Sunday, February 14, 2010

AtF: Sins of Omission

"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'" --Mark Twain[1] There are ways to lie without actually lying. The most often used form is what is traditionally called a “sin of omission.” Folks like Bill Cooper have to use sins of omission a lot. It’s why the bizarre mish-mash of unattributed sources known as After the Flood exists in the form it does. And, yes, I’m making the move from saying that Bill Cooper is a bad historian to saying he’s an intentionally bad historian. There’s really no excuse for a lot of this. I mean, if he were just a bad historian he’d have gotten something right by accident at some point. It’s statistically impossible to miss the point so very many times. I suppose one could say, though, that his ability to think critically has simply been removed. Of course, that’s exactly the point. So before I begin drinking myself in to a stupor over After the Flood again,[2] it’s time to check back to an earlier point that I made in the very last After the Flood post, that it’s necessary to step back from engaging the arguments and instead engage the mindset. Luckily, the start of Chapter 4 of After the Flood proves a perfect point to do exactly that. It starts with the tale of a talk given by one W.M. Flinders Petrie.[3] We go to Bill Cooper for the blow-by-blow:
On Wednesday 7th November 1917, Flinders Petrie, a renowned archaeologist of the day, addressed the assembled members of the British Academy. He was to present a paper to them entitled Neglected British History, (1) in which he drew attention to the fact that a considerable body of historical documentary source-material was being overlooked if not willfully ignored by modern historians. He drew fleeting attention to the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth and then homed in on one particular record that shed much light upon Geoffrey's too-disparaged history. The ancient book to which he drew attention was known to him as the Tysilio Chronicle, which is listed today as Jesus College MS LXI and is lodged in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is written in medieval Welsh, and is, as its colophon reveals, (2) a translation that was commissioned by the same Walter of Oxford who commissioned Geoffrey of Monmouth to translate a certain very ancient British book into Latin. It is, in fact, a translation from early British into medieval Welsh of the same source-material used by Geoffrey, and is an answer to all those learned critics who have stated with such emphasis over the years that Geoffrey of Monmouth was lying when he claimed to have translated such a book.
Gah. That’s long. Sorry. Anyway, my initial reaction is to point out that Flinders Petrie was doing his thing almost a century ago and doesn’t know what’s what in modern history. But the fact is that being a historian isn’t quite like being a biologist. He did know what he was talking about and had access to much of the same material I’d use now in arguing this point. He also was not, as best I can tell, a kook. So what we need to do to deal with Cooper’s sudden inclusion of W.M. Flinders Petrie is to go and read the paper entitled “Neglected British History.” Thankfully, the internet allows us to do exactly that. It’s long, but quite interesting, as much for what it says as for what it doesn’t say. Let’s start at the beginning (it’s a very good place to start…):
By any one reading the best modern authorities on history, it would hardly be expected that the fullest account that we have of early British history is entirely ignored. While we may see a few, and contemptuous, references to Nennius or Gildas, the name of the so-called Tysilio’s Chronicle is never given, nor is any use made of its record. Yet it is of the highest value, for, as we shall see farther on, the internal evidence shows that it is based on British documents extending back to the first century.
Now this requires a little bit of historical perspective. See, there was a time when Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history held sway over all of Britain and, by extension, so did Nennius. The reason we don’t look at it that way anymore has to do with, of all things, Henry VIII and the formation of the Anglican Church. See, a Roman Catholic priest named Polydore Vergil wrote a book called Anglica Historia on the heels of Henry VIII’s arguments with the Pope entirely because Henry was Welsh and by discrediting the Welsh history, the priest could discredit Henry VIII. So powerful were the arguments that the British replaced the previously preferred historical accounts with Vergil’s in 1582.