Brutus of Troy: And the Quest for the Ancestry of the British by Anthony Adolph
Book Review by Kim Drummond
As you settle down into whatever chair you have chosen to sit in whilst reading this wonderful book, be prepared to linger a while, because in Brutus of Troy, Anthony Adolph is about to transport you to a world of intrigue, mystery, pageantry and daring-do.
Set over continents the Brutus myth is one which is far more complex than can be imagined. My first surprise was that Brutus was a myth at all – for a few pages I truly thought I was reading ancient history and marvelling that I had, in my career as an ancient historian, somehow missed a vital part of my education – alas my illusions were shattered when Adolph, rather glumly, announced that Brutus, like Romulus and Remus before him, was “entirely fictitious’. At this point I did wonder why bother reading on, ultimately it was a fairy story wasn’t it? But initially what made me keep reading was the wonderful lyrical way that Adolph writes. His sentences seem to walk off the page and my head at once became full of delightful images of rampaging tyrants and Trojan heroes and before I knew it I had been sucked into a book that just made me want to keep reading.
There is no doubting Adolph’s desire to access the truth surrounding the myth of Brutus – he has painstakingly brought together what must be every clue, hint, link and story connected with his protagonist and if nothing else he is to be congratulated for that. That he had enough material to fill a decent size novel is also pretty impressive. The chapters play out every conceivable fable ever passed down about Brutus, we have ‘the age of Arthur’, ‘the monarchy of Britain’, ‘the castle of Acheron’, ‘the tower of Hercules’ and the ‘mythology for the Middle Ages’ (to name just a few – there are 29 in all) and in some ways that is also the problem with this book – it goes on a bit. At times I found myself skipping to the next chapter to find out what new information could be gleaned from yet another angle. As you might expect, some of the angles enrapture but some miss the mark. Perhaps this was the intention; pick your favourite mythological angle and hold that one as your constant.
Adolph begins his tale with the story of Gog and Magog and their inclusion, as enormous wicker figures, at the front of the Lord Mayor’s Show, a procession which takes place every year in London, England. It is one of the most wonderful things I learned from Adolph and I do feel a sense of quiet satisfaction that I will now be able to talk with some degree of knowledge about these rather scary stick warriors. Adolph tells us that it is the story of Gog and Magog which “is told in this book [but] this book is not about them specifically”. I think their story does get lost over the course of the book but it is worth remembering them as you do wend your merry way through the mystical imagery.
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Overall this is a wonderful read and a marvellous romp. By the last page there is a sense of real sadness as our mythical Brutus is “lowered … into the receptive, fertile earth of his island of Albion … and so they buried Brutus of Troy, builder of cities, the founder of Britain”.
ANTHONY ADOLPH has been a professional genealogist for over a quarter of a century. His interest in the past started with his own family, whose story led him back into the nineteenth century, and then further back, up lines of aristocratic and ultimately royal ancestry which ran far back into the Dark Ages before terminating with mythological heroes; and also up genetic lines which lead back inexorably to the origins of the human race, and beyond.