The Annotated GGK

These annotations were contributed by Sean Miller. Sean holds a doctorate in early English history from the University of Cambridge and a certification in the Java programming language from Sun Microsystems, and conducts his life somewhere between these two extremes. He has read and re-read and enjoyed GGK’s books for many years. If anyone has any other annotations they’d like to contribute, please send them in to the site.

Grace Notes | The Fionavar Tapestry | Tigana | A Song for Arbonne
The Lions of Al-Rassan | The Sarantine Mosaic


Grace Notes



“Finavir, or Finvair … it was written either way, and in one or two other fashions sometimes”
Tigana, part 4, chapter 13.

GGK has commented that the appearance of “Fionavar” under various names in subsequent books is intended more as a grace note than the prelude to some grand tying-together of worlds. Still, here they are:

Tigana, part 4, chapter 13: Brandin tells Dianora of the Ygrathen nursery tale of Finavir, or Finvair, of how it was the nearest of all the worlds to where the true gods dwell, and how people may be born over and over again into the various worlds until, at the last, they are born a final time into Finavir.

A Song for Arbonne, chapter 14: Lisseut’s song, the very old melody from a story now-forgotten, of a meeting, if not in this world, then in Fionvarre.

The Lions of Al-Rassan, chapter 8: Alvar, witnessing the meeting of Rodrigo and Ammar, shivers and remembers the half-pagan northern Valledan legend that such a shiver meant that an emissary of death had crossed into the realms of mortals from the god’s own lost world of Fiñar.

Another ref to Fionavar in Lions was sent in by Jaap Marsman. In chapter 18, Yazir of the Muwardis is remembering a Kindath wanderer who once came to them and said that there was an ancient sect of the Kindath that taught that their world had been made by more than one god, that all the religions of that world were right, that there was one God above all but He was only known and spoken of by name in the first of all the worlds. Sounds like Fionavar to us!


The Sarantine Mosaic, Lord of Emperors, chapter 3, part 5: Pardos’s first sight of the dome of the Great Sanctuary: “He saw the massive columns piled upon each other like playthings for the giants of legend from Finabar, the lost, first world of the Antae’s pagan faith, where gods walked among men.”

The Two Moons

“Pale Vidonne — which bore the same name everywhere…”

Another grace note of sorts is the white and blue moons, which do not appear in Fionavar itself but do appear in all the subsequent stories. They are named as Ilarion (blue) and Vidomni (white) in Tigana, and Blaise muses on the stairs of Castle Baude in Arbonne (chapter 2) that pale Vidonne bore the same name everywhere, which is truer than he could know, since Vidomni is a plausible Italian equivalent to the French Vidonne.


The Fionavar Tapestry

Macha and red Nemain

Emain Macha is the ancient capital of Ulster. This is almost certainly relevant and the source of the names of Fionavar’s goddesses of war because Queen Medb (Maeve) of Connaught went to war against Ulster, as retold in the tale of the Cattle-Raid of Cooley, the Táin bó Cúalgne, and Medb’s daughter was Finnabair, or Findubair…

[For an online parallel Old Irish text and modern English translation of the Tain, see here; for a published translation, check out Thomas Kinsella’s Oxford paperback version, published in 1969.]

A further note on Macha and Nemain was sent in by Joe Doyle of Dublin, Ireland:

It seems possible to me that the sourcing of the names of Fionavar’s war-deities was simpler than the proposed link via the Táin and Emain Macha. Macha and Nemain (or Neman) were two of the trio of Celtic war-goddesses known as the Bobh or Babh (~Baov), the third and most-powerful of whom was the Morrigan or Morrigiu. At times they were shown as battle-crows and the Morrigan, in particular, was known as “the storm-crow of war”. As the Celts did not develop the structured hierarchies of deities some expect (as the Greeks and Romans did), it must be understood that variations occur and sometimes only two war-goddesses are found and sometimes Bobh is an individual rather than a collective term; the Morrigan is the most constant.

