Arthur and the Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel: The Creation of a Folktale
By Sonya R Jensen
Origins and Revivals: Proceedings of the First Australian Conference of Celtic Studies, eds. Geraint Evans, Bernard Martin and Jonathan M. Wooding (Sydney Series in Celtic Studies, Volume 3, 1999)
Abstract: The article traces the transformation of history into fiction, in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story of King Arthur’s attacks on the Romans and his battle against the (Spanish) Giant of Mont-Saint-Michel — by way of information turnaround, discernible confusion and tongue-in-cheek approach. It notes that later writers show that they perceived it as fiction rather than as fact.
Both parts of the episode appear to derive from an account of a historical battle between the Visigoth leader, Euric, and the British king named ‘Riotimus’. And Arthur aborts his mission to Rome, in order to deal with the treacherous behaviour of Mordred, who is living in sin with Guinevere. Geoffrey’s expressed unwillingness to go into the issue — in deference to a ‘noble count’– may be a thinly-disguised insult to Waleran of Meulan. Waleran’s mother had taken up with another man while her husband was away on a campaign; and Guinevere takes advantage of Arthur’s absence to liaise with Mordred. It therefore seems that Geoffrey may not be quite sincere in the various dedications and addresses that he makes.”
Introduction: Four writers mention the activities of the Britons in Gaul in the fifth century: the Gothic historian, Jordanes; Sidonius Apollinaris, Prefect of Rome and later Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand; Gregory, bishop of Tours; and Geoffrey of Monmouth. Jordanes, writing his De Origine Actibusque Getarum (‘On the Origin and Deeds of the Goths’) in 551, tells of the deeds of Euric,, king of the Visigoths (between 466 and 485). The Visigoths already hold most of Spain but, spurred on by changes of government in Rome,, Euric thinks to conquer parts of Gaul as well. The Western Roman emperor, Anthemius, thus seeks assistance from the Britons, and their king, Riotimus, mounts an expedition: Anthemius imperator Brittonum solacia postulavit. quorum rex Riotimus cum duodecim milia veniens in Beturigas civitate Oceano e navibus egresso susceptus est’ Emperor Anthemius sought help from the Britons, of whom the king Riotimus, coming with 12,000 (men) into the state of the Bituriges by way of the Ocean, was received as he came out of his ships.