Genuissa, Arviragus, and Claudius

Genuissa, Arviragus, and Claudius

J. C. Marler, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy
and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies,
and Assistant Vatican Film Librarian,
Saint Louis University

To the best of my knowledge, everything that can be known about Genuissa (aka Venissa or Venus Julia) is to be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth, the 12th century British chronicler who wrote the Historia regum Brittaniae.

Below, I reproduce the transcription of a passage which, in 1929, Acton Griscom made from the Latin of a 12th century manuscript of the Historia. The orthography of the Latin is consistent with what Griscom found in the manuscript. I also give Lewis Thorpe's modern English translation of this passage and, furthermore, I give Robert Ellis Jones's translation of the Welsh abridgement of the Latin text, taken from a manuscript copied in the 15th century.

Neither Tacitus, Suetonius, nor Dio Cassius, the Roman historians, have anything at all to say about Genuissa. But Griscom, in his lengthy introduction to the Historia, is much concerned to defend Geoffey's credibility. And, if Geoffrey, who relied upon sources to which we may not now have access, can be believed, then grounds may exist for saying that Genuissa was the daughter of Claudius and the spouse of Arviragus. Thorpe agrees with Griscom that, on the whole, Geoffrey is likely to be something better than a fabulist.

The historicity of Arviragus himself has some support from this passage from Juvenal, the 2nd century (AD) Roman satirist (Satire 4.124-128):

. . . "ingens omen habes," inquit, "magni clarique triumphi; regem aliquem capies, aut de temone Britanno excidet Arviragus. Peregrina est belua, cernis erectas in tergas sudes?" (Veiento addresses the Emperor: . . . "A mighty presage hast thou," he says, "of a great and glorious victory. Some king will be thy captive; or Arviragus will be hurled from his British chariot. The brute is foreign-born: dost thou not see the prickles bristling upon his back?")

This poetic fragment, the text and translation of which are taken from Juvenal and Persius, trans. G. G. Ramsay (Cambridge, MA: 1929), is also cited by Geoffrey after his giving credit to Genuissa for establishing peace between Arviragus and Vespasian. Juvenal, as is well known to Classical scholars, was somewhat adverse to things not historically Roman.

The Historia regum Brittaniae of Geoffey of Monmouth, ed. Acton Griscom (London: 1929).

Cambridge University Library, MS 1706 (12th century), folios 38r-38v:

[folio 38 recto] Mandabat igitur ei concordiam daturumque promittebat sese filiam suam si tantum modo regnum brittanie sub romana potestate recognouisset. Post positis ergo debelationibus suaserunt maiores natu aruirago promissionibus claudii acquiescere. Dicebant autem non esse ei dedecori subditum fuisse romanis cum totius orbis inperio potirentur. His uero & pluribus aliis mitigatus paruit consiliis suorum & subiectionem cesari fecit. Mox claudius misit propter filiam suam romam & auxilio aruiragi uersus orcadas & provintiales insulas potestati sue submisit. Emensa hyeme deinde redierunt legati cum filia [folio 38 verso] eamque patri tradiderunt. Erat autem nomen puellae genuissa eratque tanta pulchritudo ut aspicientes in ammiratione ducerat. Et ut maritali lege copulata fuit tanto feruore amoris succendit regem ita ut ipsam solam cunctis rebus preferret. Vnde locum quo ei primo nupserat celebrem esse uolens suggessit claudio ut edificarent in illo ciuitatem quae memoriam tantarum nuptiarum in futura tempora preberet. Paruit ergo claudius precepitque fieri urbem quae de nomine eius kaerglou id est gloucestria nuncupata usque in hodiernum diem in confinio kambrie & loegrie super ripam sabrine sita est. Quidam uero dicunt ipsam traxisse nomen a gloio duce quem claudius in illa generauerat cui post aruiragum gubernaculum kambrit ducatus cessit.

Modern English translation of the above passage, as given in Geoffey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, trans. Lewis Thorpe (London: 1966), p. 121:

He (Claudius) therefore proposed peace to him (Arvirargus), promising to give him his own daughter, if only he would recognize that the kingdom of Britain was under the sway of Rome. His nobles persuaded Arvirargus to abandon his plans for battle and to accept the proposals of Claudius. Their argument was that it could be no disgrace for him to submit to the Romans, since they were the acknowledged overlords of the whole world. Arvirargus was swayed by these arguments and by others of a similar nature. He accepted their advice and submitted to Claudius. Claudius soon sent to Rome for his daughter. With the help of Arvirargus he subdued the Orkneys and the other islands in that neighbourhood.

At the end of that winter the messengers returned with Claudius' daughter and handed her over to her father. The girl's name was Genvissa (= Genuissa). Her beauty was such that everyone who saw her was filled with admiration. Once she had been united with him in lawful marriage, she inflamed the King with such burning passion that he preferred her company to anything else in the world. As a result of this Arvirargus made up his mind to give some special mark of distinction to the place where he had married her. He suggested to Claudius that the two of them should found there a city which should perpetuate in times to come the memory of so happy a marriage. Claudius agreed and ordered a town to be built which should be called Kaerglou or Gloucester. Down to our own day it retains its site on the bank of the Severn, between Wales and Loegria. Some, however, say that it took its name from Duke Gloius, whom Claudius fathered in that city and to whom he granted control of the duchy of the Welsh after Arvirargus.

English translation by Robert Ellis Jones from the Welsh manuscript cited as Oxford, Jesus College, MS LXI (15th century). The Welsh translation is printed in Griscom's edition of the Latin. The Welsh manuscript, as is plain to see, gives an abridged translation of Geoffrey's Latin. This passage is found on fol. 80r.

[folio 80 recto] When Gloywkassar (= Claudius Caesar) saw this, he sent to the Bryttaniait to ask for peace, and forthwith peace was made between them; and to confirm the peace, Gloyw kassar gave his daughter to Gwairydd (= Arviragus) to wife. And after this, with the power of the Bryttaniaid, the men of Ryfain (= Rome) subdued the Ork islands, and the other islands about them. And when winter slipped away, the maid, matchless in her form and fairness, came from Ryfain, and Gwairydd married her. And then Gloyw kassar built a city which he called kaer-loyw (= Gloucester) on the bank of Hafren (= Severn), on the boundary betwen kymrv (= Wales) and lloegr (= Loegria).

Dr. J. C. Marler

June 17, 1999