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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Ah, sod it. (In which I live up to my grumpy moniker)

So I'm not going to make myself look good - I'll probably make myself look worse.  My friend Steve says 'maintain a dignified silence' and he's right of course, but I don't really do dignified ... or silent.  I have to get this off my chest.  It'll look like the intellectual equivalent of the beefiest sixth-former picking on the weediest  first-year, and that ain't good, I admit.  But sometimes there are things (in Churchill's words) 'up with which one should not put' and Amazon haven't got back to me about the abuse of their reviewing T&Cs

Let's go through Edwin Pace's (Elafius') review of WoA, sentence by sentence.  Remember, Edwin Pace is the author of the pseudo-history Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain..

This book claims to be the definitive argument against any historical Arthur. 
No it doesn't.  It nowhere claims that.  On the second page of text (p.vii) I say that 'I also concede that it is impossible to prove for sure that he [Arthur] didn't exist'.

Halsall correctly notes that most Arthurian enthusiasts `cherry pick' data, while flouting inconvenient hard evidence. Indeed, many past arguments for Arthur ("Arthur used heavy cavalry", "Lucius Artorius Castus was `really' Arthur", "Ambrosius was `really' Arthur", etc.) are based on no evidence at all. He blames much of this on John Morris, who often took liberties with his evidence, and cherry-picked his data. 
That's fair enough.  I do (mostly) say that, although I think I rather said that all of that ilk do that.  The reason Edwin  Pace changes it to 'most' is that he wants to use the word 'correctly' and thus simultaneously claim that his own work (Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain) somehow differs from the other pseudo-histories (see p.vi of WoA for the fact that this is what all the pseudo-historians do).

Most significant, Halsall argues that all written sources, whether they mention Arthur or not, are useless as evidence for post-Roman Britain.
No I don't.  One example: 'Gildas tells us much about society, Church and rulership in the Britain in which he lived and wrote.' (p.57)  I also say there are things here and there to be learned from some other sources (cp. p.85).  What I do say is that they are useless for the construction of detailed political narrative.  That is not the same thing at all.

This book, however, is in no sense a simple guide on how to refute Arthurian enthusiasts. Halsall's very peculiar view of how Roman Britain became England and Wales requires him to invalidate every written source--as well as ignore pertinent archaeological data. 
Ok it might be peculiar - I say that it is a personal view on p.x of the book that not many people would agree with (unlike Edwin Pace, who falsely claims to be revealing the truth in Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain).  This does not 'require' me to invalidate every written source (see above); the theory is an attempt to propose some ideas in the light of the fact that over the past 30-40 years serious scholars have invalidated every written source as a sound basis for political narrative.  Nor do I ignore any pertinent archaeological data (see next comment).

We thus find that Saxon federates were serving in Britain in 383, a full two generations before the archaeology tells us they were (a `heavy-cavalry' assertion if there ever was one). 
I don't know what a 'heavy cavalry assertion' is, and nor, I expect, do you.  The archaeology does not tell us that Saxon federates were in Britain two generations after 383.  It tells us that people from northern Germany were making their presence visible in the archaeological record from about 430, in East Anglia.  It tells us (it can tell us) nothing about their politico-military status.  Besides which, I spend pp.185-7 explaining why the archaeological record cannot be read simply as passively showing the date of the arrival of migrants.  Pace is deliberately misrepresenting me; I do not 'ignore' this evidence.

