I. JORDANES: HIS LIFE AND WORKS
Jordanes. The author of “The Origin and Deeds of the Goths” is not a model of literary excellence or originality. He tells us himself1 that he was an unlearned man before his conversion, and his writings fully bear out this statement. His book is mainly a compilation, not very carefully made; his style is irregular, rambling, uneven, and exhibits to a marked degree the traits of the decadent, crumbling later Latin. Yet he is important as the earliest Gothic historian whose work has survived, and he gives much information in regard to the Goths that is nowhere else recorded. Across the scene he unfolds before us pass some of the greatest?and some of the most terrible?figures in history: Attila the Hun, “the scourge of God,” the Visigoth Alaric who thrice sacked the Eternal City, Gaiseric the Vandal and the great Theodoric. So for the matter, if not for the style of his history of the Goths, Jordanes deserves careful consideration.
And there is too a certain irresistible charm in his naive simplicity. He is so credulous, and tells in all sincerity such marvellous tales of the mighty achievements of his people, that the reader is drawn to him by his very loyalty and devotion to the defeated Gothic race in whose greatness he has so confident a belief. For despite the fact that he is following closely in another’s footsteps and is giving at second hand practically all the matters of fact he relates, his own simple, trustful personality so pervades the whole work as to awaken sympathy for the writer and his great tale of the lost cause.
The Author’s Name. Of his life little is known apart from the scant information contained in a few brief sentences of his own. The very spelling of his name was long a matter of controversy, and Jacob Grimm2 (followed later by Dietrich3) argued in favor of the form Jornandes, which appears in the first printed editions of his works. But the authority for this spelling is only the second class of manuscripts, while the name Jordanes is attested by the primary family of manuscripts and by the only ancient author who mentions him?the Geographer of Ravenna.
His Family. Jordanes was himself a Goth4 and held the office of secretary or notary (notarius) in a noble family of the Gothic race. Here is his own brief but tangled account of himself and his ancestors:5
Scyri vero et Sadagarii et certi Alanorum cum duce suo nomine Candac Scythiam minorem inferioremque Moesiam acceperunt. cuius Candacis Alanoviiamuthis patris mei genitor Paria, id est meus avus, notarius, quousque Candac ipse viveret, fuit, eiusque germanae filio Gunthicis, qui et Baza dicebatur, mag. mil., filio Andages fili Andele de prosapia Amalorum descendente, ego item quamvis agramatus Iordannis ante conversionem meam notarius fui.
From this passage it appears that at the time of Attila’s death (453 A.D.) Candac was leader of part of the Alani. Candac’s sister was the wife of the Ostrogoth Andag, whom Jordanes mentions elsewhere6 as the slayer of Theodorid I in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. This Andag was the son of Andela who was descended from the family of the Amali. The son of Andag and Candac’s sister was Gunthigis (or Baza), whose notary Jordanes was. Paria, the grandfather of Jordanes, had served Candac in the same capacity. It would appear from Mommsen’s text that the name of Jordanes’ father was Alanoviiamuthis. For this long and unwieldly word Erhardt7 suggested the reading Alanorum ducis) to be taken in apposition with Candacis. The conjecture was reasonable enough; the serious objection to it is the unnatural omission of his father’s name in a passage where Jordanes is avowedly giving an account of his ancestry. Grienberger,8 more plausibly explains the form as ALAN. D. UIIAMUThIS; that is, the abbreviation of Alanorum ducis (in apposition with the preceding Candacis) followed by the name of Jordanes’ father, which would thus be Uiiamuth (Gothic Veihamoths).
His Nationality. This Gothic name accords also with the statement of the author himself as to his nationality,9 and tends to overthrow Mommsen’s theory that in reality he belonged to the tribe of the Alani, like the leader whom he served.10 Not only is this an unnecessary assumption, but if Jordanes belonged to that tribe he might well be expected to mention the fact explicitly in the passage quoted above. It is difficult to find in the Getica any such prejudice in favor of the Alani as Mommsen mentions, and Jordanes has certainly not availed himself of the opportunity here presented to glorify Candac, as he could easily have done if he were eager to bring this race into prominence. It seems more reasonable therefore to take his words in their simplest and most obvious meaning when he says that he traces his descent from the race of the Goths.
