Thoughts on Cligès and a summary on the author

Cligès is a story which you likely won’t know. It was composed by Chrétien de Troyes, the man who created Lancelot (probably, it’s hard to tell with Medieval literature where they get their ideas from).

I read his works from the Everyman edition of Arthurian Romances: Chrétien de Troyes, translated by D. D. R. Owen, during my Masters.

Here are my thoughts on this poem. I should say that of course a lot of this is guesswork and I ultimately cannot be sure what the original intentions of the author were. But isn’t that the case anyway with this sort of study?


Chrétien de Troyes

Chrétien wrote five pieces of Arthurian literature, Erec and Enide, Cligès, Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, and Perceval, the Story of the Grail. He seems connected to Troyes, in the Champagne region of France. He was part of the court of his patroness Marie of France, Countess of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Chrétien is certainly one of the most influential writers of Medieval Literature. Rather then the rather… dry ‘histories’ of Arthur written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Robert Wace and Layamon, Chrétien’s Arthurian Literature seems to shift the focus to the Knights. Chrétien’s work has a more… playful feel to it. It’s quite entertaining to read and humorous. Erec and Enide begins with him saying he hopes his work will endure as long as Christiandom does, which may be a pun on his name Chrétien, implying his work might not outlive him. Thankfully it has.

The Arthur of Chrétien’s work is more a figure of fun. He is being cuckolded by his wife and one of his knights, he is rather easily outwitted and beaten by various rogues, and at the beginning of Yvain has fallen asleep apparently out of boredom.

Chrétien created a better thought-out idea of Arthur’s court, with more distinctive characters. Lancelot is a brilliant Knight motivated by his forbidden love for Guinevere, Kay is a Churl who goes out of his way to be rude, Gawain enjoys ladies too much… and so on. The focus shifted from Arthur to the Knights and their Quests, which is often the standard today in adaptations of Arthuriana.

Out of Chrétien’s work Yvain is probably the best, with the most accomplished structure. Amusingly enough it keeps referencing Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, reminiscent of MCU films, Chrétien ties his works together (hopefully the audience will be interested enough to hear his other work). Yvain is perhaps my favourite, the lion being the best Chrétien character in my opinion.


Perhaps Chrétien’s most significant addition to the Arthurian canon is the addition of Lancelot. In this story Lancelot is already the lover of Guinevere, a feature which has remained integral to his character. But Chrétien was also the first to use the name Camelot, in Lancelot, though it is only mentioned in passing and not even in all the manuscripts, those that do use various spellings. Like other early authors Arthur’s court is at Caerleon in Wales. But over time Camelot has become the standard court of Arthur.

Chrétien introduced the Holy Grail… sort-of. Perceval was never finished, ending very abruptly with Guinevere asking a Lady something. Perceval was already going on much longer then the other Chrétien works, along with going into a story about Sir Gawain which detracts from the main thrust of the story.

There were four ‘continuations’ of it, with some quite significant variations. But it has become one of the best known Arthurian stories and by now there are many versions.


Cligès is the least-known of Chrétien’s works. Lancelot is distinctive for introducing perhaps Arthur’s most famous Knight (he is mentioned in Erec and Enide but only really appears in Lancelot), Yvain for the lion, Perceval for introducing the Grail, and Erec and Enide for its importance in romance. But Cligès usually gets overlooked, even though it survives in more manuscripts than any other Chrétien work save Perceval.

The intro of the poem is interesting, Chrétien very much advertising his work. It starts “He who wrote of Erec and Enide, and translated into French the commands of Ovid
and the Art of Love, and wrote the Shoulder Bite, and about King Mark and the fair Iseut, and about the metamorphosis of the Lapwing, the Swallow, and the Nightingale, will tell another story now about a youth who lived in Greece and was a member of King Arthur’s line.”

The Shoulder Bite probably refers to the tale of Tantalus, which is told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The story of the birds is likely also based on a tale from Ovid, probably his darkest story, of the rape of Philomela by her brother-in-law Tereus, and the revenge her sister Procne takes on her husband. It does sound an odd subject matter for Chrétien, but hasn’t survived so it is difficult to comment.

But the beginning is clearly self-promotion. However many Medieval authors didn’t author their work, meaning we don’t know who wrote it. Chrétien makes sure it is known who wrote his works. Unfortunately only his Arthurian works have survived. Such is the sadness in looking at historical literature, you keep feeling that you are missing out on a lot.

Cligès was likely written about 1176. So, what happens in it?

The Plot

Cligès begins with the Emperor of Constantinople Alexander (because why be original with a Greek name?), whose Empress is Tantalis. His son, also called Alexander, goes off to Britain to meet Arthur and win his spurs. Arthur takes Alexander with him to Brittany, leaving behind Count Angres of Windsor as regent.

However while in Brittany he hears Angres has usurped power. Arthur returns and besieges Windsor Castle which Angres has taken refuge in. Alexander has fallen in love with Gawain’s sister, Arthur’s niece Soredamors. The feeling is mutal but it is not known. When some of Angres’ men try to make a night attack Alexander and his Greek Knights defeat them, then put on their armour to gain entry to the castle. Angres is captured and faces Arthur’s justice. Guinevere, realising Alexander and Soredamors love each other, reveals it to them and they marry, having a son Cligès.

However back in Constantinople the elder Alexander dies and a ship is sent out to bring word to the younger Alexander. However this ship is wrecked and the only survivor brings word to the younger son Alis that Alexander died in the wreck, meaning he is the ruler of Greece. Alis is crowned Emperor, but when Alexander hears of this he and Arthur go to Greece to reclaim it. They negotiate, agreeing that Alis can continue to hold the title but Alexander will hold the Government and Alis must swear to never take a wife and bear a child, meaning the Empire will pass to Cligès.

Alexander then dies of a fever, his wife dying of a broken heart. Alis then breaks his oath, determining to marry Fenice, eldest daughter of the Emperor of Germany. He goes there with his nephew, and Fenice falls in love with Cligès on hearing more about him, how he is the true heir to the Empire. The Duke of Saxony, who Fenice was promised to earlier, attacks the Greeks as they are returning. In the fighting Cligès killing the Duke’s nephew. Some of the Duke’s men capture Fenice, however Cligès rescues her. The Duke is beaten in a duel with Cligès and forced to return to Saxony in disgrace.

Fenice is upset at marrying Alis due to her love for his nephew. However her nurse prepares a potion that means when Alis is in bed with her he will fall asleep at once and dream of consummating the marriage. So this happens.

Finally Cligès returns to Britain to train under his great-uncle Arthur, where he does really well in jousting. Later he returns to Constantinople. Fenice, through the use of another potion, pretends to be dead. Some trained healers realise she isn’t and start torturing her to revive her, but when the women of the court see this they throw them out of the window.

Fenice and Cligès hide in a house but are seen one day. The Emperor finds out but the lovers flee to Britain. Arthur begins preparing an army to help Cligès retake his throne, but then news comes that out of grief his uncle has died. Cligès and Fenice go to Greece and live happily. However as a result of this later Empresses in Constantinople are heavily mistrusted.

So, what more can be said of this?

Initial Thoughts

The story itself is basically in two parts, the adventures of Alexander, a young Knight trying to prove himself, then of his son Cligès. Both parts feature a secret love, which is more difficult in the second half. There is a reversal in situations. Alexander helps Arthur against someone who has usurped power, in return Arthur helps Alexander. The first half does not have a feeling of resolution, with the odd situation with power in Constantinople, leading to the system breaking down later. Arthur again repays the man who helped him against the traitor, preparing his forces to restore Cligès to power. However how this plays out is subverted, the reasons for this I will address later.

Gawain and Lancelot appear in this story, Gawain being Soredamors’ brother. This does not overly play into the story. Gawain becomes a friend of Cligès, as in Arthurian Romance he is usually a fairly decent, friendly figure. We hear he gave permission for his sister to marry Cligès. However this relation is likely there to link Cligès closer to the court of Camelot.

Lancelot does appear in this story. It seems Chrétien already had conceived of Lancelot as one of the best Knights. He was already mentioned in Erec and Enide, the best Knight is Gawain, then Erec, then Lancelot. However Lancelot’s role in Cligès is just to get beaten by the new Knight. Perceval also makes an appearance, being beaten by Cligès. Of course Perceval is the hero of the unfinished Perceval, the Story of the Grail, though like Lancelot he made an earlier appearance in Erec and Enide. Does make you wonder if Chrétien was planning romances for any of the other figures he introduces in Erec and Enide, but never got round to starting it, or if he did but this hasn’t survived.

This story does, however, possess a common flaw with Chrétien’s works. While Chrétien wrote splendid situations for his Knights, he had trouble resolving it. The Everyman edition of Arthurian Romances states that Chrétien seems to have had a target of about 7000 lines for each of his Romances and could not finish well. His previous Arthurian romance, Erec and Enide, feels padded out towards the end, adding it an additional adventure after the point the story could have naturally finished. The ending of Cligès feels very sudden, with Alis’ death and things resolving very quickly. It is as if Chrétien padded this story out with the romance and drawn-out sequences, then felt he needed to resolve this happily so just has the antagonist die.

This happens in later works. Chrétien never even finished Lancelot, someone else had to. Yvain‘s ending feels a bit rushed as well. Perceval was never finished. It goes on far longer then his other romances, and starts going into another story about Gawain. Chrétien might have intended to split them up and reference them in each story, similar to Yvain frequently alluding to Lancelot, but died before he finished it.


After the intro advertising his other works Chrétien claims that his poem is “written in one of the books of the library of my lord Saint Peter at Beauvais.” Apparently a version of this story is told in Marques de Rome, but I am unable to find it for the moment. This story also involves the pretending to be dead to end up with lover plot, mayhaps most famously done in Romeo and Juliet. The version in Marques de Rome does give the name Cliges so it is likely an inspiration for the story. The text is from the 13th century, but likely it derives from an older source.

The story also mentions Solomon’s wife performing the trick on him, so that could have been an inspiration, or was a well-known variant of this trope.

There is a story of Sir Cleges, from the late-14th or early-15th century, but this is a very different story. It is of a Knight whose generosity brings him to poverty but eventually his fortune is restored by King Uther Pendragon. So I doubt the stories are really connected.

‘Modern-day’ history

Naturally this poem contains the delightful anachronisms of Arthurian Lit. There is an Emperor in Constantinople and an Emperor in Germany, even though such an institution was not around in Arthur’s day.

This depiction of the conflict within the realms of the Emperors is likely based on recent history of Chrétien’s day. Between 1170 and 1174 the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa tried to have his son marry the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, though this didn’t work out eventually. The Duke of Saxony and Bavaria and Frederick’s cousin, Henry the Lion, took part in these failed negotiations. When he didn’t support his cousin in their failed exhibition into Lombardy he was stripped of his lands, leading to conflict between him and the Emperor, and later Frederick’s son and heir Henry VI, though he made peace with him in their final years.

Interestingly enough a modern-day adaptation could make something out of Saxons opposed to a Greek marriage. In the latest elections the AFD, a far-right party with Nazi sentiments opposed to the EU, gained a lot of support in Saxony. As I found out from The Shortest History of Germany there have been certain regional divides in Germany since Julius Caesar. Saxony gave the Nazis a lot of their votes and now they are giving modern-day Fascists support. I hope to address in a later post how the modern day could adapt Arthuriana to reflect its own problems but…

get on with it!

So back to something else.

Playing with earlier Arthuriana

Something which comes to mind about Cligès is that this seems to play with the Matter of Britain, with its subversions of earlier portrayals of Arthurian Lit.

