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  Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (5)

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August HuntVisit August Hunt's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

August Hunt, (1960), published his first short stories in his high school newspaper, THE WILDCAT WIRES. These were followed by stories and poems in THE PHOENIX literary magazine of Clark Community College, where he received a writing scholarship. Transferring to THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE in Olympia, WA, he continued to publish pieces in local publications and was awarded the Edith K. Draham literary prize. A few years after graduating in 1985 with a degree in Celtic and Germanic Studies, he published "The Road of the Sun: Travels of the Zodiac Twins in Near Eastern and European Myth". Magazine contributions include a cover article on the ancient Sinaguan culture of the American Southwest for Arizona Highways. His first novel, "Doomstone", and the anthology "From Within the Mist" are being offered by Double Dragon (ebook and paperback). August, a member of the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch, has most recently had his book "Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur" accepted for publication by Hayloft Publishing. Now being written are "The Cloak of Caswallon", the first in a series of Arthurian novels that will go under the general heading of "The Thirteen Treasures of Britain", and a work of Celtic Reconstructionism called "The Secrets of Avalon: A Dialogue with Merlin". 

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The story of Uther and Igerna

August Hunt

The story of Uther's defeat of Gorlois of Cornwall and the former's taking of the latter's queen, Ygerna, tells us that Ygerna is here, in typically Celtic fashion, being considered the Goddess of Sovereignty, whom the king must possess if he is to have the land. The Ygerna episode informs us that the Terrible Chief-warrior (the usual translation of Uther Pendragon's name, but see below) had conquered the kingdom of Gorlois.

Is Arthur's association with Cornwall correct? Was he indeed born at Tintagel? Or are the Cornish sites merely fictions?

Only in the past few years, excavations carried out at Tintagel by Kevin Brady of Glasgow Universityhave uncovered evidence which provides a very good reason why Arthur was linked to this site. A broken piece of Cornish slate was uncovered bearing the 6th century inscription "Pater Coliavificit Artognov", which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has rendered "Artognov, father of a descendent of Coll." While the name Arthur cannot be identified with that of Artognov, it is quite possible that Geoffrey of Monmouth or his source knew that Tintagel was once owned by someone whose name began with Arto-. The mention of Coll in connection with a ruler found residing in Dumnonia is interesting, in that a famous Cole Hen or Coel the Old is placed at the head of genealogies for the British Strathclyde kings. Strathclyde was anciently inhabited by a Dumnonii tribe - a tribe whose name matches exactly that of the Dumnonii who inhabited Cornwall and Devon.

If Arthur was placed at Tintagel because an Artognov ruled from there (although see an alternative possibility below), can we now do anything with the other characters of the play: Uther Pendragon, Ygerna and Gorlois?


Ample evidence exists (see P.C. Bartrum’s A Classical Welsh Dictionary) for Uther Pendragon, the “Terrible Chief-Warrior”, in early Welsh tradition antecedant to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae.  I have shown in my book “Shadows in the Mist” that he was a brother of Meirchaiun father of Cynfarch (= “March”, cousin of Arthur) of the North.  Cynfarch is remembered at the Mote of Mark in Dumfries, while Merchiaun may be present at Maughanby (Merganby, ‘Merchiaun’s By”) next to the Long Med and Her Daughters stone circle in Cumbria. 

Only recently I have identified Uther’s grandson Eliwlod, who assumes the form of a Lleu-eagle, as a slight corruption of the liwelydd portion of the early Welsh city-name Caer Liwelydd.  Liwelydd comes from the ancient British name for Carlisle, Luguvalium, meaning the Roman fort that is “strong as Lugos”, i.e. strong as Lleu.  This city or the neighboring fort at Stanwix was, according to the findings in my book “Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur”,  the Arthurian ruling center. 

Gwrwst Ledlwm is intruded into the genealogy of Merchiaun as the latter’s father, with the usual Ceneu and Coel (of Kyle in Strathclyde) preceding Gwrwst.  Because this Gwrwst is given a son Dyfnarth, he is almost certainly Fergus father of Domangart of Irish Dalriada.  Fergus or, as the Dalriadans called him Fergus Mor, died c. 501 A.D. 

