The Secret Life of … Berenice


Everyone knows that myths are essays in personification. They are stories which portray things as people, and describe impersonal processes as personal and purposeful activity. You want to know what the earth and the sky are? Obviously, they’re a couple of randy deities: that’s Geb and Nut to the Egyptians, Gaia and Ouranos to the Greeks, Rangi and Papa to the Maori, and so forth. So, if they’re so fond of each other, why do they hold themselves apart? Why doesn’t the sky just cuddle up to the earth, and crush us? Because the air is holding them apart. On purpose. And so forth.

Thinking of this sort is very old indeed – prehistoric, in fact – and seems to relate to hard-wired tendencies in the human brain. We are, it seems, predisposed to see the world in personal rather than mechanical terms. We always have been. Steven Mithen suggests that this may be because our social intelligence evolved before our mechanical intelligence. To illustrate this point, we can observe the behaviour of modern primates. Like us, chimps conduct very complex social relationships – they cuddle, nurture, flirt, bully, wheedle, lie, cheat and so forth – but, unlike us, they can’t handle tools more complex than a broken stick. Mithen suggests that we were originally rather similar to chimps: socially intelligent and emotionally sophisticated, but mechanically and practically stupid, and unable to re-direct our capacity for complex thought and learning from the social arena to the practical. Unlike chimps, however, we moved on. At some point in prehistory, our brains acquired the ability to transfer learning from one arena of understanding to another. We evolved complex thought patterns for the purposes of lying, cheating, stealing and bullying, and then, suddenly, the penny dropped and we worked out how to make bows, arrows, necklaces, textiles, ballistic missiles and ecological catastrophes. So our mechanical and practical intelligence is actually an adapted spillover from our complex social understanding, and for this reason – Mithen suggests – we retain an enduring tendency to see everything in personal rather than mechanical terms. Hence my habit of giving pet-names to my trusty laptop and cussing her out when she gets one of her hissy fits and refuses to do as she’s told. And hence, too, Geb, Nut, Gaia, Ouranos, Rangi, Papa, and who knows what other gods besides – maybe all of them. In consequence, some assume that the whole idea of god or gods is simply a hangover from a slight mis-wire in the human brain: a pardonable error which we’ll get over as soon as science has provided a better explanation why we tend to instinctively feel that there’s Someone or Something Out There. So it’s worth bearing in mind that contemporary philosophy of mind is quite compatible with the idea that there’s Someone or Something Out There, or, rather, that consciousness might be a general property of matter which reaches beyond the evolved vertebrate brain. We simply don’t know enough about consciousness to have a firm basis for an opinion either way – because we know absolutely nothing at all about consciousness. Since we are all, in effect, just little parcels of consciousness, it is ironic that we remain in total ignorance about what we fundamentally are. Measured in terms of progress towards an answer to this basic question, the last five thousand years of civilisation and millions of years of evolution might as well just not have happened at all. We don’t know what consciousness is, any more than fish or crabs know.

But I digress. Looking at things this way leads us to see myth-making as a prehistoric endeavour, and to assume that the whole cosmos was well and truly personified by early historical times, by persons unknown. In general terms, this is true: all the cultures we know about have well-established mythic systems and religions in place long before writing and literacy ever put in their first appearance, and we never get to know exactly who first concluded that the Great Bear was a great bear. We rarely know who the myth-makers are.

However, this is not really true of the classical star-myths on which our modern constellations are based. As classical scholar Robin Hard points out, these stories originate fairly late in classical times. Myth-makers like Eratosthenes wrote at a time when genuinely ancient myth had lost its grip on serious belief among educated Greeks and Romans. The poets and writers who made the myths did not seriously believe what they were writing, and did not intend their readers or listeners to believe it either – any more than modern writers like J.R.R. Tolkien or Terry Pratchett seriously intend their readers to believe in Elbereth or Gandalf, or Discworld. Rather like these modern writers, the late Greek myth-makers made up the stories as an imaginative or literary exercise. So if you’ve ever read Greek or Roman star-myths and found them – frankly – a little bit boring or lacking in substance, don’t blame yourself. You’ve picked up on the fact that you’re reading a literary imitation of myth, rather than the real thing.

So on reflection it’s not perhaps all that surprising to catch one of these myth-makers at it, and even more fun to spot the connection to a rather embarrassing item of lost property. I’m talking about you, Conon, astronomer-royal to Ptolemy III, king of Egypt in the long aftermath of Alexander the Great’s famous career of world conquest.

This is the little constellation of Coma Berenices, which hangs around at this point in the northern night sky.

Coma Berenices is literally “Berenice’s Hair.” Berenice was the daughter of the king of Cyrene, a city-state founded in Libya by Greek colonists which wa something of a satellite of Ptolemaic Egypt, in the days after the death of Alexander the Great, when most of the classical world seemed to be ruled by squabbling kings descended from Alexander’s old generals and their clients and henchmen. Berenice came from this background and lived in this world. Besides being born a princess of Cyrene, she was second cousin to Ptolemy III, a prince of Egypt and decendant of one of Alexander’s generals. After murdering one husband for sleeping with her mother, she married Ptolemy on his accession to the throne of Egypt in 247BC. Ptolemy immediately went off to war with Syria. Berenice dedicated a lock of her own hair as an offering for Ptolemy’s safe return. Ptolemy did return safe from the war. But the lock of hair went missing from the temple.

This was when Conon came in. He had recently discovered a small, unobtrusive new constellation between Virgo and the Great Bear, and, to make a bad thing good, he claimed that the missing lock had been instarred – transformed into the newly-discovered constellation. The idea was taken up by the Greek poet Callimachus, but his poem on the subject is mostly lost. We know the gist of it from a version by the Roman poet Catullus.

Fittingly enough – given that myth is about personification – Catullus’ poem is narrated by the lock of hair itself, in the ancient riddling style of personification, in which inanimate objects find their voices and speak for themselves: a literary device which echoes the old mythic way of looking at the world – and, maybe, too, the socially grounded intelligence which we evolved to share with chimps, and the panpsychism which some present-day philosophers flirt with, and – who knows? Whatever or Whoever may really be Out There.

But that, as you might say, is what stories and storytelling are for: to create an imaginative mystery that echoes the actual mystery of the world. And, possibly, to palliate some of its pretence and squalor.


