Did Alfred the Great invent the story of Caesar invading Britain?

Apparently so, according to this Danish site (Aug 16, 2017, written by Ben Hamilton):

Caesar conquering Britain a 9th century invention by Alfred the Great: Saxon king fabricated 54 BC invasion to replace Viking-friendly heir and protect England from the Danes

He came … He saw … but He tampered

As you do.

This story is by a certain “Rebecca Huston, a former National Geographic Channel producer and American screenwriter who after ten years of original research and analysis” concludes that “by doctoring a Latin version of one of the ancient world’s most famous writings, and altering several Old English manuscripts, he was able to convince his council of nobles that his son Edward was the rightful heir to his throne, not his nephew Æthelwold, a Saxon susceptible to alliances with the Danes. And the astonishing upshot of this discovery is that Julius Caesar neither invaded nor conquered Britain in 54 BC.”

It continues:

Along with the collected letters of Cicero, the memoirs written by Caesar while he was conquering France and other areas of central Europe in the fifth decade of the first century BC is believed by many to be one of the few manuscripts to have survived the period.  But there is a very good chance that Caesar’s ‘Commentaries’ did not survive, and that ‘Bellum Gallicum’ (BG), the title it is known as today, was the work of other writers. Historians are wrong to treat it as gospel and to suppose this was the true voice of Caesar. But many do, and therefore they duly accept that he invaded Britain.

The basis for this?  That the earliest manuscript of the BG is 9th century, “coinciding with Alfred’s life”; that Caesar “lapses” into first person in the BG; “120 examples of Alfred’s idiosyncratic writing style”; 40 references to Alfred himself (which a forger would naturally introduce into his work); and so on.

But curiously I can’t find any other source for this story.  Nor can I find any sign of a Rebecca Huston, associated with National Geographic.  Which is more than odd, all by itself.

A glance at Texts and Transmissions reveals that the Bellum Gallicum is transmitted by two families of manuscripts, both with a 9th century exemplar.  The first was written at Fleury in the second half of the century, the other at Corbie in the 3rd quarter of the century.  The first family contains mainly the BG; the other contains all the commentaries.  Neither manuscript is British or associated with Britain, as far as I can see.

As for the other evidence, I must defer to specialists.  But I have long since grown wary of such claims.  Sifting fernseed seems to be bad for the eyes, in altogether too many cases.

Fascinating to see a claim like this, where there seems no discernible motive.  Or is it simply a silly-season invention by a journalist?

UPDATE (28/8/17): After writing this, I dropped an email to Ben Hamilton at the Copenhagen Post, who replied very promptly and helpfully, and made clear that the story is genuine.  He gave this link at IMDB for Rebecca Huston.  I have since also received some emails from Rebecca Huston.  It will be interesting to look further into this one.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit” – an ancient Greek proverb?

This week I came across a saying online:

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

This, we are told, is a Greek proverb.

The sentiment is unexceptionable, but readers of this site do not believe attributions without evidence.  Is this truly ancient?  If so, how do we know?

A search on Google Books produces many references to this saying, varying somewhat in wording:

But if we use the custom date range, we quickly discover that the results vanish before the mid-1980s.  In the 1990s we get various results, mainly from the Congressional Record of the US Congress:

The “old Greek proverb” is hardly heard of before 1993, although I saw a quote in The Nation in 1991.

Eventually I happened to find a quote which atrributed it, not to ancient Greece, but to a certain Dennis Waitley: a 1989 article in the Scholastic Coach, vol. 59, p.289:

We use Dennis Waitley’s definition of a winner: “A winner is a person who plants a shade tree knowing he or she will never sit under it.”

This has the right sort of sound about it.  Waitley turns out to be a 1980s motivational speaker.  I was unable to locate in which of his books he said this.  But in fact I have just found another source, from 1972, in the Lutheran Standard, vol. 12, p.16:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of life when he plants shade trees under which he knows he will never sit.

This is only visible in snippet view.  But this version of the saying takes us further back yet.  It is associated with a David Elton Trueblood (or D. Elton Trueblood), a Quaker, in 1955.

Yet even so I can find a reference from 1954, in a mysterious Annual Report of a Ministry of Agriculture, page 13:

A man only begins to grasp the true meaning of life when he plants a tree under whose shade he knows he will never sit.

