November 15, 1997


"I am the very model of a modern Major-General." If you were listening last Saturday, you may have heard those words from Pirates of Penzance, sung on the Sunshine Show. Most of you know the piece. But do you have the necessary knowledge to qualify for the post of modern major-general, at least as it existed in Victorian Times. We'll begin this particular voyage of discovery today. We'll skip a few of the more arcane pieces of knowledge, particularly the (pause) math bits. There'll be no "equations, both the simple and quadratical"; no "binomial theorem...with many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse." We'll also have none of the "integral and differential calculus, or "scientific names of beings animalculous." Count your belssings.

Let's turn instead to another section of this military bragadoccio. The MMG goes on to state, "I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's." We're most of us quite familiar with the myraid tales, legends, musicals and theories about King Arthur. But who is this Caradoc. He must have been chosen by William S. Gilbert for some other reason than to just rhyme with "paradox." (Maybe not.)

Actually, the rhyme proves to be rather apt. For there seem to be more than one Caradoc. Number One is the Welsh saint, who died in the year 1124. Onetime harp player to King Rhys, prince of South Wales, one of the early Tudor clan, he was dismissed for losing one of the prince's favorite greyhounds. He went off to serve the Bishop at Llandaff, in today's Cardiff, where he became a hermit, eventually ending his days on an island off the Pembroke coast. He was never formally canonised, in spite of the intervention of the chronicler Gerald of Wales.

Caradoc Number Two turns up in the royal line of the Kings of Brittany in the fifth century. Number Three is the twelfth-century historian Caradoc of Lancaruan, who wrote a History of Cambria and a Life of Gildas, another British monk-historian. In the latter work Caradoc becomes one of the first writers to introduce Guinevere into the Arthurian legends.

Confusing? But hold. There's a Number Four. It turns out that the name Caradoc is a Celtic form of the Roman name Caractacus. Caractacus is almost as much of a legend as Arthur. A British chieftan, he fought the Romans around 48 to 51 AD, until being captured, hauled off to Rome and executed.

Those of you who know the Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics well, can see where I'm going with this. For our moder major-general goes on to expound on his familairity with "ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform." Confusing? It was probably meant to be.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor. Class dismissed.

© 1997 David Minor / Eagles Byte