Monday, 29 December 2014

Jordanes knows how the Huns came into existence.

Jordanes was a Roman clerk living in the 6th century, who in later life turned to writing historical accounts. One is the Romana, an excerpt of the highlights of Roman history and the other is the Getica, telling the history of the Goths. Unfortunately, Jordanes is mixing up Goths and Getae, the latter being a Thracian or Dacian tribe. The reason for the confusion is that both tribes lived in what is now Romania.  As an overall work of history about the Goths the Getica is pretty worthless, but Jordanes uses sources now lost and only available through the Getica.  The most important is Cassiodorus’ account of the Goths.
The Goths were driven away by the Huns in the 370s – though some Gothic tribes joined the Huns - and they wondered where the Huns so suddenly came from. This question is still asked by modern historians, but few would support the version below. Jordanes tells that some Gothic witches were driven away by king Filimer and that in the desert they had intercourse with evil spirits. The product of this union are the Huns, which according to all classical accounts were very ugly and only had a vague resemblance with human beings. No wonder: they lived in swamps as a dwarfish, repulsive and poor sort of humans (minutum, tetrum atque exile quasi hominum genus).
Jordanes refers to an ancient source (ut refert antiquitas), but fails to tell which source.  Whoever it wrote had certainly some biblical connotations in mind. It could be that it comes from Jordanes himself, but on the other hand the word Haliurunnas is definitely Germanic (for details see my notes). So it could be that Jordanes has used some obscure (Greek?) source going back to a Gothic original. We will never know…

Jordanes, Getica
XXIV. 121 Post autem non longi temporis intervallo, ut refert Orosius, Hunnorum gens omni ferocitate atrocior exarsit in Gothos. Nam hos, ut refert antiquitas, ita extitisse conperimus. Filimer rex Gothorum et Gadarici magni filius qui post egressu Scandzae insulae iam quinto loco tenens principatum Getarum, qui et terras Scythicas cum sua gente introisse superius a nobis dictum est, repperit in populo suo quasdam magas mulieres - quas patrio sermone Haliurunnas is ipse cognominat - easque habens suspectas, de medio sui proturbat longeque ab exercitu suo fugatas in solitudinem coegit errare. 122 Quas spiritus inmundi per herimum vagantes dum vidissent et eorum conplexibus in coitu miscuissent, genus hoc ferocissimum ediderunt, quae fuit primum inter paludes;  minutum, tetrum atque exile quasi hominum genus nec alia voce notum nisi quod humani sermonis imaginem adsignabat. Tali igitur Hunni stirpe creati Gothorum finibus advenerunt.

post intervallo: in Classical Latin post intervallum
ardeo arsi arsum: to blaze, rage
extitisse; to have come into existence (In Classical Latin only the present is found)
comperio: to learn, understand
Filimer:  the historicity of this king has been doubted.
Gardaricus: this name is Gothic enough, but again, historians are not sure about the historicity.
Scandza insula: Gotland             
quinto loco = quintum locum (what is meant is that Filimer was the fifth king after the Goths left Gotland
superius: i.e. in an earlier part of the Getica
reperio reperi (repperi) repertum: to find, discover
magas mulieres: witches (In Germanic tribes some women had the power of divination and this is probably what is meant. Once in Dacia the Goths were Christianized and it is likely that if indeed Jordanes uses an unknown Gothic source, these women were now seen from a Christian perspective.)
Haliurunnas:  cf. Old-English helruna `demon’, Old High-German helliruna `necromantia’, halja is the Old –Norse name for the realm of the death (hence `hell’)
proturbo: to drive away
inmundus: unclean (for Immundus spiritus cf. i.a.. Marc 1,26: Et discerpens eum spiritus immundus. So the wording has a biblical connotation.)
herimum = desert (also in the New Testament the place where immani spritus dwell.)
complexus, -us (m.): embracing
et eorum conplexibus in coitu miscuissent:  cf. Homeric φιλότητι μιγήμεναι `to mingle in love’, but in coitu is not exactly φιλότητι. As this narrative has a Christian frame, this description is meant to be derogatory.
edo: to bring forth
palus, paludis (f.): swamp
imaginem adsignabat:  has been marked as an imitation  of
stirps stirpis (f.): race, stock