A 1968 magazine gives the following interesting quote:

At her departure, we are reminded of the passage from Elton Trueblood’s The Life We Prize, which she so often quotes: “One has to come to the full meaning of life when he is willing to plant shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit….

The Trueblood book was printed in 1951, earlier than any reference I can find.  And on p.58 we read our quote:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.

That, I suspect, is the real origin of the proverb – a volume of moral writing by a quaker in 1951.  The aphorism then trickles through popular magazines, changing as it goes.  Ronald Reagan uses it in 1983.  But it seems to become a “Greek proverb” only in the hands of US congressmen in 1993.

“Burned without pity” – the fake quotation taken back to 1930!

A few weeks ago, I discussed a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III:

Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.

These kinds of “quotes” are often derived from opinions by modern writers, which someone has then turned into a quote by the object of the opinion.  And so it proved; it was a quote from Peter Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks.

But a correspondent then pointed out that the phrase appeared earlier, in the English translation of a book by Frenchman Maurice Magre, in 1931.  The US title was “Magicians, Seers and Mystics”; the UK title “Return of the Magi”, London, 1930.

This I have now obtained, and as it is public domain, I have uploaded it to Archive.org here.  And indeed this is correct – on p.60, our “quote” appears.

Three terrible figures dominate the great Albigensian massacre. For the massacre to be possible, it was necessary that an extraordinary genius for violence, for organisation, and for hypocrisy, should take shape in three men, who were all equally devoid of pity and, possibly, equally sincere in their hatred of heresy and love of the Church.

It was Pope Innocent III who, with obstinate determination, desired and decided on the crusade. The murder of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was only a pretext. Historians are unanimous in gloryifing this pope. To them the great men of history are men who do something, who have a powerful will and exert it to attain an aim. It makes no difference whether the aim is sublime or abominable; it is success in attaining the aim which gives the measure of genius.

As soon as he was elected pope, in all his public utterances Innocent III began to talk of ” exterminating the impious.” It was the dominating idea of his life, and he realised it wholeheartedly. He had a deep-rooted conviction that any man who attempted to build up a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church must be burned without pity at the stake.

Italics mine.

No reference or source is given for the claim.

The author appears to be an occultist.  A chapter is devoted to the supposed origins of Rosicrucianism, recited uncritically; another to a biography of Apollonius of Tyana, equally uncritically given.  The prose style of the author is that of a historian; the content is nonsense.

With luck, this is the final origin of this striking phrase.

“Burned without pity” – a fake quotation attributed to Pope Innocent III

While looking for some information on the Spanish Inquisition, I came across a whole slew of pages containing the following quotation (various, but here).

Pope Innocent III: “Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.” ~Papal Bull, 1198, qtd. in Peter Tompkins, Symbols of Heresy in THE MAGIC OF OBELISKS, p.57 (New York: Harper, 1981)

Source: https://www.worldslastchance.com/end-time-prophecy/appalling-papal-proclamations-straight-from-the-harlots-mouth.html

Well, that sounds like a fun quotation.  Naturally I wondered if it was true.  And so I looked for a primary source.  On an Amazon.com discussion I found a claim that:

I can give you the papal bull of Pope Innocent III dated march 25 of 1199 and it says like this: “anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with church dogma must be burned without pity.”

However that bull seems to be Vergentis in senium, as mentioned here.   The Latin text for the bull is at IntraText here.  Using Google Translate gives a very good idea of the contents, and this is not in it.

Fortunately I then found that Tompkins, The Magic of Obelisks (1981), was at Google Books, in snippet form, and a bit of wiggling gave me the relevant part of p.57:


Once it became clear that perhaps a third of all nominal Christians were secretly practising a heretical religion, Christian persuasion was replaced by the rack, the gibbet and the stake.  Declaring that anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God which conflicted with the dogma of the Church of Rome must be burned without pity, Pope Innocent III decided on a crusade “to exterminate the impious”, accusing the Cathars of being “lascivious sects, who, overflowing with libertine ardor, are but slaves to the pleasures of the flesh.”

This plainly is the source of the quote.  And … it is not a quote at all.  It is a summary, by Peter Tompkins, of what he believes that Innocent was saying, in some unspecified text.  Whether it is a fair summary or not I could not say; there is, as we can see, no footnote on the paragraph.  Whether the supposed verbatim quotations are in fact accurate we cannot tell, but I have my doubts about these also.

