions given to those who overindulge on Mediterranean wine and those who prefer one-pint-too-many of British beer. But I digress.
To begin at the beginning, once upon a time, long, long ago, King Neptune, the god of the sea, and his wife, Amphitrite, decided to give their fourth son an island to rule over, so they mustered up a great council of underwater denizens to choose one for him. Countless islands were suggested and rejected, until finally a golden-haired, cutie-pie mermaid announced that she knew of a lush, vegetative island that would make a perfect present for such a prestigious little personage.
She took Neptune there, and he was so impressed by the idyllic setting that he decided then and there this would make a perfect present for his son and promptly named it after him: “Albion”. Although the recipient of this gesture of fatherly affection was later had the singular misfortune to be pulverized in a tangle with Hercules, Neptune continued to look out for the interests of the island in his memory. He also muttered something under his breath about her one day ruling the waves, accompanied by a catchy little tune that would soon take on a life of its own.
Centuries later, the future of the island would be secured when a Trojan prince named Brutus started experiencing a series of deplorable family problems. When still in his mother’s womb, a soothsayer predicted he would cause the death of both his parents and, as a booby prize, win great honors for himself somewhere along the line. His mother died giving birth to Brutus, and when he grew to agile manhood, he accidentally shot his father in a hunting accident and was exiled from his home after being branded an incorrigible jinx.
With his options limited, he what all future heroes do and set sail on an around-the-world odyssey in search of adventure, picking up a new wife and an assortment of followers along the way. Among the crew there was a party of Trojans who had been enslaved in Greece before being rescued by Brutus. In honor of their liberator and to denote themselves as his groupies, they decided to call themselves “Britons”.
Eventually the Trojan Prince stopped off at the deserted island of Malta (then called Leogetia) in hopes of finding inner peace and, perhaps, a home for himself and his people. He located a temple there dedicated to the Goddess Diana, the patroness of stags and archery. Considering his past hunting woes, he decided she might just be the one to set his painful course aright. So he made her an offering of wine and the blood from a white hind, turned his eyes towards her statue, and repeated nine times:
O powerful goddess,
Terror of the forest glades,
Yet hope of the wild woodlands,
You who have the power to go in orbit through the airy heavens
and the halls of hell,
Pronounce a judgment which contains concerns the earth
Tell me which lands you wish us to inhabit
Tell me of a safe dwelling-place where I am to worship you
down the ages,
And where to the chanting of maidens,
I shall dedicate temples to you
After making his request and promise, he fell into a deep sleep on the outstretched hide of the white hind. About the third hour of the night, Diana made her appearance and response:
Beyond the setting sun,
Past the realms of
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 to be an abode suited to you and
And for your descendants it will be a second
A race of Kings will be born there from your stock
And the round circle of the whole earth will be subject to them
This sounded like fair enough by any standards, so he and his merry band of companions headed off to take the Goddess up on her generous offer. They stopped on the side of the road in Gaul to get directions and indulge in a dose of French sunshine before moving on to their foggy domain claim. The locals gave rave revues about their intended destination, corroborating that it was practically uninhabited and ready to be staked out. And so the crew forged ahead to their “island paradise”.
After rowing ashore to the British mainland, Brutus supposedly stepped onto a stone which the inhabitants of Totnes, Devonshire, still proudly acknowledged as the “Brutus Stone” to this very day. Presumably, he would be pleased that his memory has been literally “set in stone” and imprinted in “Top 10 Places to See” pamphlets, but at the time of his landing, he had bigger issues to consider.
It became increasingly apparent that both the Goddess Diana and the would-be World Travel Agents in Gaul were slightly inaccurate regarding the issue of giant population still available for comment. Brutus and his band soon came face to face with quite a few of these colossal men tromping around in a very malevolent mood. It was said that their race had descended from the daughters of Emperor Diocletian (apparently a different one from the great persecutor of Christians, or otherwise transplanted back into mythological prehistory by Doc Who’s ever-reliable TARDIS) who had been banished to Albion after plotting to do away with their husbands. Once on the island, they had mated with like-minded demons and given birth to a slew of baby giants, the ancestors of the ones Brutus and company encountered.