The Duke of Saxony may also be a reflection on the Saxons of earlier Arthuriana. The Saxons are seen as major enemies of Britain, who Arthur has to fight just after becoming King, eventually they join his treacherous Mordred and after Arthur’s reign the Saxons eventually take control of most of Britain, turning it into England. However here they seem to be the stock villains that need to appear in Arthuriana.

The brief duel between Cligès and the Duke’s nephew (they are never named, just called the Duke’s nephew) may reflect the conflict between Arthur’s nephew Gawain and the Roman Procurator/Emperor Lucius’ nephew Gaius Quintilianus in the Roman war accounts. When Gawain goes as part of an embassy to the Romans but is insulted by Gaius, he kills them, whereupon he has to flee the camp. In Cligès the Nephew goes to meet the Emperor Alis and demand Fenice be given to the Duke, but is beaten in a joust by Cligès. However Cligès behaves more honourably then breaking ambassadors’ rules and kills them later when they make a surprise attack on him and some other Knights.

This ties into another aspect of Cligès. It stands out among Chrétien’s stories in that it feels told on a wider scale. While his other stories all take place within Britain, this story is mainly set in Greece, along with Britain and Germany. Rather then the usual Knight on a quest aspect this story concerns itself with events on an international level, which may be why it is the least prominent of Chrétien’s tales.

In some ways this story can seem like a type of fix-fic for other pieces of the Matter of Britain, a play on the familiar thrust of Arthur’s life. Traditionally in the other histories Arthur left Britain for a campaign against the Romans, leaving Mordred as regent, whereupon they usurped the throne. Arthur defeated the Romans, killing their Emperor, then returned, and he and Mordred fell in battle.

Here Arthur’s regent does prove treacherous but it is someone from the Eastern Empire who helps defeat the regent, in a way reversing much of the story. Arthur does not fall but continues to rule for many years after this rebellion.

This fix-ficing could be seen elsewhere in Chrétien’s work. In Yvain is the monstrous giant Harpin of the Mountain, who desires the daughter of Gawain’s sister, capturing her brothers, killing two and threatening to kill the other four if she is not handed over to him. This could allude to the tale of the Giant of Mont-St-Michel, a rather horrific piece of Arthurian literature. When Arthur first starts out on his campaign against Rome he finds out that a Giant has captured a Breton noblewoman, Helena. He goes to the Mountain but finds she was already raped and killed by the Giant, and can only avenge her death.  Yet in Yvain the Giant is killed and the damsel is saved.

Of course, Giant threatening Maiden is a standard trope and Geoffrey was hardly the first person to use it. But it does bear thought. Probably because of how unpleasant the story is, writers generally prefer to be Chrétien rather then Geoffrey on such stories.

Then there’s the portrayal of the Empire of Greece. A note here. At the time Cligès was composed the Byzantines referred to themselves as Romans, seeing themselves as a continuation of the Roman Empire. However they were usually referred to as Greeks by people in the West. Western literature often sees Byzantines in a negative way, as scheming and untrustworthy and favouring pagans. It is likely the Romans in earlier Arthurian Lit are based on this conception of the Eastern Empire, their troops largely consisting of people from non-Christian lands. This is a conception which remained throughout Arthurian literature. From Geoffrey to Malory the Romans are usually portrayed as standard Evil Orientals, the depraved, Pagan, forces of the East, in contrast to the noble Christian Arthur. (For more detail on this here is my dissertation, The Portrayal of Romans in Medieval Arthurian Literature and the Matter of Britain, where I go into detail on this portrayal of the Romans in Chapter 2, especially in The Influence of the Crusades.)

By contrast in this story the Eastern Empire seem to be on good relations with Arthur, the Emperor’s heir going to Arthur’s court due to its prestige. The whole idea of monstrous pagans doesn’t even appear in this story, the Greeks here are not allying themselves with the forces of the East, and merely seem another Christian Kingdom, from what we hear in this story.

Arthur is seen in his international justice role here. In the ‘Histories’ of him Arthur’s Empire-building begins when he helps his brother-in-law Lot become King of Norway on the death of their uncle Sichelin, who left the Kingdom to them, but Riculf has taken the throne. Arthur gathers his forces and helps Lot take the Kingdom.

This is also played out in Cligès. Arthur assists his nephew-in-law when their relative has died and the throne has been usurped, his army forcing a solution to the succession dispute. Then Arthur helps his great-nephew against the same usurper. This is slightly played with though.

Arthur never quite gets to his Histories status, he never succeeds in actually defeating the Eastern Emperor. This in itself feels like a subversion of his traditional Defeater of the Romans role. First negotiations are made and a compromise is reached. Then when Arthur gets together his army again, with the implication that this time they will not negotiate, we hear the Emperor died and Cligès has inherited the crown anyway. Arthur still assists Alexander, bringing his force to Greece which forced negotiation. But he is not the brilliant general that he is shown as in the Histories. I will address the character of Arthur more later.

Tristan and Iseult

Another way in which this story changes what would be popular stories of Western Christiandom is through Cligès being clearly based on Tristan and Iseult, the famous tragic romance. In short, King Mark of Cornwall marries Iseult the Irish Princess. However she loves his nephew Tristan and they have an affair which ends tragically, generally with both dead.

In both stories the King/Emperor marries someone who has an affair with his nephew, but in Cligès all ends happily, the ruler dying and his nephew getting their lands and wife.

There is even the rival for his love’s hand who must be defeated early on, the Duke of Saxony’s role. In Tristan and Iseult that role is played by the Steward who claims to have killed a dragon which Tristan really killed, and is killed by Tristan. Though of course the false suitor is a common motif of romance stories.


A fight between these opposing figures is also standard, Tristan killing the evil steward and Cligès beating the Duke.


Tristan and Iseult is frequently alluded to in Chrétien’s work. It can be seen early on in Erec and Enide, where the poet writes of Enide “I tell you truly that the hair of the blonde Iseut did not shine so fair that she could stand comparison with her.”

In Cligès, the writer making explicit mentions to it, and beginning by mentioning that he has written a poem on the subject, as Chrétien is a man eager to advertise his own work.

The earlier part with Alexander and Soredamors, a name with elements meaning blonde and love, may be meant to parallel Iseut’s golden hair. It is likely meant as a parallel to Rivalen and Blanchefleor, the parents of Tristan, whose love is told before the main part of the Tristan story.

Chrétien states Cligès “knew more of fencing and of the bow than did Tristan, King Mark’s nephew, and more about birds and hounds than he.” The characters even within the story compare themselves to Tristan and Iseult on multiple occasions.

In-Universe it seems a well-known story of unfaithfulness, not an ideal to aspire too. Fenice states that she does not want people to talk of her and Cligès as they do Tristan and Iseult, “I could never bring myself to lead the life that Iseut led.”

Chrétien may have a slight feud against Thomas of England, who wrote a poem of Tristan, some of which has survived, though likely much of it is lost. If Chrétien’s tale of Tristan had survived it might have been the earliest account of it we had. But alas…

Yet there is evidence that either he based language in Cligès off this poem, or that the poems used similar wordings. There is punning with la mer “sea”, amer “to love” and amer “bitter”, which also occurs in Thomas’ Tristan.

There is also the detail that John’s tower could be based on the Hall of Statues in Thomas’ Tristan, a cavern with an image of Iseut Tristan had fashioned by a serf.

Of course, we cannot know whether these first occurred in Thomas’ version, or if Chrétien had them in his version. It could be he was consciously playing with ideas his rival had introduced, or using it again after they used his pun. Or they could have been in older versions, it can be so hard to tell when looking into Medieval Literature which is the first version of a story to use a certain idea.

There is also the use of potions, but overall I find the potion use better in Cligès. In many versions of Tristan and Iseult, the lovers drink a potion which make them fall in love. I’m sure you can see the moral problems in calling falling in love through magic true love.

Glad that creepy possibility was closed

Thankfully in Cligès the potion is used to prevent an unloving relationship, therefore I much prefer its usage.

Cligès has sometimes been called an anti-Tristan or a hyper-Tristan, due to playing with similar motifs and basic structure, but resolving quite differently. It may well be that despite Chrétien’s interest in the story, which was one of the most famous romances of the time, he is not above looking at the story with a critical eye. Or it might be a dig at a rival, as they write their own version he responds by doing a story based on this which criticises the whole premise, hence why the characters say they certainly won’t behave like those lovers and don’t want to be remembered that way.


This poem is heavily based around love, as Chrétien’s work generally is. Yet it is likely meant to be quite parodic here, while also using the religious metaphors of love.

Alexander and Soredamors go on very long talks about love, which pad on for some quite some time. It might be general romantic tropes but the length of it has led many to suspect Chrétien is trying to be amusing. He deliberately exaggerates the standard discussion of romances so that rather then being a tragic story the story gains a bit of levity. After all, Chretien very much comes across as an entertainer. That said the amusement is still quite gentle and does give an insight into the souls of the lovers

The poem is very much concerned with the importance of true love between people. When Alexander has defeated Angres and is told by Arthur he can have whatever he desires, he does not at once ask for Soredamors as he is not sure that she loves him. Later Fenice is never asked her opinion concerning marriage. She is first betrothed to the Duke of Saxony, then to the Emperor Alis. The Duke’s forces abduct her but she is rescued by Cligès, yet must be given to his uncle, even though she does not love him.

This poem has Chrétien’s habit of associating love with God. This is also prevalent in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, where Lancelot’s love for Guinevere enables him to win combat, and his mission to rescue Guinevere, in the process freeing the people of Gorre, appears a take on the Harrowing of Hell legend, where Christ descended to Hell to free its inhabitants.

Fenice while ‘dying’ claims there is only one Doctor who can restore her to health. “They think she refers to God; but she means something quite different, having Cligès alone in mind: he is her god who is able to cure her or bring about her death.” This sets the stage for the religious parallels in Fenice’s ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’.

This is likely meant to be a take on the resurrection of Christ. Fenice even goes through her own torments, when the Doctors try to revive her through torture, such as flogging her and pouring molten lead on her. This is reflected in her name Fenice, which means Phoenix. This bird, which died and rose again, was oft used as a symbol of Christ.

Not quite that one

The tower John has built for the lovers is likely meant to be a take on Paradise.

As ever romance is important to the story. However it is likely meant to be amusing through its’ over-the-top language.


The story, especially the earlier part, is quite Chanson-orientated. This is suitable, as I have said in my essay Arthurian Literature is heavily based on Chansons. At the time the Chansons de Gestes (French for Songs of Deeds) genre were among the most popular type in Christiandom. The songs were largely set around the battles of heroes, frequently good Christian Knights fighting Pagans.

This Chansons association is alluded to out when Angres is called Ganelon by the text. In The Song of Roland Ganelon betrayed his stepson Roland and the Franks at Roncevaux. Ganelon thus gained a reputation as one of the vilest traitors of all to the Medieval mind. Think… Quisling for a modern day comparison.

This isn’t the only comparison to Roland. When Angres’ forces try making a night attack on Arthur’s Knights the moonlight alerts the army to this plan, rising earlier then it should though when the traitors set out there was no moon or stars. Chrétien claims that God so hates treachery that the moon was shining to hamper their plan. This may be based on a section in Roland when Charlemagne’s army chases the remnants of King Marsile’s army from Roncevaux, and Charlemagne prays the sun remain longer so his men can defeat their enemies, which happens.

The story heavily involves martial activity between opposing armies. There is the battle against Angres and against Saxony, with great detail given to military affairs.

However, ultimately the focus is still on romance. The military side of things do not feel like the main thrust of the story. The first part is more military-orientated and yet throughout it the long conversings on romance break up the plot thrust. Chansons did have romantic elements to them at times, though generally the military side seems to have been more popular.