Tompkins himself was a journalist, who lived long enough to have a web page, full of crank stuff.

It’s not my purpose to look into medieval history, but at least to identify this particular quote as false.

UPDATE (6 March 17): In the comments, SuburbanBanshee draws our attention to the fact that Tompkins is actually quoting a 1931 book by Maurice Magre.  I find in Google Books snippet that the phrase appears on p.60 of “Magicians, seers and mystics” (Dutton, New York, 1932: snippet here).  It doesn’t seem to be a quote there either.

According to a bookseller, the UK publication was “The Return of the Magi”, London, 1931, translated from the French “Magiciens et illumines…”, 1930, by Reginald Merton.  The latter title has been reprinted in 2016 – I assume it has dropped out of copyright.  I have ordered a copy and we will see what it says.

UPDATE (28 March 17): I have now obtained the book and discuss it here.

Academic hoaxes, academic feuding – an article in the Oldie

The Oldie magazine is probably read by few of us, being mainly for people who are, well, old.  A correspondent has sent me a copy of an article in this week’s issue, written by the editor, Richard Ingrams.

Harvey’s revenge

We love a spot of academic intrigue and so were delighted to receive an email from one Dr A D Harvey. Harvey, who describes himself as a ‘failed academic’, won notoriety after publishing academic articles under various pseudonyms and inventing a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky that fellow academics accepted as fact for years. American scholars finally uncovered the hoax and Harvey became the subject of a six page take-down in the Times Literary Supplement.

Not content to let sleeping feuds lie, Dr Harvey’s email to The Oldie is a copy of a letter he has sent to the TLS accusing it of running a hoax story in its own pages.  The piece in question, by Janetta Goldstein, is about an alternative ending to the Hans Christian Andersen Story, ‘The Invisible Robe’. But, Harvey writes, ‘The manuscript in Hackney Archives on which it is purportedly based seems to have no more physical existence than the new clothes the emperor was so proud of. I checked. Hackney Archives have a negative of a portrait of Mary Howitt but none of her papers, let alone a manuscript of a Hans Christian Andersen story with a previously unpublished variant ending.’ With some relish, Harvey adds, ‘It makes you wonder how many more bogus contributions have appeared in the TLS in recent months.’

Most would suspect that Harvey himself had a hand in the Hans Christian Andersen hoax, if indeed the alternative ending proves to be fake at all. But Harvey claims it bears none of his modus operandi — not that we can really take his word for that.

One thing we can be sure of: the TLS fact-checkers will be frantically searching for evidence of the Hackney manuscript and hoping that Dr Harvey has not been able to spectacularly settle his score with their scholarly journal.

The urge to twist the tail of the spectacularly aloof and patronisingly self-important is one that is probably common to most of us.  In this sense the activities of Dr Harvey are something that most of us will feel sympathy with.

Until we find that our own research has been compromised by such pranks, at any rate.

Verifying the raw data is never time wasted.

Old hoaxes; Notovitch, Jacolliot, Jesus and India

The internet has given new life to some old hoaxes.  The idea that Jesus visited India and left otherwise unknown gospels there was advanced by a certain Notovitch in the 19th century.  I have just seen it appear again, all innocent and oblivious of criticism, in a crank discussion forum here.  Long ago I scanned some articles from Nineteenth Century magazine, in which the efficient British administrators of India went and interviewed the Tibetan lamas, with whom he supposedly communicated.

Rereading that article, I found references to other hoaxes in Max Muller’s comments. 

Be that as it may, M. Notovitch is not the first traveller in the East to whom Brâhmans or Buddhists have supplied, for a consideration, the information and even the manuscripts which they were in search of. Wilford’s case ought to have served as a warning, but we know it did not serve as a warning to M. Jacolliot when he published his Bible dans l’Inde from Sanskrit originals, supplied to him by learned Pandits at Chandranagor.

 Thanks to Google books, Mr Jacolliot’s book is available to read here, in the 1875 English translation.  The table of contents alone raises suspicions: long chapters on subjects like “Christian morality”, of no evident relevance, pad out the volume.  For as we know, most of these hoaxes are published for money, and a long book can be sold for more.  Sadly, after reading some 50 pages, I was unable to induce myself to read more.  The animosity of the author against the Christians was only equal to the vagueness of his rhetoric.  We must congratulate Dr Muller, that he managed to find something of substance in all this.