His Position in Life. The office of secretary in military life was a position of some distinction, and was often conferred by leaders upon their equals;11 in this case the fact that Paria, the grandfather of Jordanes, had held a like office under Candac gives added distinction to the secretaryship as an honor perhaps hereditary in this family. The Gunthigis or Baza whom Jordanes served has been identified with some plausibility by Friedrich12 with Godigisclus, a leader of the Goths mentioned by Procopius,13 and further with the Batza of Marcellinus Comes,14 who was in 536 dux of the Euphrates limes and entrusted with the defense of the empire’s farthest frontier. Friedrich argues that Jordanes must have resigned his office before this year (since he shows no intimate knowledge of Asia), acting as secretary for Gunthigis only during the time that he was stationed in the European part of the Eastern Empire, and accordingly that a considerable space of time elapsed between the resignation of his office and the writing of the Getica.15 At all events it is evident that Jordanes, writing in 551, was an elderly man when he composed his history: for his grandfather was almost contemporary with the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451?just a century before?and he himself had served the son of a man who had taken part in the same conflict.16
His Ecclesiastical Condition. The words ante conversionem meam in the passage quoted above have occasioned much difference of opinion with regard to the author’s status during the latter part of his life. The phrase has been variously interpreted as referring to conversion to Christianity,17 conversion from Arianism to the Nicene belief,18 entrance upon the monastic state,19 or merely a withdrawal from everyday activities into a life of meditation and quiet.20 It is by no means necessary to infer from these words that Jordanes became a monk, as Mommsen sought to prove,21 for the expression may just as well be understood to refer to entrance upon the life of an ecclesiastic,22 and Jordanes is probably to be identified with the Bishop Jordanes of Crotona who was with Pope Vigilius in Constantinople in the year 551.23
Mommsen opposed the theory that Jordanes was a bishop, asserting that he became and remained a simple monk. Yet the first class of manuscripts calls him episcopus24 in the title of the Romana, while the third class, in the title of the Getica, speaks of him as Bishop of Ravenna. This he certainly was not, as Muratori showed,25 basing his proof on an extremely accurate list of the archbishops of Ravenna by Rubens, Ughelli and others. Moreover we find no trace of Jordanes in the lives of these prelates by Agnellus, who wrote in the ninth century under the Emperor Lothar I. It is hard to believe that he could have escaped the investigations of Agnellus, particularly as the church at Ravenna was so celebrated and abundantly supplied with records. Simson’s attempt26 to show that Jordanes was possibly a bishop of Africa was not very successful, and has found few supporters. But there was a Bishop of Crotona named Jordanes who was in Constantinople with Pope Vigilius in the year 551, and it seems reasonably certain that he is identical with the author of the Getica.27
We find mention of Bishop Jordanes in the document known as the Damnatio Theodori28 in which the Pope says: nos . . . cum Dacio Mediolanensi . . . Paschasio Aletrino atque Iordane Crotonensi fratribus et episcopis nostris. As Bishop of Crotona in Bruttium Jordanes would have lived not far from the monastery (monasterium Vivariense) to which Cassiodorus had retired in his old age. Here then is the one place where he might easily have obtained the twelve books of the Gothic History of Cassiodorus,29 and his inability to refer to them later when he was actually writing his compilation30 would be explained by his absence in Constantinople.
It is furthermore probable that he wrote his work at Constantinople because of his evident ignorance of the later and contemporary events in Italy and his accurate knowledge of the trend of affairs in the Eastern Empire.31 His eulogy of the Emperor Justinian and his general Belisarius is also just what might be expected from one who wrote in the vicinity of the imperial court. And finally it has been pointed out that his words to Castalius in the introduction to the Getica: si quid parum dictum est et tu, ut vicinus genti, commemoras, adde, are peculiarly appropriate if we may suppose that his friend was a fellow-townsman of his and lived at Crotona, which was in close contact with the Goths but not actually in their possession.
