La3amon's Brut and the Anglo-Norman Vision of History

Article excerpt

kenneth j. tiller, La3amon's Brut and the Anglo-Norman Vision of History. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7083-1902-4. $110.

This study examines La3amon's Brut in three ways: within insular historiographic tradition, through the lens of post-colonial theory, and as a case of translation conceived in the broadest possible terms, as chapter titles such as 'Translating the Text,' 'Translating the Land,' and 'Translating the People' suggest. Tiller argues that La3amon's account of the Britons' (in particular, Arthur's) resistance to foreign invasion constitutes a 'challenge to the historiographic paradigm used by Anglo- Norman historians in their attempts to legitimize the marginalization of the English-a paradigm that depended upon the appropriation and translation of English historical material' (202).

With its uncertain dating, its two late, distinctive manuscripts, and the issues posed by the archaic language of the manuscript most often favored (London, British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ix), La3amon's Brut can be difficult to characterize, much less interpret. Tiller's book is a welcome addition to current efforts to engage questions besides the textual ones that have (with good reason) tended to dominate Brut scholarship. Readers unfamiliar with the tradition will find helpful Tiller's introductory account of the reception history of the poem, as well as his lengthy review of the heritage of 'providential historiography' in England from Gildas and Bede to Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace. Later chapters on the Brut itself may prove less accessible: the argument is often advanced, with minimal context, by means of snippets of text, even single words. Tiller makes very strong and specific readings of these words. To take one instance, he finds 'images of sexual aggression' in line 24, which describes the poet consulting his sources: 'La3amon leide þeos boc and þa leaf wende.' Tiller says, 'Leide, a strong, if not indecent term, elsewhere in the Brut denotes rape,' and as evidence he offers its use in the episode of the rapist giant of Mont-Saint-Michel (106). …