More worrying, on the basis of a single `cherry picked' word in Gildas, `meanwhile' (interea), we find that the DEB is not talking about things in the fifth century, but the fourth. 
Edwin Pace doesn't understand the meaning of the word cherry-picked.  The word interea is crucial because it comes at the very beginning of the break in Gildas' narrative, where he turns from the north to the east (as Molly Miller pointed out 30-odd years ago) and, whether or not you accept my thesis, it is absolutely commonplace that it must mean a break (it technically means 'meanwhile' but its other meanings also mark a shift in the direction of the story). If I'd plucked it out of context from the middle of some paragraph in the middle of the account of the Saxons or the Picts, that would be cherry-picking (of the sort Edwin Pace does throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain, although given that he can't read Latin he normally does this from translations, compounding his error).  Nor is my thesis constructed only on this basis.  It is put forward - whether you agree or not - on the basis of an account of the structure of Gildas' work, of other phrases that come around the break in the narrative (e.g. sicut et nunc est), a comparative discussion of Gildas' account of Maximus and those of other fourth- and fifth-century authors, and so on.  That discussion takes seven pages (pp.187-94); even I, prolix as I am, would have difficulty spinning a single cherry-picked word into seven pages of exegesis.  You don't have to agree with the thesis, but it's not cherry-picked.

This allows Halsall to conclude that Vortigern was `really' the usurper Maximus, that the general Ambrosius Aurelianus was `really' St Ambrose, and that the general Vitalinus was `really'...the corpse of St Vitalis.
This is the most egregious of Edwin Pace's misrepresentations (or lies if you prefer).  Nowhere do I say that Vortigern was really Maximus.  I do argue that Gildas' unnamed tyrannus is Maximus, and I argue that by the eighth century traditions about Maximus had become fused with traditions about Vortigern (that fact is made concrete by the evidence of the Pillar of Eliseg, regardless of what else you think of my hypotheses).  Vortigern, I argue at some length, is a figure whose historicity is at least as dubious as (personally I think it is more so than) Arthur's.  That is nothing even close to the argument Edwin Pace accuses me of and yet it is the closest he comes to an accurate representation of the book in this passage.  I nowhere claim that the general Ambrosius Aurelianus 'was really St Ambrose', I nowhere claim that 'the general' (the general?  where does Pace get that from?) Vitalinus 'was really' the corpse of St Vitalis.  This is just scurrilous.  As throughout, Edwin Pace simply chooses to mock arguments he doesn't follow or understand.

Halsall then refutes the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's testimony with a reference to a single study by Barbara Yorke, which he fails to footnote. Indeed, unlike John Morris, he dispenses with all documentation.  
More untruths.  I do not refute the ASC's testimony 'with a reference to a single study by Barbara Yorke'.  The text itself name-checks at least two studies and the further reading essay refers to a further three.  Yorke's article is - technically - unfoot-noted but it is clearly cited on p.312 ('The studies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referred to in the text are ... and Yorke (1990)'. It is entirely - and deliberately - misleading to say that I dispense with all documentation.  References to chapter and verse of primary sources used are given in the text itself; allusion to particular ideas is given in text by citing the name of the historian with whom they originate and the bibliographical essay and 19-page bibliography expand on this.  I did dispense with foot-notes for particular reasons (p.xi).  This may have been a mistake but it was done for particular reasons to enhance accessibility, as this isn't primarily a book aimed at academics, and not out of arrogance, laziness or hypocrisy as various reviewers have claimed.  I concede it might look that way.  I will explain further anon.

But his investigation of the Historia Brittonum is most puzzling.  
Here Edwin Pace starts to lose his already slender grip on reality and uses the opportunity to go off into his own world (or rather parallel universe) of Arthur (the one set out at length in Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain).

He correctly notes the grave weaknesses in David Dumville's `founding' sceptical article of 1972-4. It requires us to accept four unevidenced assumptions to explain a single 69-year interval in chapter 66 of the HB (i.e. `coming of the Saxons'--69 years--consul Valerius, 521). 
How do you 'evidence' an argument, when the argument is an attempt to make sense of a sentence that no one has understood by positing four entirely reasonable scribal errors.  Put another way, how do you evidence absence? This point is absurd.  And hypocritical since Edwin Pace's own Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain is one long a catalogue of unevidenced assumptions.  Most bizarrely, he takes Dumville's argument and then adds extra (in this case entirely unevidenced) hypotheses to it before then working backwards from an end point based upon the hypothesis he's just rejected...