[4] Don’t believe me? Yeah, that’s for the best. And I think I’ll stop wandering around the point now. Petrie’s goal in writing “Neglected British History” was not the same as Bill Cooper’s goal in writing After the Flood. He wanted to point out that there were surviving British accounts of the Roman invasion and that, as such, the old manuscripts couldn’t be completely discarded. He also wanted to make the point that the Tysilio was the same book mentioned by one Walter the Archdeacon, who is said to have taken that same book to Geoffrey of Monmouth. This is a fine point. And it’s exactly the point that Cooper is trying to use to his own advantage in beginning the chapter with Petrie’s paper. Geoffrey of Monmouth claims to get his account from Walter. Walter claimed to get his account from a much older book. This connects to the Tysilio Chronicles and gives Geoffrey a bit of antiquity beyond just copying Nennius or pulling from what Latin sources could be found. Now, what Petrie points out often and well is that there are things in Tysilio that can’t be found anywhere else. He seems to be a little too willing to gloss over the places where Tysilio is factually wrong by pointing out it could have been the incorporation of a legend or simply a place where the Britons didn’t understand Caesar’s larger strategy. On that I’ll give a pass, since it’s not what I’m here to discuss tonight. Then again, I’ve kind of lost track of that. This is one of the more confusing entries I’ve done. Okay, let’s go back to Petrie’s original claim. In his mind Tysilio simply proved that there were written British chronicles “back to the first century.” And it really would have been nice if he’d made the distinction between B.C.E. and C.E. right there. Because that would make a pretty hefty difference. And Petrie seemed to get some facts wrong, anyway. Or, I suppose, he simply didn’t know things that we know now. To wit:
For at the end of the Welsh Tysilio is the colophon, ‘I Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, translated this book from the Welsh into Latin, and in my old age have again translated it from the Latin into Welsh.’ That such a work did exist long before Walter is guaranteed by the ‘Brut y Brenhined, written in Brittany in the Breton dialect in the time of Athelstan (925 - 941) by an insular Briton. . . . All the main points of the story, the bringing over Maximus from Rome . . . down to the fable of the 11,000 virgins, all these are to be found in the Brut y Brenhined’. Thus writes Dr. Hodgkin, quoting from the Biographie Bretonne (R.C.P.S. 1910, p. 12). There is no reason whatever, therefore, to doubt Walter’s statement that he brought the book out of Brittany, nor Geoffrey's statement that he used Walter’s manuscript. The material plainly lies before us.
Except there’s a huge problem with this. Brut y Brenhinedd is the name given to any number of Welsh translations of…wait for it…wait for it. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. Confused yet? Good. I’ve had a headache for, like, the last hour. So here we are. We’re using Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae to prove that Walter the Archdeacon translated the Tysilio Chronicles and proof that he did is given in Brut y Brenhinedd, which is the Welsh translation of Historia Regum Britanniae. It’s further confused by another line from Petrie’s paper. “Even Dr. Hodgkin, when discussing both Geoffrey who copied from Tysilio, and also the Breton Brut from which Tysilio originates…” So Petrie claimed that Brut came before Tysilio, after which came Brut, which, along with Geoffrey’s work, proves Tysilio. Of course we know that Geoffrey wrote Brut. Even so, in the longer quote above Petrie ruins his ability to use Brut as a source for Tysilio, since he claims that it was written between 925 and 941. Tysilio was alive around 600 C.E. Just in case you needed me to clear that up for you. I really feel like I’ve wandered quite far afield here. If you’ve managed to follow this far, dear reader, I’d suggest about three Tylenol and a deep breath. Because in all of this I haven’t even hit the real point. Fortunately, that’s simple. Assume we can say Geoffrey of Monmouth used Tysilio. Assume, further, that Tysilio is a credible source and Geoffrey found things in his work that weren’t in Nennius. Even in this case it doesn’t actually matter, since Tysilio was still six or seven centuries removed from the Roman conquest of Britain and can, at best, bring to light a different perspective that proves Caesar’s point in most cases. Of course, it also records things that a contemporary British account of Caesar’s occupation couldn’t have recorded, such as a revolt by the Gauls. What this emphatically does not prove is that Nennius, Geoffrey, or, for that matter, Bill Cooper is right about their thing. There’s a sneaky way it technically might, however. Tysilio makes many references to London. If London existed at the time of Caesar’s invasion that might help prove the legendary tale of London’s foundation at the hands of Brutus, the legendary Trojan expatriate. As a quick reminder, Aeneas supposedly fled Troy and founded Rome. His grandson was eventually exiled and managed to conquer Spain, found Tours, and take over Britain, founding London in the process and giving the city his name. He is also said to be a contemporary of the High Priest Eli, who was replaced as Judge in Israel by the Prophet Samuel. So, basically, this means that London had been occupied for a good six or seven centuries before Caesar set foot on the island. History tells us that London was founded as a minor Roman outpost by Emperor Claudius and called Londinium. The archaeological record indicates absolutely no permanent human habitation at the site of Londinium