About Jordanes:

Translation by Charles C. Mierow (Princeton University Press, 1915),

But after a short space of time, as Orosius relates, the race of the Huns, fiercer than ferocity itself, flamed forth against the Goths. We learn from old traditions that their origin was as follows: Filimer, king of the Goths, son of Gadaric the Great, who was the fifth in succession to hold the rule of the Getae after their departure from the island of Scandza,--and who, as we have said, entered the land of Scythia with his tribe,--found among his people certain witches, whom he called in his native tongue Haliurunnae. Suspecting these women, he expelled them from the midst of his race and compelled them to wander in solitary exile afar from his army. There the unclean spirits, who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness, bestowed their embraces upon them and begat this savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps,--a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech. Such was the descent of the Huns who came to the country of the Goths.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ambrose, hymn 7: Sol Invictus?

For many Christmas is the most Christian of Christian feast, however In the Early Church there is hardly anything to find about it and it was not till well into the fourth century that its date was set at December 25. I was reminded of this because I recently bought a collection of Latin poetry from the early Church (Lateinische Altkirchliche Poesie (Auswahl), ed H. Lietzmann, 1910). Looking for an appropriate hymn for this time of the year, I found nothing.  Actually, we know hardly anything about the birth of Jesus (and his childhood): Mark has nothing to say, John is philosophical and Matthew and Luke have their narratives based upon what the Septuagint says about the coming of the Messiah - or rather what they thought it says. The only thing we know for sure is that Jesus was born – hardly any historian will deny this – but in all likelihood in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. The focus of the Early Church was on the miracle of the resurrection and the glorification of the risen and heavenly Christ. No wonder Byzantine emperors were more ready to identify themselves with Christ as παντοκρατωρ (ruler of the universe) than with the earthly Jesus.
There was however one hymn in the collection which with some good will can be connected with Christmas, namely hymn 7 from the hymns by Ambrose bishop of Milan (340-497). It is a morning hymn in which Christ is compared to the rising sun. The idea the deified sun occurs in the Sol Invictus cult (cult of the Unconquered Sun), a cult which was made official by Aurelian in 274.  Constantine too favoured this cult before he converted to Christianity and it could well be that this explains why some features of this cult were taken over by Christianity. One of these was the comparison of Christ with the sun and the other the date of his birth: December 25 was in the cult of Sol Invictus the birth of the sun. Though it has been argued that this date is a coincidence, I think the arguments in favour are strong.
With some adaptations in the text, this hymn is used at some dates of the liturgical year. It has been translated into English about 25 times.

Ambrosius, Hymnus VII.

Meter: iambic

Splendor Paternae gloriae,
de luce lucem proferens ,
primordiis lucis novae                                                  
diem dies illuminans.

profero: to bring forward; primordius: original, primordial

Verusque sol illabere,
micans nitore perpeti,
iubarque sancti Spiritus
infunde nostris sensibus.

Illabor illapsus sum:  to flow into; mico: to shine, beam
nitor nitoris (m.): brightness, splendour; perpes, perpetis = perpetuus
(perpeti: abl.)
iubar iubaris (m.): radiance; infundo: pour in

Votis vocemus et Patrem,            
patrem perennis gloriae,
patrem potentis gratiae,
culpam releget lubricam.                             

votum: vow
culpam etc: may he drive away the slippery occasions for sin.

Informet actus strenuos,                             
dentes retundat invidi,                  
casus secundet asperos,               
donet gerendi gratiam.                 

May He guide our feeble actions,
may He beat back the teeth of the Devil,
may He bring to good end perilous situations,
may He give grace to the acting (rightly).

Mentem gubernet et regat,         
casto, fideli corpore,
fides calore ferveat,                      
fraudis venena nesciat.  
gubernet regat: subject Pater
ferveo: to glow
fraudis venena: the venoms of deceit

Christusque nobis sit cibus,          
potusque noster sit fides,                            
laeti bibamus sobriam                                  
ebrietatem Spiritus.                       

cibus, -us (m.): food; potus, us (m.): drink
laeti..Spiritus: Let us gladly drink the sober drunkenness of the (holy) Spirit

Laetus dies hic transeat,               
pudor sit ut diluculum,                   
fides velut meridies,
crepusculum mens nesciat.          