Fergus is also made the father of Eleutherius (later Eliffer) of the Great Warband who, as I’ve elsewhere suggested, belongs at York.  My reasoning for this has to due with his epithet, which probably refers to the legion of the legionary fortress of York, as well as the name of his son, Peredur, a Welsh form of the Roman Praetor.  The Praetor or Governor of Northern Britain was stationed at York.  Peredur fought at the Carrowburgh fort on Hadrian’s Wall (the Welsh ‘Care Creu’ or ‘Fort of Blood’) and died in 580 at the Arfderydd battle.  An origin for him at York, with a range of battles extending to the central and western areas of the Wall show that this royal family was still operating in the territory once controlled by the Brigantes tribe. 

The Roman period Artorius was prefect of the VI Legion at York, and was dux of a group of British cavalry used in Armorica.  While Dr. Linda Malcor has sought to prove that this Roman Artorius was the Arthur, chronology and other factors do not support her case.  However, it is certainly possible that the name Arthur was remembered in the region and passed down to sons, whose ancestry was Romano-British.  Yorkin the Roman period was strongly linked to Stanwix, the fort which acted as the command center for the western end of Hadrian’s Wall.  Ken Dark of Reading and other scholars have recently demonstrated that many of the Hadrian Wall forts were refortified during the period under question, suggesting an attempt to replicate or preserve Romano-British culture and military practice in the area.

Another version of Eleutherius’s pedigree continues after Fergus of Dalriada with Arthwys (spelled Athrwys in later MSS., which is probably correct; cf. the other known Athrwys princes in Bartrum) son of Mar (or Mor) son of Ceneu son of Coel.  I’ve written about this family at length in my “Shadows in the Mist”, as well as about the family of Pabo with which it is wrongly brought into connection due to territorial proximity.  Both families ruled over kingdoms stretching from York and the Ribble to the border region of Dumfries and Cumbria.  Mar or Mor I placed at the Roman fort at Bowness-on-Solway for a complex linguistic reason I detail in my book.  But he could well simply be a late, careless eponym for the –mor- portion of Westmorland or even a vestige of the ‘Mor” epithet of Fergus Mor.  He sometimes seems to be identified with or substituted for Maeswig Gloff, father of Gwallog son of Lleenog of Elmet in West Yorkshire.  In my book, Maeswig was linked with the Roman fort of Burrow Walls in Cumbria, but if ‘Mor’ designates Westmorland, Maeswig may well belong there, too.    

It is probable that Uther Pendragon, whose epithet is actually a Welsh version of the late Roman military rank of magister draconum, had an Irish wife.  Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that when Gorlois is threatened by Uther, he waits for the Irish to come to his assistance.  This hints at an alliance of some sort between Gorlois and the Irish, and one naturally thinks of one cemented by marriage.  It would not be surprising if Igerna were Irish, as Arthur himself was given as wife Gwenhwyfar, the Welsh form of the Irish sovereignty goddess, Findabair.

Having an Irish queen would account for the fact that the Irish-descended dynasties of Dalriada and Dyfed named some of their royal sons after him.

There may be an additional cause for the continuation of Arthur’s name among these Irish-descended dynasties. Both the Dyfed royal family and that of Dalriada traced their lines to ancestors named Eochaid, ‘Horseman’.  The Dalriadans, furthermore, occupied the Kintyre peninsula, which had been the home of the Roman period Epidii, the ‘People of the Horse’, and several of the Dalriadan kings or princes are named Eochaid or Eochu.  As Arthur was named for a famous Roman cavalryman and doubtless utilized horse himself in warfare, both factors would have further endeared him to the Dyfed and Dalriadan royal families. 

Despite our being justified in viewing Uther as a genuine, historical personage, it is also demonstrable that Geoffrey of Monmouth fleshed out the life of Uther, primarily by making use of episodes in the life of a 10th century Viking.