Despite the odds, the exiled Trojans succeeded in slaying or subduing all the gargantuans, chaining up particularly ferocious specimens in various tourist-friendly locations, from Glastonbury to Guildhall. The leader of the giants, Gogmagog, met his fate at the hands of Corineus, Brutus’s trusted second-in-command, who hurled him over a cliff at Plymouth Hoe (which has appropriately been dubbed “Gogmagog’s Leap”) where he smashed to smithereens on rocks below. Corineus followed up this epic achievement by wiping out the giants of Cornwall. Of course, there was that issue with a beanstalk later on, but we needn’t spoil the success story for now.
With no further ado, Brutus renamed the conquered island “Britain”, after himself, and ruled as king for twenty-four years. He also founded a city on the banks of the River Thames that was called Troia Nova (New Troy) and fulfilled his promise to Diana by building a temple in her honor – supposedly on the present-day site of St. Paul’s Cathedral! A slab said to be from the pagan altar became known as “London Stone” and was monopolized as a mystical power-play by those who had high hopes of controlling the city as a matter of diehard tradition.
When Brutus fell grievously ill and lay on his deathbed, he proceeded to divvy up his parcels of conquered shireland into four parts. His first son, Locrine, received what is now England; his second son, Camber, went away with Wales; his third son, Albanact, secured Scotland; and Brutus’s bosom companion, Corineus, collected Cornwall (named after the inheritor, and also meaning “Horn of Britain”).
In of spite of the king generous efforts to make all well and good through equal distribution, he just couldn’t seem to shake the strain of bad luck that had plagued him throughout his life. As a last instruction, he insisted that Locrine should marry Corineus’s daughter, Guendolen. Sonny-boy wasn’t particularly thrilled with his daddy’s match-making abilities, but he obediently submitted to the last wish of The Great Jinx.
In spite of this, Locrine continued to keep company with Estrildis, his princess mistress who had been captured from an enemy tribe during battle. He built a cozy little love nest in an elaborate tunnel to hide her away from his unsuspecting wife. But when Estrildis gave birth to a baby daughter named Havren (the Roman rendering of the name being “Sabrina”), Locrine got a bit too giddy about being a new-found fatherhood and impulsively banished Guendolen from his presence so could spend more quality time with his tunnel-dwelling family.
Needless, to say this didn’t go over well with the in-laws. In retaliation, Guendolen led her tribe to do battle against her husband and the land devolved into a state of civil war. Finally, after the pendulum of winning and losing swung back and forth repeatedly, Guendolen prevailed and Locrine was killed in battle. Being the forgiving sort of person she was, she also ordered his mistress and now ravishingly beautiful teenaged daughter to be drowned in what was later called the River Severn, in memory of Sabrina. The daughter came to be worshipped as a goddess/river nymph and is immortalized in the 17th century poet John Milton’s “The Nymph of the Severn”:
There is a gentle nymph not far from hence
That with moist curb sways the smooth
Sabrina is her name, a virgin pure;
Whilom she was the daughter of Locrine,
That had the sceptre from his father, Brute
She, guiltless damsel, flying the mad pursuit
Of her enraged stepdame, Guendolen,
Commended her fair innocence to the flood
That stayed her flight with his cross-flowing course
The water-nymphs, that in the bottom played,
Held up their pearled wrists, and took her in,
Bearing her straight to aged Nereus’s hall;
Who, piteous of her woes, reared her lank head,
And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
In nectared lavers strewed with asphodel,
And through the porch and inlet of every sense
Dropped in ambrosial ails, till she revived,
And underwent a quick immortal change,
Made Goddess of the river…..
|His memory "set in stone"!|