|Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (13)|
In Chretien's early romance The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot travels to the land of Gorre, which is ruled over by Bademagu of Bade, whose son is named Meleagant. Scholars have for some time been seeking a historical identification for Lancelot and have sought various identifications for Gorre (e.g. Gower, the Island of Man, Gowrie, Glastonbury). Yet most have realized that the Meleagant story is but a poetic elaboration of the early Melwas-Glastonbury story first recorded c.1130 by the Welsh monk Caradoc of Llancarfan.
When Guinevere is kidnapped by Meleagant and taken to Gorre, Gawain and Lancelot (the latter travelling incognito) leave Camelot and pursue the evil knight. In order to reach Gorre, Lancelot must make it through the Stone Passage and cross over the deadly Sword Bridge (pont espee). Gawain, taking another way into Gorre, must cross the Water Bridge (pont evage).
Since we know Camelot in Chretien is Campus Elleti near Caerleon (see Who was Arthur? above) and Meleagant as Melwas in Caradoc's tale is from Somerset, we must assume Lancelot is travelling southeast. Gorre, as was proposed long ago, is probably a Cymracized form of Voire (cf. modern French verre, "glass"). As such, it is a designation for Glastonbury, the Glass-town. The fact that the capital of Gorre is said to be Bath and Meleagant's father is called Bademagus (possibly a reflection of Gildass Badonici montis or Mount Badon, which from Geoffrey of Monmouths time on was identified with Bath) tells us that Chretien was aware that at his time Glastonbury was at the center of a Somerset which included the city of Bath. The modern county of Avon was made out of that part of Somerset which stretched north of the Mendips and from the southern part of Gloucestershire. So while Gorre is Glastonbury, the kingdom of Gorre is Somerset, the Summer Land of Melwas/Meleagant.
So where are the Stone Passage and the two bridges? I suspect the Stone Passage is a reference to Cheddar Gorge, the spectacular limestone ravine that cuts through the Mendip Hills. The Sword Bridge is probably Axbridge on the Axe, on the south side of the Mendips. While the name Axe actually stems from an ancient Isca, the later spelling may have suggested ax or axe from ME, fr. OE aex, aecus, acus; akin to OHG ackus, acchus, "ax", ON ox, etc., and perhaps to OE ecg, "edge, sword". Edge is from ME egge, fr. OE ecg; akin to OS eggia, "edge of a blade, edge", OHG ecka, L. acies, "sharp edge, sharpness". The Water Bridge is certainly Bridgwater on the Parrett.
And just who is Lancelot of the Lake?
The clue lies in his presence at Gorre/Glastonbury/Caer Wydr/Glass Fort. In the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwm, Arthur is accompanied to the Otherworld on a quest for a magical cauldron by a personage called Lluch Lleawc (or, as some translators would have it, lluch, bright, shining, is an adjective meant to be applied the the sword brandished by Lleawc). In the same poem, this Lluch Lleawc (or simply Lleawc) is provided with an epithet, Lleminawc. Some have interpreted this epithet as meaning the Leaping One (from W. llam, leap), but most prefer to see it as a slight corruption of an epithet belonging to the Irish god Lugh, whose name is found in Welsh sources as Llwch or Lloch (a word also meaning loch, i.e. lake) Llawwynnawc (variants Llawwynnyawc, Llauynnauc), i.e. Llwch Windy-Hand or Striking-Hand. In Irish tradition, Lugh had epithets such as Lonnbemnech, of the fierce blows, and Lamhfota, of the long hand. The Irish Lugh had his counterpart in Welsh tradition, i.e. Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Lleu Skillful-hand.
Linguistically speaking, the mh in Irish lamh, hand, is replaced in Welsh llaw by a w. W can regularly become u, and u can regularly become n. W and m are also, in certain contexts, interchangeable.
The same Lugh/Llwch appears elsewhere in Welsh tradition as Llenlleog Gwyddel, Llenlleog the Irishman. In the story Culhwch and Olwen, it is Llenlleog who brandishes the sword in the cauldron story, rather than Lluch Lleawc (or Lleawc), who is called called Lleminawc.
Which leads us to our next question: if Lancelot du Lac is Lugh Lancelot, with Lancelot being an epithet, what is Lancelot from?
We may begin with Llwch Llawwynnauc, which is probably a Welsh substitute for the Irish Lugh Lonnbemnech. This became Lluch or Lleawc Lleminauc in The Spoils of Annwm. And Lluch/Lleawc Lleminauc became Culhwch and Olwens Llenlleawc the Irishman. These are all natural developments from each other. The ll- of Llenlleawc is due to a simple MS. copying mistake, as the letter n can resemble double l.
begin with Llwch Llawwynnauc, which is probably a Welsh
substitute for the Irish Lugh Lonnbemnech. This
became Lluch or Lleawc Lleminauc in The Spoils of Annwm.
