Monday, July 25, 2005

The Heroic Age: Lucius Artorius Castus

by Linda A. Malcor

The Heroic Age: Lucius Artorius Castus: "While some scholars over the last century have tried to derive the name 'Arthur' from Celtic sources, such attempts at etymology have yielded unsatisfactory results.11 Zimmer (1890:785 ff.) was the first scholar to propose that the name 'Arthur' actually derived from the Roman gens nomen 'Artorius,' and many modern scholars have followed his lead.12 Although most scholars claim that the name 'Arthur' is unattested in Britain prior to the late-sixth century, there was one notable exception: Lucius Artorius Castus, who lived and fought in Britain in the late second-century.

Prior to the writing of the Historia Brittonum, the name 'Arthur' started cropping up among late-sixth-century and seventh-century Irish immigrants to Wales and Scotland (Green 1999; Ziegler 1999). Padel (1994:24) suggested that the reason the name Arthur did not appear in Britain prior to the use by the Irish was because the name was regarded 'with exceptional awe' by the Britons, while the Irish 'when they came into contact with the folklore as a result of their settlements in western Britain, need not have felt such reverence or reluctance' and so had no taboo against the use of the name. This hypothesis certainly fits the pattern for legend transmission as we know it in Britain.13 That so many people would suddenly start naming sons 'Arthur' and making comments such as 'although he was no Arthur' (the infamous reference to Arthur in Y Gododdin, ca. 600), indicates that the cycle of legend was no longer in its simple formative stage but rather at a point that the core stories were so well known that Arthur's name had become proverbial in its usage.14

Yet the name 'Arthur' is not the only onomastic parallel between Arthur and Castus. The Historia Brittonum (ca. 800),15 which was probably compiled by, rather than written by, Nennius, has the dubious honor of being the oldest work to record legends of Arthur.16 As such, this text is important for estab"
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