Critique of the Greeks

This Chansons leads on to Cligès‘ portrayal of the East, which bears thinking about. While not as overly critical as Chansons usually are it is still not overall positive.

Cligès is certainly not the simple evil Easterners stereotype that were so familiar to the Chansons and much of Arthurian Literature, with the evil Emperor Lucius Tiberius and his army of Chanson Pagans from Spain, Greece, Africa and Asia. Yet there are still subtle critiques going on of Constantinople.

Cligès still possibly plays to negative stereotypes of the Greeks. When the Emperor dies machinations occur which prevent the heir inheriting and later the Emperor breaks his word. To be fair this sort of behaviour was not out of place in Kingdoms of the time, if the King died and his elder son was away it’s likely a younger son present might try seizing the throne. However the court of Constantinople still comes off quite badly, with the strange situation of the Emperor having no real power while his brother the rightful heir is doing all the ruling, in some ways making the title of Emperor a joke.

However this, in the long term, lends itself to further problems. Not displacing Alis from the position of Emperor means that on his brother’s death he is in a position to move against the original terms. Could his marriage to the daughter of another Emperor have been a full prelude to displacing his nephew as heir? Is this a critique of Constantinople and their style of rule, as Alexander should have demanded his brother surrender the title, but the fluid nature of what the title actually entails meant Alis was able to weather his way through? Or is it a critique of Arthur, who should have behaved more like he does in the Histories and fully displaced the usurper?

The story ends as a sort of “Just-So story” of Constantinople, saying that now in that city many women are confined. Apparently later Emperors have all stood in fear of their wife due to this story, meaning each Empress is guarded as if in a prison in Constantinople, constantly in their room, and no man is allowed there unless he is a eunuch. The overall image of the East is still slightly negative therefore, claiming that Emperors can never trust their wives. (To be fair in Constantinople it seemed the Emperor could not trust much of the court, including its women, with many Emperors being murdered in Palace conspiracies, likely by their wives.)

However, Chrétien’s claim about Constantinople may reflect general fears reflected in Chrétien’s world, that a ruler’s wife may not be faithful to them, as indeed happens in his interpretation of the Arthurian court.

However as this part goes on a bit and jars with before it might be slightly comical in tone. The story ends happily… then Chrétien at once goes on to say all the trouble that was caused by it. It could be his critical tone towards the Tristan and Iseult story, saying that as a result of this event happening later rulers in the same position as the cuckolded ruler are less trusting of their wives.

Arthur himself

But what of King Arthur, considering this is Arthurian literature? He is never the real focus of Chrétien, whose work seems to be more about Arthur’s Knights then Arthur. So how is Arthur in this poem?

Arthur in Cligès is at his worst in Chrétien. Rather then the figure of fun he comes across as unreasonably bloodthirsty in the earlier part of the poem. In some ways he resembles the cruel, convention-breaking Arthur of the Alliterative Morte Arthure, who threatens to horrifically kill Rome’s messengers if they do not leave Britain within a few days. Arthur says he won’t take any ransom for Angres when he hears how he sacked London of all its provisions, leaving the citizens destitute and starving. Not so bad, Angres is a traitor who mistreated Arthur’s people, and of course his death would be expected.

Yet Arthur is quite ready to have captives murdered, which goes against the standard rules of war. It’s impractical as you leave the enemies no alternative but to keep fighting. When Alexander captures some of Angres’ men he hands them over to the Queen, knowing the King would have them all hanged or burned (particularly horrific means of death). The wrongness of this behaviour can be seen by the camp agreeing that Alexander behaved well in handing the captives over to the Queen. When the men are on trial Arthur wants them to be torn apart, which happens before the walls of the castle (a standard punishment for traitors, such as Ganelon in The Song of Roland).

Ganelon’s Fate from The Song of Roland

The problems with Arthur’s behaviour are shown. Chrétien notes Angres’ men are upset at seeing the execution but “They must needs defend themselves, for the King makes it plain to all that he is angry, and ill-disposed, and they see that if he should lay hands upon them he would make them die a shameful death.” The night attack is prompted as the traitors see no other way out but imprisonment or death.

This is contrasted with Alexander’s behaviour. When he captures the Count he tells the men “None of you, except the Count, has deserved to die”, and that if they surrender to the King they will be spared. Thus Chrétien’s critique of Arthur happens in a different way to the other romances, rather then being foolish and weak here Arthur is too brutal in his warfare.

Arthur’s behaviour may be based on the vengefulness of Chanson Charlemagne, who does take a terrible judgement on Ganelon the traitor. It was considered chivalric to spare a defeated opponent, but the King had a feudal right to execute traitors. For this story less concerned with chivalric niceties and more concerned with warfare it makes sense Arthur is going to behave like this. But it can be unsettling to see the supposed good King behave in such a way.

As earlier stated Arthur does not come across as a capable commander. He requires the help of the main hero of the story to defeat his foe and eventually is implied to take their side. Therefore we continue to see Chretien’s playing down of Arthur’s achievements.


In some ways a major theme of Cligès is deception. There is the obvious romance plot, Cligès and Fenice having to hide their love from the court. There is the way they are able to continue their love, through Fenice faking her death.

However, this idea of deception runs throughout the story. Angres puts on a trustworthy guise, meaning Arthur’s knights unanimously think him the most trustworthy man to hold Britain in Arthur’s absence, yet he proves a traitor. Arthur criticises his Knights for this and they even agree that they are at fault for recommending Angres as regent.

Alexander and his men proceed to get into his castle through putting on the armour of Angres’ men. There is also him and Soredamors hiding their love for each other.

Then we have the deception from the shipwreck survivor, telling Alis that his brother is dead meaning he is rightful Emperor. Alis even suspects deception when told his brother is alive.

As the story enters its second phase, the life of Cligès, we have the deception of Alis taking a wife, breaking his earlier vow. This involves another broken vow, as Fenice was promised to the Duke of Saxony. In a way this gives the Duke some right but could also serve to demonstrate how wrong this marriage is. The German Emperor is behaving like the Greek Emperor and not keeping to his promises, leading to a major threat to his power.

Of course there is the deception in Constantinople, the hidden love of Cligès and Fenice. Cligès hides his face when he goes to his great-uncle’s court, being the classic mystery knight. Then of course we have Fenice pretending to be dead and hiding in the house with her lover.

Playing into this theme of deception is that rather then the threat of foreigners, the usual villains in the Arthurian histories, the foes in Cligès are internal. Arthur’s foe is the treacherous regent Angres, the German Emperor has trouble with his vassal the Duke of Saxony, and Alexander and Cligès face opposition from Alis.

The Duke of Saxony could be considered the closest thing to a foreign foe, but he is not an enemy of Arthur but of his overlord (presumably, I presume this world works in a similar way to Chrétien’s present, as is normal in Medieval Literature) the German Emperor.

Through this we can see that deception is a major theme of the poem.

Sagremore and Later Texts

Unfortunately the characters within this poem have not really survived the general thrust of Arthuriana. While Chrétien’s other characters could be easier linked to the court, this poem is more detached from Camelot.

Yet it is possible the character of Sir Sagremore may be based on Alexander/Cligès. This character first appears in Erec and Enide as Sagremore the Impetuous, this characteristic of being termed the Unruly carries through with his character. He is the grandson and heir of Hadrian, Emperor of Constantinople. His mother is Hadrian’s daughter and his father is the King of Vlask and Hungary. After his father’s death his mother remarries to King Brandegoris of Estangore. Sagremore travels to Britain on hearing of Arthur and joins Arthur’s nephews who are opposing their fathers and the other Kings fighting Arthur, which include Sagremore’s stepfather.

Not unlike Alexander, heir to Constantinople, Sagremore fights those who are rebelling against Arthur’s rule. Of course the circumstances are quite different, these rebels are Kings who rebel against Arthur just after he becomes King, Angres is a treacherous regent. But the similarities are there.

However Sagremore does not continue in similarities to the main characters of Cligès, having a different set of stories, though in some versions he does meet Tristan, and is killed by Mordred at the last battle.

It may be he was made a relative of the Emperor in Constantinople to enhance the prestige of Arthur’s court, but it is still of interest. There may have been similar reasons behind Chrétien making Cligès part of the Imperial House, but ultimately we cannot know.

A Knight called Cligès appears in later texts, but does not bear much resemblance to Chrétien’s Cligès. He even turns up in the Alliterative Morte Arthure. But ultimately unlike Chrétien’s other stories Cligès has not survived well the general flow of Arthuriana.


So what can be concluded about Cligès? I would agree this is not the best work of Chrétien de Troyes, that spot still going to Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. However among his Arthurian romances it is the most individual, ironically this is partially because it is closer to earlier accounts of Arthur, with its Chanson-esque feel. Yet in some ways it comes across as playing on expectations of Arthuriana, with the Greeks helping Arthur against a traitor, then Arthur assisting them but ultimately never having to really fight on their behalf. The poem is also a play on Tristan and Iseult, the characters explicitly mentioning the story but may also be considered a critique on the story (and possibly Chretien’s rival Thomas), with characters hoping not to follow the example, and the ending mentioning the trouble caused in Constantinople by this. Or… this demonstrates I read too much into things. But anyway, I think Cliges is a poem worth further study.

Thoughts on Maeglin and Mordred

So here are my thoughts on two literary villains, one the arch-traitor of Arthurian mythology, and the other the Silmarillion’s equivalent. I’m releasing it on May’s day as… that is the birthday of Mordred.

Tolkien was clearly acquainted with the Arthur myth, having begun writing The Fall of Arthur, his own take on the Arthurian mythos. Alas, he never finished it, even though he began in the 30s. What we do have, up to Arthur arriving back in Britain is pretty good. And there is a decent section after this going through the Arthurian mythos, I would certainly recommend this book.


But… could it have influenced his writings? To do so I will examine the characters of Mordred and Maeglin, both the nephews of Kings, both with incestuous desires, and both traitors.

Mordred, as is commonly known, was the nephew of King Arthur… at least, in the earliest of the standard accounts. His first appearance is actually in the Annales Cambriae for 537, which mentions

“Gueith Camlann in qua Arthur et Medraut corruerunt.”

Meaning “The strife of Camlann, in which Arthur and Medraut fell.”

Doesn’t even say if they were fighting on different sides.

Yet in Geoffrey of Monmouth the familiar idea of Mordred develops (though here he is called Modredus). He is Arthur’s treacherous nephew, the son of Arthur’s sister Anna and King Lot (though Geoffrey is a bit inconsistent, in other places he claims Lot was married to Uther’s sister… which is given an interesting spin in the Scotorum Historia where Modredus is the legitimate heir). I wrote another post on why he is Arthur’s nephew and how this relates to contemporary events and the themes of the Historia Regum Britanniae ( But Mordred, or in this version Modredus, is left as regent while Arthur is away fighting the Romans (I’ll be writing a dissertation on the Romans here). Long story cut short, due to Arthur killing the ruler of France Frollo (!) the Roman ruler Lucius declares war on him. Arthur goes overseas and while away Mordred usurps the throne, living adulterously with Guinevere. Arthur returns, Mordred calls on an army of Saxons, Scots, Picts and Irish to help him, but after some battles he and Arthur fight each other at Camblan. Mordred dies and Arthur “was carried off to the Isle of Avalon, so that his wounds might be attended to”, Geoffrey giving the date as 542.

