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Unstable kinship: Trojanness, treason, and community in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Displaying his mastery of courtly deference, Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight publicly defines himself through kinship, telling Arthur that he is praiseworthy only "for as much" as Arthur is his "em" (uncle), and that "no bounte bot your blod I in my bode knowe" (my only virtue is your blood running through my veins) (Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis 1967, lines 356-57). (1) Gawain here conjoins cultural and biological notions of self: both impeccable manners and noble ancestry ground his public being. But the Gawain-poet further complicates Gawain's self-understanding, and by extension that of any community inhabiting Britain, by using Trojan foundations to frame the romance. And in being portrayed as of clear, if remote, Trojan origins, while also an aristocrat closely related to the king, Gawain could invite either a proto-racial reading focused on blood-ines or an ethnic identification that sees class and region as equally constitutive. The Trojan frame of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight complicates such analyses, supporting seemingly opposed views of the homogeneity and heterogeneity of populations in Britain found in recent genetic and archaeological research. Even as the emphasis on Troy's continuing behavioral legacy in Britain buttresses Bryan Sykes's claim of demographic continuity throughout Britain, (2) the exclusive focus on the Trojan diaspora's leaders parallels Simon James's deconstruction of ethnic myths that conceal historical diversity) (3)

I will argue that Trojanness does not for the Gawain-poet represent a racial identity that transcends class divisions. Rather, this long-defunct ethnic identity is treated as symbolic capital, an available if unstable historical component used in the maintenance of British community. Exploring ethnic identity as a fluid process marked by elitist appeal to blood-based exceptionalism, I will not assume a continuity of medieval and modern national identities. (4) While critics sometimes assert that nationalist English poets deliberately anglicized a Celtic Arthur, co-opting the mythical grandeur of a conquered people's folk hero (Davies 1999, 2; Turville-Petre 1996, 125-27), I will maintain that the Gawain-poet assumes the constitutive undecidability of British ethnicity. Rather than participating in an Anglocentric rewriting of a Celtic hero, the Gawain-poet returns to Britain's ethno-historical origins to undermine any political assertion of control over the lands and peoples permanently unsettled by Brutus's Trojan settlement). (5) The Gawain-poet thus compels us to forego teleological assumptions of English insular dominance. Much as R. R. Davies rejects a binary model of imperial English center and colonial Celtic peripheries, and instead imagines multiple, overlapping regional and cultural identities in the British Isles (1999, 137-41), so the Gawain-poet offers an ambivalently charged frame for an ethno-historically fissured Britain.

In assessing the Gawain-poet's ethno-historiography, I will deploy Anthony D. Smith's "ethno-symbolic" approach to resolving scholarly debates about the nation (1999, 8-16). Some critics assert that national identity extends into remotest antiquity, while others insist that the nation is a modern formation. To negotiate between these seemingly opposed pictures while also accounting for the survival of ethnic identity under radical cultural and geographical change, Smith proposes the concept of the ethnie, a community of memory that transmits myths, symbols, and customs across generations (1986, 13-15). While conceding the 'modernist' argument that nations are products of recent technological, economic, bureaucratic, and social developments (Gellner 1983, 62-84; Anderson 1991, 37-66), Smith nevertheless also adopts the 'primordialist' view that ethnic traditions and beliefs persist in, and help symbolically bind, communal identity (Hastings 1997, 11-34). (6)

Smith's ethno-symbolic approach views the historical veracity of an ethnie's origins as essentially unimportant: as a virtual community consolidated by stories, symbols, and customs, the ethnie is primarily a discursive entity. Trojanness stands as a particularly clear example of such discursive community. Originally an ethnie linked with actual states in Bronze-Age Anatolia, Trojan identity became a rich mythical source for cultural consolidation in ancient Greek literature (Bryce 2006, 1-28), and was then taken up in Roman, Frankish, and British imperial origin stories (Federico, 2003, ix-xxiv; Mueller 2007, 1017-29; Patterson 1987, 157-95). (7) Deploying ethno-symbolic criticism, I will explore the literary afterlife of factitious--that is, wholly artificial--Trojanness in works such as Virgil's Aeneid (19 BCE) and Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (1138 CE). Although founder figures such as Aeneas and Brutus are fictional, their status as originary Trojans was believed in, and hence reproduced by, the storytellers and chroniclers who profoundly shaped subsequent ethnies. Framed by stories of Britain's Trojan foundations, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight demonstrates the singular power of such factitious ethno-history.

The dream of a lost Trojan homeland is central to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight's ethno-symbolic structure. Much as ethnic groups are essentially fluid, with members capable of negotiating historical pressures by reorganizing identity borders (Barth 1998, 9-38), ethno-historical legends can shift relative to community needs. Opening the poem with the destruction of the virtual "homeland" crucial to any ethnic. (Smith 1986, 211-13), the Gawain-poet links British origins with the aggressive Trojan diaspora that bolstered many late-medieval visions of Western empire (MacDougall 1982, 7-27). Embedding the multiplicity of such claims to Trojan origins within the poem's frame, the Gawain-poet stresses the homeland's functional rather than historical status, and thereby suggests the fluid, because fantastic, foundations upon which any British ethnie is built. I will turn to chronicle contexts to show that the Gawain-poet's opening catalogue of founder figures presents ethnic identity as unstable, with Trojanness only vaguely connecting otherwise independent processes of interbreeding and settlement. Much as ancient British tribes formerly understood as primordial ethnicities were in fact ad hoc products of the powerful individuals whose names they bear (James 1999, 79), so arbitrariness saturates the Gawain-poet's ethno-historical vision. To trace the productive power of virtual homelands, I will show how Virgil's Aeneid and its medieval reception inflect the Gawain-poet's deployment of ethno-symbolic capital.

The Gawain-poet weaves Trojanness into a story of degeneration, as the frame's militarist empires fade into a decidedly frivolous Camelot. The courtly identity that Gawain literally represents as the recognized master of "luf-talkyng" (courtly love-speech) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 927) proves both to link and to differentiate him from his Trojan ancestors. As we shall see, the poem's ethno-historical opening fuses two aspects of Trojan identity: an originary proclivity for treachery, followed by an impulse to found a new community. The treacherous bond between Aeneas and Gawain does more than just foreshadow Gawain's breaking his agreement to exchange winnings at the castle Hautdesen. Rather, by presenting Gawain almost exclusively as a courtier rather than a fighter, the Gawain-poet uses treason's legacy to stress how Britain's originally Trojan ethnie has devolved from an epic warrior culture to an overly sophisticated, indeed comic Camelot (Stevens 1972, 65-78).

Gawain's failure to transform the green girdle into a personal sign foregrounds such degeneration. Turning to semiology, I will link Gawain's semiotic activity and the frame's Trojan treason with a critique of class-based hierarchy. Much as the Trojan founders become indistinguishable with their military hosts, so the Gawain who tries in vain to distinguish "d'entrels faus li fin amador" (true lovers ... from the false) (8) disappears into a faceless, conventional elite. Both the arbitrariness and the ornamentality of the green girdle highlight how far Arthurian courtiers have fallen from their heroic forebears. While Aeneas founded a community that spawned an empire, Gawain succeeds only in founding a fashion accessory that may not outlive Camelot's current season.

