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The History of the Kings of Britain

4.4 (2003)

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | The History of the Kings of Britain.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Geoffrey of Monmouth(Author),Michael A. Faletra(Editor)

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The History of the Kings of Britain is arguably the most influential text written in England in the Middle Ages. The work narrates a linear history of pre-Saxon Britain, from its founding by Trojan exiles to the loss of native British (Celtic) sovereignty in the face of Germanic invaders. Along the way, Geoffrey introduces readers to such familiar figures as King Lear, Cymbeline, Vortigern, the prophet Merlin, and a host of others. Most importantly, he provides the first birth-to-death account of the life of King Arthur. His focus on that king’s reign sparked the vogue for Arthurian romance throughout medieval Europe that has continued into the twenty-first century.

This new translation is the first in over forty years and the first to be based on the Bern manuscript, now considered the authoritative Latin text. It is accompanied by an introduction that highlights the significance of Geoffrey’s work in his own day and focuses in particular on the ambiguous status of the text between history and fiction. Appendices include historical sources, early responses to the History, and other medieval writings on King Arthur and Merlin.

The History of the Kings of Britain is arguably the most influential text written in England in the Middle Ages. The work narrates a linear history of pre-Saxon Britain, from its founding by Trojan exiles to the loss of native British (Celtic) sovereignty in the face of Germanic invaders. Along the way, Geoffrey introduces readers to such familiar figures as King Lear, Cymbeline, Vortigern, the prophet Merlin, and a host of others. Most importantly, he provides the first birth-to-death account of the life of King Arthur. His focus on that king’s reign sparked the vogue for Arthurian romance throughout medieval Europe that has continued into the twenty-first century. This new translation is the first in over forty years and the first to be based on the Bern manuscript, now considered the authoritative Latin text. It is accompanied by an introduction that highlights the significance of Geoffrey’s work in his own day and focuses in particular on the ambiguous status of the text between history and fiction. Appendices include historical sources, early responses to the History, and other medieval writings on King Arthur and Merlin.

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  • By PJ-S on May 12, 2011

    If you're looking for Thorpe's translation of the Historia Regum Britanniae to download to your Kindle, be warned: the Kindle version that Amazon lists under the main listing for the Penguin (Thorpe) edition is NOT the same. The version they use for Kindle is the 1842 translation by Thompson & Giles. That classic Amazon hoax is why I give only one star (the actual Thorpe I'd probably give 5 stars).This chicanery is a common practice with Amazon. They excuse themselves by listing the Kindle separately, and there you can find out the truth. But how many people, in a hurry to get something for a college class, say, quickly download the Kindle version of something only to find out that it's not what Amazon advertises? Plenty, is my guess.If you're looking for a specific new translation, be absolutely sure you click on the Kindle version link from the main print listing. If the price is cheap or free, you can bet that it's NOT the one you're looking for. Exercise caution whenever dealing with Amazon, especially with Kindle editions. Remember that they have exactly two interests in mind: market share and your money. Fortunately, it's easy enough to cancel a Kindle sale--if you do it right away.Once again, Amazon smiles all the way to the bank, inwardly muttering, "Suckers!"