How Mordred was Slain by Arthur, and How by Him Arthur was Hurt to the Death, by Arthur Rackham

More is added to Mordred as the mythos develops. His desire for Guinevere is there from the start,  Geoffrey writing how he married her while usurping his uncle’s throne. In this version it could appear just a political action to help his claim. In Wace’s Roman De Brut when Arthur leaves Britain in Mordred’s hands the author mentions “He was in love with the queen, but this was not suspected. He kept it very quiet; and who would have believed he could love his uncle’s wife, especially the wife of such a lord, whose kin all held him in honour? Modret loved his uncle’s wife shamefully and was dishonorable.” Mordred’s actions are thus depicted as lust-motivated, giving a little more psychological profile to a standard usurper.

In Layamon’s Brut Mordred “was the dearest of men” to the Queen, and is treated as his partner in treason, Arthur even saying he will burn her when he returns.

Yet Mordred’s portrayal in regards to Guinevere starts shifting with the Vulgate Cycle’s La Mort le Roi Artu (The Death of King Arthur). In this Mordred’s usurpation is more developed than just a military coup while the King is away, Mordred using false letters of Arthur’s death to make sure he is made King. His desire for Guinevere takes on a more sinister light, as Guinevere is unwilling to wed him. It is also in these versions that the incestuous motif of Mordred, already present with his desire for his aunt, goes to another level. As the Stanzaic Morte Arthur says:

“That false traitour, Sir Mordred,
The kinges soster son he was
And eek his own son, as I rede”.

Beginning with the Vulgate Cycle Mordred goes from the son of Arthur’s sister and King Lot to the son of Arthur’s half-sister Morgause and Arthur through an affair before Arthur knew she was his sister. He becoms a symbol of Arthur’s own sin, who will later destroy the Kingdom, Arthur’s misdeeds coming back to bite him.

For a quick aside, the May Day aspect Arthur is told a child born on May Day will destroy him so he puts all the May Day babies in a boat and sets it out to sea. All the babies drown save Mordred.

How does all this on Mordred lead us to a Middle-Earth villain, Maeglin, considered the wickedest Elf to have ever lived? For a start Maeglin occupies the traitor role in the story. It is traditional that great heroic forces are only brought down by an internal foe who enables the enemies of his people access to victory. Maeglin occupies this place. His role in The Silmarillion is similar to Mordred’s place in the Arthurian mythos and to Roland’s treacherous stepfather Ganelon in La Chanson de Roland. That aspect even appears in A Song of Ice and Fire, the heroism of Robb Stark being brought down at the Red Wedding by his treacherous vassals Roose Bolton and Walder Frey. Traitor narratives extend all through our canon of media, Doctor Who having the treacherous Guardian of the Solar System Mavic Chen ally with the Daleks. The danger of the Fifth Column, a term coined by Emilio Mola during the Spanish Civil War, is particularly looked down on. Hence in The Divine Comedy the lowest circle of Hell is for traitors.


Of course traitors have a habit of screwing themselves over… but more on that later.

Justice for its Secretary indeed!

He is early to the mythos, appearing in The History of Middle-Earth Volume 2, The Book of Lost Tales, part 2, in The Fall of Gondolin. This was the earliest of the traceable Middle-Earth tales Tolkien wrote on paper, influenced by his time in the First World War. He began writing it in 1917 on a sheet of army marching music. And its getting a release this year!


The basic story is of the hidden Elf city of Gondolin which is discovered and destroyed by the forces of evil.

Early on Maeglin, or in the 1917 version Meglin is established as villainous. We hear of the King’s daughter Idril marrying the human hero Tuor…

This won’t be the only Tom Loback illustration on this post.

But with that joy comes darkness.

“Thereafter dwelt they in joy in that house upon the walls that looked out south over Tumladin, and this was good to the hearts of all in the city save Meglin alone”.

Maeglin bears a similar role within his court to Mordred. He is the sister-son to the King of Gondolin, Turgon. The bond between a man and his sister-son is considered one of the most sacred bonds in older cultures, especially if a man has no sons of his own. This occurs a lot in old literature, Arthur and his sister-son Gawain, Mordred’s brother, and in Middle-Earth Théoden and Éomer. Therefore the treachery of Maeglin and Mordred would be considered particularly vile to their cultures. You could even place Ben Kenobi/Kylo Ren in that category.


Like Mordred Maeglin’s conception is… strange. In the early version we hear of Maeglin “he himself was nephew to the king by his mother the king’s sister Isfin; and that tale of Isfin and Eol may not here be told.” A sinister element is added, a mystery to the birth of this Elf.

When his mother Aredhel was in the woods the Dark Elf Eöl saw her and using his magic entrapped her, leading her to his house and married her “a matter in which she was not wholly unwilling” according to the published Silmarillion. Interestingly enough this is traditional Elvish behavior if we’re going with older folklore, from texts such as Sir Orfeo. Eöl has remained outside the normal boundaries of Elvish society, living in the woods.

I think this image really captures the sinister, dominating nature of the meeting

In other versions, however, it was by force. Even if it was consensual Eöl did not allow her to leave or go through traditional Elvish marriage practices. As a result Maeglin’s very existence is the result of something sinister, his mother basically being kept prisoner by her husband.

We go on to Maeglin’s birth. “And Aredhel bore to Eol a son in the shadows of Nan Elmoth, and in her heart she gave him a name in the forbidden tongue of the Noldor, Lomion, that signifies Child of the Twilight; but his father gave him no name until he was twelve years old. Then he called him Maeglin, which is Sharp Glance, for he perceived that the eyes of his son were more piercing than his own, and his thought could read the secrets of hearts beyond the mist of words.”

His father seems neglectful and his name already has connotations of evil. Putting Maeg at the front really does make them sound evil.

Maegor the Cruel in power.

At the age of 12 Maeglin and his mother escaped and fled to Gondolin, pursued by Eöl. He tried to kill Maeglin with a poisoned javelin for refusing to return with him, but Aredhel leapt in front and was killed. For this Turgon had the Dark Elf thrown from the walls of Gondolin. “And Maeglin stood by and said nothing; but at the last Eöl cried out: ‘So you forsake your father and his kin, ill-gotten son! Here shall you fail of all your hopes, and here may you yet die the same death as I.'”

It is not the same as Mordred’s beginning. But it has similar connotations of unnaturalness. And similar to his father Maeglin engages in lustful behaviour that ends up bringing about his end.

This slightly applies to those around Maeglin in his following. His sign is “a sable mole” (subtle) and “Less fair was he than most of this goodly folk, swart and of none too kindly mood, so that he won small love, and whispers there were that he had Orc’s blood in his veins, but I know not how this could be true.” The ideas of Orc’s blood are removed later and even here the narrator doubts this. Yet Meglin is still being portrayed as something sinister, unlike the other Elves even from his birth. Though I think his birth is already sinister enough. Like Mordred he is outside the normal bounds of society, born from a union outside of normal boundaries.

In some ways like Loki but… not as brilliantly, delightfully, complex.

Like Mordred Maeglin is presented as being motivated by lust. He conceives a desire for the Princess Idril, the daughter of his uncle. An incestuous motif creeps into his story concerning his desire, like Mordred lusts after his uncle’s wife Maeglin lusts after his uncle’s daughter.

In the earliest texts there seems to be a political motive.

“Now he had bid often with the king for the hand of Idril, yet Turgon finding her very loth had as often said nay, for him seemed Meglin’s suit was caused as much by the desire of standing in high power beside the royal throne as by love of that most fair maid.”

When Earendal is born to Tuor and Idril the political aspect is again implied. “The envy
of Meglin was deep at his birth, but the joy of Turgon and all the people very great indeed.”


Much like Mordred the early Maeglin’s incestuous desire is framed as political, the incest angle is not played up.

However as the texts develop on Gondolin’s Fall the creepiness of Maeglin’s desire for his cousin is played up.

When Idril marries Tuor in the published text “Maeglin’s secret hatred grew ever greater, for he desired above all things to possess her, the only heir of the King of Gondolin.” There is still a political aspect but the lust has already been emphasized. In Chapter 16 of Maeglin we hear “For from his first days in Gondolin he had borne a grief, ever worsening, that robbed him of all joy: he loved the beauty of Idril and desired her, without hope. The Eldar wedded not with kin so near, nor ever before had any desired to do so.” With the incestuous aspect Maeglin is established as being outside the normal conventions of Elvish society.

“But as the years passed still Maeglin watched Idril, and waited, and his love turned to darkness in his heart. And he sought the more to have his will in other matters, shirking no toil or burden, if he might thereby have power.”

Maeglin’s lust is played up as the main factor in his villainy.

Still one of the best villain songs.

This links us back to Mordred, with his lust for Guinevere. We hear of him watching her and Lancelot in The Fall of Arthur:

“Mordred in secret mirthless watched them

betwixt hate and envy, hope and torment.

Thus was bred the evil, and the black shadow

o’er the courts of Arthur as a cloud growing

dimmed the daylight darkling slowly.”

The words on the darkness within Camelot are not unlike those describing the darkness within Gondolin.

It’s not just a political motive, it’s depicted in a predatory sense. The Arthurian poetry had already emphasized how wrong such a union would be. In Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur the Bishop of Canterbury tells Mordred “Is not King Arthur your uncle, no farther but your mother’s brother, and on her himself King Arthur begat you upon his own sister, therefore how may you wed your father’s wife?” However in The Fall of Arthur Mordred is clearly framed in a sinister lustful sense. When Arthur has left Mordred behind…

“He heard nor heeded: his heart returned

to its long thraldom lust-tormented

to Guinever the golden with gleaming limbs”.

The text then goes on to describe

“His bed was barren; there black phantoms

of desire unsated and savage fury

in his brain had brooded till bleak morning.”

He then enters Guinevere’s bower and says she will share his crown with him. She reminds him of their relationship, calling him “dear nephew / to Arthur’s queen.'”

Mordred’s reaction…

“Then her eyes wavered,

and he set her beside him, seized her fiercely.

Grim words he spake – Guinever trembled…

…Thou at my side shall lie, slave or lady,

as thou wilt or wilt not, wife or captive.”

Mordred is a terrifying figure in this text, not just a usurper but a sexual predator. Though he doesn’t seem to be Arthur’s son in this version

I personally prefer playing up Guinevere’s resistance to Mordred. The original narrative has a sort of… blame the woman narrative, an idea that you can’t trust women to be left in power. Also with recent events, the #MeToo movement and so on, having Guinevere and Idril being harassed by an authority figure, especially as its someone they know, a relative, just makes the story more culturally relevant. Not unlike the reason Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame has become more relevant. Seriously watch that film. And at some point watch Lindsay Ellis’ excellent video essay on the film. (

Could this image of the treacherous King’s nephew with incestuous lust have influenced the figure of Maeglin? Tolkien could certainly be influenced by his adaptations. It could be similar to another influence of Tolkien, The Tale of Kullervo, which influenced his tragic tale The Children of Hurin. Kullervo is a tragic figure who unknowingly lies with his sister, when she finds out she kills herself by jumping into a river, and later Kullervo slays himself with a sword that speaks and offers to take his life. The same details are present within The Children of Hurin, with Turin and his sister and sword. Tolkien before writing this wrote his own version, The Tale of Kullervo, which I personally think is a slight improvement on the original, ironing out some of the inconsistencies.

Idril’s reaction reminds me of Guinevere. In The Death of King Arthur Guinevere fears being left with Mordred and when he attempts to marry her takes refuge in the Tower of London. Similarly with Idril while the King cannot spot the evil nature of his nephew the object of the traitor’s desire knows and fears this. “And however that might be, Idril loved Maeglin not at all; and knowing his thought of her she loved him the less. For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him, as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it: an evil fruit of the Kinslaying, whereby the shadow of the curse of Mandos fell upon the last hope of the Noldor.” While married to Tuor she prepares a secret passage out of Gondolin in case of Morgoth’s attack, hiding knowledge of it from even Maeglin. Linking to the Chanson genre, in the 1917 text she even has a dream of Maeglin throwing her son into a furnace which prompts the creation of the tunnel. Without her all of the people of Gondolin would have been lost.

