Wace ‘Le Roman de Brut’

Wace was born on the island of Jersey, was probably a clergyman moving around in the aristocratic Norman circles. His Roman de Brut, a loose translation in verse of Geoffrey’s History is dedicated to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen consort of France and England, a participant in the crusades, supporter of arts, especially the “courtly love” phenomenon and in general one of the most fascinating and powerful women of the Middle Ages. The excerpt in the NAEL is the one describing the arrival of the messengers from the Roman emperor Lucius. The initial image is inadvertently comical, since they are twelve white-haired men, entering the hall in pairs, holding their hands, like pre-school kids. The letter they read aloud, however, is very haughty (I like especially the phrase “I am disdainful in amazement and am amazed with disdain”) and demands of Arthur to pay back all the owed tribute and go to Rome to humiliate himself, pronto. Arthur invites all his lords for a discussion. While on their way, Cador, the duke of Cornwall, says too long periods of peace are bad for the soul because they make people lazy and lecherous; Gawain, the more gentle soul says that peace makes land more beautiful and gives the knights time to court ladies and perform brave deeds in their honour.

Arthur declares that he has no intention of giving in to Rome’s demands. If Julius Ceasar extorted tribute from their ancestors, it doesn’t mean they are obliged to pay it, too. What is more, Britons ruled Rome already three times through Belinus, Constantine the Great and Maximus (unsurprisingly, Wace is playing rather fast and loose with historical truth). Hoel, the king of Brittany declares his unswerving support.

This is a continuation of the theme we saw earlier with Geoffrey: our ancestors are not only the descendants of Romans, the greatest people that lived on earth, but they also actually successfully fought Romans. We out-romanized Romans! Hurray!

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