By carefully managing the revelation of Arthur's sister Morgan as the power player controlling what seemed like an independent Hautdesert, the Gawain-poet demonstrates the priority of classed ethnicity over any purely ethical, civic society. Smith's concept of the "lateral" ethnie, which features elites' monopoly of ethnic power and identity over a fragmented and unstable terrain, (9) makes clear that in the Gawain-poet's Britain, blood-based bonds still circumscribe a society dominated by the knightly class. Far from a racially homogenized proto-nation, the Gawain-poet's Britain is a fractured realm punctuated with wild spaces, with political settlements the exclusive province of traditional elites. Showing that Gawain's development of friendship and trust with Bertilak and his fellow courtiers was a ruse rigged by Arthur's powerful blood relative, Morgan, the Gawain-poet signals that the ethnic malediction of violence, fragmentation, and aristocracy continues to haunt Britain. (10)


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight opens with the chaos of community formation. The Gawain-poet presents an ethno-historical portrait of Britain, linking the eponymous founder of "Bretayn" (Britain), Brutus, with those members of Aeneas's "highe kynde" (noble race) who, after Troy's collapse, conquered and colonized areas throughout the "west iles" (Western Europe) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 1-15). The Gawain-poet deploys explicitly biological language in this genealogical frame: after Brutus "bigged" (founded) Britain, "bolde bred-den kerinne" (bold men bred there) (20-21). But rather than detailing a clear line between "Ennias" (Aeneas) (5) and Brutus (13), which would tie Britain's prestige directly to the neo-Trojan glory of Aeneas's proto-Roman empire, the Gawain-poet presents an eclectic ensemble, arranged neither chronologically (Romulus, though preceding Brutus, comes from a much later era (11)), nor in any clear geographical pattern. A spate of civic foundations intervenes between Aeneas's conquest and Brutus's foundation of Britain:
  Fro riche Romulus to Rome ricchis hym swye,
  With gret bobbaunce at bur3e he bigvs vpon fyrst,
  And ncucncs hit his aunc nome, as hit now hat;
  Tirius to Tuskan and teldes higynnes,
  Langabcrde in Lumbardie lyfres up homes

  (Next, great Romulus moves quickly to Rome / and with
  great pride he founded that city, I and gave it his
  own name, which it still has today; / then, Tirius
  goes to Tuscany and builds dwellings, / while Langaberde
  constructs homes in Lombardy) (Tolkien, Gordon, &
  Davis 1967, 8-12).

The Gawain-poet's vision of an unstable Trojan diaspora rapidly fragmenting into disparate settlements lays the groundwork for a study of Arthurian Britain that sets a neo-Trojan ethnicity, fusing class and ancestry, against a civic community's purely ethical bonds.

While some critics read the Gawain-poet's opening stanza as merely a conventional historical frame, others see a structural invocation of foundational violence. Patricia Clare Ingham argues that the Gawain-poet performs a geopoetical erasure that strengthens the bond between Troy and Britain: fearing that England's 1066 conquest by Normans might disrupt a direct British link to Aenean empire, the Gawain-poet ignores French territories in his opening catalogue of conquerors (Ingham 2001, 114-15). This geographical intervention discloses the ethno-historical influence of poets, who perennially play a vital role in shaping and maintaining communal identity. As Smith insists, any ethnie is fundamentally a product of memory and discourse: not based on actual biological descent or territorial residence, the ethnie fundamentally relies on poets and writers of history to consolidate living, and hence fluid, ethnic traditions (1986, 20. Ingham's argument that the Gawain-poet's careful editing of the Trojan diaspora's European spread functions as a prow-nationalist gesture highlights the essential instability of 'ethno-history.' So conceived, ethno-history is always a "multi-stranded and contested" discourse as "subject to change" as are the contemporary drives pressuring the poets and historians who significantly shape the stories of ethnies (Smith 1999, 16).

Smith's sense of the instability of ethnic ties illuminates the Gawain-poet's opening vision of antiquity, in which the founders' radically variant relations to Trojanness suggest both geographical and temporal heterogeneity. Attempts to neatly schematize the Trojans' geographical spread seem misconceived. According to Theodore Silverstein, for example, the Gawain-poet links Langaberd and Ticius with Romulus in order to figure Arthur's claim over a tripartite Italy (1965, 205); (12) yet this hardly explains why the remainder of Arthur's traditional European conquests are passed over in moving to Brutus's Britain (14). Rather, randomness seems essential, and is suggestive of the dispersal and interbreeding that invariably accompanies such "immigrant-colonist" ethnies as those that populate the Gawain-poet's frame (Smith 1999, 18). Settling into newly won lands, adopting new customs, and intermarrying with local populations, Trojan adventurers would have necessarily become detached both from the receding Trojan homeland and from other Trojan groups. Rather than offering a geographically logi-cal progression of ethnic development, the Gawain-poet cultivates the chaotic atmosphere of diasporic community formation. The particular Trojan-led group that conquered Britain left foundational violence as its legacy, engendering a new and violent ethnie that would develop on a Britain henceforth wracked by "were and wrake and wonder" (war, struggle, and wonder) (16).

Trojanness has perennially been an unstable ethnic signifier and was of merely mythical significance in its earliest Western literary deployment. Though the Gawain-poet was likely only indirectly informed by Homer, the ambiguous nature of Trojan identity in ancient Greek epic is instructive. According to Trevor Bryce, the eighth-century BCE Iliad was produced by a Homer raised in a mixed GreekAnatolian culture, descended from Ionian settlers in Asia Minor who had thoroughly assimilated into a Greek-speaking community that included indigenous families (2006, 16-23). Homer's hybrid outlook is seen in his refusal to portray the Trojan War as a clash of "conflicting cultures or ideologies or belief systems": instead, two relatively continuous cultures share traditions, theology, and language (Bryce 2006, 18-19). Imagining a wide array of allies on each side of the Trojan War, Homer presents a world in which ethnic distinctions cannot be conveniently mapped onto an Asia-Europe axis, and in which ethnic categories can shift according to the poet's (or audiences') needs (Bryce 2006, 23-28, 127-50). Homeric ethno-history thus features a fluid boundary between seemingly arbitrarily differentiated Trojans and Greeks, who often share both ancestry and culture.

Early medieval chronicles provide ample evidence for such ambiguity. While it is not clear whether the Gawain-poet knew the ninth-century Historia Brit-tonum traditionally ascribed to Nennius, (13) he seems to have shared the chronicler's sense of ethnic instability. The boundaries of Trojanness are fluid in Nennius's multi-sourced history. In one account of Brutus's lineage, Nennius gives the Trojans European origins, tracing Aeneas's line back to Japheth, Noah's Europe-bound son, who is described as Dardanus's great-grandfather (1980, 63, 22). (14) In another account cited by Nennius, the Trojans have an African origin, being traced to "Cam" (Ham). (15) This genealogy accounts for some variation in Trojanness by branching the descendants of Tros, whose sons, Ilium and Asaracus, produce Priam's and Anchises's lines respectively (60, 19). Trojan origins are further destabilized by competing Brutus genealogies, with alternating European and African claims on Dardanus, who is figured both as Jupiter's and as Elisha's son (60, 63, 19, 22). The Gawain-poet conveys such ethnic ambiguity by placing lineally descended Trojans alongside more shadowy figures, with each caught up in the violent energies unleashed by Troy's destruction.