Maeglin’s desire leads to his downfall, sure enough. While mining in the mountains he is captured by the forces of Morgoth, the First Dark Lord of Middle-Earth, basically Satan. In the earliest version Maeglin at once purchases his life by telling of Gondolin’s defenses and is told “Tuor and Earendel should Melko (Morgoth) burn, and Idril be given to Meglin’s arms”.

There is not such explicit language in the later version but the lust towards Idril is more primed as the motivator. Out of fear of torture he gives the exact location of Gondolin and information on its defenses, for which Morgoth “to Maeglin he promised the lordship of Gondolin as his vassal, and the possession of Idril Celebrindal, when the city should be taken; and indeed desire for Idril and hatred for Tuor led Maeglin the easier to his treachery, most infamous in all the histories of the Elder Days.”

By doing so, like Mordred, Maeglin is established as the greatest of traitors. Unlike Mordred though he is seen as the means by which the invading force tries to take power, while Mordred was hoping to rule himself. However Mordred is described as using Saxons as his forces, the force opposed to the Britons just as Morgoth’s forces are the enemies of the Elves.

The 1917 text describes him as being under a spell of Melko and very much acting out of terror of them. This is less apparent in the published version, where he is not shown as cowed by Morgoth, making him more villainous.

So finally the attack occurs when Eärendil is seven and the city is burnt down.

Frollo comparisons just write themselves.

During the fall of Gondolin Maeglin tries to take Idril and murder Eärendil. In the first version Maeglin’s followers of the House of the Mole even fight on the side of the Orcs. But the eventual motif remains the same, Maeglin going after Idril. In the published Silmarillion his fate is quite brief. “Tuor sought to rescue Idril from the sack of the city, but Maeglin had laid hands on her, and on Eärendil; and Tuor fought with Maeglin on the walls, and cast him far out, and his body as it fell smote the rocky slopes of Amon Gwareth thrice ere it pitched into the flames below.”

maegor death
Things don’t end well for Maegs.

In the original… “Now then Meglin had Idril by the hair and sought to drag her to the battlements out of cruelty of heart, that she might see the fall of Earendel to the flames; but he was cumbered by that child, and she fought, alone as she was, like a tigress for all her beauty and slenderness.” Tuor goes to rescue his family and “When Meglin saw this he would stab Earendel with a short knife he had; but that child bit his left hand, that his teeth sank in, and he staggered, and stabbed weakly, and the mail of the small coat turned the blade aside; and thereupon Tuor was upon him and his wrath was terrible to see. He seized Meglin by that hand that held the knife and broke the arm with the wrench, and then taking him by the middle leapt with him upon the walls, and flung him far out. Great was the fall of his body, and it smote Amon Gwareth three times ere it pitched in the midmost of the flames; and the name of Meglin has gone out in shame from among Eldar and Noldoli.”

Just makes the Frollo comparison even better.

There is a similar doom-laden feeling to the Battle of Camlann in the fall of Gondolin, as numerous prominent warriors are described being killed, Turgon dying when his tower collapses.


There’s even mutual killings, Ecthelion, Lord of the Fountain, kills Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs but dies as well. When Idril and Tuor escape with some of the people of Gondolin a Balrog attacks them but falls to its death with Glorfindel.

There is at least some optimism there in that from Eärendil Middle-Earth will be saved from Morgoth, as he brings the Valar from Valinor. Tolkien may have been going for the traditional ending of the Arthurian mythos where Constantine, son of Cador, succeeds Arthur. He does mention “the queen’s kinsman Cador the hasty” accompanying Arthur, so Cador is present. But who can say how it would have ended as Tolkien never finished it?

So it overall seems likely that Maeglin may have been the Middle-Earth answer to Mordred, the evil seed in the great court, the sister-son of the King he betrays, with incestuous desires. Mordred from The Fall of Arthur could have helped to inspire the eventual Maeglin, making their actions more motivated by lust for someone they couldn’t have rather than lust for power.

But draw your own conclusions.

Thoughts on Historia Regum Britanniae and the Anarchy

Here are just my musings on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) and how it may relate to the Anarchy.

I began this on Friday, but on Saturday was seeing friends of mine, was busy with two essays for Tuesday and Wednesday, so here it is.

Geoffrey wrote his History about 1136, when Stephen I had claimed the kingship the year previously. However his claim was not certain. I will give a relatively short summary of the Anarchy then be on to Geoffrey.

Henry1 (1)

Stephen’s uncle Henry I had been the previous monarch. Despite their 20-something bastards Henry did not have much legitimate issue with their wife, Matilda of Scotland. Henry’s legitimate son and heir William died when the White Ship sank.


Henry’s legitimate daughter Matilda was proclaimed heir in 1125, after the death of her husband Henry V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1127 she was betrothed to Geoffrey Plantagenet, the son of Fulk, Count of Anjou, and married him the following year. Her father had the barons swear to accept her as heir.


However on her father’s death in 1135 she was outside England and Stephen of Blois grabbed the throne with the support of the barons. Stephen was the third son of Adela of Normandy, the youngest daughter of William the Conqueror who had married Stephen, Count of Blois. Stephen had even been considered for succession. He had the support of the barons and took the throne. Matilda fought him for this over a number of years, showing that in the Middle Ages, a woman trying to assert power, especially in her own right, was a difficult task.


After Stephen’s son Eustace died in 1153, leaving Stephen’s youngest son William, a peace was negotiated by which Matilda’s son Henry would become Stephen’s heir. Stephen’s death the following year assisted this process, before his son could grow to an age where they might challenge their cousin. But William inherited the County of Boulogne from their brother, then died in 1159 leading to it passing to his sister. So we have had only one King Stephen…

This conflict, partially over the non-acceptance of a woman as ruler, has been quite inspirational in literature. George R. R. Martin based The Dance of the Dragons, a Targaryen civil war, on this, with Viserys I’s daughter from his first marriage Rhaenyra and son from his second marriage Aegon II disputing the crown… with other changes such as dragons and the fact both candidates are horrible tyrants. At least Matilda wasn’t obviously cuckolding her first husband and her second husband didn’t have her rival’s infant heir murdered in a cruel revenge attack. Though the good Queen Alysanne did do a post pointing out the similarities and variations which can be found here.

Of course this Histories and Lore missed out much of the themes and Rhaenyra’s sons didn’t bear a strong enough resemblance to their literary counterparts but the art looks good.

I am even writing a piece for my extensive Garnot Histories concerning the King’s brother Odcon I seizing the throne over the King’s daughter Harcor, though if you look at the family tree and how his grandfather took the throne it becomes a bit more complicated, as there is some Wars of the Roses mixed in there, with Odcon being part-historical Richard III.

But… on to Geoffrey’s adaptation of ‘History’. While Geoffrey’s work is not the best of sources for the history he is writing on, it is a history which is good for showing the time it was written. Similar ideas to the Anarchy, a dispute against a female ruling, treacherous nephews, and general civil strife appear numerous times throughout the History, inspired by Stephen’s seizure of the crown.
Well they’re both called Stephen… sort-of, and I watched the film for the first time the day I began writing it.

The Prophecies of Merlin may even contain allusions to the event.

The Lion’s cubs shall be transformed into salt-water fishes and the Eagle of Mount Aravia shall nest upon its summit… The island will lie sodden with the tears of the night-time, and everyone will be encouraged to try to do everything. Those who are born later shall strive to fly over even the most lofty things, but the favour given to newcomers will be loftier even than that… Albany will be angry; calling her near neighbours to her, she shall give herself entirely up to bloodshed. Between her jaws there will be found a bit which was forged in the Bay of Amorica. The Eagle of the Broken Covenant shall paint it with gold and will rejoice in her third nesting… Two Kings will fight each other at the Ford of the Staff for the sake of a Lioness.

Was Merlin high as an eagle at the time? You decide!

The Lion is Henry I, and his cubs becoming fishes refers, of course, to their drowning. As for the eagle… well, the Holy Roman Emperor was oft associated with an eagle and Matilda married the Emperor. There were conflicts with Scotland (Albany), the bit may refer to Geoffrey calming his wife, the broken covenant is the barons breaking their oath to Matilda’s father to support her, and her third nesting refers to her third child with him. And the Two Kings? Obviously the Anarchy. There is more in the prophecies but I believe the point is clear. There are references to warfare, showing how the country is being broken apart.

Stephen dedicated his book to Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester and the most powerful of Henry I’s bastards, who might have been considered as heir but the illegitimacy was too strong a bar. There may be implied Pro-Robert ideas in the History, with the over-the-top heroic Eldol, Consul of Gloucester who fights his way out of the Treachery/Night of the Long Knives, Geoffrey’s equivalent of the Red Wedding where the Saxons slaughter much of the British nobility at a feast. Eldol later kills the Saxon Leader Hengist, who planned the treachery.

So how does the Anarchy appear in disguised form?

Cordelia springs to mind. In the (I might add superior) version by Shakespeare she and Lear die, but this was a twist ending. In the original her father is restored and leaves the throne to her. However, “when Cordelia had ruled the kingdom peacefully for a period of five years, Marganus and Cunedagius began to cause her trouble. These were the sons of her two sisters… When, after the deaths of their fathers, these two had succeeded them in their dukedoms, they became indignant at the fact that Britain was subjected to the rule of a woman.” And so they rebel against their aunt, imprison her, and she kills herself in prison. Marganus, duke of Albany, gets North of the Humber, Cunedagius, duke of Cornwall, gets South of the Humber.

Two years later Marganus fights with his cousin, thinking that as the elder he should rule the whole island, cue fighting, cue him getting killed and Cunedagius getting the whole island.

Note that Cornwall’s duke ends up winning the Kingship. Not sure why Geoffrey did this but it happens numerous times, with Dunvallo Molmutius and Constantine III of Britain, a character who oft gets left out of the Arthurian mythos despite his importance to them.

Cunedagius’ great-great-great-grandson Gorboduc is involved in a similar story of feuding families. His sons Ferrex and Porrex argue over who should succeed their eldery father. Porrex kills Ferrex, then their mother Judon gets upset over this and kills Porrex. End of the royal family and the Kingdom collapses into the Pentarchy. The Civil War of the Five Kings, not to be confused with the Westerosi conflict, rages on for many years until Dunvallo Molmutius, son of Cloten, King of Cornwall, defeats the other Kings and unites the land.

As an aside Gorboduc has the distinction of being adapted into the first English verse play, in 1561 by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, in a piece performed before the unmarried Elizabeth I, showing the consequences of the lack of proper succession. In this version though we have a traditional dividing the Kingdom even though Gorboduc is still alive, more like King Lear.

In the spirit of such stories drawing contrasts to their times, during the Anarchy and Elizabethan era, I even summed up Gorboduc in my piece The Tragedy of Brexit, when a character confronts Gove after he has betrayed Boris in the hopes of becoming PM himself.


Truly Gove does it now seem the drama

Of Gorboduc has played before us.


(Aside) Know I not what he does speak of.


Gorboduc was King of Ancient Britain.

Did you wish to restore the days of his?


(Aside) Must he have been a man of great note.


Answer Gove! Know you what I do speak of?


Of course I do! I know of Gorboduc

I did wish to restore the days of his.