  • By Ian M. Slater on June 24, 2013

    [Note to the Reader: just in case Amazon's software merges reviews of different translations: This is a review of the Penguin Classics "History of the Kings of Britain" by Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated by Lewis Thorpe, originally published in 1966 (with some minor bibliographic additions and corrections in the early 1970s).]Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain" (as it is usually called) was, during the Middle Ages, one of the most influential books yet written in Britain. It was perhaps exceeded in European importance only by the Venerable Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" -- and Geoffrey's "Historia Regum Britanniae" is presented as a companion to Bede, covering topics that Bede, a mere Anglo-Saxon interloper, never knew. It purports to give the "real" history of the islands, from the advent of Brutus the Trojan and his followers to the successors of Arthur.If one adds its numerous translations into vernacular languages (it was, of course, written in Latin -- only the English understood English) one can agree with the medievalist John Jay Parry that Geoffrey's book was simply one of the most influential of the Middle Ages, wherever written.From the mid-1960s until 2007, anyone looking for a modern English translation of Geoffrey's Latin text had only one first-rate option: Lewis Thorpe's spirited English version for Penguin Classics, which first appeared in 1966. (And which I read sometime in the late 1960s.) This was based mainly on a single "good" manuscript, as edited by Acton Griscom in 1929, with consultation of the two other modern editions of the Latin text then available, by E. Faral (also 1929; an attempt at a critical text based on several manuscripts), and by Jacob Hammer (a "Variant Version," 1951).In my opinion, Thorpe's translation, despite its restricted textual foundation, remains the best introduction to Geoffrey, and the "historical" Arthur he created; the introduction and notes assume no specialized knowledge on the part of the reader, and the translation itself is graceful, and divided in eight parts, which increase its intelligibility (instead of the traditional twelve-book format, with chapters of greatly varying lengths; marginal references to such divisions are included for ease of cross-reference.) Thorpe also includes a chronology ("Time Chart") and a good (amazing detail) index of characters and places, with details of events they are involved with.In the Middle Ages, it was, of course, especially popular in England (where it was several times translated, sometimes by way of a French translation), and notably in Wales: Parry counted at least three Welsh translations, preserved in at least fifty manuscripts. (See Parry's Introduction to "Brut Y Brenhinned," or 'chronicle of rulers,' an edition and translation of one of the several Welsh translations, published in 1937, and now available on-line from the Medieval Academy of America). Indeed, little as the Welsh and the English agreed on other things, they both borrowed "Brut," i.e. "Brutus," originally a nickname for the "Historia," as a generic term for a national chronicle.The book presents the British -- that is, strictly speaking, the Welsh and their ancestors -- as descendants of displaced Trojans, presenting itself as a sort of sequel to Virgil's "Aeneid," as well as "prequel" to Bede. Geoffrey claims to be translating an "Old British Book" (i.e., a book in Welsh, or, possibly Breton), a claim taken seriously into the early twentieth century, by which time it became reasonably clear that the supposed versions of the "old book" -- one of which had been dated to the seventh century! -- were in fact post-Geoffrey; although some of these Welsh translations did contain genuine old stories interpolated into Geoffrey's versions.Geoffrey also claimed to be translating a separate "Prophecies of Merlin," usually incorporated into the larger work -- this too is no longer taken seriously. (He also wrote a verse sequel, "The Life of Merlin," which has been translated into English at least three times. Reviews of a Kindle edition of J.J. Parry's translation -- as "Vita Merlini" -- complaining of format issues, are not encouraging.)King Arthur may already have been launched into European celebrity before the 1130s, when Geoffrey tied him down to a more-or-less recognizable time and place, and equipped him with the most up-to-date manners and customs of the early twelfth century, but it is to Geoffrey we owe the standard picture of Merlin as the adviser of kings, the stories of King Lear and of Cymbeline, and, perhaps, Old King Cole (or Coel) -- although not the nursery-rhyme that enshrines him."Historia Regum Britanniae" was a medieval equivalent of a best-seller, with at least 219 known surviving manuscripts of the Latin original, plus translations and paraphrases (as mentioned, into Welsh, French, and Middle English), in whole or in part, into most Western European languages (and rather quickly, by medieval standards). There was also at least one attempt to "dress up" its Latin style with classical and Biblical (Vulgate) tags. It was even turned it into Latin hexameters (which brought the story even closer to Virgil in form, if not quality).A good part of the vast Arthurian literature derives its "historical" structure from Geoffrey's book, directly, or, probably more often, indirectly. (See the opening line of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," for one convenient example: "After the siege and assault were ceased at Troy...") Malory did not include Geoffrey's main Merlin material, but he did include Arthur's "Roman War" (as Book V of the Caxton edition), which is a highlight of Geoffrey's version. (The "Historia" is largely structured around clashes between the Romans and the Britons, as rival "Trojan" nations.)Despite recurrent rejections of its historicity, in whole or in part, beginning with skepticism at its first appearance, it remained, right through the seventeenth century, an "authority" on Britain, from the settlement by Trojan exiles, through Roman invasions, to Arthur, and finally the Anglo-Saxon conquest; with intimations that the true Britons, that is, the Welsh, would regain sovereignty. The Welsh Tudors were particularly interested in it as a legitimating document.The other translation available was that by Sebastian Evans, published in Dent's "Temple Library" in 1904, and included in the original Everyman's Library series a few years later, in which it was reprinted through much of the twentieth century. Evans' slightly bowdlerized translation, into Elizabethan-sounding prose, was at least readable, if not a good reflection of Geoffrey's style. Alas, it was based on the the derivative "San-Marte" edition (ed. A. Schulz, 1854), based mainly on the earlier, uncritical, printed texts, with some variant readings and corrections. It was improved with some later editing, notably by Charles W. Dunn in 1963, but could not escape the faults of its origin.Since Thorpe's work, there have been two subsequent translations, both appearing in 2007, one of them, by Michael Faletra (Broadview Books), unfortunately, out-of-date almost as soon as printed. The other, part of an edition by Michael D. Reeve of the Latin text, was translated by Neil Wright, who, ironically, had edited the "provisional edition" used for Faletra's translation. I've been reading the Reeve/Wright version, with the object of reviewing it, and I like it very much; but as an edition it is anything by user-friendly, and probably downright intimidating to the novice. The introduction is given over almost entirely to problems in establishing the text, and takes for granted that the reader knows something about Geoffrey's life and times, and the significance of whether one or another of the book's various dedications to assorted 12th-century VIPs is original, interpolated, or added by another hand. Wright's translation compares well with Thorpe's in most passages, and having the Latin text at hand to see what is being translated is often enlightening.