While this claim may seem outlandish, we need only go to the year entry 915 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There we are told of the Jarls Ohtor and Hroald or Hraold, who come from Brittany to raid the Welsh coast along the Severn Estuary. They concentrate their initial attacks on Archenfield, the Ercing where Aurelius and Uther are first placed when they come to England from Brittany. Hroald is slain by the men of Hereford and Gloucester, but Ohtor goes on to land "east of Watchet". The Willet  or “Guellit” River, adjacent to Carhampton, the ancient Carrum, is east of Watchet.  Both the Willet and Carhampton feature in the tale of Arthur and the terrible dragon (“serpentem ualidissimum, ingentem, terribilem”) in the 11th century Life of St. Carannog or Carantog.  I would propose that this terrible dragon owes its existence to the dragon-ship of Ohtor, i.e. a typical Viking ship with a dragon’s head at its prow and a dragon’s tail at its stern, and that Geoffrey of Monmouth made use of the terrible dragon’s presence at Carrum to associate Uther with Ohtor.   After an unpleasant stay on an island (Steepholme or Flatholme), Ohtor and what remains of his host go to Dyfed, where Uther is said to fight Pascent and the Irish king Gillomanius. Ohtor then proceeds to Ireland, where Uther had previously fought Gillomanius over the stones of Uisneach/Mount Killaraus.

We have, then, the following startling correspondences:

Uther is found in Brittany

Ohtor is found in Brittany



Carrum (as terrible dragon)

east of Watchet

Menevia in Dyfed




This Viking jarl is found in the Welsh Annals under the year 913, where the concise entry reads "Otter came". This reference to Ottar is also found in the Welsh Brut t tywysogion, "Chronicle of the Princes" (information courtesy Huw Pryce, School of Historyand Welsh History, University of Wales, Bangor).


Geoffrey got his Gorlois from Taliesin’s poem XLVIII, “The Death-Song of Uther Ben”.  In this poem Uther is referred to as Gorlassar. John Koch in his “Celtic Culture” recently pointed out the similarity between Geoffrey's Gorlois and Gorlasar.  Hence it appears that Geoffrey of Monmouth took the title gorlassar and converted it into a separate person whose form Uther assumes.

The full stanza containing the name Gorlasar (from "Death Song of Uther Pendragon", translation courtesy Dr. Graham Thomas, Senior Assistant Archivist, Department of Manuscripts and Records, The National Library of Wales) runs like this:

I was called Gorlasar ['bright blue'],
My belt was a rainbow to [or 'about'] my enemies.
I was a prince in the dark,
[He] who enchanted me placed me in the basket.

According to the Geiriadur Prifsygol Cymru (cited by Dafydd Price Jones and Andrew Hawke), gorlasar is from gor + glassar, in Old Irish forlas(s)ar, "fire, conflagration" or, as an adjective, "shining, fiery". In Welsh the meaning is "bright blue, having glinting weapons". Gorlas (gor + glas), in OI forglas, means "with a blue face, very blue" or, as an adjective in Welsh, "bright or deep blue, verdant".

Gorlasar may actually be a name the poet Taliesin gave himself. I say this only because of line 4 of the quoted strophe, which has Gorlasar placed in a basket. This sounds suspiciously like what was done to Taliesin, who was placed in a "coracle or hide-covered basket" by the goddess Ceridwen.


And what about Ygerna, the wife first of Gorlois and later of Uther? I’ve suggested above that a real mother of Arthur would probably have been an Irish woman. 

The best MSS. (information courtesy Julia Crick of the University of Exeter, Department of History) has Igerna, Ygerna, Igrina, Ingerna.  But as Dr. Graham Isaac of the National University of Galway, Ireland, has told me:

We can no more pin any etymological speculation on this one product of Geoffrey's imagination [Igerna] than we can on his change of Myrddin to Merlinus. If we want to know the origin of Merlinus, we have to look at the Welsh original Myrddin. If we want to know the origin of Igerna, we have to look at the Welsh original Eigr: Igerna is irrelevant 'noise'.”

Welsh tradition gives Eigr a father named Anblaud (the Very Swift or Very Fierce)who, through his sons Gwrfoddw and Llygadrudd Emys (this last being a corruption of the name of the grave of Arthur’s son at Llygad Amr according to the “Marvels” of Nennius; see P.C. Bartrum), has been shown to be a king of Ercing.  Ercing as a regional name evolved from the Roman name of the town of Ariconiumor Achenfield at Weston-Under-Penyard and the region about the town now forms part of Herefordshire. 