before the Romans showed up. Of course when you consider that, according to Geoffrey, the island of Britain was occupied by giants before Brutus and he killed their king, named Gogmagog (no, seriously), I still don’t think we need to hit the archaeological record to disprove the point. Still, I find it interesting that Biblical “historians” will jump at any piece of archaeological evidence that shows that, say, Biblical City A, simply existed to say it proves the point that the Bible happened, but ignore the vast amounts of archaeological, historical, and simply commonsense knowledge that shows their utterly preposterous “historical” accounts can’t possibly work. You’d almost think they’re intentionally leaving stuff out… - [1]Fascinating bit to begin this one: Disraeli probably didn’t say that. It was most likely Charles Wentworth Dilke who came up with the original quote. Okay, it’s not that interesting. [2]Tonight’s beer of choice: St. Arnold’s Winter Stout and Rahr & Sons Iron Thistle. St. Arnold is based down in Houston and Rahr & Sons is an outfit out of Fort Worth. Neither of these beers is readily available in Illinois. So, basically I’m replacing my familiar Midwestern beers with Texas microbrews. Gone are Two Brothers, Metropolitan, Bell’s, New Glarus, and Founder’s. Instead I have so far discovered Rahr & Sons, St. Arnold’s, and Real Ale Brewing Co. My only real complaint so far is that they’re not Two Brothers. Seriously, Two Brothers’ Imperial Stout was the best stout I’ve ever had. Two Brothers’ Moaten is simply the best beer I’ve ever had. Still, Texas microbreweries can compete on pretty much any other level. Meanwhile, it’s trivially easy to get my hands on Colorado beers down here. There’s also a good selection of California beers floating around, so I can get Lagunitas any time I want. Dogfish Head, too, save the 120 Minute IPA, but I only found that twice in Chicago and I regularly checked when I was at a Binny’s. And there’s always, always Sam Adams. That Jim Koch, man, he got his beer in to every friggin’ place in the country. I don’t think we can call Sam Adams a microbrewery any more… Also, my opinion of Shiner is exactly the same as my opinion of Goose Island: always better than Bud/Miller. Still way overrated. They’re the regional equivalent of Guiness: anyone who claims to be a beer aficionado and who claims Guiness is the best beer in the world is a poseur. That is, as long as they’re not currently sitting at a bar in Ireland. I’m talking about the Guiness on this side of the pond. If I’ve learned anything it’s that stout doesn’t travel particularly well. [3]I wish my name were half as cool as W.M. Flinders Petrie. That name says “archaeologist, historian…master distiller.” [4]This right here is a fine example of the old adage, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet.” A Google search for “Tysilio Chronicle” brings up this website. Now, on its face the argument doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. What does Henry VIII’s being Welsh have to do with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history? And since Henry VIII successfully withdrew England from the Catholic Church why, exactly, would a supposedly anti-Henry history have replaced a supposedly pro-Henry history? Also, since it was actually Henry VIII who commissioned the writing of the Anglica Historia, do we really think that ol’ Henry would have been pleased with an anti-Henry VIII screed? Moreover, if it really was commissioned as the study of British history in 1582, as the website claims (and I can neither confirm nor deny), then we really have to consider that the monarch at the time was Queen Elizabeth I, who wasn’t exactly pro-Catholic. Oh, also, Vergil wrote a critical edition of Gildas’ De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. Also, his work De Inuentoribus Rerum was considered heretical due to the way it attempted to investigate the nature of god. He was, in some ways, the first of the modern historians. He might not have been accurate in many things, but he was rigorous and illustrated the post-scholastic idea that “priest” didn’t necessarily mean “guy who toed the party line where religion is concerned.” Meanwhile, the money line from that website is right here: “This process of ethnic cleansing did not happen all at once. It happened gradually and has been assisted by the advocates of evolution who prefer to eliminate any histories that might go back to Brutus in the 11th century BC, or even as far back as the Flood in the 24th century BC (see my article on the Samotheans). Now we are left with history books that don't tell us anything before the arrival of Julius Caesar in 55 BC. Everything pre-Roman is just "stone age" or "bronze age".” My case. I rest it. But I liked the long footnote… Also, that same search brought me this awesome link. I’m not going to say it’s a much more succinct and pithy version of what I’m writing here, but, well…I can’t exactly deny it. Also, the writer uses the word “argumented,” which I think is going in to my lexicon. As in, “I totally argumented that hot chick to come back to my place with me. I’m not sure that’s the right use of “argumented,” though…


