Saturday, 15 June 2013
On the bonny, bonny banks ...
Take his battles. A list of twelve victories won by Arthur in his capacity of dux bellorum - 'duke of battles' - was included in the Historia Brittonum or 'History of the Britons' (see right), compiled in about 829, possibly by a monk called Nennius.
Battles 2, 3, 4 and 5 were fought on a river 'which is called Dubglas ['dark-grey'] and is in the region of Linnuis'.
This 'region of Linnuis', it is usually assumed, relates to Lindum. The 2nd-century Roman geographer, Claudius Ptolemaeus, identified two places in Britain as Lindum. One was Lincoln, the other by Loch Lomond, in the Scottish district of Lennox.
Now, I once had a thoroughly ridiculous discussion with an Arthurian 'scholar' about Linnuis. He insisted that only the Lincoln Lindum could have been known as Linnuis. I asked him why the Lindum by Loch Lomond could not have been known as Linnuis. But apparently, only Lincoln could have been the Linnuis where Arthur fought his battles.
I then pointed out that Loch Lomond has got a very big, triple-peaked mountain called Ben Arthur. And that there are four waters in the Lennox area that are called Douglas (from dub-glas). And that there are records of four historical battles fought in the region during the lifetime of Artuir mac Aedain, the first 'Arthur' to appear in the records. And that these battles involved historical figures who accompanied Arthur into the legends (two of these - Lleenog of Lennox and his son, Gwallog the Battle-Horseman - became the 'Lancelot of the Lake' and his son, 'Sir Galahad', of the later romances).
Oh, and I also pointed out that Geoffrey of Monmouth knew that Arthur had fought battles at Dumbarton and around Loch Lomond, since he said as much in his History of the Kings of Britain (c 1137) and the Life of Merlin (c 1150).
So what has Lincoln got that Lennox hasn't, I wondered.
'The right name, for a start', said my pig-headed interlocutor.
Writing about Arthur's battles again, something struck me. The most dominant geographical feature in Lennox is Loch Lomond - the biggest lake in Britain. The Welsh word for a 'lake' is llyn.
Hmmnn ... Could llyn actually have been the first part of Linnuis? If so, what might the rest of Linnuis have meant? The most obvious answer is that it came from gwys - a 'summons'.
I then consulted W.J. Watson's wonderful book, The Celtic Placenames of Scotland. Watson himself quoted Nennius:
'De magno lacu Lummonu, qui Anglice vocatur Lochleuen in regione Pictorum.' - 'Of the great lake Lummonu, which is called in English Loch Leven, in the region of the Picts.'
Watson states that 'lake Lummonu' would be Llyn Llumonwy in modern Welsh, from llumon, a 'chimney' or 'beacon'. He then points to a bit of genuine Arthurian literature, the old tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, in which 'Kai and Bedwyr sat on a beacon cairn on the summit of Plynlymon.'
So - Loch Lomond was, once-upon-a-time, the 'Lake of the Signal-Beacon', with Lomond in fact coming from the Welsh llumon, a 'beacon' (compare lluman - a 'banner' or 'flag').
An alternative form of that name would be Llynwys - the 'Lake of the Summons'.
Llynwys would be Latinised as Linnuis. Arguably, then, the 'region of Linnuis' was not named after Lindum at all. It was named after Loch Lomond, the great lake of the Beacon.
So what has Lincoln got that Lennox hasn't?
A totally spurious claim to Arthur, for a start.