Legendary founder of Britain. He first appears in Nennius's ninth-century Historia Brittonum, where he is a Roman, descended from Aeneas. Brutus, son of Ascanius and grandson of Aeneas, accidently shot his father with an arrow, as fortold by a magician. Brutus was then driven from Italy, wandered Gaul, and eventually settled in Britain, giving his name to the island and peopling it with his descendents. A varient version makes Brutus the son of Silvus, son of Ascanius, but both agree that he killed his father, fulfilling the prophecy; this has analogues in Greek myth (i.e. Perseus, who founded Mycenae; Jason, who founded Emona, now Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia).
However, Nennius also gives us a second Brutus who gave his name to the island: according to Nennius, Britain "derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul". This is not identified with the first Brutus by Nennius, and Nennius even says that there were two traditions as to the naming and settling of the island.
Geoffrey of Monmouth tells the first Brutus story in greater detail. Again, Brutus is the grandson of Aeneas, and accidently kills his father. He and a band of followers escape to Albion, which is unhabited except for giants. Brutus slays the giants and becomes the first king.
The origin of the story is unknown; obviously the well-known Roman name "Brutus" (especially when pronounced in Welsh) sounds vaugely like Britain--"britis". However, the claim of Trojan blood may be a wish on the part of British citizens of the Roman empire--an attempt to show a common bond through ancestry. It may even predate the Roman rule of Britain, for according to Lucan, the Gaulish tribes the Arvernians and the Belgian confederacy claimed descent from Troy, a though which horrified the Roman poet.
It is also possible that deriving Britain from Brutus may have its origins in Isadore of Seville's Etymologies (IX.102), which derives Britain from bruti, remarking that the Britons are bruts. "Nennius"--or "Nennius"'s sources--may have taken Isadore's rather cruel pun and turned it on its head.
There was apparently a native tradition that had in the place of Brutus a Prydein son of Aedd, who filled the same role. Little has been preserved of him, only a few notices found connected to genealogies and the Triads. Iolo Morgannwg greatly expanded his mythology, but that seems to be largely his own invention.
Back to "B" | Back to JCE
Mary Jones © 2008