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.

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