I’ve been thinking recently about oral transmission, and also what happens to documents when they’re copied and recopied as part of the process of manual transmission.
And I found myself thinking again about the Lucius Hiberius passage in Monmouth’s History of the Kings of England.
Lots of things sound right to make me think that it’s a memory of an actual incident during the time of the Byzantine Exarchate in Italy. Even the slightly fantastical battle against the Emperor of the Romans feels like it could be a memory – for the simple reason that the action takes place near Autun at the head of the Saone and Autun was a site of strategic significance – famously Julian the Apostate and his men were refused entry while the city was under attack by the Alemanni as they were mistaken by the defender for barbarians, and later, in the eighth century the city was briefly held by Umayyid troops during their attempted expansion north from the Mediterranean coastal cities of Provence.
So I did something very simple last night – I looked up the the proper looking Roman names in my old reprint of Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary – not that I expected to find the names mentioned as such, but that if I could find similar names from an earlier period it would reinforce my hunch that the names were plausible.
Lempriere’s Dictionary is online if you want to try this yourself – the scan of the 1832 edition is a bit cleaner than the 1812 edition if you want to feed it through some text analysis scripts but either is good enough for the old eyeball test.
Formal Roman tria nomina are structured differently from contemporary western names – the first one is a personal name, the second is the family name, and the third one is an extra personal name to distinguish all the Gaius Metelli from each other. As the Romans were very conservative as to the first two components it’s the third one we’d expect most variation in.
If you look for Cocta – as in our old friend Gaius Metellus Cocta – you don’t get a lot of results – suggesting that Cocta was not a well known cognomen. However I didn’t look for Cocta first of all, I misremembered the name and looked for Cotta, and Cotta shows up as a reasonably well known cognomen, and it could be plausibly argued that misreading tt as ct could easily have happened during transcription in the early manuscript versions.
Where does this leave us?
Well I don’t think it rules anything out, but it doesn’t add much either, other than add a little more weight to the plausibility stakes. Given the paucity of sources from the sixth century or thereabouts I think we are still stuck with a very hand waving argument about the plausibility or otherwise of there actually ever being a delegation from the Exarchate asking the British post Roman polities to express allegiance to the Emperor of the East in Constantinople …
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