But Halsall's alternative is that the consuls mentioned as the end-points of the said interval...are actually the two earlier pagan emperors Valerian and Decius, whom some nameless British scribe thought were coming back as the Anti-Christ--arguably in the form of the pantomime horse of the Apocalypse.
This is another point where Pace uses his strategy of mocking things he doesn't follow.  He misrepresents the argument in any case.  Nowhere do I say that a British scribe thought this.

Halsall then dismisses the other passages in chapter 66 as scribal errors, although, unlike Dumville, he gives no evidence for this. 
Not true.  There is a long, ten-page discussion of the HB's computations, citing them all in detail and showing - with full explanation and in-text referencing - how it is demonstrable that the HB frequently got its numbers and systems confused.  Nowhere do I describe any of the dates in chapter 66 as 'scribal errors' other than the figure of 400 years between the incarnation and the coming of the Saxons which is clearly - by the HB's own other calculations - a mistake.  An error, yes.  An error by a scribe, I suppose, but a scribal error means something else (I suspect Edwin Pace doesn't know this), and that is NOT what I claim it is.

This in turn proves that the HB is not a British annal. In this at least he is correct. The full HB Prologue states that it is using `Irish and Saxon annals'.
Here we get to the nub of the issue as this graphically illustrates Edwin Pace's own deficiencies.  What he calls 'the full HB prologue' (misleading; its textual status as part of the original is at best insecure) says nothing of the sort - even in translation.  It says it used 'the writings' of the Scots [Irish] and Saxons, which it clearly did in any case, since it includes a version of a Life of St Patrick and an Irish chronology, and the works of Bede.

Moreover, if one subtracts 69 from the end-point Dumville gives (Valerius' consulship of 521), it is in perfect accord with the date for the coming of the Saxons given in both Bede and a `Saxon annal'--the ASC (521 - 69 = 452). Moreover, Halsall's use of AP dates fully explains the HB citation that the Romans `came and went' for 348 years (Ch. 30). The result is within a year of 418 AD, the ASC's date for the Roman withdrawal (43 + 348 = 391 AP, 391 + 28 = 419 AD; 43 being the Claudian conquest). 
Well, what to say?  This is a brilliant illustration of Edwin Pace's "scholarship" as found throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain.  Having dismissed Dumville, he then subtracts 69 from the date Dumville used to get a date 'in perfect accord' with a date given by Bede and the ASC ... except that Bede doesn't give that date, he gives a 6-year bracket which, since Patrick Sims-Williams work in the early '80s, we've been able to see as Bede's own best guess, and nor does the ASC (which gives 449).  That, by Pace's standards of scholarship, is 'perfect accord'.  Now think of another number...  This is Edwin Pace's historical version of Numberwang.

The next section, if anything, is even better.  If you take an AD date (43: the date of Claudius invasion - remember that this is not a date in the HB or its available sources, which didn't use AD dates), right, and add 348 you get 391.  [Actually you don't.  By the way the HB counted - illustrated with references in WoA, p.198, n.3 - it is 390, but let that pass.]  Now - and this is where things get crazy - you add, for no good reason - 28 to 391, to arrive at 418 as an AP date.  [Actually 417 by antique counting; cumulatively we're in fact at 416...] Now - get this - 418 is the year the ASC gives for the departure of the Romans.  So it's all true!  That's the truth, ladies and gentlemen.  The TRUTH!  Except that the ASC's date (unreliable in any case)  is an AD date, not an AP date.  By AD dates and Edwin Pace's strange pseudo-methodology we've only got to 391...  For the two to harmonise we'd have to have started at the AP date for Claudius' invasion and ended at the AP equivalent of 418 (AP 445).  Also, in any case, 348 isn't the amount of time of the Roman occupation, as we would know it (43 to, let's say, 410 is 367 years, 368 by late antique counting; the HB's 348 could be a scribal error for 368 but let's not go there) so why do we give the figure any credence as a measure of accuracy?  Even if (as they don't) all the sources converged on this figure they'd still be wrong.  And finally, why focus on 418 as the date of Roman withdrawal, a date attested only in a demonstrably artificial ninth-century Anglo-Saxon chronology and referred to nowhere in any surviving contemporary sources (fifth- or even, for the sake of argument, sixth-century) from the Mainland?  This is how Edwin Pace works throughout Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain.  By any even vaguely scholarly standards, it's absolute gibberish and any decent second-year undergraduate could pull it apart.  

