The invented past

By Lorenzo

In Melbourne’s Royal Arcade, originally built in 1869, stands the statues of the giants Gog and Magog.  Carved in 1892 they replicated statues erected in 1708 in London’s Guildhall.

The legend being invoked is that Gog and Magog were giants defeated by the invading Trojans and made to guard a palace that stood where the Guildhall now stands. This itself then invoking Biblical references. But they are such great names that the legend wanders off in all sorts of directions.

The invention of a history to connect one’s lineage or territory to a heroic past is a regular feature of human history. The Aeneid, for example, connected Rome’s origins to the Trojans.

The medieval period was rife with it. Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regnum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) was accepted as accurate history until the C16th, is a fabulous concoction. The contemporary description of medieval Arthurian stories as “medieval fanfic” is about right.

But, of course, the invention of the past is a habit that has never died. Think of horns on Viking helmets, the invention of a C19th illustrator, or perhaps from costume designs for Wagnerian opera, but which has become firmly implanted as the iconic image of Vikings. The trouble is, the invented past often makes a great story precisely because it is about what appeals, not what is correct.

And putting statues invoking London invoking a Homeric and Biblical past in a city which had been declared one only in 1847, so was not yet half a century old yet was, when the statues were erected, probably the richest city in the world, was a way for a brash new city to connect itself to a grand history.

This is also the Saturday chit-chat post.


  1. Posted November 17, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    speaking of ‘the richest city in the world’ – hello from Ballarat. The gold that built The Empire was not found under Bourke St.
    History is invented in various ways, or not. My experiences with various genealogies which have surprised some families, lead me to know that a great deal of family history is Just Not Mentioned.
    That great uncle nobody ever knew anything about? He went to Perth and was charged 42 times with Obstructing The Footpath (taking bets). Oh hilarity.
    Did any of you see the meteor neighbourhood Earth passed through this morning?

  2. Posted November 17, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I finished my protocol design during the week.

    Now sprinting to meet the deadline to file it as a patent.

  3. kvd
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Well done Jacques, and good luck!

    Prompted by a post on Jim Belshaw’s blog about Bills of Exchange, I somehow ended up on the Old Bailey historical website. I have to say (and hence recommend) that for anyone interested in the nitty gritty of early proceedings I find this resource very well organised, and extremely easy to approach and navigate.

    The link below is to just one particular ‘view’ or ‘entry point’ available but – repeating myself I guess – the whole site really is very well done:

    Looking at Gender in the Proceedings

  4. Posted November 17, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Gog and Magog before. Interesting story, although they don’t look like particularly happy chappies judging from the statues.

    kvd, along the lines of your interesting criminal punishment link, I wrote words and stuff about that payments to charity case you noticed a couple of weeks ago.

  5. kvd
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] thank you. Saves me gently nudging LE again – which I was intending to do in a month or so. I accept everybody is busy, but I was intrigued by the case, and I’d be really interested in her thoughts on your post, and also the actual outcome of the case – if anyone has an accessible reference? And a minor frustration: you did not state your own view of the Council’s argument. Or perhaps it’s already decided – in which case see above.

    More (much) importantly, good luck with the exams!

  6. Posted November 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    kvd, cheers. It’s all over apart from the anxious wait for results.

    I also hope LE comments on the case when she gets a chance. It’d be nice to read the opinion of someone who’s actually been within cooee of a court room 😉 I looked through all the recently published judgements and couldn’t see anything relevant (at least dated after the news article), so I’m assuming the case hasn’t been decided yet. I working on updating the post with a few bits I’ve found or thought of since posting, and I’ll probably add my own views as a bit of a conclusion. I seem to be a bit too used to writing uni assignments where personal opinions don’t really matter that much.

    Jacques, congratulations on getting it finished. I hope you remember us peons when Chester Inc becomes the new Google and you sell out for billions.

  7. Mel
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    What happened to the rain? Parts of SE Australia are now back in serious drought.

  8. kvd
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Trouble in aisle seven (aka the Streisand thread). You have a couple of posters who maybe should be invited to take their fight elsewhere?

  9. Posted November 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    The invention of a history to connect one’s lineage or territory to a heroic past is a regular feature of human history.

    I thought it was the prime function of history; and continues to be. Tho’ now we have Star Trek etc which functions to connect us with an heroic future. And iPhones to make us believe it’s around the corner.

  10. Posted November 21, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    #7 LE – not possible to save batty 88-y-old Dads from themselves. Mine buys things. Cold callers love him. His Personal best was paying $2000 in CASH at the door for a vacuum he did not use in the 2 years before I discovered it.

    re the Invented Past: this morning’s news reveals that the most recent MEL murderer has an UNinvented past, being a repeat offender. Was 13 years a sufficient incarceration for his Previous? – ‘The judge, sentencing Hunter to a minimum 13 years in jail, also said he had shown no remorse for the crime.

    Two years into his sentence Hunter escaped from Pentridge Prison by scrambling over a wall with another prisoner.

    His freedom was short-lived: he was caught within half an hour after he was seen in a nearby house washing the blood from cuts inflicted during his escape.

    The Age said it was believed that Hunter served only 12 years of his sentence and that he had subsequently been convicted of other crimes, including kidnapping and sex offences.’

  11. Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] History — the notion that one relies on evidence — was invented as a way of providing some alternative to heroic myth.

  12. kvd
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    In other news the Pope says there was no Democrat present at the birth of baby Jesus – perhaps confirming my suspicion that God may be a Republican 😉

    Or was he, maybe, just confirming Lorenzo’s thoughts about the ‘Invented Past’?

  13. kvd
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    This is a long read, referenced via The Conversation this morning, but I found it quite clear, and quite persuasive in discussing the pro-life, pro-choice seemingly intractable positions. Without wishing to start a TOD, I just think it is worthy of consideration.

    Hope you can shortly take a few days off to recharge LE!

  14. kvd
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Very few people seem to appreciate the long form of cricket these days, but I just wanted to record Michael Clark’s 4th double hundred in a calendar year, followed next ball by evergreen Hussey brining up his hundred with a six.

    Pretty to watch both players.

  15. Posted November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    kvd, the stats in that link were interesting. I hadn’t really looked into the arguments about the pill before.

  16. kvd
    Posted November 23, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Neither had I, desipis.

    And since this is a chat thread, I’d like to record a lovely little eggcorn in the comments of the UK Daily Telegraph today, attached to an article about Gen Petraeus’ dalliance. The correspondent stated that “men have been doing this sort of thing since time immoral”. Wish I’d said that 🙂

  17. Posted November 23, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    Yes, sometime around 4000 BC is probably more accurate than 1189 AD…

  18. Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] That is a great read, ta.

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