Mediaeval historians wrote their narratives form the perspective of a linear evolving time with the creation as its beginning and the return of Jesus or the apocalypse as its end in the future. Within this time nothing was contingent, but part of Gods’ plan. We can laugh at such prepositions, but even the father of modern historiography, the German historian Leopold van Ranke (21 December 1795 – 23 May 1886), was still influenced by such thoughts, be it from a liberal-Christian point of view.
As for the concept of time as a prerequisite for writing history: in Hinduism with its idea of cyclical time in which everything what has happened before and will happen again, the genre of historiography never came into existence. Historical events were mythicized in their epics and in the Puranas. Buddhism has the same view of time, but they have the Buddha as a point of historical reference, so there some historical writing developed.
So far my speculation and lets now go back to mediaeval history. When the Frankish king Clovis I (466-511) converted to Christianity in 396, this was not seen as a conversion which would gain political advantages but as the result of his wife Clotilda’s efforts to converse him. The death of their firstborn son after his baptism was taken as starting point for this process. In the hands of a first-rate narrator as Gregory of Tours we are well assured of getting a dramatic story.
The Latin is fraught with difficulties concerning spelling and syntax – at least from a Classical Latin point of view – but when such a text is approached as if word order is more important than inflection, it will become less difficult. From the point of the development of Romance languages as well as spoken Latin, Gregory of Tours is a highly valuable source. I have not listed every word, but only those which may cause some difficulties for those with a basic knowledge of Latin.
Gregorius Turonensis, Historia Francorum, 2.29. De primo eorum filio baptizato in albis defuncto.
Igitur ex Chrotchilde regina habuit filium primogenitum. Quem cum mulier baptismo consecrare vellit, praedicabat assiduae viro, dicens: 'Nihil sunt dii quos colitis, qui neque sibi neque aliis potuerunt subvenire. Sunt enim aut ex lapide aut ex ligno aut ex metallo aliquo sculpti. Nomina vero quae eis indedistis homines fuere, non dii, ut Saturnus, qui a filio ne a regno depelleretur, per fugam elapsus adseritur, ut ipse Iovis omnium stuprorum spurcissimus perpetratur, incestatur virorum, propinquarum derisor, qui nec ab ipsius sororis propriae potuit abstenere concubitum, ut ipsa ait: Iovisque et soror et coniux. Quid Mars Mercuriusque potuere? Qui potius sunt magicis artibus praediti, quam divini nominis potentiam habuere. Sed ille magis coli debit, qui caelum et terram, mare et omnia quae in eis sunt verbo ex non extantibus procreavit, qui solem lucere fecit et caelum stillis ornavit, qui aquas reptilibus, terras animantibus, aera volatilibus adimplivit, cuius nutu terrae frugibus, pomis arbores, uvis vineae decorantur, cuius manu genus humanum creatum est, cuius largitione ipsa illa creatura omnes homini suo, quem creavit, et obsequio et benefitio famulatur'. Sed cum haec regina dicerit, nullatinus ad credendum regis animus movebatur, sed dicebat: 'Deorum nostrorum iussione cuncta creantur ac prudeunt, Deus vero vester nihil posse manefestatur, et quod magis est, nec de deorum genere esse probatur'. Interea regina fidelis filium ad baptismum exhibet, adornare eclesiam velis praecipit atque curtinis, quo facilius vel hoc misterio provocaretur ad credendum, qui flecti praedicationem non poterat. Baptizatus autem puer, quem Ingomerem vocitaverunt, in ipsis, sicut regeneratus fuerat, albis obiit. Qua de causa commotus felle rex, non signiter increpabat regina, dicens: 'Si in nomine deorum meorum puer fuisset decatus, vixisset utique; nunc autem, quia in nomine Dei vestri baptizatus est, vivere omnino non potuit'. Ad haec regina: 'Deo', inquid, 'omnipotenti, creatori omnium, gratias ago, qui me non usquequaque iudicavit indigna, ut de utero meo genitum regno suo dignaretur adscire. Mihi autem dolore huius causae animus non attingitur, quia scio, in albis ab hoc mundo vocatus Dei obtutibus nutriendus'. Post hunc vero genuit alium filium, quem baptizatum Chlodomere vocavit; et hic cum egrotare coepisset, dicebat rex: 'Non potest aliud, nisi et de hoc sicut et de fratre eius contingat, ut baptizatus in nomine Christi vestri protinus moriatur'. Sed orante matre, Domino iubente convaluit.