Overall, the HB and the ASC share seven such dates.
Wow.  So, by taking two equally, demonstrably, late and unreliable chronologies and messing about with them, according to what you decided in advance you wanted to prove and according to no sound historical methodology, seven whole dates can be hammered into converging to within a decade. Astonishing.  

Ronald Hutton argued a few years back that this discipline's main problem is that both Arthur enthusiasts and Arthur sceptics are equally guilty of using the same bad methodologies. 
Untrue again.  The closest Hutton came to saying that was where he said that Arthur-sceptics were refusing to try and explain why someone who never existed had come, within 300 years of his supposed existence, to be the national hero of an entire nation, and thus that they too weren't facing up to certain facts.  Hutton's is a very good piece but (and to be fair remember he's a 17th-century specialist) he overstates the case.  One of the aspects of WoA that I am proudest of is that I point out (though I'm hardly the first to do so) that there is no evidence at all that the legend of Arthur was even remotely well-known before the mid-eleventh century, even in Wales.  The issue is not how historical stories about Arthur could have been transmitted over centuries but why there are only five mentions of him in three sources from before 1000, out of the dozens of sources we have; why after the three Arthurs alive c.600 there is not one (of the hundreds of other people known to us in Britain) person called Arthur (and no Arthur place-names in any of the hundreds of charters); why, in the obvious place to deploy 'the national hero of an entire people' there is no allusion (even) to Arthur in the Armes Prydein.  And so on.  It doesn't prove Arthur didn't exist.  It is a pretty serious argument that, if he did, his story wasn't well known.

It is thus no surprise that the present volume replicates all the sins Halsall attributes to Arthurian enthusiasts.
That - as I hope I have shown - is nonsense.

And in rejecting Dumville's 1972-4 solution, Halsall inadvertently demolishes the very foundations of his own scepticism.
And so obviously is that.  Indeed it makes no sense at all.  The argument - if you can call it that - seems to be that if Dumville's piece on the HB was the foundational text of Arthur-scepticism, and you don't necessarily buy one minor element of Dumville's argument therein (and Dumville must have been only a PhD student or junior post-doc when he wrote that, which is salutary!), then you have somehow demolished all the grounds for rejecting the testimony of late and dubious sources.  This is rubbish.

In fairness, many of Halsall's past insights are of great interest. It is therefore doubly sad when he brands anyone who argues for Arthur's historicity as `dishonest'. Is this open scholarly debate?
Once again (and I know this is getting tedious) I do not say this.  I do not brand anyone who argues for Arthur's historicity as dishonest (see, e.g., my reference to Christopher Gidlow on WoA p.310).  What I do say is this (p.307):
'The old quest for King Arthur is fruitless.  The documentary evidence cannot respond to those sorts of questions.  More seriously, to pretend to have provided the answers sought by that romantic quest from the surviving written sources is downright dishonest.' [emphasis added]
That is a rather different claim, and it is one I stand by absolutely.  There are words for people who try to make money out of people by selling them books (like Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain) that claim to have revealed 'the truth' when they do not, for people who describe things as true which have been established as anything but true, for people who describe other people as doing and writing things that they don't, for people who pretend disinterest, who disguise their identities, and then tell untruths (in reviews and comments on other reviews) in order to defend their own financial interests in partisan fashion.  Dishonest is about the most polite word I can think of for such people.

By the way, dear readers, feel free to post a link to this under his 'review'.  This will stay up as long as the scurrilous review remains on Amazon.