Conan Meriadoc - Geoffrey and The Dream of Macsen

Geoffrey and The Dream of Macsen

The story of Conan is attested in several medieval sources, the most substantial versions being those included in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and the Welsh tale known as The Dream of Macsen Wledig. Both of these tie Conan and the founding of Brittany to the story of the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus, though in both cases this is heavily embellished. In Geoffrey, Conan is the nephew of Octavius, King of the Britons, and a potential heir to the throne. When the throne is offered instead to "Maximianus", Geoffrey's version of Magnus Maximus, Conan at first opposes him, but the two are reconciled after Maximianus' marriage to Octavius' daughter. Later Maximianus leads the armies of Britain to march on Rome, and he quickly conquers Armorica, where he establishes Conan as the king with instructions to found "another Britain". Later, when Maximianus has been killed in Rome, his fleeing troops return to Armorica and join Conan's settlement.

The version of the story given in The Dream of Macsen Wledig differs from the Historia account on a number of points. Though the text postdates Geoffrey, it contains material older than either version. In The Dream, Conan is the son, rather than nephew, of Eudaf (Geoffrey's Octavius), and the brother of Elen Luyddog. Maxen Wledig (Magnus Maximus), here portrayed as the rightful Roman Emperor rather than a usurper, sees Elen and her kingdom in a dream vision, and seeks her out and marries her. In this version Conan and his brother Afaon immediately become Maxen's loyal associates, later helping him reclaim the throne of Rome. For this service the grateful Maxen gives Conan dispensation to lead his army to conquer whatever realm he wants. Conan chooses Armorica, where he kills all the men and replaces them with his own soldiers. He then orders the tongues of all the women cut out, lest their speech corrupt that of the Britons; a fanciful etymology connects this event with Welsh name of Brittany, Llydaw, supposedly from the Welsh lled-taw or "half-silent".

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