The Secret Life of … Homer

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The two Homeric poems – the Iliad and the Odyssey – are unusual in that, in the west at least, they never needed to be discovered, or rediscovered. They have enjoyed pre-eminence from the time they were first written down. Compare this with the fate of comparable oral and oral-derived epics from other times and cultures, and we can see how the west has tended to favour anything Greek over anything else. Gilgamesh (see elsewhere on this blog) was buried, quite forgotten, in lost cities under sand-dunes, for two thousand years. The Finnish Kalevala probably has prehistoric roots, but it first made it to print in the 1840s. The very existence of the west African Sundiata epic was more or less flatly denied outright by scholarly experts like Ruth Finnegan as late as the 1960s. The central Asian Manas epos is still virtually unknown in the west, despite clocking in as the biggest oral epic tradition ever, at a round million lines per poem, and enjoying a post-Soviet revival. And so forth.

The Iliad and Odyssey are both oral epics, or, more strictly, oral-derived epics: in their original form they were composed and transmitted orally. Since, as texts, both are around 12,000 lines long, oral composition is quite an achievement, and it took scholars centuries to even begin to work out how it was done.

Maybe I’ll tell that story one day, but it’s been told many times. For the moment, I’m more interested in answering the less frequently asked question of how the texts of the poems, once created, were themselves transmitted over two thousand years to the present day, in a world which (for the most part) had no printing presses, no damp-proofing, no fire-extinguishers, and little else that would increase the average manuscript’s chances of long-term survival. How have we managed to keep hold of readable texts of the poems over two millennia? How close are today’s texts to what ‘Homer’ – whoever that was – sang?

The poems deal with the Greek view of the Trojan war, which was itself a later episode in a very long, substantial, essentially legendary history, which ultimately ran straight back, through the stories of well-known Greek heroes such as Jason, Theseus, Perseus and Oedipus, and stories of the Great Flood, to mythic accounts of the creation of humanity and the world. Although these Greek traditions have oral roots, Greeks had begun to adopt the older civilisations’ pictographic writing systems, and by the mid-8th century BCE they were already using alphabetic scripts which they had borrowed from the neighbouring Phoenicians (whose Semitic language and culture connects them with the Israelites’ alphabetic Bible, emerging in the same centuries). This adapted Phoenician script is still the Greek alphabet of today.

The Greeks at this early point in their history, were a relatively marginal people, living in small, competing city-states, under conditions of political fragmentation, offset by a growing sense of unity or Panhellenism (“all-of-Greece-ism”). This developed in opposition to a great and expanding centre of civilisation to the east: the Persian empire. Nowadays, Persia is Iran. In the first millennium BC, and for several centuries afterwards until the Arab Muslims conquered it, it was the centre of a large empire and a civilisation of global standing, the major centre of settled culture between Europe and India. Greece was a backwater on the Persian margins, and Greek unity developed in resistance to the huge threat of Persian conquest.

Prominent among Panhellenic institutions was the Panathenaic festivals at Athens. Throughout this period and beyond, performing poets known as rhapsodes continued to keep Homeric tradition alive, either reciting a fixed text from memory or creating their own versions of well-known stories. Prominent among the rhapsodes were an order known as the Homeridai or “sons of Homer,” who claimed a special authority with regard to the poet’s legacy. Hard evidence is rather skimpy, but the two great poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are traditionally said to have been first written down, possibly by direct dictation from single performances, in an attempt to iron out discrepancies in local dialects and narrative traditions, and establish a text for recitation at these festivals which would be authoritative within the whole Greek culture area. But there is no hard evidence for written texts of the poems from this period.

As ancient Greek history proceeded along its course, these two early poems were – apparently – rewritten and copied, and orally recited in an ongoing tradition, and continued to enjoy unrivalled high standing in these forms. They inspired an enormous volume of comment and imitation, much of it now lost, over the next few centuries, as the Greeks beat the odds by seeing off an attempted Persian invasion, and used their new writing system to create and record all of what we think of as the great works of classical Greek literature, poetry and philosophy. They were then forced into political unity by one of their own marginal peoples, the northern Macedonians. The Macedonians then went on, under Alexander (probably Homer’s most famous fan), to occupy and establish a large empire including Greece, Egypt, Persia, parts of central Asia, and most of the Middle East as far as the Indus river-valley in modern Pakistan. This empire quickly fragmented, and the pieces were slowly picked off piecemeal by the Romans in the west and the revived Persians in the east. But this was not before Greek language and culture had made a more lasting mark across the whole area. It is from this late and fluid period, in the mid-3rd century BCE, that we find, at last, our earliest hard evidence for the two Homeric poems as written texts, in the surviving records of the great Greek library at Alexandria, a new Greek city in Greek-occupied Egypt, where a few of the many versions circulating at the time were edited and deposited.

We know that there were complete texts of the poems in the library at Alexandria, but none of them have survived. The oldest surviving complete text of the Iliad only surfaces in the early 10th century, in Byzantium, in the archives of the surviving eastern half of the Roman empire, which had half-collapsed under the three-pronged assault of Germanic, Turkic and Arab invaders. Named by scholars Venetus A, it now rests in the Public Library of St. Mark, in Venice, and is being scanned for free online public access, by Harvard University. It will be available here. It looks like this: heavily annotated, with scholarly apparatus stretching back to the lost editions of Alexandria. That’s Alexandria for you. When an Alexandrian librarian annotated a text, the text stayed annotated. Some Alexandrian footnotes have lasted longer than other people’s entire civilisations.

So the rest, as they say, is history. Homer continued to influence both Christian and Muslim scholars and writers through the medieval and modern periods, and copies and citations of the poems are relatively plentiful thereafter.

Throughout this complex history, numerous written and spoken versions of the two basic stories continued to circulate and affect each other. The upshot is that we cannot be sure if and how our present-day Iliad and Odyssey are really oral epics at all, in the sense of being things which one or more singers composed and performed without the help of writing. They are almost certainly hybrids: literate texts which are fairly close to the old oral epic tradition.

But we cannot know how close: Homer’s voice, of course, fell silent many centuries before the poem in Venetus A was copied down.