We should from daybreak be guided by shame and faith in our actions so that at the end of the day we have not sinned.
diluculum: dawn: crepusculum; evening twilight, darkness (of sin)

Aurora cursus provehit,                 
Aurora totus prodeat
in Patre totus Filius
et totus in Verbo Pater.

In the fierce and sometimes violent discussion at that time about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son, Ambrose is taking the orthodox position of complete identity (hence trice totus) of Father and Son. Like the morning is setting out its course, so the Son is like the morning going forwards to the Father. That his flock, singing this hymn, may know it!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Tacitus, Annales iv, 72: a too demanding officer.

People can tolerate some suppression, but there are limits. Tacitus tells in his Annales IV.72 how the Frisians were forced by the Romans to pay taxes in the form of hides. The Frisians are the neighbours of the province I live (Groningen), but in Roman times and later the area they lived in was much larger. The North-West part of Germany is called Ostfriesland and though they don’t speak Frisian there but Saxon (Plattdeutsch, Frisian is close Old-English) the name indicates that Frisians wielded power at that region during some time of history – the very early Middle Ages.
There were no Roman forces in Frisia, but they were near enough by to show their teeth and demand tribute. At first it was quite moderate: Drusus just wanted some hides. But then a new commander came: Olennius. He wanted more than they could give, namely hides matching those of aurochs (singular and plural the same in English, though aurochsen, aurochses are attested), but their domesticated cows were much smaller and aurochs were rather rare here. Olennius must have known that, so his demand was just a display of power combined with sadism (how modern!). Being unable to provide the hides, the Frisians were punished by forcing to give away their cattle, fields and finally even their wives and children for slavery. And then the Frisians resented. Not without some amusement and sympathy for the Frisians, Tacitus describes what happened at 28 AD.

[72] Eodem anno Frisii, transrhenanus popolus, pacem exuere, nostra magis avaritia quam obsequii impatientes. tributum iis Drusus iusserat modicum pro angustia rerum, ut in usus militaris coria boum penderent, non intenta cuiusquam cura quae firmitudo, quae mensura, donec Olennius e primipilaribus regendis Frisiis impositus terga urorum delegit quorum ad formam acciperentur. id aliis quoque nationibus arduum apud Germanos difficilius tolerabatur, quis ingentium beluarum feraces saltus, modica domi armenta sunt. ac primo boves ipsos, mox agros, postremo corpora coniugum aut liberorum servitio tradebant. hinc ira et questus et postquam non subveniebatur remedium ex bello. rapti qui tributo aderant milites et patibulo adfixi: Olennius infensos fuga praevenit receptus castello cui nomen Flevum; et haud spernenda illic civium sociorumque manus litora Oceani praesidebat.

(Chapter 73 tells how the Romans tried to take revenge, but were terribly beaten by the Frisians, with a great loss of lives.)

transrhenanus: from the other side (i.e. north) of the Rhine
exuo exui exutum: to cast of (exuere = exuerunt)
nostra avaritia: abl.
impatiens –entis (+ gen.): not willing to bear
pro angustia rerum: in accordance with the poverty of means
in usus militaris: e.g. for making tents
corium: skin, hide
pendo pependi pensum: to pay
non intenta cura: abl. abl. while no care was being taking by anyone which quality, which measure
primipilaris: kind of centurion
regendis Frisiis: with impositus
terga = coria
quorum ad formam acciperentur: the measure of which they had to accept
arduus: difficult
quis = quibus
belua: beast, monster
ferax –acis (+gen.): fertile, abounding
saltus –us (m.): forest
armentum: horned cattle
questus –us (m.): complaint
subvenio: to come to help (non subveniebatur: subject Olennius)
patibulum: wooden bar
infensos fuga praevenit: he was the enemies ahead by flight
Flevum: most likely near modern Velzen, in the Dutch province of Noord-Holland
sperno sprevi spretum: to despise
manus –us (f.): band

Translation by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (1876)