And Lleminauc became Culhwch and Olwens
Llenlleawc the Irishman.
Hibernus, of course, means Irishman or from Ireland. We can be relatively confident, therefore, that Lucuis Hiberus is actually Llwch Hibernus or the god Lugh of Ireland.
Being able to identify Lancelot of the Lake with Lucius Hibernus/Lugh of Ireland allows us to account for an odd parallel that exists in Geoffreys story of the end of Arthurs kingdom and in that version of the same story which is found in the French romances. In the first, Arthur is battling Lucius/Lugh in Gaul when Medrawt/Modred/Mordred rebells in Britain and takes over his queen and his kingdom. Arthur returns to battle Medrawt and perish at Camblann (Camlann). In the French sources, Lancelot of the Lake takes Guinevere with him to Gaul. Arthur pursues Lancelot and lays siege to the latters castle. It is while the siege is in progress that word comes to Arthur of Modreds betrayal and he must return to Britain for the fatal battle.
Thus, not only the names, but the story motifs featuring Lucius Hibernus/Lugh of Ireland and Lancelot of the Lake, match. The only reasonable conclusion is that Lucius and Lugh are one and the same mythical character.
And who is Guinevere, really? Her name first appears as Guennuvar in Caradoc of Llancarfan's LIFE OF ST. GILDAS (c. 1130), a work finished only a few years prior to that of Geoffrey of Monmouth's HISTORY (c. 1136). Geoffrey calls her Guanhumara. The Welsh form of her name is Gwenhwyfar (possibly "White Spectre").
She has usually been associated with the Irish sovereignty goddess Findabair. I think this is correct, since Arthur conquers Ireland immediately after marrying Guanhumara. In other words, a king must marry the Goddess of Sovereignty of Ireland before he can rule over the country.
Triad 56 of the Trioedd Ynys Prydein ("The Triads of the Island of Britain") lists the names and patronymics of the "Three Great Queens" of Arthur's court. To quote this triad in full:
Three Great Queens of Arthur's Court:
Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent,
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidawl,
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of (G)ogfran the Giant.
[Trans. By Rachel Bromwich]
There has been some slight discussion of these three "great queens" as a fairly typical Celtic example of a triple goddess, i.e. a goddess split into three aspects. I have elsewhere argued for the Welsh Gwenhwyfar, the later Guinevere of romance, being a form of the Irish sovereignty goddess Finnabhair. None of the fathers listed in the Welsh triad, however, match the name of the known father of the Irish Finnabhair, viz. Aillil. Aillil, like Welsh ellyll, means a fairy or sprite. The corresponding English word is, of course, elf (fr. OE aelf, akin to MHG alp, L. albus, "white").
I will treat briefly of each of the three Guineveres separately. What follows is a tentative identification of the great queens of Arthur's court.
1) Gwenhwyfar daughter if Cywryd
Given that n and u were often confused by copyists, and u can become w in certain instance, Cywryd is pretty transparently Cenred, King of Wessex. He had a daughter named Cwenburh, whose name was associated by the Welsh with the name Gwenhwyfar.
2) Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr
Gwythyr is generally considered a translation of the Roman name "Victor". However, we have seen there is some reason for rendering Gwythyr as Veteres/Vitires (the "Old One"), a god found in northern Britain. Two altars dedicated to Veteres were found (see the RIB) at Ebchester, the Romano-British period Vindomora. It is quite possible that at an early date the placename Vindomora was wrongly linked with the personal name Gwenhwyfar (cf. the later Latinized forms of Geoffrey of Monmouth - Guenhuuara, Guanhumara). The placename AS Gwenhwyfar was then linked to the god Veteres/Gwythyr, who was worshipped at Vindomora.
3) Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran (or Ogyrfan, Ogfran)
This is the most important of the three Guineveres, as she is the actual wife of King Arthur in early Welsh tradition. A diligent search of British records failed to find any trace of a historical or divine personage upon which this Gwenhwyfar was based. An examination of the Irish sources, however, was more revealing.
From the Rawlinson genealogies:
the Poet sang of the sons of Alb son of Augen the Servant:
It would seem obvious, then, that Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran = Findabhair mother of Gabruan. I have not been able to find a reliable etymology for the name Alb, but if at some point this name had been associated with the English word for elf, there may well have been a perceived connection between this Findabhair and Finnabhair daughter of Aillil (sprite, elf).
Lancelot and Guinevere is Copyright © 2005, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: August Hunt
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