The Secret Life of … Gilgamesh

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If, for some reason, you wanted to pinpoint the exact starting-point of all western literature, the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh would have a reasonable claim to be it. It follows the legendary career of an irrepressible demi-god, king of the city-state of ancient Uruk, as he fights monsters (such as the entrail-faced demon Huwawa), engages gods and goddesses in battles of wit and will, and finds true friendship with a wild man, Enkidu, who has been tamed and brought into the city. Most famously, when Enkidu dies, the grief-stricken Gilgamesh goes on a world-spanning search for immortality – and finds it (perhaps). Short though it may be relative to some other epics, the story of Gilgamesh, written by an Assyrian scribe on twelve clay tablets in Biblical times, deals authoritatively with themes of life, death, love, grief, growing up, the nature of the world, and the place of human society in it. It is one of the most ambitious and complete works of narrative art in existence.

Gilgamesh himself is a kingly hero on the old legendary pattern, but there is an appealingly tricksterish quality to his naivety and boundless energy. The story begins with an appetising description of the magnificent city of Uruk, the kingdom of Gilgamesh, the son of the human king Lugulbanda and of the cow-goddess Ninsun. The basic problem is that Gilgamesh is so invincible that he is causing trouble around Uruk, randomly bullying all the men and seducing all the women. The chief mother-goddess Aruru (or Ninhursag) creates a wild man, Enkidu, who wanders the countryside outside Uruk, keeping company with the wild beasts, until a humble hunter spots him. Word comes to Gilgamesh, who sends Shamhat, a priestess of the goddess Ishtar, to tame the wild man by sleeping with him. Since Ishtar is one of the patron-gods of Uruk itself, her priestess, by implication, is the channel of the core values and wisdom of the civilisation, and after seven nights’ lovemaking, Enkidu has indeed acquired human wisdom, and, seemingly in consequence, the wild animals are beginning to give him a wide berth. Enkidu is far from happy, but recognising his changed state, from beastlike to fully human, he asks Shamhat to take him to Uruk. She does so, and, in fulfilment of Gilgamesh’s own prophetic dream, he and Gilgamesh meet and become the closest of friends.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu now form one of the oldest buddy double-acts in recorded world literature, and proceed to tackle and kill a series of monsters, including the forest-demon Humbaba (Huwawa in the older Sumerian). All goes well enough until Gilgamesh refuses a marriage-proposal from the goddess Ishtar, rather tactlessly pointing out the misfortune which she has always ended up inflicting on her previous lovers. Rejected and furious, Ishtar runs to her father, the sun-god Anu, who reluctantly releases one more monster, the Bull of Heaven, into her keeping. As if to prove Gilgamesh right, the vengeful Ishtar unleashes the Bull of Heaven at Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but they manage to kill it as they have killed all the other monsters. Affronted at the slaughter of the symbol of their surpreme power, the gods decide on another attempt to rein in the irrepressible Gilgamesh, and decree that either he or Enkidu must die.

At this point the tone of the epic changes. Up till now everything has gone Gilgamesh’s way, but now he is increasingly powerless, the plaything of terrible events and forces beyond his control, and the story becomes, not one of his heroic triumph over adversity, but his growing realisation of his own tragic helplessness in the face of it. Enkidu and Gilgamesh have premonitions of disaster, and Enkidu curses the priestess Shamhat, presumably for tangling him up in the fate of civilised humanity. But the gods point out the positive side of his experiences, and Enkidu resigns himself to the inevitable, blesses Shamhat, falls sick, and dies.

The suddenly terrified and grief-stricken Gilgamesh has an image made of his dead friend, but when this fails to console him, he resolves to seek out the immortal sage Ut-napishtim in order to prevent his own death. Ut-napishtim is the supremely good and wise survivor of the Great Flood, related in storytelling tradition to the Noah of the Bible, and although he has been gifted with immortality by the gods, he lives in the land of the dead. Gilgamesh sets out to find him. He meets with Siduri, the innkeeper along the road to the land of the dead, and Ur-shanabi, the ferryman who sails across the river of death, and advises him how to cross it. Finally, Gilgamesh comes to Utnapishtim, who advises him not to seek to avoid death, and tells him the story of the Flood to illustrate his point. Gilgamesh insists, and Utnapishtim tells him that to avoid death he must go seven nights without sleep. He fails. Utnapishtim gives him a second chance, telling him of a herb which confers immortality. Gilgamesh scours the cosmic ocean for this herb, and finds it. Returning jubilantly to Uruk with the herb, he stops to wash himself in a pool, and a snake eats the herb. Gilgamesh observes the snake shedding its skin as it slithers away, and realises that his quest has been in vain. He consoles himself with boasting to Urshanabi the ferryman about the strength and beauty of the walls of Uruk, and so the whole story ends where it began – with a vision of the magnificence of humanity and its achievements – but seasoned with the bittersweet hindsight which tells us that no-one, not even the invincible Gilgamesh, can cheat death.

The standard text of Gilgamesh has a very chequered prehistory. As we have seen, the real Gilgamesh was a king of Uruk (Biblical Erech – that is, Warka in modern Iraq), an important city-state, cult centre and centre of literacy around the very beginning of the oldest historical period, around 2800 – 2500 BCE. There is no contemporary written evidence for his existence. However, very early illustrations appear to show episodes from his adventures, and written evidence dating from soon after his death indicates that he was already being worshipped as a god, in the way many ancient kings were (including Egyptian pharaohs and the much later Greek and Roman emperors). He, his “father” Lugulbanda and grandfather Enmerkar are the three major figures of the later Mesopotamian king-lists and story-collections, in exactly the same way that Israelite kings such as David and Solomon came to feature in the compendious “begats” and narrative episodes of the Hebrew Bible. So there was a Gilgamesh, in all probability. Gilgamesh may have actually been Lugulbanda’s biological son, but it is possible that their relationship was one of political “adoption” designed to secure a legally robust succession to the throne of Uruk. The two men may even have been rivals.

The earliest surviving Gilgamesh stories are found across a wide area of the Middle East and are written in cuneiform script in various languages, chiefly Akkadian. They date from after 2150 BCE, by which point Akkadian was replacing Sumerian as the official language, under the increasing influence of neighbouring Akkad, with its capital Babylon, over the original centre of literate civilisation in Sumer. These tablets are mostly short single episodes or adventures, apparently existing in multiple variants in various parallel traditions, presumably rooted, at least ultimately, in orality. But by 1700 BCE there was already an early or “Old Babylonian” version of the single epic of Gilgamesh. Around 1200 BCE, various texts were collated and translated into the version we now regard as standard, and, unusually for so ancient a literary text, we may know the name of the author from later Mesopotamian tradition. He is supposed to have been called Sin-leqe-unnini. Unlike the Sumerian and Akkadian empires which ultimately spawned it, the standard version of the epic survived the turbulent Dark Age around 1000 BCE, for the surviving copy dates from around the 8th or 7th century BCE and was lodged in the library at Nineveh, the capital of a young Mesopotamian empire, that of Assyria. The default version of the Gilgamesh epic thus dates from what Europeans would call Old Testament times, by which point the Gilgamesh tradition was as old as Beowulf or the oldest Arthurian material is today.