Maeve’s daughter Fionndabhair (with many spelling variations) is often rendered in English as Fionavar (a key version of her tragic story is Ella Young’s “The Weird of Fionavar”), Finnavir etc.

Mörnir and the summer tree

Mörnir, with his Norse-sounding name, and his ravens Thought and Memory (Huginn and Muninn), is clearly a version of Odin, or Óthinn, the chief god of the Norse pantheon. (Mörnir is in fact the name given to an idol in a later Norse verse.) The story of kings hanging for three nights on the summer tree (and in Paul Schafer’s case, gaining some wisdom and bringing the rain) recalls the tale of Othinn hung for nine nights on the tree, and thereby gaining the magic of the runes, as told in the Eddic poem Hávamál:
Veit ek at ek hekk ………………. ………..I know that I hung
vindga meiði á ………………. ………..upon a windy tree
nætr allar níu ………………. ………..for nine whole nights,
geiri undaðr ………………. ………..wounded with a spear
ok gefinn Óðni ………………. ………..and given to Othinn,
sjálfr sjálfum mér ………………. ………..myself to myself for me;
á þeim meiði ………………. ………..on that tree
er manngi veit ………………. ………..I knew nothing
hvers hann af rótum renn ………………. ………..of what kind of roots it came from.

Við hleifi mik sældu ………………. ………..They cheered me with a loaf
né við hornigi ………………. ………..and not with any horn,
nýsta ek niðr ………………. ………..I investigated down below,
nam ek upp rúnar ………………. ………..I took up the runes,
œpandi nam ………………. ………..screaming I took them,
fell ek aptr þaðan ………………. ………..and I fell back from there.

[For a full online translation, see here]



Chapter 11: Baerd and the Nightwalkers of Certando

… as the Night Walkers claim ears of corn to fight the evil magic …

In the Old Norse poem Hávamál, the Sayings of the High One or the Wisdom of Odin, recommends the use of an ear of corn against witch-craft (Háv. 137.10: ax við fjolkynngi)…

A further note on the Nightwalkers was sent in by JB from the UK:

A magico-religious cult known as the Benandanti existed in North-East Italy (Friuli – N of Trieste) at and probably before the end of the sixteenth century. They believed that they battled witches, in spirit, on certain nights to secure fertility for their crops. The witches were armed with sorghum stalks and the Benandanti with sticks of fennel. Recruitment was said to be from people born with the caul (coverered by the amniotic sac). Evidence comes from the records made when Benandanti were brought to the notice of the Holy Inquisition, suspected of attending witches sabbaths.

The cult and the inquisition records are described by the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg in “The Night Battles” (1983) and discussed further in a later, broader focused, work “Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath” (1991). Ginzburg is interested in the disjunction and misunderstandings between the world-views of the formally educated religious elite, represented by the inquisition officials (who of course wrote the documents we have!) and the unlettered or semi-literate people brought before them. The Benandanti case is a classic example. They saw themselves as ‘good Christians’ protecting their communities from evil, but the Inquisitors viewed their statements as evidence of witchcraft.

[Deborah’s note: In his bibliography of Tigana on the site, GGK actually mentions that Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘The Night Battles’ was the source of his Nightwalkers. I thought I’d nevertheless add this annotation from JB in here because JB gives us some relevant details that show the similarities between the Benandanti and the Nightwalkers.]
… Baerd chasing the retreating figure of Brandin, who nonetheless escapes …

Compare Lancelot’s pursuit of the lord of the Dolorous Guard in the Old French Lancelot do Lac, who is (also) called Brandin of the Isles. [see Lancelot of the Lake, translated by Corin Corley, in Oxford paperback (1989), p. 135.]