While three of the frame's five conquerors are of clearly Trojan descent (Aeneas, Romulus, and Brutus), each varies in relation to the receding Trojan homeland. Two founders are not unambiguously Trojan--Langaberde, who "lyftes vp homes" (builds a home) in "Lumbardie" (Lombardy), and Tirius, who "teldes bigynnes" (constructs homes) in "Tuskan" (Tuscany) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, n-12). Editors have stated, although without much evidence, that Langaberde is the well-known founder of Lombardy. (16) Not only is Langaberde a rarity in chronicle and romance, but some key sources have very different Lombard foundation stories. Paul the Deacon (Paulus Diaconus) repeats a "ridiculam fabulam" (silly story) that demonstrates that one tradition did not associate Langobards with a founder. Paul reports that the name resulted from Frea's (Freia's) deception of Godan (Odin), who had told the Vandals that victory in battle would be granted to the first he saw at sunrise. Frea, aiding the Vinnili at the request of the wise woman Gambara, counsels the tribeswomen to position themselves in the eastern location where Godan gazes each dawn. The plan succeeds: Godan accords the Vinnili victory, after fatefully asking, fooled by the women's long hair, "qui sunt isti longibarbi?" (who are these long-beards?) (1.8-9; 17-18). (17) After disparaging this origin story as "risu digna" (worthy of laughter), Paul insists that this ethnie is not defined by a founder, but rather that "Langobardos ab intactae ferro barbae longitudine ... in postmodum appelatos" (the Langobards were afterwards so called on account of the length of their beards untouched by the knife) (1.8-9; 7-18). Langobard origin stories do indeed often focus on facial hair, with the ethnic identified by grooming habits rather than by some foundational individual. (18) Gregory of Tours, who offers a number of foundation stories tying ethnic groups to single ancestors, fails to link the Langobards with a Langobardus. (19) If there is a founder figure in the Codex Gothanum, it is Gambara, who appears in Paul's version as the mother of the first Vinnili emigration's leaders (Paul 1974, 323).

By linking Lombard origins with an individual plausibly but not definitively Trojan, the Gawain-poet embeds ethnic uncertainty into the already disjointed portrait of conquerors. Although Silverstein is probably correct in stating that Langaberde was, for the Gawain-poet, "only tenuously" of Trojan ethnicity (1965, 205), there was at least one available chronicle tradition that linked Langaberde with Troy. Nennius, one of the few to name Longobardus as founder, describes him unambiguously as of Trojan blood, citing a genealogy that traces both his and Brutus's descent from Alanus, a direct descendant of Aeneas (1980, 22). The radically different approaches to Lombard origins in Nennius, Paul, and Gregory suggest that there was acute medieval uncertainty concerning Lombard origins. Such a variety of understandings of Lombard origins accords with contemporary understandings of the Lombards as an ethnically multifarious group that only coalesced after multiple conquests in the unstable West produced by Rome's dissolution (Geary 2002, 120-27; Wolfram 1997, 279-300).

The Gawain-poet could have chosen unambiguously Trojan founder figures to fill out his catalogue of conquerors, such as Antenor, who founded Padua (Virgil 1935, 1.241-49). However, in choosing the only-occasionally-Trojan Langaberde, or the even more ambiguous Tirius, the Gawain-poet cultivates an atmosphere of ethnic instability--that is, precisely the fluid world in which new ethnics arise. Despite Silverstein's question-begging hypothesis that "Tirius" is a mistake for "Tuscus," an eponymous founder of Tuscany (1965, 205), there has been little scholarly agreement regarding Tirius's identity. Perhaps this fruitless quest is just what the Gawain-poet intended. Rather than assuming a non-extant chronicle or a variant spelling that conceals an otherwise well-known figure, Tirius may be purposefully obscure. If the Gawain-poet sought to portray the identity fluidity of a diaspora, then a shadowy Tirius serves well. Considering that the remaining founder figures are each well documented, Tirius's very obscurity, linked with Langaberde's multivalence, undercuts stable assignments of ethnic identity and presages Gawain's own identity crisis.

Romulus's presence in the poem's catalogue of founders clearly links conquest with ethnic fluidity. Romulus is unambiguously Trojan, the son of Mars and Rhea Silvia (daughter of the Trojan Numitor), though he is much further removed than Brutus from Aeneas's Italian-Trojan settlement. (20) By organizing the most notorious classical case of ethnic interbreeding, the rape of the Sabine women, Romulus injects ethnic instability into Rome's imperial foundations. As Livy tells it, Rome's early survival depended on forming bonds with its neighbors: with nascent empire threatened by Sabine leaders disallowing intermarriage with Romans, Romulus organized the abduction of Sabine women and thereby forced peace negotiations (1935, I.ix.I-I.xiii.6). While the Gawain-poet does not directly address Romulus's orchestration of ethnic boundary crossing, he devotes more space to Romulus than to any other founder figure (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 8-10). Such a focus on Romulus also underscores the erasure of women from the Gawain-poet's narrative of imperial dissolution and reconstitution. (21) As absent from the Gawain-poet's opening as is Morgan for much of the Beheading Game that she orchestrates, or as invisible as is Gambara in a Lombard ethnogenesis based on Langaberde, the Sabine women haunt the biologically suspect presentation of Romulus as sole founder of the Roman ethnie.

The final founder figure in the Gawain-poet's frame represents the most direct ethnic link between Camelot and Troy, though generations of interbreeding are imagined passing before Arthur's rise. While Brutus is closer by birth to Aeneas's era than Romulus, he is of more unstable parentage in the chronicle tradition. As with Trojanness itself, Brutus's lineage receives various treatments in Nennius. Nennius's "Britto" (Brutus) is the grandson of Aeneas through Silvius and an unnamed wife; this Brutus "exosius" (the Hateful) kills, as was prophesied, both his mother and father, and is then exiled (1980, 60; 19). In an alternate genealogy, Nennius makes Brutus the son of Hessitio, Aeneas's great-great-grandson, with a female relative intervening between him and Aeneas--Rhea Silvia, who links Brutus with Romulus (63, 22). Rather than indicating textual corruption, Nennius's text evidences a general effort to gather ethno-historical data--a desire to incorporate, rather than filter, the various traditions accumulated by conquests and migrations. Such a multiplicity of ethnic strands is utterly appropriate for the Gawain-poet's portrait of a frenetic Trojan diaspora. According to the Gawain-poet, Brutus's settlement is singular insofar as it sets up the conditions for a new ethnie: for Brutus's biological legacy is a Britain where "bolde bredde therinn, baret that lofden" (bold, battle-loving men bred there) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 21). As we shall see, Brutus's transformation of exilic energy into brutal settlement recalls the many roving conquerors in the violent history of Western European expansionism.