Nineveh in turn was destroyed in 612 BCE by a new imperial regime based on the old centre of Babylon, which then fell to the Persians, then the Greeks, and there is evidence that Gilgamesh stories, or at least their basic plot elements and motifs, continued to circulate in text form as late as the Greek times and beyond. Odysseus’ encounter with Calypso, for example, seems to echo Gilgamesh’s encounter with Siduri. But ecological and political disaster had overcome the urban centres of the Middle East, and the whole area had become the desert it is today. The vast written records were lost amid the ruins and their very existence was forgotten until the nineteenth-century explosion of text-based research caught up with them. In 1844, an English traveller, Austen Henry Layard, began excavations around modern Mosul and was staggered to discover the ruins of the Biblical Nineveh, including tens of thousands of then-unreadable cunieform tablets. Within a decade, cuneiform script had been deciphered. Many of the tablets turned out to be relatively humdrum: accounts, records of payment, and the like. Then, in 1872, George Smith, a British Muesum curator, realised that the tablet he was reading contained a Flood myth similar to the one he knew from the Bible. Smith, of course, had stumbled on what we now know as the dialogue between Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim. Although he knew nothing else of the Gilgamesh story (because nobody did), Smith was immediately so overwhelmed by this discovery that he laid the tablet down on the table, stripped off, and ran, seemingly half-naked, around the room, much to the astonishment of his fellow-scholars.

By the turn of the nineteenth century the epic of Gilgamesh was available in translation to general readers, and was being hailed as a classic of world literature by heavyweights such as Rainer Maria Rilke, who described the poem as “stupendous … one of the greatest things that could happen to a person.”

And so, in one sense, it is. Check this out for some modern images which I think really capture the spirit of the story, courtesy of the wonderful Mythstories museum.

And – of course – I’ve helped do Gilgamesh as a commission for Huddersfield Literature Festival, at the kind invitation of the commissionee, my friend and collaborator Tim Ralphs. So if you want me to tell you in person how Gilgamesh and Enkidu first met, click here and go to 1:43.

The Secret Life of … Rapunzel

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I first knew the story of Rapunzel from the 1968 Ladybird Books version, Well-Loved Tales series, by Vera Southgate, illustrated by Eric Winter. It is, as we all know, the story of a young woman who escapes from a witch by pulling a prince up to her tower prison on her long tresses. What I didn’t realise at the time was that this tale of letting your hair down seems to have been somewhat buttoned up over time.

The Ladybird story begins with a barren wife longing for “salad” from a neighbouring witch’s garden – the salad in question being clearly lettuce, by the look of the illustration. The husband goes to steal the witch’s lettuce and the witch catches him. The witch and the husband do a deal: the husband’s life in return for the daughter which the witch knows the couple are about to have. The witch gives her foster-daughter the exotic name Rapunzel and she grows to be extraordinarily beautiful. On turning twelve, Rapunzel is shut by the witch in a high tower without doors. After that the witch is her only visitor, climbing up and down the tower on Rapunzel’s long tresses, which she hangs out of the window on request. A prince overhears Rapunzel’s singing and discovers how to get into the tower by watching the witch. After a while, the couple plan to escape together by weaving a silken ladder. But a careless word from Rapunzel alerts the witch, who then banishes Rapunzel, cutting off her tresses and fixing them to the casement of the tower so that everything will appear as normal from the outside. That night, the prince, suspecting nothing, climbs the tresses. The witch confronts him. In despair he leaps from the tower, blinding himself on the thorns below. After long wandering through a desert, the blind prince is drawn once again by Rapunzel’s singing. Rapunzel’s tears restore the prince’s eyesight. They all live happily ever after.

The Ladybird book does not give a source of this story, but “Rapunzel” is, in fact, the twelfth story in Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children and Household Tales) – the famous Grimms’ fairy tales, which appeared in numerous editions between 1812 and 1857. Grimm’s tales were being translated and freely adapted in English from the 1820s onwards, and “Rapunzel” has been a favourite of English readers ever since. The Grimms, however, did not invent the story either; nor, apparently, did they take it directly from traditional oral storytellers. A similar story, “Die Padde,” was published in the same year as the Grimms’ first volume, in Johann Gustav Büsching’s Volks-Sagen, Märchen und Legenden (Folk-Sagas, Tales and Legends) (Leipzig, 1812). The Grimms, however, seem to have taken the story from another German writer, Friedrich Schultz, who had included it twenty years earlier in his collection of Kleine Romane (Little Romances) (1790).

Schultz, however, was not the author either. He was adapting a literary story written in French a century before by a disgraced lady-in-waiting at the French court, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Marina Warner writes that Mlle de la Force married without the consent of her husband’s family. Her husband’s family broke up the marriage, she ran into other trouble at court for writing poetry that was considered blasphemous, her court pension was stopped, and she had to enter a convent to escape destitution. Here, as an apparently reluctant nun, she wrote Les Fées, Contes des Contes (The Fairies: A Tale of Tales (?)) (1692), a cycle of stories told, Arabian Nights-fashion, within the context of a larger frame-story. One of these tales was “Persinette.” Persinette’s mother craves a forbidden savoury herb in a witch’s garden: not lettuce or salad, however, but parsley (persil). The baby is taken by the witch in exchange for the herb, named after the herb itself, and imprisoned in a tower. Mlle de la Force clearly had personal reasons for interest in a tale like this. Like her heroine, she was kept forcibly from her lover; unlike her heroine, she seems never to have escaped.