in albis: dressed in white
praedicabat: she tried to persuade (with the notion `to preach’ which is also praedico. Cf, praedicationem below)
assiduae = assidue: constantly
dicens: the following words are of course Gregory’s words and reflect Christian ideas about pagan gods. Christian authors were quick to take over the ideas of the Greek mythographer Euhemerus (end 4th century BC.)
subvenio (+ dat.): to help
nomina homines fuere (= fuerunt): litt. the names are humans = are of humans
adseritur: is said
Iovis: nominative! (cf. English Jove.)
perpetratur = perpetrator (performer)
incestatur = incestator (one who commits incest)
abstenere = abstinere
Iovisque et soror et coniux: Aenead 1,46-7 (Iovis is here of course genitive.)
praeditus (+ abl.): provided with
stillis = stellis
largitio, -onis (f.): generosity
creatura omnes = creatura omnis
obsequio et benefitio famulatur: serves with compliance and benefit (beneficium)
nullatinus (adv., non-classical) : in no way
dicebat: also Gregory’s words
prudeunt = prodeunt: come forward
puerum ad baptismum exhibit: offered her child for baptism
praecipio: to order
quo facilius vel hoc misterio provocaretur ad credendum, qui flecti praedicationem non poterat, by which he could be more easily or by that mystery could be persuaded to believe , who could not be moved by doctrine/ preaching (per) praedicationem). It is indeed known that the magnificence of the liturgy, the gold and icons impressed non-Christian rulers and made them convert.
vocito: to name
regeneratus: baptism was considered a rebirth
commotus felle: moved by anger (litt. moved by bile)
signiter = segniter: sluggishly, slowly
increpo: to exclaim loudly against, rebuke
decatus = dicatus: consecrated
non usquequaque indigna = non usquequaque indignam: not completely unworthy
inquid = inquit
adscio (ascio): to receive
Dei obtutibus: before the eyes of God (obtutus –us)
egrotare = aegrotare: to become ill
Translation by Earnest Brehaut (1916):
He had a first-born son by queen Clotilda, and as his wife wished to consecrate him in baptism, she tried unceasingly to persuade her husband, saying: "The gods you worship are nothing, and they will be unable to help themselves or any one else. For they are graven out of stone or wood or some metal. And the names you have given them are names of men and not of gods, as Saturn, who is declared to have fled in fear of being banished from his kingdom by his son; as Jove himself, the foul perpetrator of all shameful crimes, committing incest with men, mocking at his kinswomen, not able to refrain from intercourse with his own sister as she herself says: Jovisque et soror et conjunx. What could Mars or Mercury do? They are endowed rather with the magic arts than with the power of the divine name. But he ought rather to be worshipped who created by his word heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is out of a state of nothingness, who made the sun shine, and adorned the heavens with stars, who filled the waters with creeping things, the earth with living things and the air with creatures that fly, at whose nod the earth is decked with growing crops, the trees with fruit, the vines with grapes, by whose hand mankind was created, by whose generosity all that creation serves and helps man whom he created as his own." But though the queen said this the spirit of the king was by no means moved to belief, and he said: "It was at the command of our gods that all things were created and came forth, and it is plain that your God has no power and, what is more, he is proven not to belong to the family of the gods." Meantime the faithful queen made her son ready for baptism; she gave command to adorn the church with hangings and curtains, in order that he who could not moved by persuasion might be urged to belief by this mystery. The boy, whom they named Ingomer, died after being baptized, still wearing the white garments in which he became regenerate. At this the king was violently angry, and reproached the queen harshly, saying: " If the boy had been dedicated in the name of my gods he would certainly have lived; but as it is, since he was baptized in the name of your God, he could not live at all." To this the queen said: "I give thanks to the omnipotent God, creator of all, who has judged me not wholly unworthy, that he should deign to take to his kingdom one born from my womb. My soul is not stricken with grief for his sake, because I know that, summoned from this world as he was in his baptismal garments, he will be fed by the vision of God."
After this she bore another son, whom she named Chlodomer at baptism; and when he fell sick, the king said: "It is impossible that anything else should happen to him than happened to his brother, namely, that being baptized in the name of your Christ, should die at once." But through the prayers of his mother, and the Lord's command, he became well.
Clovis and Clotilda (Antoine-Jean Gros, 1811)