The Middle Ages as Genealogy, or, the White Orient

  • John M. Ganim
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter describes a peculiar tributary in the stream of discourse linking the Medieval with the Oriental. With the rise of humanism, skepticism arises about the legend of the Trojan foundation of Britain, as recounted in Geoffrey of Monmouth. With the rise of parliamentary debates, uneasiness about the aristocratic apology implicit in the linking of chivalry with Trojan origins, and with Geoffrey’s account of royal lineage also grows. The result is a displacement, and sometimes an overlay, of the legend of the Brut with older Biblical schemes that the Brut legend was itself originally designed to replace. Yet the association between the origin of culture and an ultimately Eastern source remains strong even in this alternate history, even as the trappings and institutions of medieval political thought, religion, and aesthetics were up for debate. In this new, if equally esoteric, Early Modern version of the British past, the importance of the Middle Ages is reduced to a medium for primal institutions and beliefs that had been imported from elsewhere.


British Isle Paradise Lost Semitic Language British History Racial Resentment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Geoffrey, Monmouth The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. Acton Griscom (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James M. Dean, The World Grown Old in Later Medieval Literature, Medieval Academy Books (Cambridge, MA.: Medieval Academy of America, 1997).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Robert W. Hanning, The Vision of History in Early Britain from Gildas to Geoffrey of Monmouth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966). The obsession with migrations and origins that we find in Geoffrey of Monmouth, and then find again in a different form in the sixteenth and seventeenth-century accounts of Biblical and even Phoenician origin, which attempted to displace Geoffrey’s myth, is not a late development. As Nicholas Howe has demonstrated in his, Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) the transformation of ancestral migrations into epic and myth is part and parcel of English literature from its earliest, Anglo-Saxon days. Rather than mythicizing the tragedy of British defeat, as in the Arthurian legends, thereby lifting the events from history and rendering them reversible, Howe’s thesis is that Old English literature memorializes the Anglo-Saxon triumph.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    An Anonymous Short English Metrical Chronicle, ed. Ewald Zettl, Early English Text Society (Series) (London: Pub. for the Early English Text Society by H. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1935). For discussions of versions of the same tale in Anglo-Norman, seeGoogle Scholar
  5. Lesley Johnson, “Return to Albion,” in Arthurian Literature XIII (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1981), 19–40; for the latin translation from the Anglo-Norman, seeGoogle Scholar
  6. James P. Carley and Julia Crick, “Constructing Albion’s Past: An Annotated Edition of De Origine Gigantum,” in Arthurian Literature XIII (Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 1981), 31–114; see alsoGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ewald Zettl, An Anonymous Short English Metrical Chronicle. See Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages, Medieval Cultures (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). A full discussion of the prologue to the Prose Brut is now available inGoogle Scholar
  8. Tamar Drukker, “Thirty-Three Murderous Sisters: A Pre-Trojan Foundation Myth in the English Prose Brut Chronicle,” Review of English Studies 54, no. 216 (September 2003): 449–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Hector Boece, A Description of Scotland, John Bellenden (London, 1587). The best study of the late-medieval Scottish historiographic tradition is R.James Goldstein, The Matter of Scotland: Historical Narrative in Medieval Scotland, Regents Studies in Medieval Culture (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993). An accessible article on the tradition of the linkage of Egypt and Scotland is William Matthews, “The Egyptians in Scotland: The Political History of a Myth,” Viator 1 (1970): 289–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 9.
    See the edition and subsequent translation by Skene, John Fordun, John of Fordun’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, ed. William Forbes Skene (Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872) andGoogle Scholar
  11. John Fordun, Johannis de Fordun Chronica Gentis Scotorum, ed. William F. Skene, Historians of Scotland (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1871).Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Ranulf Higden, Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Monachi Cestrensis Together with the English Translations of John Trevisa and of an Unknown Writer of the Fifteenth Century, Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores (London: Longman, 1865).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Raphael Holinshed, Holinshed’s Chronicles—England, Scotland, and Ireland; with a New Introd. by Vernon F Snow (New York: AMS Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See Polydore Vergil, Historia Anglica, 1555 (Menston: Scolar Press, 1972); andGoogle Scholar
  15. Polydore Vergil, Polydore Vergil’s English History, ed. Henry Ellis (London: J.B. Nichols, 1846).Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    John Bale, The Vocacyon of Johan Bale, ed. Peter. Happé (Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies in conjunction with Renaissance English Text Society, 1990), XII, 14.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    See May McKisack, Medieval History in the Tudor Age (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 22. A helpful account of the careers of the early antiquaries isGoogle Scholar
  18. Graham Parry, The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); and, for a slightly longer time-line,Google Scholar
  19. Joseph M. Levine, Humanism and History: Origins of Modern English Historiography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  20. 18.
