Saturday, 8 July 2017

Paulus Diaconus: remains of an unknown Germanic lay?

In his Historia Longobardorum, Paulus Diaconus makes a digression to king Gunthram of Burgundy (532-592). Burgundy is not to be confused with the kingdom of the Burgundian, which fell in Frankish hands in 532. Gunthram belonged to the Frankish dynasty of the Merovingians.  This king was after his death soon venerated as a saint by his people and Paulus tells a remarkable event which happened to this king. While asleep a snake came out of Gunthram’s mouth and this animal discovered a hoard inside a mountain. When awake, Gunthram tells that he had a dream in which he found a treasure in a mountain. A close associate of the king – having seen the animal creeping out of the king’s mount and disappearing in a mountain - then tells the king about what he had seen and Gunthram ordered this mount to by dug out and indeed an immense amount of gold was found. There are some remarkable traits in this story: first of all the snake, which must represent the soul of a man. Many cultures believe that the soul (or part of the soul) leaves the body when one is dreaming and though references to the soul in the shape of an animal are few in Germanic sources, great importance was attached to dreaming as a way of divination. Secondly the hoard inside the mountain, which reminds of the hoard found by Siegfried in the oldest layers of Das Nibelungenlied an epic compiled around 1200 about the fall of the Burgundian kingdom. It is possible that elements of an early and unknown Germanic heroic lay have in popular tradition been attached to king Gunthram?  We will never know.

Paulus Diaconus, Historia Longobardorum 3,34

Erat autem Gunthramnus iste, de quo diximus, rex pacificus et omni bonitate conspicuus. Cuius unum factum satis admirabile libet nos huic nostrae historiae breviter inserere, praesertim cum hoc Francorum historia noverimus minime contineri. Is, cum venatum quodam tempore in silvam isset, et, ut adsolet fieri, hac illacque discurrentibus sociis, ipse cum uno fidelissimo tamen suo remansisset, gravissimo somno depressus, caput in genibus eiusdem fidelis sui reclinans, obdormivit. De cuius ore parvum animal in modum reptilis egressum, tenuem rivulum, qui propter discurrebat, ut transire possit, satagere coepit. Tunc isdem in cuius gremio quiescebat spatam suam vagina exemptam super eundem rivulum posuit; super quam illud reptile, de quo diximus, ad partem aliam transmeavit. Quod cum non longe exinde in quoddam foramen montis ingressum fuisset, et post aliquantum spatii regressum super eandem spatam praefatum rivulum transmeasset, rursum in os Gunthramni, de quo exierat, introivit. Gunthramnus post haec de somno expergefactus, mirificam se visionem vidisse narravit. Retulit enim, paruisse sibi in somnis quod fluvium quendam per pontem ferreum transisset et sub montem quendam introisset, ubi multum auri pondus aspexisset. Is vero in cuius gremio caput tenuerat cum dormisset, quid de eo viderat ei per ordinem retulit. Quid plura? Effossus est locus ille, et inestimabiles thesauri, qui ibidem antiquitus positi fuerant, sunt reperti. De quo auro ipse rex postmodum cyborium solidum mirae magnitudinis et magni ponderis fecit, multisque illud preciosissimis gemmis decoratum ad sepulchrum Domini Hierosolimam transmittere voluit. Sed cum minime potuisset, idem supra corpus beati Marcelli martyris, quod in civitate Caballonno sepultum est, ubi sedes regni illius erat, poni fecit; et est ibi usque in praesentem diem. Nec est usquam ullum opus ex auro effectum, quod ei valeat conparari.

conspicuus: distinguished
factum: story, event
libet: pleases (subject factum)
insero inserui insertum: to insert
praesertim: especially
hoc (factum in) Francorum historia contineri: Paulus is referring to Gregory of Tours’ history of the Franks.
minime: not at all
veno: to hunt (venatum: supine)
adsolet = solet
hac illacque: hither thither
discurro discucurri discursum: to wander, roam (discurrentibus sociis: abl. abs)
remaneo remansi: to stay behind
genu genus (n.): knee
obdormio: to fall asleep
reptilis: snake
rivulus = rivus: small stream, brook
propter: nearby
satago: to attempt, try
gremium: lap
quiescabat: i.e. Gunthram
spata: sword
vagina: sheath
eximo exemi exemptum: to draw out
partem aliam: the other side
transmeo: to pass, cross
exinde: from there
foramen foraminis (n.): opening, hole
spatium: time
expergefacio: to arouse
refero retuli relatum: to tell
pareo parui: to appear
pondus ponderis (n.): weight
is: the fidelissimus
caput tenuerat cum dormisset: the king kept his head while sleeping
ei: the king
effodio effodi effossum: to dig out
antiquitus: long ago
reperio repperi repertum: to find
ciborium: canopy over an altar or tomb
gemma: gem
Marcelli martyris: Saint Marcellus of Chalon-sur-Saône (Cabellonum). Died in 178
poni fecit: he let it be put

Translation by William D. Faulke (1907)

This Gunthram indeed of whom we have spoken was a peaceful king and eminent in every good quality. Of him we may briefly insert in this history of ours one very remarkable occurrence, especially since we know that it is not at all contained in the history of the Franks. When he went once upon a time into the woods to hunt, and, as often happens, his companions scattered hither and thither, and he remained with only one, a very faithful friend of his, he was oppressed with heavy slumber and laying his head upon the knees of this same faithful companion, he fell asleep. From his mouth a little animal in the shape of a reptile came forth and began to bustle about seeking to cross a slender brook which flowed near by. Then he in whose lap (the king) was resting laid his sword, which he had drawn from its scabbard, over this brook and upon it that reptile of which we have spoken passed over to the other side. And when it had entered into a certain hole in the mountain not far off, and having re-
turned after a little time, had crossed the aforesaid brook upon the same sword, it again went into the mouth of Gunthram from which it had come forth. When Gunthram was afterwards awakened from sleep he said he had
seen a wonderful vision. For he related that it had seemed to him in his slumbers that he had passed over a certain river by an iron bridge and had gone in under a certain mountain where he had gazed upon a great mass
of gold. The man however, on whose lap he had held his head while he was sleeping, related to him in order what he had seen of it. Why say more? That place was dug up and countless treasures were discovered which
had been put there of old. Of this gold the king himself afterwards made a solid canopy of wonderful size and great weight and wished to send it, adorned with
many precious gems, to Jerusalem to the sepulcher of our Lord. But when he could not at all do this he caused it to be placed over the body of St. Marcellus
the martyr who was buried in the city of Cabillonum (Chalon-Sur-Saone) where the capital of his kingdom was, and it is there down to the present day. Nor is
there anywhere any work made of gold which may be compared to it.


  1. By the way, what was the mother language of Paulus Diaconus?
    I noticed the following rule: the language of non-native Latin speakers is essentially differs from ancient writers, the mother language of which was Latin.
    Even early Middle Ages authors, which lived within 1-2 centuries after the drop of Rome, have lost the style of antique writers. Though Latin was Lingua Franca of the most of Europe and national languages were at the start of formation.

  2. Hi Konstantin. After the Longobards had invaded Italy, they soon adopted the vernaculair Latin spoken there.

  3. I know, they used Latina Vulgata...
    But, probably, his native language was ancient Deutsch?
    Generally speaking, there are very few data on the period immediately after the crush of Rome.
    What was the linguistic, religious, social picture? Nobody knows exactly. This period is more unclear in comparison to the period of Golden and Silver Age of the Roman Empire....