Why, then, do we find Igerna/Eigr at Tintagel?  To begin with, we know that Geoffrey’s placement of Arthur’s birth at the site was done for political reasons.  The man who planned and built the castle of Tintagelwas none other than the brother of Reginald Earl of Cornwall, Geoffrey’s patron. 

His story of Igerna at Tintagel is unconcerned with history. Indeed, he does not even bother to use period proper names when listing the main characters of the drama!

According to his account, in order to gain secret access to Tintagel – and thus to Igerna – Merlin transforms himself into Britaelis, Uther into Gorlois and Ulfin of Rhydcaradoc into Jordan‘of Tintagel’. 

Britaelis is a known Norman period name.  It means, literally, ‘the Breton’, and its earliest attestation is that of Godwine Brytael, referred to as a minister in Dorset in 1035.  The Brytael name (Bretel, bretellus, Britellus, etc.) came into Englandwith William the Conquerer and is of French origin, so could not have predated the Conquest.  There was Brytaels all over England, including one listed as an owner of Trevelyan in Cornwallduring the reign of Edward the Confessor (10431-1066).

Jordan is another Breton name.  Geoffrey undoubtedly intended to model this man after Jordan of Trecarrel near Launceston, not far east of Tintagel.  In a collection of miracle stories compiled by his son Peter of Cornwall, this Jordanis associated with Earl Reginald of Cornwall, Geoffrey’s patron.  We know that Reginald’s brother planned and executed the building of the castle at Tintagel.

Ulfin is for Alwin, and the Rhyddcaradoc or Charford in Hampshire (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s Ceredicesford) is an error for Crantock in Cornwall, named for St. Carantoc.  The Domesday Book for Cornwalland other documents list an Alwin who holds Winnianton from Mortain.  This is the same Mortain who controlled Crantock, so this Alwin is doubtless our man. 

So if Arthur’s birth at Tintagel was a fabrication on Geoffrey’s part, is there still reason to place Eigr there?  Before we can answer this question, we should take a look at the story of the birth of Arthur.

The Conception of Arthur

It is well known that the story of Arthur’s conception has a clear parallel in that of the Irish Mongan, a 7th century king of the Dal nAraide in Co. Antrim.  Instead of Merlin transforming Uther into a semblance of Gorlais so that the king may sleep with Igerna, in the Mongan tale it is the sea god Mannanan mac Lir who transforms himself into Fiachna, the husband of Mongan’s mother Caintigern. 

There are two versions of the story, and I will supply both here: 

Fiachna Lurga, the father of Mongan, was sole king of the province. He had a friend in Scotland, to wit, Aedan, the son of Gabran. A message went from him to Aedan. A message went from Aedan asking him to come to his aid. He was in warfare against the Saxons. A terrible warrior was brought by them to accomplish the death of Aedan in the battle. Then Fiachna went across, leaving his queen at home.

While the hosts were fighting in Scotland, a noble-looking man came to his wife in his stronghold in Rathmore of Moylinny. At the time he went, there were not many in the stronghold. The stranger asked the woman to arrange a place of meeting. The woman said there were not in the world possessions or treasures, for which she would do anything to disgrace her husband’s honor. He asked her whether she would do it to save her husband’s life. She said that if she were to see him in danger and difficulty, she would help him with all that lay in her might. He said she should do it then, “for thy husband is in great danger. A terrible man has been brought against him, and he will die by his hand. If we, thou and I, make love, thou wilt bear a son thereof. That son will be famous; he will be Mongan. I shall go to the battle which will be fought to-morrow at the third hour, so that I shall save Fiachna, and I shall vanquish the warrior before the eyes of the men of Scotland. And I shall tell thy husband our adventures, and that it is thou that hast sent me to his help.”