However, Mlle de la Force’s story was not the earliest “Rapunzel”-like story either. “Persinette” closely resembles the Italian “Petrosinella,” the first tale on the second day in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone (1634 – 6), a tale of tales sixty years older than Mlle de la Force’s. While pregnant, Petrosinella’s mother, Pascadozia, is overcome with craving for parsley from an ogress’ garden. She makes the usual bargain with the ogress. Petrosinella is born with a parsley-shaped birthmark on her breast, which gives the worldly and sardonic Basile scope for plenty of bawdy humour later on in the story, when the heroine as it were serves herself up to her lover already garnished with a sprig of parsley. Basile gives a clue where to look next, in making it clear that the inspiration of his story is oral tradition: the age-old practice of oral storytelling, often by women, especially old working women, which educated readers and writers usually first encountered through listening to their nurses’ and servants’ tales in childhood.

All these stories, from Petrosinella to Rapunzel, are literary renditions of the oral folktale-type known to folklorists as The Maiden in the Tower. Once the story is traced back beyond Basile to oral tradition, it becomes quite impossible to keep track of the chain of transmission; The Maiden in the Tower is known in Lithuanian, Irish, French, Catalan, Flemish, German, Italian, Sicilian, Serbocroatian, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Caribbean variants. The individual motifs or segments of the story are more widespread still in the worlds’ narrative traditions: one version of it, of course, is the nineteenth-century Irish folktale of the birth of Lugh Lamfhada to the captive maiden Eithlinn – a personal favourite story of mine.

I’d always assumed that the name Rapunzel was just a meaningless fairytale-princess sort of a name. In fact, in the German, rapunzel is the name of the stolen herb which starts the story off, and the implication is that the herb has something directly to do with the gestation and birth of the heroine who bears its name. The Grimms’ 1837 story, for example, begins with the wife not barren, as in the Ladybird book, but already pregnant:


Es war einmal ein Mann und eine Frau, die wünschten sich schon lange vergeblich ein Kind, endlich machte sich die Frau Hoffnung der liebe Gott werde ihren Wunsch erfüllen.


Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who for quite some time had been wishing in vain for a child. Finally, the dear Lord gave the wife a sign of hope that their wish would be fulfilled.


In context, then, the husband’s theft seems to be prompted by his wife’s pregnancy cravings, and the theft happens exactly because of the impending birth of a child. This adds point to the angry witch’s insistence on the child as the price of the husband’s life:


»verhält es sich so, wie du sagst, so will ich dir gestatten Rapunzeln mitzunehmen so viel du willst, allein ich mache eine Bedingung: du muβt mir das Kind geben, das deine Frau zur Welt bringen wird … « … und als die Frau in Wochen kam, so erschien gleich die Zauberin, gab dem Kind den Namen R a p u n z e l, und nahm es sich mit fort.


“If it’s truly as you say, then I shall permit you to take as many rapunzel as you like, but only under one condition: when your wife gives birth, I must have the child … “ … and when his wife had the baby, the sorceress appeared at once. She gave the child the name Rapunzel and took her away.


Later on, in the Grimms’ 1837 text, the prince proposes marriage to Rapunzel on first sight, and Rapuzel’s reaction is hardly dithering:


und als … sie sah daβ er jung and schön war, so dachte sie »der wird mich lieber haben als die alte Frau Gothel«, und sagte ja, und reichte ihm ihre Hand.


and when … she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought, He’ll certainly love me better than old Mother Gothel. So she said yes and placed her hand in his.


By contrast, the courtship is a very cautious and decorous affair in the Ladybird book:


So, for many months, the Prince visited Rapunzel every evening and they grew to love each other. After a while the Prince asked Rapunzel to marry him and she replied, “I will gladly do so.”


Much of the point of the Grimms’ 1812 version revolves around an erotic pun: in the German, there is a double meaning in the Prince being “pulled up” every evening by his beloved Rapunzel, and, perhaps inevitably, the Grimms’ Rapunzel is already pregnant by the time she leaves the tower. In the 1812 version, her giveaway remark to the witch involves asking why her clothes no longer fit her, and by the time the lovers are reuinted in the desert at the end of the story, she already has twin children in tow. In the Ladybird book, of course, there is none of this. On the eve of her escape, the very chaste Rapunzel only gives the game away by asking why the witch feels heavier on her famous tresses than the Prince, and in the final scene there are, accordingly, no twins. The Grimms’ 1837 text of “Rapunzel” is much closer than the Ladybird book to Basile’s erotic story of Petrosinella, and even the Grimms’ 1837 text was much more cautious in this regard than their own earlier texts of the same story. The whole story was originally erotic, and it’s worth bearing in mind that disguising this fact removes a whole layer of symbolic meaning, relating to the herb which the expectant mother craves and which, in the earlier versions, gives the heroine her name.

What exactly is rapunzel? It’s a herb, all right, but there seem to be several possibilities as to which species of herb is meant. English-language authors such as Marina Warner tend to think of Rapunzel as rampion. This is not unreasonable. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, rampion – not the round-headed rampion (Phyteuma orbiculare) or the spiked rampion (Phyteuma spicatum), but the closely related rampion bellflower (Campanula rapunculus) – has white tuberous roots which can be used as salad. Moreover, rampion seems to bear the English version of the name Rapunzel, which appears in French as raiponce, in Spanish as reponche, and most tellingly in Italian as ramponzolo – all words of unknown origin, but which have been connected with the Latin rapum. So far, so good: Rapunzel sounds like, and appears to taste like, rampion. There are, however, problems with this identification. The fact that Rapunzel and rampion are historically the same word does not guarantee that they all refer to the same thing: words don’t behave like that, especially not as they jump from language to language. In fact, German-language editors and translators of Grimms’ tales seem never to translate Rapunzel as rampion. In his 1985 edition of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Heinz Rölleke derived Rapunzel from the Latin Radix puntia (“Pointed root”(?)), and paraphrased it in standard German as Baldrianwurzel (“valerian-root”).

The edible rampion is not related to valerian. But there is another wild or garden salad herb which is. This is the common cornsalad or lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta), whose tiny bluish flowers, encased in large green bracts, can be seen from April to June on “cultivated, waste and disturbed land, sparsely grassy places, rocky areas, wall-tops and sand dunes” throughout the British Isles, France and Germany. Like sorrel, cornsalad has edible leaves. It flowers earlier than rampion and is a well-known ingredient in winter and spring salads. The German texts seem therefore to suggest persuasively that Rapunzel is cornsalad, not rampion.