Gorboduc did make decisions foolish

When dividing betwixt his sons.

Ferrex and Porrex fought over Britain.

Neither ruled, in the end Britain wept.

Divided was the land years many!

Cameron was Britain’s foolish ruler

Well-meaning was he but his plans were poor

You and Boris, like his squabbling issue.

Neither of you now rule Brutus’ land

James did bring the great island under one

But seek you to reverse that fortune fine.

But, on to Geoffrey’s more positive notes, showing what can happen with peace. On Dunvallo’s death his sons fight till Belinus, the elder, gets the great portion south of the Humber and Brennius gets the North. Then further conflict breaks out when Brennius plans to take the whole land, he is exiled, he comes back with an army after becoming ruler of the Allobroges by marrying the daughter of their Duk Segnius. However the brothers’ mother convinces the brothers to make peace. They then proceed to conquer Rome, the Gauls sacking the city being attributed to them. This is really stretching connections to the Anarchy but it shows that if peace was made between opposing sides Britain can beat any other power.

Forward to the invasion by Julius Caesar. In the true fashion of nationalistic propaganda, in a clear defeat our side loses through treachery, much like that iconic piece of Medieval poetry The Song of Roland, but thankfully this version isn’t so horribly offensive towards Islam you feel unsettled reading it… well unless you’re a Trump supporter.

I’m just going to put this image here because I’d prefer not to put up an image of horribly Islamaphobic art as there’s already too much of it today. If you want to find it check on the Twitter accounts of people who agree with Trump or UKIP.

Here the King is Cassibelanus, who succeeded after the death of his elder brother Lud, and gives shares to Luds’ sons, Androgeus gets Trinovantum and the duchy of Kent and Tenvantius gets the duchy of Cornwall. The British were originally beating the Romans, because Geoffrey does love to show the British as superior to the Romans… However during the celebration games, Cassibelanus’s nephew Hirelglas is killed by Androgeus’s nephew Cuelinus. Cassibelanus tells Androgeus their his nephew should be sent to him for trial, but Androgeus refuses, wanting them tried at his court of Trinovantum. Cassibelanus attacks him, and Androgeus asks for Caesar’s help. Thanks to the treachery of the King’s nephew Britain is defeated. So again, the motif of the treacherous nephew is brought up, forcing Britain to submit to Rome.

Asterix in Britain(02)
Though I have to admit I enjoy this version of why we lost.

Move on to some centuries later, with Constantine the Great’s mother being elevated from concubine of Emperor to daughter of British King so the British can claim the great Christian Emperor was British. The throne is later seized by Octavius (apparently some accounts have him as Constantine’s half-brother but I could not find which one or see it in Geoffrey). Then as Octavius has no son dispute arises whether his daughter Helen or nephew Conanus Meridiadocus should succeed, with his daughter possibly married off to a Prince from another country. It is quite possible to see traces of the Anarchy present here, with a succession dispute between the King’s daughter and nephew. Not unlike Matilda marrying Geoffrey from Anjou… Octavius decides to marry Helen to Maximianus, son of Ioelinus, a great-uncle of Constantine as they are a brother of Coel, through the advice of Caradocus, duke of Cornwall.

However Conanus is “annoyed” at this and “strove with all his might and main to seize the kingship, and in trying to achieve this objective he upset the entire court.”

Conanus gets the support of the Emperor Maximianus and continues causing trouble as he tries to take the Kingdom. However after his uncle gives their daughter and the kingship to Maximianus, Conanus again tries to grab it by raising an army in Albany, but “finally, when each had done the other as much harm as he knew how, they made peace with each other, with the blessing of their friends.”

This feels so similar to the Anarchy and I wonder… is this Geoffrey hoping a peace might be reached between Stephen and Matilda?

Another usurpation happens with Vortigern, who may well have been a historical figure. Vortigern brings about the the death of the foolish Constans while Constans’ brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther are too young to rule, enabling Vortigern to seize the throne. He then brings the Saxons in as mercenaries, thinking he can control them… he can’t, and the Kingdom is brought into trouble, before the rightful heirs return from Brittany and regain Britain.

Of course Vortigern the Usurper had already appeared in Histories, Geoffrey was drawing on other sources for his stories. But the development of many of these was codified by him.

Finally we have Mordred, one of the archetypal villains of the Matter of Britain. Though with a name like Mordred what do you expect?

Mordred is a more explicitly villainous character than Conanus, and I’d say they are the one of the most famous versions of the Evil Prince archetype, certainly the most famous from the Matter of Britain. However in the earliest versions he is not Arthur’s son, sired through incest, but merely Arthur’s nephew, being one of the most prominent Evil Nephews (fun fact, I’m actually the guy who started that TV Tropes page) in popular culture. Though in the later versions he is still Arthur’s nephew…

Born of incest, a bastard in more ways than one.

Mordred is described as the son of King Loth and apparently Gawain is his brother. The text, or mayhaps just the translation I’m using, describes in Part 7:9 that Loth “in the days of Aurelius Ambrosius had married that King’s own sister and had had two sons by her, Gawain and Mordred”. So was that Aurelius’ sister or Arthur’s sister, considering that Aurelius was Uther’s brother and died before Arthur was born? But nephew/cousin are more fluid terms in the Middle Ages so he might have been classed as Arthur’s nephew. Or mayhaps I’m misreading the text. Fun fact, if Mordred is Loth’s son, that apparently makes him part-Norwegian, as Loth was the nephew of Sichelm the King of Norway, who leaves the Kingdom to Loth.

I have to admit that is a good Coat of Arms.

While Arthur is beating Lucius, the Emperor of Rome, Mordred is left in charge of Britain. However just after the long military details and orientalist stereotypes being pushed into Romans (though admittedly to the Britons the Romans would be Easterners) Arthur hears “that his nephew Mordred, in whose care he had left Britain, had placed the crown upon his own head.”

Arthur of course goes straight back to defeat his treacherous nephew but is mortally wounded in killing Evil Stephen… Mordred.


And so the dreams of a British King being Roman Emperor die. The big successful moment of the greatest British King has to be set aside due to this analogue of Stephen. Geoffrey veers away from saying Arthur dies, he goes off to Avalon and you know the rest. I presume Mordred goes somewhere very cold…

“Not him who, at one blow, had chest and shadow
shattered by Arthur’s hand…”

Just like with Belinus and Brennius and Cassibelanus we see that a unified Britain can beat anyone, even Rome. But divisions… that is when the Kingdom suffers. Arthur has like previous Kings of Britain beaten Rome yet his nephew’s treachery has undone his work.

After that… well I get the feeling after Arthur the rest of the King seem rather anti-climatic, as Geoffrey just seems to rush through them.

Arthur’s ‘cousin’ Constantine III (Uther’s father was Constantine II), son of Cador and Duke of Cornwall, succeeds him. Apparently Cador is Arthur’s half-brother, born from Duke Gorlois of Corwall and Igraine who Uther conceived Arthur with. But Mordred’s two sons (you don’t see them mentioned much do you?) continue to cause him trouble and after killing them he only rules another four years. Now we get onto one of my fave minor villains in the Matter of Britain.

“Constantine’s nephew[1] succeeded him, a young man of extraordinary bravery called Aurelius Conanus. He ruled over the whole island and would indeed have been worthy of such a crown if he had not taken such delight in civil war. He gained the kingship only by attacking his own uncle (who ought to have reigned after Constantine), throwing him into prison and killing his two sons. Aurelius Conanus died in the third year of his reign.

Vortiporius came after Conanus…”[2]

That’s it for Conanus. First of, another villainous nephew called Conanus? Secondly, why hasn’t this been expanded? I thought as I saw there was no prominent work depicting Conanus that I’d have to write my own, which is on the numerous side-projects I have.

A reminder that these Post-Arthur Kings were first mentioned by Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain), written in the 6th century. He refers to “Constantine the tyrannical whelp of the unclean lioness of Damnonia” and “thou lion’s whelp Aurelius Conanus”. Constantine appears to have been King of Dumnonia, which is basically Cornwall. Conanus may be Cynan Garwyn, King of Powys (in Wales) or his relative Cynin ap Millo. Geoffrey making Conanus nephew of the King he kills shows how he could be playing with the history he has to push his Anarchy themes. Doing so even invokes the fate of Arthur, Constantine coming across as a poor replacement to Arthur who also faces the treachery of a usurping nephew.

This dark Post-Arthur era is shown in the Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin), composed about 1150. Here the themes of civil disturbance are much stronger, with the impression of a drawn out war which is ruining the country. We hear “Constantine has died and his nephew Conan, through an evil fate and the murder of his uncle, has taken the crown and is king.”

Merlin goes on to recount “The nephews of the Boar of Cornwall cast everything into confusion, and setting snares for each other engage in a mutual slaughter with their wicked swords.  They do not wish to wait to get possession of the kingdom lawfully, but seize the crown.” An idea of an Anarchy taking over this historical Britain is here also, with conflict between the various powerful figures, much like Stephen and Matilda.

The whole chain of events brought about since the death of the Good King, Arthur who is represented in a nostalgic manner, reminiscent of how Henry I may have been viewed.

“After it the king, mortally wounded, left his kingdom and, sailing across the water with you as you have related, came to the court of the maidens.  Each of the two sons of Modred, desiring to conquer the kingdom for himself, began to wage war and each in turn slew those who were near of kin to him.  Then Duke Constantine, nephew of the king, rose up fiercely against them and ravaged the people and the cities, and after having killed both of them by a cruel death ruled over the people and assumed the crown.  But he did not continue in peace since Conan his relative waged dire war on him and ravaged everything and killed the king and seized for himself those lands which he now governs weakly and without a plan.”

Though Constantine was criticized by Geoffrey for murdering Mordred’s sons in holy places, now the general warfare is further emphasized. Meanwhile Conan has gone from being a brave and worthy character to a weak ruler without a plan.

Theresa May Hosts The Polish Prime Minister

As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states on the Anarchy:

“When the traitors saw that Stephen was a good-humoured, kindly, and easy-going man who inflicted no punishment, then they committed all manner of horrible crimes…For every great man built him castles and held them against the king; and they filled the whole land with these castles. They sorely burdened the unhappy people of the country with forced labour on the castles; and when the castles were built, they filled them up with devils and wicked men. By night and by day they seized those whom they believed to have any wealth, whether they were men or women; and in order to get their gold and silver, they put them into prison and tortured them with unspeakable tortures.”

Of course Stephen did not act directly against their uncle, unlike both the Conanus’ and Mordred. His seizure of the throne happened after Henry’s death. But it is easy to see the treacherous nephews as some dig at Stephen, who has opened the door to civil strife.

Though Stephen is certainly not as villainous as this power-hungry villain who has opened the door to civil strife in Britain

Geoffrey’s later expansion of the Post-Arthur years of Britain is more cynical in tone, emphasizing the disturbed state of the Kingdom. Since the Anarchy the land is in turmoil, there isn’t a strong ruler in place, and things are generally going downhill.

So overall I think Geoffrey’s work is a commentary on the Anarchy. It is hard to tell his exact views but you can see how he may have been influenced. Thankfully things worked out more like Conanus Meridiadocus than Aurelius Conanus. But it shows how Geoffrey’s work may be considered a contemporary view on the Anarchy, demonstrating how it is effecting the literature. The terror of the time comes through in Geoffrey’s writing, a feeling that the country is falling apart due to this disputed rulership. The disputes over women ruling and the frequency of scheming nephews pushes this across. A united Britain is wonderful as Geoffrey frequently shows their achievements, but divisions over rule destroy this order.