The militarist Trojans of the Gawain-poet's opening resemble such mobile aggressors as the Normans and Lombards, who each altered their identities while forming multiple new ethnics. As Robert Bartlett maintains, the ethnic ties of tenth--to thirteenth-century European aristocratic conquerors became increasingly difficult to maintain, despite consolidating mechanisms such as transregional class networks (1993, 24). Bartlett analyzes the instability of groups such as the Lombards, whose expanding aristocratic families drove warriors to wander in search of new lands and titles while adjusting ethnic boundaries relative to new territorial and demographic realities (4). Conquest required assimilation into new cultures, as past homelands, such as the Normans' Scandinavia or the Saxons' Germany, receded into the mists of prehistory.

By opening with a series of conquests, each framed by Troy's destruction, the Gawain-poet stresses the arbitrariness of homeland construction. Geoffrey of Monmouth illustrates this dynamic through Julius Caesar's and Cassivelauunus's conflicting ethno-historical claims. According to Caesar, the Romans and Britons are of the same "orti" (ancestry), being each "ex Troiana gente processimus" (descended from the Trojans) (2007, 68-69). (22) But such affinity comes with a difference. After distinguishing his ethnie from Cassivelauunus's by naming Aeneas as "nobis ... primus pater" (our first ancestor), while "illis" (theirs) is Brutus, Caesar claims that the Britons, as "degenerati" (having degenerated), are now the Romans' inferiors (68-69). By citing Aeneas rather than Romulus as he differentiates himself from the Britons, Caesar reveals an anxiety produced by the Romans' ethno-historical reliance on a Trojan homeland: for Brutus, being the son of Aeneas's grandson and Lavinia's niece, renders the Britons significantly closer to Aeneas, and hence to Troy, than the Romans would be if they grounded their identity in their eponymous founder, Romulus. The British leader Cassivelauunus castigates Caesar for failing to honor kinship, since "communis nobilitatis uena Britonibus et Romanis ab Aenea defluata et eiusdem cognationis una et eadem catena praefulgeat, qua in firmam amicitiam coniungi deberent" (Briton and Roman share the same blood-line from Aeneas, a shining chain of common ancestry which ought to bind us in lasting friendship) (68-69). Clashing Roman and British perspectives thus reveal that the virtual homeland can divide as much as it can bind.

Virgil provides the seminal Western portrayal of the power of virtual home-lands in an ethnically unstable world. Like Geoffrey's Caesar, Virgil engages in ethnocentric rewriting, presenting Aeneas's journey from Troy not as flight, but as return. Virgil claims that a Trojan ethnic identity preexisted Troy, with Dardanus having departed from Corythus (in Tuscany), eventually to settle in Trojan territory (Virgil 1935, VII.205-11). What might seem a traitor's escape is thus reauthorized as homecoming, with the homeland's plasticity both explaining and excusing Aeneas's flight. For Virgil, ethno-history is an ideological tool, as invented traditions use the consolidating power of antiquity to transform opportunistic conquests into signs of destiny.

Such ethnic boundary flexibility also brings great risks. Moving his Trojan followers towards the Italy that he insists is divinely destined for them, Aeneas meets his greatest threat not from sea monsters or enemy ships, but from settlement and interbreeding in Carthage. Dido foreshadows the danger to Trojan ethnic boundaries through her welcoming words to the Trojan ambassadors: "Tros Tyriusque mihi nullo discrimine agetur" (Trojan and Tyrian I shall treat with no distinction) (Virgil 1935, I. 574). That the intermingling of Trojan and Carthaginian blood threatens the Trojans' imperial destiny is clear from hostile Juno's efforts to cultivate a Trojan-Carthaginian alliance: Juno suggests to Venus that they rule this new "populum" (people) together, with Dido's "Tyrios" (Tyrian subjects) joined to their new "Phrygio" (Phrygian) lord (Virgil 1935, IV.102-04). (23) Aeneas is prevented from forging the new ethnie, when Jupiter sends Mercury to remind Aeneas of "prolem Ausoniam et Lavinia ... arva" (Ausonia's race and the Lavinian fields), and to chastise him for denying his son Ascanius "Romanas" (Roman) lands (Virgil 1935, IV.234-36). In a conflict between individual desire and communal code also taken up by the Gawain-poet, Aeneas must forego personal, present love for the sake of his ethnically other descendants-to-be, those future members of the new ethnic who will be produced by Trojan migration and interbreeding. After noting Apollo's sanctification of Italy as his new homeland, Aeneas justifies his departure to Dido by citing any ethnie's right to pursue territory:
  si te Karthaginis arces
  Phoenissam Libycaeque aspectus detinet urbis,
  quae tandem Ausonia Teucros considere terra
  inuidia est? et nos fas extera quaerere regna

  (If the towers of Carthage / and the sight of the Libyan city charm
  thee, a Phoenician, / why, pray, grudge the Trojans their settling
  on Ausonian land? / We, too, may well seek a foreign realm).
  (Virgil ic, IV.347b-50) (24)

The communal is here invoked to override individual desire, with the ethnie prioritized over its leader.

The Gawain-poet moves in opposite fashion, first offering a glimpse of epic foundations before shifting to Hautdesert's arena of competing individual desires. While Virgil clearly does not remove sexuality from his narrative of empire formation, it is deprioritized in the post-Dido portion of the Aeneid, particularly in the protracted Trojan-Latin military conflict occupying Books VII to XII, in which Aeneas's bride-to-be, Lavinia, is more political pawn than object of desire. If late-medieval Troy narratives indeed weave "sexual desire" into the "matrix of history" (Ingledew 1994, 666-67), then the Gawain-poet intensifies such eroticization, transforming heroic warriors into scheming lover-courtiers. Aeneas's medieval evolution into courtly lover can already be seen in the twelfth-century Roman d'Eneas. In the Aeneid, the Latin Queen Amata, on Juno's command, offers the initial resistance to Trojan-Latin assimilation by reviving Lavinia's betrothal to native son Turnus. As Susanne Hafner demonstrates, the Eneas-poet removes Juno's divine influence on Amata, reducing all to courtly intrigue: Amata merely strains to convince Lavinia that Eneas is a faithless lover and sodomite who will betray her when politically convenient (2002, 61-69). As we shall see, the Gawain-poet participates in such a sexualization and, indeed, debasement of Virgil's epic inheritance, as he moves the romance from the frame's heroic conquests to the petty intrigues of a court more concerned with love and feasting than the foundation of cities and peoples.