So, to sum up: Rapunzel’s own name is a reference to the wild salad – probably cornsalad – which her pregnant mother craved, and this is just one illustration of the fact that the story is about sex, pregnancy and childbirth, and not just lettuce, witches and towers. English writers often disregard the first fact and modern editors from the Grimms onwards have tended to disguise the second. If these two points are considered together, we can begin to tell the story as perhaps it ought to be told.

A pregnant (not a barren) wife craves a wild herb which is shut up in a witch’s garden. This may be another reason to regard Rapunzel as cornsalad rather than rampion, because cornsalad is a winter and spring salad whose “value … is its earliness,” and the wife’s longing might be more acute in winter and early spring, when food in agrarian societies would be rather more monotonous than at other times, and also perhaps in relatively short supply. The husband risks everything to provide for his pregnant wife, but the witch catches the husband, and spares his life in return for the unborn daughter who prompted the theft. The daughter proves to be extraordinarily beautiful, and is named after the herb. Rapunzel the heroine is shut up by the possessive witch, like rapunzel the wild herb before her. (It is fun to note in this respect that Rapunzel the heroine, like cornsalad the herb, can be found growing at the top of a high wall.) However, just as Rapunzel’s father had planned to steal the wild rapunzel, so a prince plans to steal the human Rapunzel – or, at least, help her escape. Rapunzel meanwhile conceives twins. But the plan goes wrong, the lovers are separated, banished, and wounded, and after long wandering, the prince is drawn once again by Rapunzel’s singing and once again takes his bride and their two children.

In this way, as we can see, the story falls into two halves, each of which echoes the other. In each half, the witch tries selfishly to hoard Rapunzel (first the herb, then the heroine); but, in both cases, Rapunzel (first the herb, then the heroine) proves too much for her, irresistibly attracting a husband in from outside. On both occasions, the witch is robbed, and on both occasions, the result is renewed life and a new generation of the family. It is, moreover, interesting to note that the story treats Rapunzel’s family matrilineally – that is, it follows the fortunes of the family from mother to daughter, rather than from father to son.

Unlike my Ladybird book, then, the older stories are not simply interested in Rapunzel as an ideal of passive female beauty. Generally, they prefer to show how the women of successive generations guarantee the survival of a family against the enduring outside threat personified by the witch. If you want my own guess as to the story’s underlying meaning, it’s this: a story of a child, trafficked to a predatory stranger and locked alone in a room for years on end without even a haircut, was not meant as a polite story of a beautiful princess. It’s a story of the kind of abuse that still goes on today, in families and communities, and probably always has.


The Secret Life of … Robin Hood

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Executive Summary

Robin Hood is a legendary medieval English outlaw and forester, the hero of a mostly or wholly fictional cycle of stories composed and circulated continuously from medieval to modern times. In the earliest (and best) material, Robin was originally imagined as a common outlaw in a relatively realistic setting. Following the end of the medieval period, the story-cycle degenerated into fantasy, and Robin Hood is now commonly imagined as a dispossessed aristocrat of the reign of Richard I, the lover of Marian, a social revolutionary, a Saxon rebel, and/or an icon of paganism. However, none of these elements derive from early or medieval forms of the legend; some could not possibly do so; and, most importantly, the stories are better off without them. However, while varying widely in content, tone and character, all tales of Robin Hood have always tended to agree in showing Robin as a subversive figure leading a band of fellow-outlaws, and the forest which he often haunts as a naturally beautiful haven of escape from normal social constraints. A charismatic character, usually pictured in a highly evocative setting, Robin Hood, alone among traditional English legendary heroes, enjoys continuing currency and a global profile in the modern world.

Robin Hood in the Middle Ages

The historical roots of the legend lie in the context of two specific features of medieval English law: the outlaw and the forest. An outlaw was a designated fugitive from justice, and courts passed sentence of outlawry – effectively, a death sentence – on those who failed to turn up for a hearing on any one of a range of charges. A forest was a legally protected hunting reserve, kept out of cultivation and settlement by a special and savagely punitive body of law, and forests were large tracts of managed semi-wilderness (many were indeed heavily wooded, which is how forest came to mean woodland in modern English). Forest law tied up vast tracts of fertile land into wasteful playgrounds for the wealthy, and medieval people, being mostly rent-crippled peasant farmers at permanent risk of starvation, hated it; and, since a well-wooded forest was also the least worst available hiding-place for outlaws who had nothing further to lose by trespassing there, it is not surprising to see outlaw foresters tolerated or celebrated in late medieval English vernacular culture. Robin Hood was one of several such figures.

Scholars have failed to identify the real Robin Hood, if ever there was one. There are several reasons for the uncertainty, as we will shortly see. One expert, J.C. Holt, has suggested a Robert Hod who was outlawed at York in 1225 and about whom little else is known. But between around 1250 and 1500, a figure called Robin Hood joined the ranks of the outlaws and heroes of regional and vernacular legend, such as Hereward the Wake, Eustace the Monk, Foulke Fitzwarin, and Ranulf Earl of Chester, and came to feature in rhymes (long verse narratives), plays, historical chronicles, proverbs, and even place-names, from Kent and Somerset to Northumberland, Cumberland and Scotland.

Unfortunately, the surviving record for this period is patchy, and does not include any actual Robin Hood stories. But early references are widespread and suggest that the stories were widely known, and they eventually came to inform the writing of more sober history. Many of the earliest references seem to imply that the stories were viewed simply as trivial rubbish, at least by the literate. The priest-poet William Langland, writing around Chaucer’s time in the later 1300s, makes one disapproving reference in passing to rhymes of Robin Hood as examples of the sort of thing a slothful sinner would recite instead of his prayers. The phrase Robin Hood in Sherwood stood appears in a tantalising doodle in the margin of a random document, and, oddly, the same phrase was also used in courtroom debates: if you were a fifteenth-century lawyer, and you wanted to take the mickey out of an opponent for starting to stray off-topic, you could give a contemptuous snort of “Robin Hood in Sherwood stood!” – the point being that the line, apparently a stereotypical opening for a Robin Hood story, invariably presaged a torrent of irrelevant drivel. The proverb Many speak of Robin Hood that never shot his bow existed as a rather similar retort to excessively big talk by the ill-informed. So, for some at least, the first legendary Robin Hood was essentially a dismissive by-word for claptrap: a medieval near-equivalent to the contemporary bullshit-sneeze.

