Arthurian names: Ambrose/Emrys

By Anonymous, C15th - Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9510186

By Anonymous, C15th – Original MS held by Lambeth Palace Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9510186

Our most recent post in our monthly topic focused on the character Merlin, and in particular the form of his name given to him by Geoffrey of Monmouth: Merlinus Ambrosius. Having concentrated on the Merlin/Myrddin forms in that post, in this one we now take up the issue of Ambrosius, and its connections to the Welsh name Emrys.

Monmouth is the first to give Merlin the epithet Ambrosius, and this element is distinctly non-Celtic: It is a Roman nomen ultimately deriving from Greek ἀμβρόσιος ‘immortal, divine’. The most famous historical Ambrose is the 4th C church doctor Aurelius Ambrosius, better known modernly as St. Ambrose of Milan. While Ambrose was never a popular name, it was used throughout Europe. The use of the name almost certainly is due to the fame of the saint, and not due to the Arthurian connections via Monmouth.

Merlin is not the only Ambrosius to appear in connection with the Arthurian myths, nor is St. Ambrose the only historical Ambrosius who has a second name associated with the word aurelius. In the 6th C De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, the historian Gildas mentions a 5th C Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus; in Welsh histories, he is known as Embreis Guletic (Guletic being a form of gweldig ‘lord’). A 9th C Historia Brittonum, often attributed to Nennius, confuses this person with the boy who became Merlinus, resulting in Monmouth’s conflation of the names into Merlinus Ambrosius [1].

So what about this Welsh form of the name, Emreys or Embreis in Old Welsh and Emrys in modern Welsh [2,3]? We have no non-literary examples of the name used by people in the Middle Ages. It does show up in a place-name associated with the Arthurian character: Dinas Emrys, a post-Roman hillfort where, according to the Historia Brittonum, a young Merlin prophesied to Vortigern that the white dragon of the Saxons, would be conquered by the red dragon of the Welsh [*].


References & Acknowledgements

[1] Hutson, Arthur E., British Personal Names in the Historia Regum Britanniae (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1940), pp. 58, 119.

[2] Bartrum, Peter C. Welsh Classical Dictionary (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1993).

[3] Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1978).

[*] Many thanks to Dr. Heather Rose Jones for sharing her research on the medieval usage of Emrys.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under monthly topic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s