King Lear’s father was a royal prince named Bladud. As a young man he contracted a repulsive skin disease and was sent away from court to be a swineherd. Unfortunately, the pigs began to suffer from the disease as well. Poor Bladud was horrified, but then the pigs went wallowing in the mud at a place where hot springs bubbled up from below ground. Noticing that it did them good, Bladud went wallowing himself, and was cured. He returned to the court and when he became king he founded the city of Bath at the springs. His swine were consequently the forerunners of all the best people in 18th-century England, who flocked to Bath to take the waters. Bladud ended his life as the victim of the first recorded flying accident in Britain. He made himself a pair of wings, soared up in the air above London, crashed and was killed.
Whether Geoffrey Ashe’s admirable new book really deals with mythology is questionable. If the stories it tells, like the one about Bladud, are myths, they are not the tales of the classical Greek kind. These are not tales of the Celtic gods and goddesses or the great supernatural heroes of