However, Robin’s early reputation involved rather more than this. Holt has pointed out that, on at least one occasion, in the early 1260s, an official recorded the name of a real criminal, William son of Robert le Fevre, as William RobehodRobinhood (with similar forms in a variety of spellings) was certainly emerging as a normal surname around this period throughout the South of England, and, as such, might often have meant simply redheaded. The family surname system was still forming at this period and many surnames were still essentially personal nicknames. In this instance, Robehod appears to be a nickname specifically for an outlaw. More examples of this usage followed. As criminal and outlaw gangs became widespread in the later Middle Ages, their leaders assumed, or were allotted, numerous aliases; and many real criminals did, in fact, go around calling themselves (or being called) Robin Hood, Little John and Friar Tuck. The situation was complicated by the practice, widespread in local communities, of dressing up as these legendary characters, for plays, pageants, and church-related fundraising events known as “church ales.” These events themselves had a tendency to get quite rowdy, and at times even degenerate into riots – medieval communities were like that – so, in practice, community events sometimes segued fairly seamlessly into actual criminality and social disorder.

Finally, around the same time, serious chroniclers were including brief references to Robin Hood in factual accounts of history. Andrew of Wyntoun in the 1420s and Walter Bower in the 1440s both date Robin’s career to the later 1200s, and locate him not in Sherwood but in northern England and the Scottish border. Like the widespread Robin Hood place-names, including the West Country burial mounds named Robin Hood’s Butts, the chronicles suggest that there was not one single Robin Hood legend so much as a number of regional variants set in differing localities. If so, most of these local Robin Hoods were eventually superseded by the Sherwood-based Robin of the English Midlands, who forms the central figure of the legend we know today.

The earliest surviving Robin Hood stories date from about 1450. They are recorded, sometimes in manuscript but usually in print, as long ballad-like poems – that is, apparently, as rhymes of the kind which offended Langland. The longest, laughably titled A Lyttell Geste of Robyn Hode, is no less than 456 verses long, and tells a long, many-stranded tale in which Robin’s band rob several travellers on the highway; strike up a working partnership with a poverty-stricken knight, Sir Richard of the Lee; outwit and outfight the Sheriff of Nottingham several times; and eventually surrender amicably, to a secretly rather impressed king Edward. Robin Hood and the Monk and Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne tell shorter but rather similar tales. The outlaws include Robin, Little John, Much the Miller’s Son and Will Scarlock. Officialdom is represented by king Edward, the Sheriff of Nottingham, various abbots and wealthy churchmen and officials, and their paid hit-man, the commoner Guy of Gisborne. And Robin, like Guy, is a commoner: specifically, both are “yeomen,” a slightly ambiguous term which could mean either a reasonably well-to-do farmer or a member of a class of junior servants destined for employment on a noble estate, and in this case probably means the latter, since in these ballads Robin and John infiltrate noble households with ease and even take occasional bouts of respectable employment in them.

In these early ballads, we never find out why Robin is outlawed. He leads a band, lives in Sherwood on the proceeds of poaching and highway robbery, and spends his time goading and outwitting the Sheriff. His favourite targets, besides the Sheriff himself, are wealthy churchmen. However, he is personally devout: he risks capture to hear Mass in Nottingham; and, in an interesting example of freedom of religion, he prays to the Virgin Mary to guarantee a loan, and when he later successfully robs the monks of St Mary’s Abbey, he concludes that his prayers have been answered. This is typical of the subversive brand of rough justice which he visits on knights and kings, testing their personal mettle without seriously challenging their status. Although clearly the undisputed leader of the outlaw band, Robin is tricksterish, heedless and impulsive, and often has to rely on Little John to play Jeeves to his Wooster, talk sense into him, and save the situation. Robin is eventually deceived and killed by a rare female character, the abbess of Kirklees, in revenge for his previous murder of her lover.

We can only guess how these stories were performed or read, and who formed their typical audience. They seem to be connected to the repertoires of the professional wandering minstrels who frequented noble and other households within feudal society. Robin may appear as an idealised yeoman precisely because he would appeal as such to the yeomen who would have formed a large proportion of the typical audience in such a setting. It has also been suggested that the stories were pitched at urban audiences in the emerging towns, in which case they may have functioned as a fantasy of the wildwood, rather as Robin Hood does today. It used to be argued that the ballads express the rebellious spirit of the rural peasantry of later medieval England, but this idea has fallen out of favour. Whatever the audience, the setting of the stories is relatively realistic and specific: it is Sherwood, the large forest which occupied much of modern Nottinghamshire, and the places mentioned are all around the environs of Sherwood: either Nottingham, around the forest’s southern end, or Barnsdale (the area around Wentbridge in south Yorkshire) at its northern end.

As the rhymes of Robin Hood found their way into writing print, apparently for the first time, Robin continued to feature, and, indeed, thrive, as a character in pageants and plays, including those which tended to lead to unrest. Mayday pageants continued to be organised in villages and towns by local churchwardens or civic authorities, and often featured plays preserved orally within communities and acted out by local people on special occasions in the manner of the modern mummers’ and guisers’ folk-plays often associated with Plough Monday. The sixteenth century, especially the earlier part, was the high-point of the Robin Hood games at church ales. These displays were often centred about a local legendary hero or character, but, throughout the later middle ages, more and more of them dispensed with their local heroes, and adopted Robin Hood as their theme. The aristocracy caught the fad, and the nobility, including the young Henry VIII, went through a stage of organising their own Mayday pageants and plays featuring Robin Hood. Robin continued as a popular figure in Scotland, remaining a popular character in May games in Edinburgh. Indeed, these were banned by the Scottish parliament in 1555 as disreputable and turbulent – which led, perhaps predictably, to a series of Robin Hood Riots in Edinburgh in 1561.

I Don’t Like Munday’s: The Elizabethans Foul It Up As Usual

Robin’s dominance of games and pageants went in a slow decline from about 1600. By this point, however, he had already started to make his appearance on the Elizabethan stage, and here he began, and largely completed, his transformation into the figure we know best today.

Ben Jonson died before he could finish his Robin Hood play, The Sad Shepherd (1637). More important to the legend’s development are two plays by Shakespeare’s rival, Anthony Munday: The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntington, and its sequel, The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntington (both 1601). Munday more or less invented the modern Robin Hood. He was the first to date Robin’s life to the reign of Richard I, the time of the Crusades; his Robin was the first to be a dispossessed nobleman, the first to rob from the rich to give to the poor, and the first to have Maid Marian as a love interest – indeed, the first to have any love interest at all, assuming the earlier Robin’s platonic fixation with the Virgin Mary fails to qualify. Munday’s plays were a success, and it was largely to compete with them that Shakespeare wrote his own exiled-nobles-in-the-forest play, As You Like It.