Michael Mock said...

Okay, I've read through the entire thing, and I'm still confused. Also, I'm out of tylenol, and I'm at work, so... sober. And really, all I can say is, "Ouch."

So did Petrie just *miss* the part where he was citing the-same-work-by-another-title to support his claims about better-known-title-of-that-same work?

And do I have that part right? That is what we're seeing here, yes?

Geds said...

I believe that's what we're seeing, yes.

The problem with interpreting "Neglected British History" is two-fold.

First, I don't know what Petrie knew or was capable of knowing. It's entirely possible that in 1917 the generally held belief was that Brut y Brenhinedd was an older book which Geoffrey of Monmouth used as source material. He could also have been referring to a different Brut when he made the reference using just one word. "Brut" originally referred to any chronicle of Brutus, but eventually came to refer to any chronicle of kings written in Welsh. The problem here is that the word was not used in that way until after Brut y Brenhinedd itself. The only other Brut I know of is Brut y Tywysogion, which came after Geoffrey, but may have been based on source material going all the way back to 682 and does include references to one "Elbodius," who we met earlier as "Elvodug," Nennius' mentor. It's possible that Petrie was referring to this Brut and not Geoffrey's.

The second problem, of course, is that I can't say for certain whether or not Petrie is a trustworthy source. I highly doubt that he would have been entirely on Bill Cooper's side, but I can't say for certain that he wasn't presenting his paper for his own version of history. Petrie was, after all, a British patriot. He may well have had his own reasons to advance the cause of British history and claim an antiquity it does not deserve.

I decided to give Petrie the benefit of the doubt, but I may look at him more closely in the future. He was a brilliant archaeologist who put much of modern archeology in place and trained, among others, Howard Carter. But he was definitely a product of his times and carried that baggage with it. He's also known for discovering the Merneptah Stele, which is claimed to be the first reference to Israel in history.

I'm of two minds on this: first, it implies that Israel was a political force worthy of mention, which at the time it probably wasn't. On the one hand, it seems specious and Petrie had to make a massive leap of logic to get Israel out of that particular Stele. On the other hand, it actually coincides quite well with my Sea People = Israel theory. Erm, the Sea People theory. I'm hardly the first to advance it...

Chris said...

"... and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us."

I'm neither a professional archaeologist nor a historian, but I've hung around with them, and AFAICT Petrie's reputation is that he was as honest as the day is long, but his methodology is well obsolete. He did some stuff which was great in its time, but I don't think anybody studies him now.