[1] Though in Spenser’s account Conan is the son of Arthur’s other half-brother Artegal and the Lady Knight Britomart.
[2] Geoffrey doesn’t mention their relationship but in Holinshed’s work Vortiporus is Conan’s son and the King after this, Malgo, is Conan’s nephew.

My experiences on assisting with The High Spider

As the New Year approaches time to talk about one of the most delightful experiences I had this year.

Some time ago the eminent Steven Attewell decided to follow me on Twitter. I cannot remember the exact date but I think it may have been September 8th. I was delighted that someone I so admire had decided to follow me, and had more delight in store when Attewell asked me to look over a piece he had been writing, on the Life of the High Spider. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here.

It was a most excellent experience. I saw a chance to flex my worldbuilding and family tree construction. I love worldbuilding, and amassing family trees, and battles and so on, and the World of Ice and Fire is an ideal place for this.

Of course I would not presume to say I co-wrote it or anything of that sort, I would say I contributed to it. The story was already there, being quite similar to the finished product, I added in a bit more.

A relatively minor part was me adding a bit more on Lewys’ mother, giving this Peake the name Fuchsia (the ideal name for a Peake Lady). The original version mentioned her quite briefly, which I felt sounded a bit Dead Lady’s Club. Now this is not a criticism of Attewell, for all I know he intended to rectify this, I just got there first. Looking back at some of the stuff I have written I have engaged in Dead Lady’s Club a lot and really need to rectify that in my own worldbuilding. It just shows how easy it is to do this in this sort of genre. Anyway I put in Fuchsia, and mentioned who she married after the scandal.

My ideas also included expanding on the Manderlys. I planned for an asexual Lord Manderly. Originally I called him William Manderly, but Attewell decided on the name Alton “The Brown” Manderly. There were numerous reasons for this. If Lewys had the Peakes with him then it seemed natural that in a coalition against him the Manderlys would be involved. And I’m a Manderly fanboy anyway (Fatus Andronicus is such a great lesser character and I am not pleased at how badly the show did him. Then again you can say that for much of the Northern storyline considering what they did to my fave character and the One True King, poor Stannis…).

And being an Ace guy myself I would like more such characters in the media. Bojack Horseman is pretty good at this representation. Other shows? Not so much. In ASOIAF Aerys I seems to have been asexual (admittedly he’s probably what I’d be like as a King) and the Blackfish… might be. I sort of hope he is, he’s a badass old guy with some flaws but still fairly likable. Alton Manderly is a guy who somehow is able to make his non-conforming to his culture work despite being expected to sire heirs, helped by the presence of his brother. I imagine Madeira Redwyne would be the de facto Lady of Dustonbury after her marriage.2000px-Asexual_flag.svg

You can even see some of Wyman in his distant relative. Alton Manderly is like a combination of Aerys I Targaryen and Wyman Manderly. He has the outward appearance of Aerys but inwardly is more like Wyman.

I think Alton Manderly makes a suitable foil to the High Spider. While the High Spider is in a position supposed to be celibate but has affairs, siring children, Lord Alton Manderly is in a position where he would be expected to have such relations but doesn’t, using his siblings to make the marriage alliances instead.

I had some fun working on the Drylands. All we really know of them is that there was a Lucifer Dryland, Lord of Hellgate Hall and King of the Brimstone, the last of the line as he was sent to the Wall by Nymeria. So the Drylands have Hell connections… I therefore came up with the idea of a Lord Apollyon Dryland (the name of a prominent Demon), and by my inspiration in the eventual work they have vassal Houses Malebranch and Acheron, and around their land is a place called Rottenpockets (yeh I’m a fan of the Divine Comedy). Also there’s an insane architect Septon Mulciber, formerly of House Dryland, the name taken from Pandaemonium’s architect in Paradise Lost. I love putting in such references to poems that I love. There is a suitability here considering one of the main themes of Dante’s work is the corruption of the Church.the-inferno-canto-19.jpgHalfHD

Attewell even took some of my ideas of Dorne’s enemies claiming they worship strange versions of the Seven, such as the Vulture instead of the Stranger who they sacrifice children to. At some point I would like to expand on the idea of the Dornish Seven, which were inspired by the bizarre Medieval ideas on Islam involving the worship of Idols, sometimes an Unholy Trinity of Apollyon/Apollo, Mahomet/Mahound, and Termagant, even though a smattering of knowledge on Islam should tell you this is basically the exact opposite of Islam. Of course this is a Medieval-esque setting so these sorts of misconceptions and accusations will be thrown by the Westerosi against their enemy realms. I imagine the Reach producing Song of Roland and Bevis of Hampton-esque poems of children being kidnapped to be sacrificed to Dornish Gods and usual Medieval poetry stuff. Of course Attewell filled in other details in his brilliant way, apparently the Rhoyne stands in for the Mother and the Father has a tortoise instead of the scales of justice. I’m sure he could do this better than me, but I’m glad to have planted the seeds that he nurtures into a tree.

I cannot help but be reminded of Vulture-Headed Tash of The Chronicles of Narnia, though Calormene is heavily inspired by these Orientalism ideas. It can be quite awkward to read. Though I think the claim of Benedict Blackmont (another King Nymeria sent to the Wall) worshiping a dark god who gave him the power to turn into a vulture was an inspiration. GRRM leaves gaps in the worldbuilding, which eager worldbuilders like Attewell and me do fill in.

I personally love worldbuilding. I may not have inclinations to create physically but I enjoy creating with my mind. As I mentioned earlier I have a piece which I am working on. A long elaborate family tree covering a long line of Kings, and am expanding on a succession struggle and the events around it, along with events in that continent’s equivalent of the Holy Roman Empire, the land bordering said Kingdom. Started out as Doctor Who Fanfic… and grew in the telling.

Of course changes had to be made. Regarding Lewys’ siblings on his mother’s side I had something more extensive planned, but that was combed out, though an element of tragedy was kept in there.

Ultimately I think Attewell really improved on my suggestions. I am honored, and even privileged that he took notice of me and let me help his work.

The only writing I had out previously was Doctor Who Fanfiction. Helping with something from a highly-respected member of a fandom I belong too, and generally one of the most knowledgeable people I know of, is such a joy to me.

Attewell intends to put the three parts together at some point and iron out some errors and so-on. I look forward to seeing the finished version of A Commentary on The True Life of the High Spider.

I remember talking to one of my University friends recently, who suitably enough has the same name as the city where one of my favorite poets came from, and she mentioned reading The High Spider and liking it. This was such a gratifying thing for me, knowing I had put my work into something others read and loved. It does please me to know of all those reading it, reading something I did contribute to. Of course Attewell did basically all of it and could have finished it without me, but I put in ideas and so on, and saved him some effort. At times I feel worried that my writing, which I oft do, is stupid and poorly-written. Knowing that someone appreciated my ideas enough to put in their work does help to lift away some of the significant sadness that I do feel most days.

If Attewell has any more ideas for pieces of worldbuilding then I would be delighted to assist. As a character in a verse play I am writing says “Impregnate my mind with inspiring seed!”

Well, Happy New Year as it comes up.

Thoughts on 19 Years Later

19 years later. 1st September 2017.

I read this in 22nd July 2007 and felt satisfied.

I watched it on July 17th 2011, and felt less satisfied.

I looked at them again on 1st September 2017 and felt… mixed in thoughts.

This piece might seem rambling. I am the sort who can write a Brexit play and turn it into discussing Byzantine history, such is my mind. Obviously I cannot write on par with Steven Attewell and his ilk, but I will put my thoughts down.

I may have had my problems with the Harry Potter books but I loved them. I must have started them in 2001, my mother reading them too me.

The first book came out in 26th June 1997. It begins with



Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

And by the end

“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

The words have become so well known of this book.

That line “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Such words did open the door to fantasy.

I loved those books, soon getting through the next three, though I can’t remember the years I did. However I remember getting the last three as soon as they came out.

I remember finishing The Deathly Hallows the evening after it came out, difficult as my brother was trying to read it as well. My cousin Matty finished it just before me but it did not take me more then a few hours to finish.

Looking back the Harry Potter books have flaws. Claire from The Fandomentals ( is doing a reread of them and… alas, there are a lot of flaws in the books. Dumbledore suddenly comes across as unnecessarily Machiavellian, not really caring about his pupils enough. Albus Severus Potter… Again, Dumbledore is too Machiavelian. And Severus Snape was… complex, but I’m not sure he deserves to be called the bravest man Harry ever knew.

There does seem an internalized misogyny in the depiction of some females. You start seeing the flaws in the Wizarding World further, the world-building having significant problems.

19 years later can feel too easy. Rowling released more information about the reforms that were performed at the Ministry. But we didn’t get that sense, there was just an All was well. Apparently all the good stuff happened offscreen. Apparently Kingsley Shacklebolt just Fortinbras’s into power and we hear that things will be fine. But if you’re going to end later then we should get some sense of this.

In some ways Lord of the Rings can be considered to have ended better. It is a brilliant Unbuilt Trope of the Fantasy genre. Even after Sauron falls there is still the Scouring of the Shire to do, and the main hero is left broken by his experience.

“I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.”

And finally the last line.

“He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

I saw at the Scoop today an adaptation of The Odyssey, as the hero earns his happy ending and even has to perform a Scouring of Ithaca.

That doesn’t come across in Harry Potter. The ending feels too easy, too neat.

I sound so critical of the books and it does pain me because I still love them. I’m not saying they are terrible but that they are flawed.

Ultimately they are still beloved books. They are the books I grew up on, from 6-12. They are the books that helped to foster my interest in fantasy. Well, that and The Hobbit, which has mainly got better as I got older.

I keep deviating but Harry Potter has proved such a part of my childhood. It was the fandom for me, and my family, and extended family. In a way we grew up with the characters. They felt so real to us, with thoughts and feelings. The feeling of anticipation I have had for those books was such a big thing to me, which has only recently come back as I wait for The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. I remember watching The Shakespeare Code and delighting at the mentions of Harry Potter, and David 10nant mentioning he cried when he read the last one. Though apparently Martha is from 2008… so did the book come out a year later in the Whoniverse? Or was the Doctor just mixing up his dates?

Obviously I’ve changed since then. I’ve entered the cynical stage (it’s even the name of this wordpress), though have slightly lessened and increased in optimism due to analysis of ASOIAF. Yet I feel old and cynical. I am much given to brooding and sitting in melancholy poses, like some aristocrat of fluid speech, feeling that I cannot have things go well, and that I am lonely. (And people wonder why I like Stannis.) It could be I find straightforward happy endings hard to accept. It could be my lack of romantic inclinations. The forge is there, but the fire is cold, such is my type of asexuality. While others nourished themselves on the idealism of Disney, my mind fed on the mean nature of myths, growing on a diet of monstrous Gods and jerkass heroes. I delved into Dante, and over time transformed the former idealistic me into the being that now exists, in a transformation like that of something from Ovid.

It could be that being away from University and not seeing my close friends for so long is making me miserable. I so miss them, especially such close friends as I have not seen for months.

Or it could be that I overreact, being overtly pessimistic and preferring to think of myself as some over-the-top figure who broods a lot and moans in pseudo-verse.

But… despite all this I look back with some fondness to that exciting day of getting through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Of course it’s not as good as I thought when I first read it, a decade ago. But I still enjoy it.

And I suppose a happy ending is the most that can be hoped for.

Like The Odyssey ultimately it ends with happiness, and with the family. A sad story with a happy ending… that is something I do enjoy.

All isn’t well. Brexit is still grinding on my ears like an odious fly. I still boil with anger at watching the demagogues dance. Trump is still spreading his Malebolgian filth across the world. The economy is in a state of ruination. And many of my friends have moved away leaving me more melancholy.