It was done thus. When army was drawn up against army, the boats saw a noble-looking man before the army of Aedan and Fiachna. He went towards Fiachna in particular, and told him the conversation with his wife the day before, and that he had promised to come to his help at that hour. Thereupon he went before the army towards the other, and vanquished the warriors, so that Aedan and Fiachna won the battle.

And Fiachna returned to his country, and the woman was pregnant and bore a son, even Mongan son of Fiachna. And he thanked his wife for what she had done for him, and she confessed all her adventures. So that this Mongan is a son of Manannan mac Lir, though he is called Mongan son of Fiachna. For when the stranger went from her in the morning he left a quatrain with Mongan’s mother, saying:

”I go home,
The pale pure morning draws near:
Manannan son of Lir
Is the name of him who came to thee.”


3. Then Fiachna assembled the nobles of Ulsteruntil he had ten equally large battalions, and went and announced battle to the men of Lochlann. And they were three days a-gathering unto the battle. And combat was made by the king of Loch­lann on the men of Ireland. And three hundred warriors fell by Fiachna in the fight. And venomous sheep were let out of the king of Lochlann’s tent against them, and on that day three hundred warriors fell by the sheep, and three hundred warriors fell on the second day, and three hundred on the third day. That was grievous to Fiachna, and he said: ‘Sad is the journey on which we have come, for the purpose of having our people killed by the sheep. For if they had fallen in battle or in combat by the host of Lochlann, we should not deem their fall a disgrace, for they would avenge themselves. Give me,’ saith he, ‘my arms and my dress that I may myself go to fight against the sheep.’ ‘Do not say that, O King,’ said they, ‘for it is not meet that thou shouldst go to fight against them.’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘no more of the men of Ireland shall fall by them, till I myself go to fight against the sheep; and if I am destined to find death there, I shall find it, for it is impossible to avoid fate; and if not, the sheep will fall by me.’

4. As they were thus conversing, they saw a single tall war­like man coming towards them… And the warrior said: ‘What reward wouldst thou give to him who would keep the sheep from thee?’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘[whatever thou ask], provided I have it, I should give it.’ ‘Thou shalt have it (to give),’ said the warrior, ‘and I will tell thee the reward.’ ‘Say the sentence,’ said Fiachna. ‘I shall say it,’ said he; ‘give me that ring of gold on thy finger as a token for me, when I go to Ireland to thy wife to sleep with her.’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘I would not let one man of the men of Irelandfall on account of that condition.’ ‘It shall be none the worse for thee; for a glorious child shall be begotten by me there, and from thee he shall be named, even Mongan the Fair (Finn), son of Fiachna the Fair. And I shall go there in thy shape, so that thy wife shall not be defiled by it. And I am Manannan, son of Ler, and thou shalt seize the kingship of Lochlann and of the Saxons and Britons.’ Then the warrior took a venomous hound out of his cloak, and a chain upon it, and said: ‘By my word, not a single sheep shall carry its head from her to the fortress of the king of Lochlann, and she will kill three hundred of the hosts of Lochlann, and thou shalt have what will come of it.’ The warrior went to Ireland, and in the shape of Fiachna himself he slept with Fiachna’s wife, and in that night she became pregnant. On that day the sheep and three hundred of the nobles of Lochlann fell by the dog, and Fiachna seized the kingship of Lochlann and of the Saxons and Britons.

5. … And then he [Fiachna] went into Irelandand found his wife big-bellied and pregnant, and when her time came, she bore a son. Now Fiachna the Fair had an attendant, whose name was An Damh, and in that (same) night his wife brought forth a son, and they were christened together, and the son of Fiachna was named Mongan


The most important detail to notice is in the first account of Mongan’s conception.  This is the mention of the “terrible warrior” or “terrible man” sent against Fiachna and Aedan (variously father or grandather of an Arthur)  in battle.  The word used in the Gaelic text is “h-uathmar”.  The uath is the root of this word, and is cognate with the Welsh root of Uther.  However, as the whole tale is a heroic version of the Battle of Degasastan, we know from the historical sources that it was Hering son of Hussa who led the English forces against Aedan and his Irish fian. 

The name of Fiachna’s wife, Caintigern, is given in The Voyage of Bran (Imram Brain):

49. 'This shape, he on whom thou lookest,
Will come to thy parts;
'Tis mine to journey to her house,
To the woman in Line-Mag.