So Tysilio is about as creditable a source as any other early mediaeval chronicler, is what your saying? Is there a translation available? I'd love to read it. The only context I've ever heard of him before was this one - Tysilio appears about 15 characters from the end.

Marc Widdowson said...

The crucial thing here seems to be the alleged "Brut y Brenhined, written in Brittany in the Breton dialect in the time of Athelstan (925 - 941) by an insular Briton", for whose existence Petrie relies on Thomas Hodgkin, "Cornwall and Brittany", Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, 1910. Petrie indicates that Hodgkin in turn relies on the Biographie Bretonne (hereafter BB) of 1852.

These references are unsatisfactory as they are both secondary sources. Is there an extant MS of this alleged Breton Brut? What is the basis of the BB's claim that such a work existed in the 10C? Elsewhere, Petrie refers to the Breton Brut as having existed not just in 925-941, but in 940 precisely. Where did that date come from?

The BB is available online as a PDF but does not seem to be searchable. Someone needs to go back to Hodgkin, trace his ref to the BB, and then find out whether the BB has any solid evidence for this Breton Brut.

It is not very impressive that Petrie failed to check Hodgkin's reference, given that he relies on it so heavily. For let us suppose that the 10C Breton Brut (meaning a document with substantially the same content as the later medieval Welsh Bruts) does or did exist. Then GoM was telling the truth when he said he was translating an earlier source. And this opens the possibility that his material is not just his own 12C concoction but accesses some ancient British traditions. So genuine evidence for a 10C Breton Brut would be very exciting. Without it, Petrie’s argument is much weaker (but not completely destroyed).

Now, Petrie is admittedly unclear about precisely what scenario he is suggesting. However, his starting point is that textual comparison shows GoM is derivative of Tysilio not vice versa. He also argues that Tysilio’s account of Caesar’s invasion is convincing as representing an independent tradition and indeed a British perspective on the events--albeit somewhat garbled, showing that it was first transmitted orally then written down a century or so later.

I think his scenario, therefore, is that Tysilio is a more authentic version of the Brut material than GoM, and derives directly from an ancient British source. GoM then based himself either on Tysilio or on a Breton equivalent.

I don’t think it is true to say that Tysilio being a figure of the 7C makes a nonsense of Petrie’s attempt to justify Tysilio on the basis of the 10C Breton Brut. We need to keep a distinction between texts and manuscripts. The existing Jesus College MS of Tysilio is 15th century, if Bill Cooper’s Introduction to his translation can be trusted. What Petrie is arguing is that the Breton Brut proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the content of this 15C MS predates GoM. That is the 15C MS is derived not from GoM but from a MS tradition independent of GoM. If the Breton Brut exists, Petrie’s argument is pretty unassailable in this respect. If it doesn’t exist, though, he can still keep his argument afloat on the much weaker claim that inter-textual comparison demonstrates the anteriority of Tysilio (the text, not the specific MS).

As for “Brut y Brenhinedd” being the medieval Welsh title of translations of Geoffrey’s history, again I’m not sure this is a stumbling block per se. We need to know exactly what the title of the Breton Brut is claimed to have been. It would not be surprising to find it was something similar to “Brut y Brenhinedd” given that Breton is closely related to Welsh. That is, I am not sure Petrie/Hodgkin are insisting the Breton version was called exactly “Brut y Brenhinedd”--this may be just a term of convenience.

To sum up, I think further investigation is needed to dispose of this. Specifically, the Breton Brut of Petrie, Hodgkin and the BB needs to be shown to be spurious. Personally, I would also like to see the arguments of Brynley Roberts countering Petrie’s argument that Tysilio is prior to Geoffrey.

Geds said...


I'm just going to start at the end here, then work around to something else...