But isn’t that what we do with fantasy? We try and find a place to escape from the horrors of real life, a safe refuge. After all “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

And from Dumbledore (flawed Professor that he is) “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

All may not be well, but I still have my books to enjoy. I still have a whole range of things to enjoy. I haven’t even seen The Cursed Child yet. It might be once I am back at University I will ascend somewhat from the melancholy that I am currently immersing myself in.

Dante may have written of an Inferno, but from there he went through the Purgatorio, and there is a Paradiso as well. I shouldn’t mire myself in misery but find time to enjoy a spark of idealism, and hope that sometimes things can turn out well.

I went to King’s Cross today. My British Museum volunteer work took up much of the day. As 11 dawned there was bitter irony, I was not far from King’s Cross but writing up correspondence. It’s work I like, but I felt a yearning to be there.

But I was there between 4 and 5, before I went to the Scoop, and I felt excitement, the sort I had not felt for Harry Potter in some years. Again I will keep on loving those books and nourishing my mind on them. Go to Platform 9 3/4, enter the TARDIS, go through the Wardrobe, go out the Door of Bag End, something in Discworld and ASOIAF… Fantasy… well, I’d let GRRM talk about it. (

“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.”

Malebolge and my usage of it

I use the term Malebolgian a bit, thus I will go into detail on it. This is a lengthy post but congrats if u get to the end, as I know it may bore some people. I originally posted it on Facebook on 13th August.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, one of the greatest poems ever written and the first poem to be written in vernacular Italian, discussing the Tuscan dialect, there are Nine Circles in Hell. The eighth and ninth circles comprise fraud, 8 being for usual fraud and 9 being for treachery, a more vile type of fraud as the victim had more reason to trust the deceiver.

The name of the Eighth Circle is Malebolge.
Canto 18 begins “There is a place in Hell called Malebolge…”

It is Italian for Evil Ditches, being a cavern divided into ten ditches, each trench being called a bolgia, Italian for Ditch or Pouch or Pocket (hence the world bulge). I’ll put the ditches at the end to avoid boring u. I can’t remember where I read this, but connecting fraud to pouches may give connotations to greed and corruption, especially as in Canto 17 Dante also encounters Usurers (the Violent against Art) in a Plain of Burning Sand, with pouches round their necks. And Nicholas III mentions on his simony
“that wealth
Above, and here myself, I pocketed.”

Dante regarded fraudulent crimes as worse then the Incontinence and Violence of the other circles, as fraud was an intellectual crime, something which only man, with reason, could commit.

“But because fraud is man’s peculiar vice,
More it displeases God; and so stand lowest
The fraudulent, and greater dole assails them.”

Fraud can be more dangerous then the Incontinence of Upper Hell, and the Violence just above Fraud. With fraud you draw other people into this. Hence the likes of Trump have practiced their huge fraud, and inspired other people into this mass of misery. We saw that only recently with the Unite the Right rally, by the horrible David Duke, and his foul ilk.

Dante uses filth as a metaphor for fraud. At the edge of the 7th Circle, for Violence, the monster Geryon appears. Dante’s guide Virgil remarks on them, beginning Canto 17 with:
“LO! the fell monster with the deadly sting!
Who passes mountains, breaks through fenced walls
And firm embattled spears, and with his filth
Taints all the world!”

Geryon is described
“The face was as the face of a just man,
Its semblance outwardly was so benign,
And of a serpent all the trunk beside.”

A different translation:
“His face the semblance of a just man’s wore,
So kind and gracious was its outward cheer;
The rest was serpent all”
This inspired Clegg’s aside on Boris in The Tragedy of Brexit:
(Aside) His face has semblance of a jesting man
With outward cheer, the rest is serpent all!

Geryon has the face of an honest man, a reptilian body with hairy paws and a colorful hide, and has a scorpion’s tale, thus representing fraudulent contracts. The face looks nice, the colors of the hide confuse you, and it ends in a sting.

If this seems to contradict the “serpent all” part apparently scorpions were considered similar forms of life to serpents in the Middle Ages. Or it could be deliberate deception, as in the second half of the Inferno, in the sections for fraud, there are hints the text itself is beginning to become fraudulent.

Dante and Virgil have to ride the winged monster down the cliff into the den of fraud, and the second part begins (the Inferno is 34 cantos long).

Dante Alighieri (1265-1326) wrote during a turbulent time in Europe, in a world steeped in corruption, hence why he describes the filth of fraud going all over the world. He had been exiled from Florence in 1302 due to the Black Guelphs (Dante’s family were White Guelphs) taking over the city while Dante was away in Rome. The Black Guelphs were allied with Boniface VIII, an enormously corrupt and power-hungry Pope who Dante despised. Though he wrote the Inferno after Boniface’s death in 1303, it was set in 1300. Hence in the ditch for Simoniacs Boniface’s damnation among other corrupt members of the clergy is predicted. Dante therefore writes against this corruption and fraudulence that has taken over Church and State, hoping for a better world. He believed in separation of Church and State, that there should be a central authority for secular power, with the Holy Roman Emperor caring for people in this world with laws, and that the Pope needed to keep to spiritual affairs, caring for people’s souls for the next world.

And in a way I agree with Dante. The world is full of fraud. We are expected to eat this Malebolgian filth and praise the taste. (I did get that line from ADWD but it is brilliant “And yet so long as they held Wylis I had no choice but to eat all this excrement and praise the taste.”) Demagogues slither out, spewing forth this load of shit. Lie breeds lie, and hence the world is now in this mess. I should not really send my anger at the voters for this. I think that many of them were deceived by those who made wonderful-sounding promises of a better society… but ultimately had agendas not for the advantage of the many but the few. Fraud may even have been practiced on the side I support. And thus by sinking to their level we are all dragged down into the filth of Malebolge as it starts to choke the world.

Of course I still find it bizzare that someone would vote for such an overt Malebolgian Mouth as Trump.

So when I refer to Malebolge’s filth I mean fraud. You need to be harsh, like Dante, to get the point across of how terrible this deception practised throughout society is, as politicians pursue their own agendas and trick us into the filth.
I reference it a few times in my play. I think using Dante’s work for criticizing politicians is really getting into the spirit of his work.

(Aside) Know I that Murdoch is indeed a fraud
Dante in Malebolge would thus place him.

Later Boris puns with these lines.

With lies may cheeks of Sun and Mail bulge
But who cares as long as they are believed?

And as the Reader says when talking on satire:
Dante did write on Pope Boniface 8
Who banished him from his city Florence
Showing him destined for Circle 8 tubes!

Also the damned are judged by Minos, who shows which circle they go too by wrapping his tail around himself.
Hence my rhyme “And when Farage died, in Hell they say
That Minos’ tail curled eight times that day.”
Same for Boris but nine times.

Of course Dante still contains some awkward parts. The treatment of suicides, homosexuals, the Islamaphobia and anti-semitic connotations of some parts are difficult to read. But Dante was a 14th-century guy so I suppose I have to accept that by our standards there will be problems. And even if you don’t believe in this sort of stuff you can still respect a great work of literature and someone who was striving against a mass of corruption. There will always be a need for people like Dante, to show the likes of Boniface, the truth-murdering Murdoch, and Trump where they can stick their filthy frauds. Sun, Mail and Express, down u go.

Anyway here are the Bolgias if you’re interested. I like imagining various politicians down there. Where would all of those people around the Monarch of Malebolge Trump go?

Bolgia 1: Panderers and Seducers are flogged by demons to march in opposite directions, as they led others on. Though I’m sure it won’t be the first whip many of the Pimps have seen.

Bolgia 2: Flatterers are immersed in a river of excrement, because that’s what all their flatteries are. It seems that some of the White House Staff are heading there.

Bolgia 3: Simoniacs, in a parody of baptism where water is poured over the head, are upset down in tubes resembling baptismal fonts with their feet on fire, the height depending on their level of simony. The simoniac Pope Nicholas III predicts the damnation of Boniface VIII and then Clement V. It also hearkens to the first Pope St Peter, crucified upset down.

Bolgia 4: Sorcerers and False Prophets, those who attempted to divine the future, have their heads twisted round and have to walk backwards while blinded by their tears, representing the twisted nature of magic, and how they cannot see what was before them for attempting to do so earlier.

Bolgia 5: A light-hearted piece where Barrators (corrupt politicians) are hidden in sticky boiling pitch and tar, invoking their sticky fingers and deals hidden from sight. 13 demons the Malebrache (Evil Claws), armed with hooks and barbs, go after those who try to escape the pitch, making it the only place in Hell with the pitchfork demons. The Malebranche are fraudulent themselves, offering safe conduct, but not telling the travellers there is no bridge over the Sixth Bolgia. The demons are comical:
“Along the left-hand dike they wheeled about;
But first had each one thrust his tongue between
His teeth towards their leader for a signal;
And he had made a trumpet of his rump.”

The 12 named have humorous names. Alichino (derived from Arlecchino, the harlequin), Barbariccia (“Curly Beard”), Cagnazzo (“Nasty Dog”), Calcabrina (possibly “Grace Stomper”), Ciriatto (“Wild Hog”), Draghignazzo (“Big Nasty Dragon”), Farfarello (“Butterfly”), Graffiacane (“Dog Scratcher”), Libicocco (possibly “Libyan Hothead”), Malacoda, the leader (“Evil Tail”), Rubicante (possibly “Red-faced Terror”), Scarmiglione (possibly “Trouble Maker”). The names may be distorted versions of officials known to Dante, Barbariccia may suggest the Ricci family of Florence, or the Barbarasi of Cremona.
And the demons are made fools of, two demons getting into a fight and falling into the pitch. Dante and Virgil slide down into the next Bolgia and escaping them.

Bolgia 6: Hypocrites have to walk about wearing Monk’s habits gold on the outside but leaden inside. They tread on the crucified Caiaphas and others who said it was fine to crucify Jesus.

Bolgia 7: Thieves are bitten by snakes and reptiles and transformed into them, just as they stole in life they have their own forms stolen. They then try to steal other people’s forms.

Bolgia 8: The Counselors of Fraud and Evil, as in those who advised others to commit fraud, are hidden from sight in flames. Guido da Montefeltro appears here, he joined the Friars in penance for his crimes, but Boniface encouraged him to give advice on how to trap his enemies, absolving them beforehand. But as absolution requires repentance and you can’t be repentant for something you intend to do… Guido is now being burnt in Malebolge.

Bolgia 9: Sowers of schism and scandal are slashed apart by a demon as they caused division, and as they walk round their wounds are healed… in time for them to be cut up again. They are divided between religious schism and discord, civil strife and political discord (so demagogues I presume), and family disunion, or discord between kinsmen. It does vary depending on their division, Bertrand de Born, who caused division between Henry II and his son Henry has his head cut off as this is like division between father and son, or head of state. Oddly enough Cleon isn’t mentioned here. However it is only 22 miles across so I suppose it would be too small now to contain all the rabble-rousers of today, the likes of Trump and Farage.

Bolgia 10: Falsifiers, including Alchemists, Imposters, Counterfeiters, and Perjurers. As a disease on society, are afflicted with various diseases. For example Master Adam of Brescia, a forger, has dropsy giving him a swollen stomach and cannot move.

Beginning with the sexual act being sold by the pimps, showing corruption in Church and state, and finally showing money being corrupted Dante shows how fraud runs all through society.

And then it’s the Ninth Circle, for treachery, where in the frozen lake of Cocytus traitors are immersed in ice, bringing an interesting view to the term when Hell freezes over. Boris and Gove, you are going somewhere very cold.