50. 'For it is Manannan, the son of Lír,
From the chariot in the shape of a man,
Of his progeny will be a very short while
A fair man in a body of white clay.

51. 'Manannan, the descendant of Lír, will be
A vigorous bed-fellow to Caintigern [Caointigirn in the Gaelic text]:
He shall be called to his son in the beautiful world,
Fiachna will acknowledge him as his son.

52. 'He will delight the company of every fairy-knoll,
He will be the darling of every goodly land,
He will make known secrets-a course of wisdom-
In the world, without being feared.

53. 'He will be in the shape of every beast,
Both on the azure sea and on land,
He will be a dragon before hosts at the onset,
He will be a wolf of every great forest.

54. 'He will be a stag with horns of silver
In the land where chariots are driven,
He will be a speckled salmon in a full pool,
He will be a seal, he will be a fair-white swan.

55. 'He will be throughout long ages
An hundred years in fair kingship,
He will cut down battalions,-a lasting grave-
He will redden fields, a wheel around the track.

56. 'It will be about kings with a champion
That he will be known as a valiant hero,
Into the strongholds of a land on a height
I shall send an appointed end from Islay.

57. 'High shall I place him with princes,
He will be overcome by a son of error;
Manannan, the son of Lír,
Will be his father, his tutor.

58. 'He will be-his time will be short--
Fifty years in this world:
A dragonstone from the sea will kill him
In the fight at Senlabor.


We have seen above that there was a “terrible warrior/terrible man” present in the conception of Mongan story.  But just as good, we have Mongan himself referred to as a dragon (Gaelic drauc) and being killed by a dragon stone (ail dracoin).

On the nature of the dragon stone, I have this from Christopher Gwinn (private communication):

"Dragon stone" was a name for a precious stone in Irish  - it is derived from Latin dracontia (also called draconite, dentrites draconius, or obsianus - it is girn-rodor in Old English), a mystical black gem with special powers that was believed in the middle ages to have been found in the heads of dragons. In the Middle Ages, ammonites (a type of horn-shaped fossil) were frequently called draconites, but the name obsianus seems to imply that it is the volcanic glass obsidian (there were allegedly nine different types of dragon stones, so maybe both of these stones could be dragon stones). It was a jewel that adorned a cup  in Fled Bricrend - Cu Chulainn is given a cup of red-gold by Ailill and Medb which had embedded on its bottom a decoration of a bird made out of  "dragon stone, the size of his two eyes".  The stone must have had some sort of special significance to the Irish, because its presence on Cu Chulainn's cup helps mark him as the champion deserving of the Champion's Portion - if the dragon stone was obsidian, it was a very hard stone that, when it fractured, had extremely sharp edges, thus making a deadly weapon when used as a sling-stone (obsidian was used for arrow and spear tips in the Stone Age). Dragon-stones (dracoin) are mentioned elsewhere in Imram Brain (sect. 12), where they are paired with glain "crystals":

"Then if Airchthech (Bountiful Land) is seen,
On which dragon-stones and crystals drop
The sea washes the wave against the land
Hair of crystals [glano] drops from its mane.”*

*a kenning for the spray of a wave

Even more important than the presence of the terrible warrior, the dragon and the dragon-stones in the story of Mongan’s conception for showing its relationship to Geoffrey’s story of Arthur’s conception is the identity of the slayer of Mongan, i.e. the warrior who uses the dragon-stone to slay the king.  His name is revealed in the Irish Annals of Tigernach (Year Entry 625):

Mongan mac Fiachna Lurgan, ab Artuir filio Bicoir Britone lapide
percussus interit. Unde Bec Boirche dixit:

Mongan son of Fiachna Lurgan was struck with a stone by Artuir son of
the Briton and died...

IS uar in gáeth dar Ile,
do fuil oca i Cínd Tire,
do-genat gnim amnus de,
mairbfit Mongan mac Fiachnae.

Cold is the wind over Islay;
there are warriors in Kintyre,
they will commit a cruel deed therefore,
they will kill Mongan, son of Fiachna.