As for “Brut y Brenhinedd” being the medieval Welsh title of translations of Geoffrey’s history, again I’m not sure this is a stumbling block per se. We need to know exactly what the title of the Breton Brut is claimed to have been. It would not be surprising to find it was something similar to “Brut y Brenhinedd” given that Breton is closely related to Welsh.

I could well have made this out to be a much bigger issue than it is. My knowledge of medieval Welsh is, shall we say, limited. There also may well be a sort of shop language of which I am completely unaware. This is, of course, one of the problems with attempting to parse something said even a hundred years ago in your native language. Petrie's statements may well have been plainly obvious to his intended audience, but not at all clear to me.

I think [Petrie's] scenario, therefore, is that Tysilio is a more authentic version of the Brut material than GoM, and derives directly from an ancient British source. GoM then based himself either on Tysilio or on a Breton equivalent.

This, actually, is a helpful way of looking at it. I glossed over Petrie's goals and motivations since I'm far more interested in how Cooper is attempting to use Petrie and Tysilio in his own arguments. And since Cooper is attempting to draw a straight line from ancient history -> Tysilio -> Nennius -> GoM. If Petrie was attempting to engage in some form of historiography this was apparently lost on Cooper and, as such, ignored by me.

We need to keep a distinction between texts and manuscripts. The existing Jesus College MS of Tysilio is 15th century, if Bill Cooper’s Introduction to his translation can be trusted. What Petrie is arguing is that the Breton Brut proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the content of this 15C MS predates GoM.

I did make a bit of a muddle of this. In my defense, all the of the MS listings I had seen seemed to refer back to either GoM or Nennius and it wasn't until the follow up post that I saw Cooper's later translation of Tysilio.

As such, if Cooper is to be believed that Jesus College has a manuscript of an authentic Seventh Century document then, yes, the game has changed.

But then the question becomes, "But how much, really?" Because even if we can say with a strong degree of certainty that there really was an ancient Tysilio document and GoM really did find, translate, and use it, does that mean that Tysilio itself is valid?

That's been the question that's driving me...

Marc Widdowson said...

labjantFurther to my last, I should have done a bit more research before posting. I now discover that this issue was dealt with quite impartially by The Rev Acton Griscom in 'The "Book of Basingwerk" and MS Cotton Cleopatra BV' in Y Cymmrodor Vol. 35, 1925 (available online - Google it). Griscom references articles by RW Chambers, which basically revealed Petrie's arguments as fallacious. In particular, the "Breton Brut" was an artefact of Hodgkin's misreading of the Biographie Bretonne (BB). The ref in the BB is page 411, section II.

It turns out that the BB refers to 'Brut y Brenhined' (sic) as the *hypothetical* Breton precursor of GoM. Hodgkin read this as implying that the BB author had evidence such a MS actually existed, which, in fact, he did not. It does not speak well of Petrie's method that he failed to go back to Hodgkin's source.

That said, Griscom is critical of Chambers and others who dismiss Petrie and the Welsh Bruts as possible witnesses of a pre-GoM legendary history of Britain. He says that these scholars are none of them actually familiar with medieval Welsh, and are largely unaware that the Welsh Bruts have some features which give pause for thought with respect to the idea they are mere translations of GoM.

This refers to the fact that some early Bruts (13C) contain the same basic story but have diverged markedly in terms of specific language and phraseology. Of course, it could be that these were just separately commissioned translations of GoM, and that is not at all unfeasible even within 100 years of GoM's original. However, Griscom's point is that the differences could be significant and ought to be considered.

Overall, Griscom is saying that the Welsh Bruts are not dismissed as easily as Chambers et al. might like. He himself is not intending to come down either way, but merely setting out the facts for others to ponder.

Griscom was writing in 1925. Since then there has been the 1970s work of Brynley Roberts (see Wikipedia on Brut y Brenhinedd), who, judging by his name, is a Welsh scholar, and he apparently disproves any idea that the Welsh Bruts go back to anything before GoM. I would still like to read his arguments though.