That same year the Frisii, a nation beyond the Rhine, cast off peace, more because of our rapacity than from their impatience of subjection. Drusus had imposed on them a moderate tribute, suitable to their limited resources, the furnishing of ox hides for military purposes. No one ever severely scrutinized the size or thickness till Olennius, a first-rank centurion, appointed to govern the Frisii, selected hides of wild bulls as the standard according to which they were to be supplied. This would have been hard for any nation, and it was the less tolerable to the Germans, whose forests abound in huge beasts, while their home cattle are undersized. First it was their herds, next their lands, last, the persons of their wives and children, which they gave up to bondage. Then came angry remonstrances, and when they received no relief, they sought a remedy in war. The soldiers appointed to collect the tribute were seized and gibbeted. Olennius anticipated their fury by flight, and found refuge in a fortress, named Flevum, where a by no means contemptible force of Romans and allies kept guard over the shores of the ocean.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Two fables by Phaedrus.

Panem et Circenses, bread and circuses, that was the way Romans checked social unrest. Nevertheless, the idea that something was not quite right is expressed in the following fable. Of course it is originally Greek, but the sentiment that the rich are living on the poor is common in almost every society. The fable tells how frogs (ranae) in a pound are loudly protesting when they hear that the sun is about to marry (uxorem duco): their pound has already been completely scourged by the rays of the sun, what if the sun will have children? One doesn’t need to be an academic to see what this fable is really about.  The link below tells how this fable was abused against the Dutch Republic in the 17th century by the British and French. It still makes me angry!

Meter: iambic senarius (u-u-u-u-u-xx  with all possible variations for the first 5 feet)

Phaedrus, book 1, VI. Ranae ad Solem

Vicini furis celebres vidit nuptias
Aesopus, et continuo narrare incipit -
Uxorem quondam Sol cum vellet ducere,
clamorem ranae sustulere ad sidera.
Convicio permotus quaerit Iuppiter
causam querellae. Quaedam tum stagni incola
'Nunc' inquit 'omnes unus exurit lacus,
cogitque miseras arida sede emori.
Quidnam futurum est si crearit liberos?'

vicini furi : a neighbouring thief  = a thievish neighbour
celebres nuptias: a crowded wedding
continuo: immediately
tollo sustuli sublatum: to lift, raise (sustulere = sustulerunt)
convicium: loud noise, outcry
querella: complaint
stagnum : standing water, pound
unus (Sol)
exuro exussi exustum : to burn out
cogo coegi coactum: to compel
crearit = creaverit

Source unknown

And more injustice! Everyone knows people in high positions but with no brains, e.g. politicians or CEO’s. They are favoured by luck, whereas people like you and me have no chance.  In this fable a fox is looking at a persona tragica – not tragic person, but a mask (persona) used in tragedies.  Actors in ancient tragedy and comedy wore masks, as they had to perform several roles in the same play. This kind of mask covered the whole head, so it was indeed a dignified face (quanta species) without brains (cerebrum non habet. This lack of brains implied a lack of sensus communis. Like persona tragica, this word too is a fallacy for English speakers: not `common sense’, but `feeling for one’s fellow man’ or `working in the interest of the community’.

Phaedrus, book 1, VII. Vulpes ad Personam Tragicam

Personam tragicam forte vulpes viderat;
'O quanta species' inquit 'cerebrum non habet!'
Hoc illis dictum est quibus honorem et gloriam
Fortuna tribuit, sensum communem abstulit.

forte: by chance
tribuo: to assign, bestow
aufero abstuli ablatum:  to take away

Translations by C. Smart (1913)

The Frogs and Sun
When Esop saw, with inward grief,
The nuptials of a neighboring thief,
He thus his narrative begun:
Of old 'twas rumor'd that the Sun
Would take a wife: with hideous cries
The quer'lous Frogs alarm'd the skies.
Moved at their murmurs, Jove inquired
What was the thing that they desired?
When thus a tenant of the lake,
In terror, for his brethren spake:
"Ev'n now one Sun too much is found,
And dries up all the pools around,
Till we thy creatures perish here;
But oh, how dreadfully severe,
Should he at length be made a sire,
And propagate a race of fire !"

The Fox and the Tragic Mask

A Fox beheld a Mask- "0 rare
The headpiece, if but brains were there !"
This holds-whene'er the Fates dispense
Pomp, pow'r, and everything but sense.