(Irish text from http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G100002/index.html, English translation from Richard Barber’s The Figure of Arthur, 1972)

There are thus several reasons why a storyteller such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (or his ultimate source) would have borrowed the Mongan conception story and grafted it onto that of Arthur:

1)     A terrible warrior is present, which reminds us of Uther Pendragon

2)     Dragons are present, in the form of Mongan and dragon-stones

3) Mongan is slain by an Arthur with a dragon-stone

I have suggested in my book that this Bicoir is none other than Arthur son of Petuir/Retheoir, ‘Petrus” of Dyfed.  B and P easily substitute for each other and in some MSS., c looks identical to t.  Bicoir in Kintyre or “Land’s End” is duplicated by Petuir in Pembro, also “Land’s End”. 

The real question is still how Igerna fits into this picture.  Technically, her role is the same as that as Caintigern.  And, indeed, Arthurian scholar John Matthews has very cleverly proposed (private communication) that Igerna may be a truncated form of the name Caintigern.  But Caintigern is from Cain, “beautiful”, plus tigern, “lady”.  While it would not be difficult to allow for the dropping of Cain- and the retention of Tigern, it is all but impossible to account for the subsequent loss of the t- of tigern.  And, as we have already seen, we cannot go by Geoffrey’s form of the name of Arthur’s mother, but must rely on the Welsh form, Eigr. 

Once again, Dr. Isaac comes to our rescue.  According to him, Eigr’s name “is a perfectly regular reflex of *akri (with a LONG i), feminine derivative of the familiar *akro- ‘sharp, pointed; point, promontory’. 

Just a little NNE of Igerna’s Tintagel is Hartland Point, which is one of the candidates for the Herakleous akronor “Promontory of Hercules” of Ptolemy’s Geography.  The proximity of this headland to Tintagel is astonishing, given the story of the conception of Hercules which bears a striking resemblance to that of Arthur’s birth.  I quote the account presented in Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths:

“Meanwhile, Zeus, taking advantage of Amphitryon’s absence [in battle], impersonated him and, assuring Alcmene [Amphitryon’s wife] that her brothers were now avenged – since Amphitryon had indeed gained the required victory that very morning – lay with her all one night, to which he gave the length of three… Alcmene, wholly deceived, listened delightedly to Zeus’s account of the crushing defeat inflicted on Pteralaus at Oechalia, and sported innocently with her supposed husband for the whole thirty-six hours.  One the next day, when Amphitryon returned, eloquent of victory and of his passion for her, Alcmene did not welcome him to the marriage couch so rapturously as he had hoped.  Amphitryon… consulted the seer Teiresias, who told him that he had been cuckolded by Zeus…”

Arthur’s 12 battles have often been compared to the 12 labors of Hercules. 

Rivet and Smith (in their The Place-Names of Roman Britain, p. 135) remark that

“The promontory of Heracles should probably be Hartland Point, as the most notable feature on the coast, but any of the headlands between Porlock and Braunton (Foreland Point, Highveer Point, Bull Point, Morte Point, Baggy Point) is a possibility: unless the cape was simply christened by sailors from the sea, the discovery of a shrine might settle the question.”

Greek akron is 'highest or farthest point, mountain top, peak, headland, cape, end, extremity', akra, 'headland, foreland', akraios, 'dwelling on heights or promontories'. None of the meanings suggest or demand 'sharpness', even though the word would seem ultimately to come from a root meaning pointed or sharp.  Thus the round shape of the Tintagel headland could still have been referred to as akron or akra. Akraios was also an epithet of Hera, mother of Herakles (his very name means ‘Glory of Hera’).  So Hera Akraea or Acraia was Hera “of the Height or Promontory”.

I would propose, therefore, that Tintagel’s promontory is theancient Herakleous akron and that beneath the Dark Age buildings lurks a shrine to Herakles.  The folk memory of Hera Akraea is preserved in the name Akri or Eigr, who may later have come to be seen merely as a personification of the headland, rather than as the goddess of the place.

The Story of Uther and Igerna is Copyright © 2000 and 2009, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: August Hunt


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