  • By Alan U. Kennington on May 15, 2016

    I finished reading Geoffrey of Monmouth's The History of the Kings of Britain in November 2014, all except the 83-page "index raisonné". It's really a ripping yarn, and there's probably some truth in it. Most importantly, people in the centuries after this book did place some credibility in it. I recently read (in "Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot") that James I of England thought that he was descended from Brutus in accordance with the genealogy in Geoffrey's book.I thought there was not enough commentary at the beginning on just how much of the book had any historical veracity. The very early material about Aeneas and Brutus was obviously totally bogus, although an enormous amount of detail was provided. No doubt the old foundation legends were built upon, century after century, until they ended up in the hands of Geoffrey. I prefer books which give copious footnotes on the veracity or otherwise of ancient attempts at history. For example, the Penguin Pausanias guide books to ancient Greece (Volume 1 and Volume 2) give superb commentary paragraph by paragraph on the authenticity or otherwise of everything in those huge books.It was interesting to see the early origins of the story of King Lear, Cordelia, Regan and Goneril.It was interesting to see some early origins for the Merlin and Arthur stories.Some of the later material about the Angles and Saxons had some credibility. There's a lot of support from Gildas and Nennius and Bede, but they are extremely unreliable also. (Bede is, apparently, very reliable for the couple of hundred years before his time, but not for the earlier history, which he based on other sources.)

  • By Taliesin Silverbrow on February 23, 2013

    O.K. Once again a train wreck is about to happen and you are my dear are in it. The hardcover and the paperback while they share the same reviews are two completely different translators. The hardcover is the old Folio edition from Thorpe translating and the paperback is the new edition with the brand new translation. Very very different and one reason the reviews are so different. I think Amazon should hire people who actually read the books they sell. So look and look again that you are getting what you actually want...One more thing the reviewer who complained about this not 'being true' Well in it's essence it is true. Don't mistake the spirit of the law for the letter. You might never see Merlin and think he is just the janitor.


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