A Song for Arbonne

Signe and Galadriel, Ariane and Arwen

In a few places, there are echoes in the descriptions and actions of Kay’s Signe and Ariane of Tolkien’s Galadriel and Arwen. This thread starts with the midsummer council, and Blaise being undone when Signe says to him, “But that must have been terrible for you!” (pp. 221-2, chapter 7). Signe’s understanding and Blaise’s wonder remind me of Galadriel speaking the names of Moria in the ancient dwarven tongue and Gimli’s wondering response (LotR, “The Mirror of Galadriel”). (Though of course a more exact comparison is Sharra’s sudden outcry on the beach of the lake in The Darkest Road, on hearing of Darien’s plight.) Roban’s musing comparison of Ariane and Signe (p. 412, chapter 13), thinking of them as sunrise and sunset, or noontide and twilight, and noting that his love was for the older woman, echoes the discussion of Gimli and Eomer over the fairness of Galadriel and Arwen, when they are compared to Morning and Evening (LotR, “Many Partings”). Again, the purple cloak of kingship that Ariane made for Blaise (p. 569, chapter 18) feels akin to the great royal standard that Arwen made for Aragorn (LotR, “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields”). Perhaps the most apparent part of the parallel is the similarity in name between Ariane and Arwen, and their similar relations with the Northern kings who reclaim their crowns in the course of the stories.

The Lions of Al-Rassan

The Oath of Galinus

Not Galinus himself, the source and fount of all medical knowledge, not Uzbet al-Maurus, not Avenal of Soriyya in the Asharite homelands of the east…
The book she was in the midst of reading to Ishak — the text of Merovius on cataracts —
“The Oath of Galinus,” she said. It was difficult to speak. “The Physician’s Oath. To preserve life, if it can be done.” (chapter 3)

The oath echoes the Hippocratic Oath of our world, named after Hippocrates (? 460-377 BC), a Greek physician commonly regarded as the father of medicine. But Galinus also had a historical antecedent, Galen (Claudius Galenus, ? 129-210 AD), a Greek doctor who codified and improved upon the existing medical knowledge of his day (including several commentaries on Hippocrates), and was considered an important authority up to the Renaissance and beyond.

“Merovius on cataracts” appears as another grace note, for this is the tome Rustem has his students copying near the beginning of Lord of Emperors.

[For further details, and texts of Hippocrates and of Galen, see the  Antiqua Medicina website.]

Ammar ibn Khairan, the newly named ka’id

The offhand references to the title of the ruler of the Asharite armies, the ka’id, towards the end of Lions are the more entertaining because the story of the historical Rodrigo, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, became famous as the story of Mio Cid, from the Arabic Sayyidi (Asharite ka’id), “My lord”.


The Sarantine Mosaic

People and places

The Sarantine Mosaic details a lightly-fictionalized and compressed version of the reign of Justinian I (527-65, GGK’s Valerius II) and Theodora (GGK’s Alixana) in Byzantium (GGK’s Sarantium). The Byzantine emperor Anastasius (GGK’s Apius) died in 518, and his three nephews were not in a position to claim the throne. The leader of the bodyguard, Justin (GGK’s Valerius I), had himself acclaimed emperor the next day. Justin’s nephew Justinian was born in Tauresium (hence GGK’s Trakesia?), and followed his uncle to Constantinople, where he made a name for himself and grew fond of Theodora, a dancer for the Greens. Because of the difference in rank (Justinian was a senator) there was a legal barrier to a marriage, but Justinian convinced Justin to change the law. The historian Procopius of Caesaria (GGK’s irritating Pertennius of Eubulus) suggests that Justin was under Justinian’s control, which fits with hints GGK lets drop about the relations between Valerius and his nephew Petrus. Justin made his nephew co-emperor shortly before his death in 527, so that Justinian’s succession on Justin’s death (from complications from an old wound in his foot) was unproblematic.

Justinian is perhaps most famous for the Hagia Sophia (GGK’s Great Sanctuary), which he started to build in 532 after the old sanctuary was burnt down in the Nika riots (precisely translated in GGK’s Victory riots). Procopius records the desperate council of Justinian and his ministers in the face of the riots, and credits Theodora with preventing flight with a rousing speech including the memorable remark, “royalty is a fine burial shroud”. Hagia Sophia was finished five years later in 537, and Justinian, unlike Valerius, lived on to see his creation.

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