While the Gawain-poet clearly links the frame's "tricherie" (treachery) that was "trewest on erthe" (truest on earth) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 4) with Gawain's later "trecherye" (treachery) (2383) in retaining the green girdle, there has been some critical uncertainty concerning the identity of the "tulk" (man) who committed the originary "tresoun" (treason) (3). Both Aeneas and Antenor had medieval reputations for treason, with accounts of their collaboration with Greeks widely disseminated by Benoit de Sainte-Maure's twelfth-century Roman de Troie and by Guido delle Colonne's thirteenth-century Historia Destructionis Troiae (Benson 198o; Mueller 2007). In betraying the pentangle's uncompromising ethical code (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 625-62) to protect his life (2368), Gawain could suggest either Benoit's Aeneas or Antenor, while his conspiracy with the Lady to "lelly layne" (loyally conceal) the gift of the green girdle from Bertilak (1862-65) could recall Antenor's secret negotiations in the Greeks' camp (Benoit 1998, 24740-953). However, most scholars see Aeneas as the intended "tulk." Besides being seemingly identified in the line following the description of the treachery--"Hit watz Ennias athel" (It was Aeneas the brave) (5)--Aeneas also possesses a clearer reputation for such community foundation as is imagined in the poem's ethno-historical frame. (25) Moreover, Aeneas's treacherous acts could readily be seen as "true" due to the mitigating circumstance of divine command: according to Virgil, Venus commanded Aeneas to flee Troy, while Mercury delivered Jupiter's command to flee Dido (1935, 11.604-19; IV.222-78). Crucially, Aeneas's reputation as an untrustworthy lover also connects him with Gawain, who is marked as a "womanizer" both in literary history (Putter 1995, 102) and by Hautdesert's residents (927). (26)

Gawain follows Aeneas's doubly duplicitous path as civic and amorous traitor, both by violating an oral contract and by engaging in his signature practice of "luf-talkyng" (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 927). Shifting abruptly from the epic frame to Camelot's Yuletide games and feasting, the Gawain-poet invokes treason to signal that he will track the degeneration of Trojan identity in a new, British ethnic: the world-historical grandeur of the foundational opening is replaced by the trivial courtly machinations of the romance proper. With Gawain's head in the balance and with Morgan motivated partly by a personal vendetta against Guinevere (2459-61), we have here to do with people rather than peoples. Community-founding warriors are replaced by "oure luflych" (our lovely) hero (1469, 1657), who represents a courtly class for whom the "lel layk of luf" (loyal game of love) is inseparable from the "lettrure of armes" (art of war) (1513).

In the Gawain-poet's ludic Camelot, knightly activity is linked more closely with discourse than with death-dealing. While violence against animals saturates the narrative, structuring both Bertilak's daily recreation at Hautdesert and the sumptuous feasting at both of the poem's castles, there is very little violence against humans outside of the Trojan frame? (27) The Green Knight's decapitation, after all, turns out to be a ruse, while Gawain's traditional knightly combats, only briefly and indirectly addressed, feature dragons, wolves, "wodwos" (wild men), wild bulls, bears, boars, and "etaynez" (giants) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 720-23), all of whom exist outside of human society. As scholars often note, the Gawain-poet's perfunctory recounting of Gawain's armed fights signals that he is interested primarily in the social dimension of knighthood.

It is also often remarked that discourse is the primary venue for knightly identity in the poem, both initiating Morgan's challenge and becoming the medium in which Gawain is tested. Having "herd carp" (heard tell) that Camelot features "kydde" (famous) courtesy (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 263), the Green Knight offers a dramatic game request that initially disgraces the Arthu-rian host by leaving it speechless, incapable of discourse: "al stouned at his steuen and stonstil seten / In a swoghe sylence" (all were astonished by his voice and remained as still as stones, completely silent) (242-43). Delivering a speech that could serve in any medieval rhetorical manual as an example of courtly deference (343-61), Gawain ends the humiliating silence. That discursive skill is central to his being is suggested by the fact that it is during this pivotal speech that Gawain identifies himself in terms of "blode" (blood) (356-57).

Discourse also shapes Gawain's reception at Hautdesert. Overjoyed by the arrival of this paragon of "luf-talkyng," Hautdesert's residents expect to learn techniques of "talkyng noble" (noble speech) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 916-27). Meanwhile, the Lady plays an identity-game that sets Gawain against his courtly stereotype: he must prove that he is indeed who he says he is by properly telling a "tal[e]" (story) (1297-1301) and by offering adequate "wordes" (words) of "luf" (love) (1523-27). As Susan Crane shows, Gawain's identity is exterior to himself--not anterior to his public persona, but rather produced by the codes circulating within the social collective of Camelot (2002, 135-37). In a world where to act "as a kny3t" stimulates self-reference in the third person (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 1303-4), and in which the Lady can query "3if" (whether) Gawain indeed "be" Gawain (1481), knightly identity is as unstable as the ethnies of the opening catalogue. (28)

Hautdesert's residents associate Gawain, the "fyne fader of nurture" (exquisite father of courtesy), not just with the "teccheles termes" (flawless expressions) of love-speech, but also with the ominously identified "sle3tes of kewes" (displays of comportment) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 916-27). The deception lurking in the term "sle3tes" (916) (29) directly links the courtly love in which Gawain is expert with the frame's originary treachery. Such deceptiveness is a recurring theme in the courtly lyrics of the troubadours and trouveres, who fixed the tradition within which Gawain's "luf-talkyng" was understood. Gace Brule, for example, rails against courtly fraudulence, claiming that most love-talkers sing "par esfors et desloiaument" (as an exercise and insincerely), (Goldin 1983, 15.1-2), while Thibaut de Champagne voices aristocratic self-criticism through a shepherdess who calls knights "tricheor" (traitors) and "menteor" (liars), "pis" (worse) than Ganelon (Goldin 1983, 37.17-20; 33-6). However much he may be honorable vis-a-vis King Arthur, Gawain invites, through his expertise in love-talking, deep distrust. The poem's only other uses of "sle3t" refer to the green girdle (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 1854, 1858), the retention of which leads Bertilak to judge Gawain as having "lakked a lyttel" (been somewhat guilty) for violating the "forward" (contract) (2356-66). The "fawty and falce" (felonious and false) (2382) Gawain shows that courtliness and treachery shadow one another.

Gawain's girdle-related treachery initiates an origin story that comically contrasts with Aeneas's and Brutus's foundational acts. Critics often tie Gawain's development to sign exchange. Ralph Hanna, for example, sees a structural transition from the pentangle's "clear," to the green girdle's "slippery," mode of signification (1983, 290), while Geraldine Heng explores an "allegory of language" featuring the green girdle as "signifier for the signifier" (7991, 508-09). The poem's frame itself should be seen as adumbrating Gawain's semiotic destiny. Signs and origins are clearly associated with Gawain through his personal badge, the pen-tangle, which is described as a "syngne that Salamon set sumquyle / In bytoknyng of trawke" (sign that Solomon instituted long ago, signifying truth) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 625-26). As Conor McCarthy demonstrates, Solomon references systematically shape Gawain's story, punctuating his coming to critical self-awareness (2004, 297-308). Gawain ultimately pales in comparison both to Solomon and to the frame's founder figures: for Gawain institutes a sign only by mistake, as the undifferentiated mass of courtiers repurpose the green girdle. Whereas ancient Trojans founded communities, Gawain leaves only a sartorial legacy, the superficiality of which satirizes a chivalric British elite inordinately focused on clothing and heraldry (Crane 2002,134-39). (30)