    See T.D. Kendrick, British Antiquity (London: Methuen, 1950), 69–73.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    See William Camden, Camden’s Britannia, 1695, ed. Edmund Gibson (New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1971).Google Scholar
  22. 20.
    Arthur B. Ferguson, Utter Antiquity: Perceptions of Prehistory in Renaissance England (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  23. 21.
    Bedwell’s knowledge of Arabic, despite his interest in scientific knowledge beholden to Arabic tradition, was most widely received in his attack on the Koran. See William Bedwell, Mohammedis Imposturae That is, a Discouery of the Manifold Forgeries, Falshoods, and Horrible Impieties of the Blasphemous Seducer Mohammed: With a Demonstration of the Insuffciencie of His Law, Contained in the Cursed Alkoran, Deliuered in a Conference Had Betweene Two Mohametans, in Their Returne from Mecha (London: Imprinted by Richard Field, 1615). For Andrewes’ various controversial interests, see Lancelot Andrewes, Selected Writings, ed. P.E. Hewison, Fyfield Books (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    Robert Cotton, The Danger Wherein the Kingdome Now Standeth, The English Experience (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1975).Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    John Evelyn, Diary. Now First Printed in Full from the Mss. Belonging to John Evelyn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 21 August 1655.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    Richard Verstegan, A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, English Recusant Literature, 1558–1640 (Ilkley UK: Scolar Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    John Milton, Complete Prose Works (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953).Google Scholar
  28. 35.
    For a lively description of some of these debates, see Stuart Piggott, Ancient Britons and the Antiquarian Imagination: Ideas from the Renaissance to the Regency (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989).Google Scholar
  29. 36.
    Most famously in V. Gordon Childe, What Happened in History, Pelican Books (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1942) andGoogle Scholar
  30. V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, The Library of Science and Culture (London: Watts & Co., 1936).Google Scholar
  31. 37.
    The visualization of the archaic past, and of prehistory in the history of anthropology, reveals how often cultural imagery is conflated, most famously in the woodcuts of American Indians and ancient celts. See Stephanie Moser, Ancestral Images: The Iconography of Human Origins (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    Walter Raleigh, The History of the World, ed. C.A. Patrides (London: Macmillan, 1971).Google Scholar
  33. 45.
    For a classic account of the legend of Noah in the sixteenth century and after, see Don Cameron Allen, The Legend of Noah: Renaissance Rationalism in Art, Science, and Letters, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949); see alsoGoogle Scholar
  34. Norman Cohn, Noah’s Flood:The Genesis Story in Western Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); on the relation these ideas to the science of the time, seeGoogle Scholar
  35. Paolo Rossi, The Dark Abyss of Time: The History of the Earth & the History of Nations from Hooke to Vico (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  36. 46.
    Margaret Trabue Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964), 312.Google Scholar
  37. 52.
    For Stukeley’s most notorious writings, see William Stukeley, Stonehenge, a Temple Restor’d to the British Druids; Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, Myth & Romanticism (New York: Garland, 1984); and William Stukeley, Abury, a Temple of the British Druids, with Some Others, Described. Wherein is a More Particular Account of the First and Patriarchal Religion; and of the Peopling the British Islands, illus. William Stukeley (London: Printed for the author and sold by W. Innys, R. Manby, B. Dod, J. Brindley and the booksellers in London, 1743). On Stukeley in general, see the definitive study by Stuart Piggott, William Stukeley: An Eighteenth-Century Antiquary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950); an interesting illustrated description of the ideas of Stukeley and others isGoogle Scholar
  38. Sam Smiles, The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination (New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  39. 55.
    Aelfric, The Old English Version of the Heptateuch Aelfric’s Treatise on the Old and New Testament, and His Preface to Genesis, ed. Aelfric (London: Published for Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1969), 27.Google Scholar
  40. 7.
    L.A. Waddell, The Phoenician Origin of Britons, Scots & Anglo-Saxons Discovered by Phoenician & Sumerian Inscription in Britain, by Pre-Roman Briton Coins & a Mass of New History (London: Williams and Norgate, 1924).Google Scholar
  41. 61.
    Waddell, Phoenician Origin, 376. Waddell is still cited as an expert on Tibetan Buddhism. For an account of his place in Tibetan Religous Studies, see Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez (Chicago, Il.: University of Chicago Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  42. 62.
    Robert N. List, Merlin’s Secret: The African and Near Eastern Presence in the Ancient British Isles (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1999).Google Scholar
  43. 63.
    See Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987). For critiques and a response by Bernal, seeGoogle Scholar
  44. Mary R. Lefkowitz, Black Athena Revisited, ed. Mary R. Lefkowitz (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); andGoogle Scholar
  45. Martin Bernal, Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics, ed. David Chioni Moore (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 64.
    C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor, From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, Garland Reference Library of the Humanities (New York: Garland, 1994).Google Scholar
  47. 65.
    Maurice Olender, The Languages of Paradise: Aryans and Semites, a Match Made in Heaven (New York: Other Press, 2002), 3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John M. Ganim 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • John M. Ganim

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations