Saturday, 13 October 2012

Jordanes on the death of Attila.



Jordanes was a Roman historian of Gothic descent of whom very little is known, but whose Getica or De origine actibusque Getarum (On the origin and deeds of the Goths) is an invaluable source of information on the early history of the Goths.  The only date known about him is that he wrote his Getica around 551 at Constantinople. This work is actually an abridgement of a work on the same topic by Cassiodorus, but that has been completely lost. Jordanes tells the reader that he got only two days to go through a copy of the work by Cassiodorus, so much of this abridgement must be based on memory, but apart from Cassiodorus, other sources are used too. As the Huns under Atilla were a menace for the whole of Europe, including the Goths, he also paid attention to them. The birthdate of Attila is unknown, but he died in 453 near the river Tisza in Hungary, an area, where the Goths at that time were living as well and being subjected to the Huns. According to Jordanes, Attila died at the night of one of his marriages after excessive drinking and suffering from nosebleed. An alternative version is that he was killed by one of the women of his harem. The death of Attila left the Huns in disarray and the following year – in 454 – they were defeated by the Goths at the battle of Nedao.  This victory paved the way for the Goths to enter Italy, settle there and in effect take over the government, with emperor Theodoric the Great (454-526) as one of the best rulers of Late Antiquity, whose  legacy can still be seen at Ravenna.

As politicians nowadays time and again tell us to learn from history – professional historians are more cautious in this matter – I have been pondering about what to learn from this episode and I came to the following conclusion:  don’t get too drunk at your marriage!


Jordanes, Getica c.59

XLIX. 254 Qui, ut Priscus istoricus refert, exitus sui tempore puellam Ildico nomine decoram valde sibi in matrimonio post innumerabiles uxores, ut mos erat gentis illius, socians eiusque in nuptiis hilaritate nimia resolutus, vino somnoque gravatus resupinus iaceret, redundans sanguis, qui ei solite de naribus effluebat, dum consuetis meatibus impeditur, itinere ferali faucibus illapsus extinxit. Ita glorioso per bella regi temulentia pudendos exitos dedit. Sequenti vero luce cum magna pars diei fuisset exempta, ministri regii triste aliquid suspicantes post clamores maximos fores effringunt inveniuntque Attilae sine ullo vulnere necem sanguinis effusione peractam puellamque demisso vultu sub velamine lacrimantem. 255 Tunc, ut gentis illius mos est, crinium parte truncata informes facies cavis turpavere vulneribus, ut proeliator eximius non femineis lamentationibus et lacrimis, sed sanguine lugeretur virile. De quo id accessit mirabile, ut Marciano principi Orientis de tam feroci hoste sollicito in somnis divinitas adsistens arcum Attilae in eadem nocte fractum ostenderet, quasi quod gens ipsa eo telo multum praesumat. Hoc Priscus istoricus vera se dicit adtestatione probare. Nam in tantum magnis imperiis Attila terribilis habitus est, ut eius mortem in locum muneris superna regnantibus indicarent.

Priscus: (410 or 420 – after 472) was a Greek historian who wrote a now mainly lost history of Byzantium , in which he also mentioned the Huns. As a high official he went on a diplomatic mission to the court of Attila and under emperor Marcian he was magister officiorum, a high administrative function
exitus sui tempore: litt. `at the time of his death’,  but as the context makes clear, it must be `shortly before his death’.
Ildico: the name is Germanic and connected with the name Hilda/Hilde. Probably she was a Goth.
decorus: beautiful
sibi in matrimonio …..socians. the classical expression for when a man gets married is: aliquam in matrimonium ducere
hilaritas, -atis: gayety
nimia: too much
resolvo (3): to relax
gravo (1): to make heavy
resupinus: lying on the back
redundo (1) to overflow (red-undo. Conf. unda `wave’)
after iaceret a cum is required
solite: usually.
naris, -is: nostril 
meatus, -us: course, way out
itinere ferali `by a fatal way’
faucis, -is: throat
illabor -  illapsus: to flow
extingo –extinx – extinctim: to kill (eum)
temulantia: drunkenness (in classical Latin a very rare word)
pudendus: shameful
exitos: u nouns got assimilated to o  nouns
sequenti luce: on the following day
eximo- exemi – exemptus: (from time) consume, pass
regius: royal
clamor, -oris: shouting
effringo: (3) to break open
 inveniuntque Attilae sine ullo vulnere necem sanguinis effusione peractam = inveniuntque necem Attilae sine ullo vulnere peractam (sed) sanguinis effusione
invenio (3): to discover
vulnus, vulneris,  n.: wound
nex, necis: (violant) death
perago -  peregi – peractus: to perform, cause
demisso vultu: with her face bowed down
velamen, inis n. : veil
crinis, -is m. : hair
trunco (1): to cut off
informes facies: not: `their ugly faces’, but : `so that their faces became ugly’.
cavus: here `deep’
turpavere  =  turpaverunt
turpo: to deform
proeliator: warrior
eximius: extraordinary
lugeo: to lament, bewail
Marciano: Marcian (392-457) was emperor of Eastern Roma Empire from 450 till 457.
sollicitus: worried
divinitas: god. It is strange that Jordanes speaks about a god. Marcian was certainly Christian, but on the other hand the stories of classical antiquity were still very much alive. cf. also superna below
arcus: bow’
ostendo (3): to show
praesumo (3): to put trust in (a Late Latin meaning of this verb)
telum : javelin, dart, but also any weapon in general
probo (1): here: to accept as trustworthy
Attila terribilis habitus est: Atilla was considered as terrible by
in locum muneris; litt.: `instead of a boon’ ‘= `as a kind of boon
superna = superi: the gods


Attila as pictured in the Liber Chronicarum (1493).

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