The Gawain-poet's fable of a sign's origin critiques Camelot's essential superficiality. The linguist Ferdinand de Saussure analyzes the appeal of such semiotic origin stories, which imagine "an act by which, at a given moment, names were assigned to things and a contract" between a signifier and signified was "formed" (7960, 71). Saussure insists that such speculation is idle, for language, being essentially arbitrary, "always appears as a heritage of the preceding period" and so is profoundly resistant to "initiative" (72-74). Presenting the process by which the green girdle is transformed into the baldric worn by "vche burne of ke broker-hede" (each member of the court) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2516), the Gawain-poet's semiotic fable ironically recalls the opening series of Trojan foun-dations. According to Ross G. Arthur, the court's "rejectio[n]" of the green girdle "as a sign" means that Gawain has "failed in his task as first institutor," since the sign's users do not adopt its "intended" signification (1989, 112; 126). Yet such scrambling of intention is precisely what Saussure links with sign-foundation. Much as artificial language systems cannot signify until they transcend their originators' intentions and "circulatier as the "property of everyone" (Saussure 1960, 76), so is the baldric "acorded" (granted) meaning as a sign (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2519) only after the courtiers collectively and indiscriminately co-opt it, evacuating its personal essence. Intended by Gawain to remind him of his knightly failings, the green girdle is appropriated by the "brokerhede," a group defined by class rather than gender as it consists of all the "lordes and ladis" (lords and ladies) of the "court" (2513-16). That the destruction of personal meaning is requisite for a semiotic foundation is conveyed by the court's wildly inappropriate behavior: after hearing Gawain's heartfelt declaration that the "lace" will be a "token of vntrawke" (disloyalty) signifying his "lake" (hatefulness), "losse" (damage), "couardise" (cowardice), and "couetyse" (covetousness) (2505-12), the courtiers "la3en loude" (laugh loudly) as they "luflyly acorden" (joyfully agree) to wear the green "bende" (band) (2513 19).

One troubadour's semiotic crisis illuminates such essentially superficial courtly self-inscription. Anxious that no sign can distinguish the "true" lover from the "false," Bernard de Ventadorn expresses his wish that "e*lh lauzenger e*lh trichador / portesson corns el fron denan" (all those slanderers and frauds / had horns on their heads) (Goldin 1983, 21.33-6). Bernard's lyric registers the difficulty of communicating one's sincerity in a code in which professions of truthfulness are conventionalized. Courtly language is so fundamentally deceptive that Bernard must look elsewhere for a symbol that could let his "domna" (lady) see that his love is "finamen" (courtly) (21.37-40). Much as Bernard cannot differentiate himself from his courtly peers, so does Gawain reveal his essential enmeshment in a mass of shallow, faceless courtiers, those treacherous lauzengiers of courtly culture who are always figured "as a group" (Kay 1996, 216-25). Though he sincerely intends to signify his insincerity at Hautdesert--wearing the girdle in order to mark himself with Bernard's horns, as it were--Gawain reveals through his inability to control the sign's meaning the ingloriously conventional nature of knight-courtiers. (31) Gawain's projection of his personal "trecherye and vntrawke" (treachery and disloyalty) onto the "wede" (garment) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2358-78) renders the girdle, an ornamental item of clothing, an apt sign for the constitutive superficiality of courtiers (Crane 2002, 128-37). Bertilak himself foresees the failure of Gawain's efforts to forge a purely personal sign: stating that the girdle commemorating "pis ilke prepe" (this very contest) will become a "token" (sign) for all "cheualrous kny3tes' (chivalrous knights) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2396-9), he envisages the inevitable transformation of individual expression into public, courtly currency.

The poem's ethno-historical frame prepares for such class criticism, as Gawain's doubly deceptive ways--as both contract-breaker and courtly lover--recall Trojan habits. Referring to the "Laomendonteae ... periuria gentis" (treason of Laomedon's race) (Virgil 1935, IV.542), Dido associates all Trojans with the breaching of contracts. Laomedon was a notorious double-dealer who first triggered retribution by not remunerating Apollo and Poseidon for building Troy's walls, and later invited destruction by failing to pay Heracles for saving his daughter Hesione (Apollodorus 1921, vol.i, 205-09, 245-47). Having displayed "unleute" (disloyalty) by violating his oath to Bertilak, Gawain reveals that Trojan deceptiveness shadows his otherwise noble intentions. (32) The relative triviality of Gawain's treason merely indicts a courtly culture focused more on gaming than on war. The eroticization of Gawain's disloyalty also recalls stereotypical Trojan amorousness. Trojans, long linked with notorious lovers such as Anchises, Paris, and Ganymede, became subject to proto-Orientalist caricature as indolent and lecherous, a shift that came in the xenophobic wake of Xerxes' fifth-century BCE invasions of Greek territories (Bryce 2006, 154-57). From honey-tongued lovers such as Paris to Camelot's master love-talker there is shown to be a single ethnic line, with Gawain's activities tellingly linked almost exclusively to the discursive worlds of the boudoir and the feasting hall.

Love, whether erotic or not, is linked with deception throughout Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Lady, who is clearly as expert as Gawain in the art of love-talking, merely "let lyk as hym loued mych" (pretended that she loved him dearly) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 1281). When Gawain's guide tempts Gawain to save himself by lying about having visited the Green Chapel, he states that Gawain is someone "I wel louy" (I love well) (2095). Gawain's very instinct for self-preservation is encoded as love in the Green Knight's gentle (if still bloody) admonishment: after wounding Gawain slightly instead of beheading him (2309-15), the now undisguised Bertilak judges that Gawain betrayed him, not for "wylde werke" (violence) nor "wowyng" (lust) but because he "lufed" (loved) his own "lyf" (life) (2367-68). Such repeated linkage of love and fraud foregrounds the radical Trojan degeneration from conquerors to courtly lovers, while the semiotic saga of the baldric-sign figures the fall from Trojan epic to Arthurian "romaunce" (romance) (2521).


Community formation thus emerges as a central occupation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with the obliteration of Gawain's personal intentions as he institutes a sign recalling the necessary disappearance of Trojan leaders as the communities they found become self-sustaining. In juxtaposing the forging of ethnies with Gawain's inglorious sartorial foundation, the Gawain-poet reflects on ongoing British community. Much as shared Trojan roots do not bring harmony to Camelot and Hautdesert, so the Gawain-poet imagines Arthurian Britain as not unlike a fourteenth-century Britain, devoid even of the "dreams of a new Arthurian empire," fissured by various regional reactions to English and Scottish imperialist ambitions (Davies 1999, 184-90). Rather than a stable, racial identity occupying a merely historical frame, Trojanness serves as a subject for the Gawain-poet's reflection on a common strategy in community consolidation: the retroactive use of available traditional identities (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, 86-106). Much as Geoffrey of Monmouth strains to assimilate Arthur into a culture shaped by various often overlapping ethnicities, so numerous late-medieval aristocrats appropriated Trojan myths to legitimate familial control of and identification with land, taking part in a "recourse to origins" key to post-twelfth-century Western aristocratic culture (Bloch 1983, 75-83). Featuring radically variant conquests rather than ethnic oneness, the Gawain-poet's opening portrays the instability that shadows societies who deploy factitious ethno-history.