In these Elizabethan plays, Robin begins to disconnect from the earthy, fairly realistic world he originally inhabited, and to become a rather polite and genteel fantasy figure. Or, to put it more plainly, compared with the Geste and Robin Hood and the Monk, Munday’s plays are appallingly twee and affected. Their enduring influence has served to ensure that, ever since the late sixteenth century to this day and for the foreseeable future, Robin Hood has been in permanent danger of appearing as high camp. And not in a good way.

A Pyle of Derring-Do: Modernity Takes Its Cue from the Elizabethans, Again As Usual

Through the 1600s and 1700s, Robin Hood continued to feature in plays and operas, and, as print culture permeated society, the print-ballad tradition of Robin Hood became massive in volume and scope. Indeed, most surviving ballads of Robin Hood date from this time. One anthology, Robin Hood’s Garland, was in print continuously from its first issue in 1663 well into the 1820s, after which the old ballad tradition at last began to decline. The medieval setting of the stories had long since ceased to be anything other than a fantasy, and the Robin Hood of this period was generally the kitschy post-Munday version.

In the revolutionary period of the years around 1800, political radicals and political conservatives both adopted Robin and put their own spin on him. The first writer to collect all the known materials on Robin Hood and publish them in a single anthology was a radical of this period, Joseph Ritson (Robin Hood, 1832). Ritson was also the first to argue that Robin was not merely an anarchic figure but a systematically revolutionary one. Romantic writers including Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, 1819) were the first to float the more conservatively rebellious idea that Robin was a Saxon patriot fighting a post-Conquest Norman occupation. This he could never have been: there were no Saxons in late thirteenth-century England.

Following this lead, later Romantic writers through the 1800s made Robin figure of high-brow literary poetry, culminating at the century’s end in the work of two Alfreds: Tennyson (The Foresters, 1892) and Noyes (Sherwood, 1913). This late nineteenth-century, high-art Robin Hood remained an exiled earl, accompanied by Marian the young noblewoman, but Munday’s tidy forest-park of nymphs and swains was finally and mercifully replaced by a darker and more haunted wildwood, partly hidden beneath Edwardian decorum. This was the English homeland romanticised for the highwatermark of empire, and in the late romantic wildwood the legend regained a hint of its medieval power to haunt.

However, from the later 1800s, as mass communication began to extend their influence, the main current of development of the legend lay in lower-brow popular literature, including, for the first time, children’s literature. This impetus was transmitted quickly and naturally to the entirely new media of cinema and television. At the same time, the US began to compete with England, and eventually effectively supplant it, as the main source of contemporary treatments of Robin Hood’s story, establishing Robin Hood for the first time as a character of international prominence. In the more adult popular novels, Robin was now firmly labelled as a resistance leader against Norman oppression. In the cheap Victorian boys’ magazines and novels, or “penny dreadfuls,” he remained a somewhat controversial figure: one children’s novel by George Emmett had its title changed from Robin Hood and the Outlaws of Sherwood Forest to the more wholesome Robin Hood and the Archers of Merrie Sherwood (1868 – 9), to avoid encouraging young readers towards a life of crime.

But the canonical US version of Robin Hood was presented to the children of the English-speaking world in Howard Pyle’s massively influential The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883). Pyle knew little of the Middle Ages, but he set stories from original texts in an unrealistic pseudo-medieval world of perpetual sunshine, ye olde Englishe talkynge, merry horseplay, and male bonding, in which Maid Marian and other female figures took something of a back seat and, once again, Robin’s primary ties were to his male companions. The medieval forest, always to some extent a fantasy of escape, was thus further divorced from reality. Pyle was the single most significant children’s author in the later development of the Robin Hood legend, and his work was widely translated and reintroduced the New World Robin Hood to Europe.

He is also the direct progenitor of most Hollywood Robin Hoods, who began to follow in fairly short order. The first Robin Hood film, a short by Percy Stow, dates from 1908. Three later films define the Hollywood Robin Hood: Allan Dwan’s silent Robin Hood (1922), Michael Curtiz’ and William Keighley’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and Walt Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952 – not to be confused with Disney’s animated Robin Hood of 1973). In all three, the protagonist is the exiled aristocratic hero, the lover of Maid Marian, and the loyal servant of Richard the Lionheart and enemy of Prince John. The most successful movies therefore cemented what might be called the Munday-Pyle Robin Hood as the default version of the outlaw hero – as witness Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).

There have, however, been attempts to imagine Robin differently on the screen. Between 1955 and 1960 Robin appeared on British television as a stiff-upper-lipped English hero of the officer class (The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1955 – 58). In Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian (1976), Robin appears as a disillusioned middle-aged crusader. In the 1980s Robin returned to TV in Richard Carpenter’s Robin of Sherwood (1984 – 6), which introduced viewers to the twentieth century’s main contribution to the way Robin Hood is imagined: neopaganism. Carpenter’s Robin Hood, steeped in reconstituted new-age Celtic and Germanic myth, is chosen as an almost priestly champion by the pagan god Herne the Hunter, and given Albion, one of the seven swords of Wayland.

Although it’s frequently a lot of fun, most post-medieval Robin Hood material creates the distinct impression that the franchise had well and truly jumped the shark by the end of the sixteenth century, and few post-medieval versions of the legend have ever really got much beyond high camp. However, virtually all the earlier Robin Hood tales, and some of the more vernacular and/or romantic post-medieval material, remain extraordinarily haunting and powerful. It’s no surprise that modern attempts to rekindle the enchantment have generally met with failure, but neither is it any surprise that the attempts were made.

Further Reading

Carpenter, Kevin (ed.). Robin Hood: The Many Faces of that Celebrated English Outlaw. BIS, Oldenburg University, 1995.

Dobson, R. B., and J. Taylor. Rymes of Robin Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw. Heinemann, 1976.

Holt, J. C. Robin Hood. Thames and Hudson, 1982 (1989).

Knight, Stephen, and Thomas Ohlgren (ed.) Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, Medieval Institute Publications, University of Michigan, 1997.

Knight, Stephen (ed.) Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism. D.S. Brewer, 1999.