Early in the game here at Bright Weavings I rashly undertook to provide the site with more comprehensive bibliographies for each book than appeared in the Acknowledgements for the novels themselves.
It has been pointed out to me that I’m behind.
Having nothing but time on my hands, I decided to be uncharacteristically compliant and set up the bibliography for Ysabel.
This was a slightly unusual research exercise for several reasons. One was that major aspects of the preparation were done on site, as it were, since we were living in Provence while I prepared and wrote the book. It hardly counts as formal research to check out cafés in Aix-en-Provence, and though drinking wine at sunset in the recently discovered Roman theatre with the archeologist in charge of the excavation is absolutely an excursion into period and mood and information, it isn’t helpful bibliography either, alas.
So, the books. The novel turns on the collision of Greeks and Romans with Celts in Provence. It was triggered by my learning the founding myth of the city of Marseilles, the legend of Gyptis and Protis, which is one of many such ‘justification’ legends for new arrivals asserting they were made welcome by the indigenous people and therefore had ‘rights’ to settle in a given area. (The story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is another.)
The legend of the first Greek trading ships being permitted to land and build a trading base in Provence is noted in many places, though with inconsistencies (of course). It is outlined early in a book called The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe, who has written widely and with passion about the Celts and their world. This particular text offers a slight angle to his usual material, but the possibly mythic-possibly true journey described fit my themes perfectly.
Cunliffe is passionate and sage about the Celtic world, and everything he offers is worth reading. Jean Markale is another prolific writer on the Celts and Druids, more mystical, less to my own taste than Cunliffe, but absolutely worth investigating.
On Celtic myth and legend, Marie-Louise Sjoestedt’s Gods and Heroes of the Celts is a seminal text, the last book by a renowned scholar. Nora Chadwick’s The Celts is a classic in English and James MacKillop’s more recent Myths and Legends of the Celts is another major study. Note that all of these range widely in terms of geography and period – but then, so did the Celts.
Peter Beresford Ellis is another substantial name in the field and I’ll recommend both his Celtic Women and The Druids as interesting and useful. The status of women in Celtic society is an intriguing issue (and provides some justification for the Marseilles legend suggesting that Gyptis, the tribal chieftain’s daughter, was allowed to choose her own mate).
A small book focusing on how the Celts were seen (and written about) by the Greeks and Romans, using quotations from primary sources was – I think, obviously – useful to me. It is by Philip Freeman, is called War, Women and Druids, and the subtitle is “Eyewitness Reports and Early Accounts of the Ancient Celts”.
One of the more charming books I encountered was Theodore Cook’s Old Provence, written in 1905. It is really two books bundled together in a modern reprinting of a classic. One traces the ancient Celts and the first arrivals of the Greeks and Romans. Protis and Gyptis make an appearance here, and so does Marius with his great battle at the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire. The second part of the book carries the story into medieval times and the troubadours. This, of course, is the period I researched for A Song for Arbonne and for other works on this latter period, have a look at the bibliography here on Bright Weavings for that novel. Cook is not writing as a scholar, the book is very much a travelogue, and a period piece now, but it is immensely appealing and conjured for me a renewed sense of the timeline in that part of the world: the idea of an endless stream of new arrivals intoxicated by Provence – which is, of course, fundamental to Ysabel.
The historical guide sold in Aix to the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral was hugely useful (I marked it up pretty comprehensively). So, too, for those who can handle the French, is Fernand Benoit’s Entremont, a guide to the site which was so central in the intersection of Romans and Celts and the founding of the Roman city of Aquae Sextiae, which became Aix, of course. Entremont is also, obviously, central to Ysabel. It makes for a genuinely evocative visit, by the way, and was never crowded on any of my trips up there. Actually, I’ll recommend touring any of the sites mentioned in the novel. Climbing Sainte-Victoire by the route Ned Marriner takes (there are other ways up) is a wonderful experience. Don’t do it in midday in summer, though.
© Guy Gavriel Kay