The frame suggests, but forecloses, the possibility of one technique for establishing continuity, the myth of "ethnic election," according to which a divinely selected ethnie has both a divine destiny and related ritual responsibilities (Smith 1991, 84). Smith historically links such myths of exception with Second Temple era Jews and with any cultures who co-opted the "prestige of lineal Trojan and / or Biblical descent" (1991, 50). According to Smith, numerous groups claiming Trojan inheritance formed "lateral" states that restricted ethnic myths to ruling elites (1991, 50-59). The Gawain-poet foregrounds the instability engendered by such arbitrary deployment of ethno-symbolic capital while presenting a chivalric hierarchy in which class and sovereign blood trump race. That the conflicts within the romance are circumscribed by two competing siblings, Morgan and Arthur, underscores the persistence of aristocratic hierarchy: however remote Trojan origins may be, elite bloodlines still dominate Britain.

The Gawain-poet develops the polar opposite of the ethnic election myth, the still exceptional model of what we might call ethnic malediction. Rather than emphasizing continuity with triumphant Trojanness, the Gawain-poet strips the narrative of any prophetic elements suggesting chosenness, and instead links Trojans only with conquest, discord, and treason. Prophetic material with which to supplement the Trojan frame was readily available. Virgil's Aeneid, widely circulating in medieval England (Baswell 1995, 30-40), frequently uses prophecy to authorize Aeneas's flight, (33) while the popular Roman d'Eneas includes such statements of spiritualized conquest as Trojan reference to "Lombardie, le pays / que Jupiter nous a promis" (Lombardy, the land promised to us by Jupiter) (Petit 1997, 236-237; my translation). The Gawain-poet could also have exploited Diana's prophetic endorsement of Brutus's conquest of Albion in Geoffrey of Monmouth's popular history (2007, 18-21).

However, no Venus and Juno fight over the Trojan travelers in the Gawain-poet's frame, nor does Diana steer Brutus toward a promised land. The Gawain-poet removes all such legitimization of conquest, and presents only invasive violence. Such fundamental destructivity shapes British ethnic community, with continually breeding, battle-loving communities Brutus's true legacy (Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis 1967, 21). If they are chosen, the Gawain-poet's Britons are also cursed, suffering violent division. (34) Much as, according to Alex Mueller, "Trojan origins" in the fourteenth-century Alliterative Morte Arthure prove to be a "shameful inheritance" for an imperialist Arthur (2010, 321), so does the Trojanness invoked in the Gawain-poet's opening diminish Gawain's person. Gawain's trivial treason underscores Camelot's fall from grand territorial conquests to courtly frivolities. While Aeneas's treacherous nature impelled him to flee one homeland to win another, and while his desire to win Turnus's land drove him to forsake ruling alongside Dido, (35) Gawain's relativism results merely in the temporary circulation of an emphatically ornamental sign.

Trojanness, despite all its associations with fragmentation and treachery, nevertheless emerges as an ethno-historical frame for all the courtiers of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In ethno-symbolic terms, the neo-Trojan ethnie of the Gawain-poet's Britain is clearly of a 'lateral' nature, with elites maintaining sway over an area whose raggedness and discontinuity is demonstrated by Gawain's travels through the bear- and wild man-infested wastelands that separate Camelot and Hautdesert. That the only other leader of a power network in the Gawain-poet's Britain is related to Arthur shows that ethnic identity remains ascendant: not just class, but sovereign blood interrelates Arthur, Gawain, and Morgan. (36) While Gawain and Bertilak might initially have seemed to forge purely ethical bonds through play, feasting, betrayal, and forgiveness, family returns in the form of Gawain's aunt Morgan as the self-interested engineer of this relationship.

With Morgan and Arthur's elite positions clearly due to lineage as much as to political acumen, Morgan reveals that the British ethnie has not escaped the genetic legacy of the Trojan aristocrats who conquered and settled Britain. Stressing Morgan's personal hostilities with Guinevere and Arthur while making King Arthur's nephew the representative of Camelot's culture, the Gawain-poet presents inborn class privilege as embedded in the lateral ethnie that dominates Britain. Ethno-symbolic analysis thus reveals a striking parallelism between Gawain's rhetorical talents and the ethno-historical frame, as both the Arthurian knight's quest and the neo-Trojan British ethnie prove to be discursive formations. Gawain's status as founder emerges as uncannily new and old. He represents a courtier's lifestyle, sharply different from the warriors of the epic opening, even as his betrayal of the pentangle's ethical code and his willful alienation from his aunt's hostile community at Hautdesert (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2471) reveal the ongoing British legacy of 'Trojan fractiousness and treason.


(1) All citations of Sir Gawain are from Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis's 1967 edition and refer to line numbers, except in the case of notes and editorial commentary. All translations are mine.

(2) Critiquing traditional narratives of invaders displacing native Britons to the West and North, Sykes maintains that pre-Roman, Celtic-language-speaking inhabitants remained consistently the most important demographic throughout Britain, including in England (2006, 277-87).

(3) James sees the notion of a single Celtic people inhabiting Britain and Ireland since the first millennium BC as an eighteenth-century fiction masking demographic heteroge-neity (1999, 43-66).

(4) See Finke and Shichtman (2004, 104-15) for a discussion of the critical need to resist "the impulse to naturalize the discourse of the nation" in late-medieval literary criticism (107).

(5) On ethnic diversity throughout British history, see Miles's archaeological and demographic survey The Tribes of Britain (2005).

(6) Anderson argues that nations first arise in Creole communities in late eighteenth-century print-capitalist culture (1991), while Gellner ties the nation to general education within nineteenth-century industrial capitalist society (1983). For criticism that such views underestimate ethnic continuity, see Hastings (1997, 11-34). On the "triple revolution" beginning in the eighteenth century that produced modern national states, see Smith (1986,130-34).

(7) Mueller is currently revising a monograph, Translating Troy: Provincial Politics in Alliterative Romance that explores anti-imperialist use of Trojan history in alliterative romances, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I only learned of Mueller's monograph while in the final stage of redacting this essay.

(8) I cite from Bernard de Ventadorn in Goldin (1983, 21.33-34). All translations from troubadours and trouveres are from Goldin.

(9) Smith distinguishes two types of ethnics: the "lateral," in which the identity is restricted to elites and spread over a discontinuous expanse; and "vertical" ethnics, in which ethnic identity permeates all social classes within a restricted territory (1986, 76-83).

(10) On Gawain's travels revealing regionalist division rather than wider British community, see Barrett (2008, 138; 165-69).

(11) Romans strained to reconcile the traditions of Romulus's 753 BCE Roman foundation and Aeneas's twelfth-century BCE departure from Troy (Bryce, 2006, 168-69).

(12) Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis emend the manuscript reading "Ticius" to "Tirius" (7m), as does Silverstein (1965, 205).

(13) For arguments against Nennius's single authorship of an actually composite text, see Dumville (1986, 1-26).

(14) For an influential account of Japheth's offspring, see Isidore of Seville (2005, vol. I,IX.ii.1-39). On Noah's offspring, see Genesis 10:2-31.

(15) In an interpolation appearing only in Irish manuscripts, Nennius's account of the Trojans' Hamite African origins is linked to "Roman" chronicles translated by "ar senoir-ne nasal, i. Guanach" (our noble elder Cuanu) (Nennius 1848, 36; 37n); see also Nennius (1980, 61; 19).

(16) Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis here cite only Nennius (1967, 7111). See Nennius (1980, 63; 22).

(17) Latin citation is from Paulus Diaconus (1878, 1.8); translations are from Paul the Deacon (1974, 16). On the reception of Paul's popular eighth-century History and on Paul's use of the Origo Gentis Langabardorum, see Peters's introduction (Paul 1974, xiv-xvii).

(18) Isidore derives the Langobards' name from their untrimmed beards (IX.ii.95), as does the author of the Codex Gothanum (c. 805 CE). Wolfram argues that the Langobard name signals the Vinnili tribe's willingness to adopt the new, more militarily effective religious identity of Longbearded Wodan, whose help defeating the Vandals drove them away from their Vanir religion (1997, 30-34). On medieval Lombard identity as more regional than racial in nature, see Zancani (1998, 219).

(19) Gregory of Tours (c.590 CE) links the Idumaeans and the Israelites with founder figures, and surveys Frankish origin stories (1974, 73; 120-26). Gregory offers no Langobard origin-story, going back only to Alboin (198), the tenth Langobard king in Paul (1974, 49).

(20) In Virgil's Aeneid, Jupiter states that some three hundred years will separate the foundations of Alba Longa and Rome (1935, 1.267-79). Anchises details Romulus's Trojan lineage (Virgil 1935, VI.777-89). All citations and translations from Virgil are from the Goold and Fairclough edition.

(21) On Morgan's absence as both supplemental and essential to Sir Gawain's only superficially masculinist narrative, see Scala (2002, 65-68). On patriarchal readings of women as sacrificial victims to masculine empire, see Desmond (1994, 1-17).

(22) All citations and translations from Geoffrey are from Reeve and Wright.

(23) Aeneas's Phrygian status shows the temporal fluidity of ethnic boundaries. Phrygians, the Trojans' allies in Homer, were by the fifth century BCE "virtually interchangeable" with Trojans (Bryce 2006, 142).

(24) On Virgil's occlusion of Dido's 'historical' role as the founder of an etbnie, see Desmond (1999, 55-64).

(25) On the evidence that Aeneas is indeed the "tulk," see Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis (1967, 70n). On Aeneas and Gawain as similarly flawed founders, see David (1968, 407).

(26) Aeneas's medieval reputation as a treacherous lover stems largely from Ovid's defense of Dido in the Heroides, which foregrounds Aeneas's self-serving actions and revises Virgil's narrative of Creusa's abandonment (Desmond 1999, 3315; 39-40). Gawain's amorous reputation is clear as early as in Wace's Roman de Brut (2002, 1155), where Walwein praises "drueries" (love affairs), and links chivalric pursuits with "amistie" (love) and one's "amies" (beloved) (2002, 10769-71). Estes argues that the Gawain-poet links Troy and Camelot through "sexual transgression," and suggests that Paris is the treasonous "tulk" (2002, 69-72).

(27) The primary acts of violence in Sir Gawain involve the class-consolidating activities of the aristocratic hunt and Gawain's merely summarized fights while traveling to Hautdesert (715-26). That human suffering is envisaged in the poem's frame is clear from belligerent Britons being Brutus's genetic legacy (21).

(28) Putter argues that the Lady here opposes the fleshly to the conventional Gawain, targeting "the space which separates the 'I' and 'he' (1995, 114-15).

(29) According to the Middle English Dictionary, the meaning of sleight ranges from "wisdom" (1A) to "deceit" (2A).

(30) Crane speculates that the later insertion of the Order of the Garter's motto into the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript reveals a fascination with the foundation of orders, such as that constructed by the courtiers who agree to wear the green "bauderyk" [baldric) (Tolkien, Gordon, & Davis 1967, 2516; Crane 2002, 134-39). Fradenburg argues that the green girdle exposes "meaning" as a "perpetual production" in chivalric culture (1991, 213).

(31) On knightly individuality as a function of communal interaction, see Aers (1988, 153-79). See also Dinshaw's discussion of knighthood as a "performance," with Gawain a "constant living-up-to that reputation" (1994, 213).

(32) On treason as the "characteristic crime of chivalric society," see Barron (1981, 36).

(33) Mercury catalogues Italian lands that Aeneas risks losing by lingering in Carthage, while Helenus conveys Apollo's prophecy that a sow nursing thirty white piglets will mark the site of New Troy (Virgil 1935, IV. 219-25; V.291-462). In Bcnoit's Roman, Helenus prophesies Troy's destruction if the Helen-seeking Paris raids Greek lands (1998, 394-82).

(34) Geoffrey presents Britain as perennially wracked by civil war, as seen in the ducal revolt against Queen Cordelia (2007, 86-87), Androgeus's struggle with Cassivelauunus (114-15), and Uther's war with Gorlois (205-08).

(35) Virgil contrasts Aeneas's relativism with the absolutism of a Turnus, who literally roots himself to his homeland's "terra" (land) (XII.643-49). Virgil clearly represents Aeneas's flexibility as the winning strategy.

(36) The Gawain-poet describes Morgan as the daughter of a "duches" (duchess), presumably Uther's queen, Ygrayne (2465). Gawain is regularly described as the son of King Lot. On Morgan as Bertilak's feudal overlord, see Twomey (2001, 111-14).


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RANDY P. SCHIFF is Associate Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo. He is the author of Revivalist Fantasy: Alliterative Verse and Nationalist Literal), History (Ohio State University Press, 2011).


Unstable Kinship: Trojanness, Treason, and Community in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The essay ethno-symbolically analyzes Trojan identity as illuminating ethnic instability and blood-based elitism in the Britain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Classical and medieval sources reveal the fluid nature of the Trojan identity co-opted by various cultures. Presenting British community as a neo-Trojan ethnie, the Gawain-poet produces an ethno-historical frame that grounds Arthu-rian culture in violence and division. Gawain's expertise in the essentially deceptive discourse of courtly love links him with the originary treason of the Trojan frame, while his inadvertent founding of a sartorial sign discloses the degeneration of epic Trojan warriors into the sophisticated courtiers of romance. The Gawain-poet presents British community as cursed both by the fractiousness and the elitism of its Trojan roots, as the story of purely ethical bonds being forged between Gawain and Bertilak is shown to be a ruse masking the primacy of a blood-based hierarchy dominated by sovereign siblings.
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Author:Schiff, Randy P.
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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