The fact that the Romana is dedicated to a Vigilius has made this theory still more plausible, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this Vigilius is the Pope of that name. Mommsen follows Ebert32 in denying even the possibility of this, and Friedrich still more scornfully rejects the hypothesis;33 their arguments are based on both the form and the content of the letter to Vigilius which forms the introduction to the Romana. With regard to the salutation, nobilissime frater, and later novilissime et magnifice frater, while it is not, indeed, the way in which a simple monk would have addressed the pope, yet a bishop might perhaps use such expressions to one who was his friend. And, as Grimm has pointed out,34these words of greeting sound more respectful than the frater Castali and frater carissime in the opening sections of the Getica.35 Even so, frater carissime is the very salutation used by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, in a letter36 to the Roman Pope Cornelius in the year 250-251, and again in 433 we find John, Bishop of Antioch, addressing Pope Xystus simply as “brother.”37
It will be remembered too that Pope Vigilius held the office under trying circumstances which detracted from the dignity usual to the position. He was made Pope at Rome in 537 through the influence of Belisarius and at the request of the Empress Theodora, who hoped that he would be unorthodox. In 547 he was summoned to Constantinople because of his refusal to sign the Three Chapters issued by Justinian. It was not until 554 that he finally obtained permission to return to Italy, and during the seven years of his captivity?for he was virtually a prisoner in Constantinople?he was much persecuted by the imperial party, and was twice compelled to flee to a church for sanctuary.38 It was in Constantinople and in 551, the very year when Jordanes was writing the Romana and Getica, that Vigilius issued the Damnatio Theodori from which we have quoted above a sentence containing the name Jordanes.39
Bearing these facts in mind, let us now glance at the dedication of the Romana to Vigilius, and see if its content is such as to preclude its having been written to the pope of that name. Jordanes says that he is sending the universal history which he has just completed iungens ei aliud volumen de origine actusque Getice gentis, quam iam dudum communi amico Castalio ededissem, quatinus diversarum gentium calamitate conperta ab omni erumna liberum te fieri cupias et ad deum convertas, qui est vera libertas. legens ergo utrosque libellos, scito quod diligenti mundo semper necessitas imminet. tu vero ausculta Iohannem apostolum, qui ait: ‘carissimi, nolite dilegere mundum neque ea que in mundo sunt. quia mundus transit et concupiscentia eius: qui autem fecerit voluntatem dei, manet in aeternum.’ estoque toto corde diligens deum et proximum, ut adimpleas legem et ores pro me novilissime et magnifice frater.
If this, as Mommsen would have us believe, is merely an exhortation to a friend, bidding him to follow his own example, renounce the world, and become a monk, why should Jordanes already address him as “brother” and ask for his prayers? On the contrary, we can easily understand these words as an attempt on the part of Jordanes to console his distinguished friend in the midst of his trials?and we have seen that this pope had his share of cares and tribulations?by recalling to his mind the disasters that have overtaken men in an ages, and by exhorting him anew to find freedom from anxiety in trusting God’s purposes, while he continues steadfast in doing what he feels is the divine will, and persists in that love of God and of his neighbor which is the fulfilling of the law.
1 Getica L 266.
2 Abhandlungen der Berliner Akademie 1846, pp. 1-59 = Kleine Schriften III 171-235.
3 Uber die Aussprache des Gothischen (1862).
4 Getica LX 316.
5 L 266.
6 XL 209.
7 Gottingische gelehrte Anzeigen 17 (1886), pp. 669-708.
8 Die Vorfahren des Jordanes, Germania 34 (1889), pp. 406-409.
9 LX 316: nec me quis in favorem gentis praedictae, quasi ex ipsa trahenti originem, aliqua addidisse credat.
10 Friedrich (Uber die Kontroversen Fragen im Leben des gotischen Geschichtschreiber’s Jordanes, Sb. d. philos.-philol. u. hist. Kl. d. K. B. Ak. d. W. 1907, III pp. 379-442) cites a number of instances of leaders of barbarian tribes whose secretaries were not of the same race as themselves.
11 See for example Anonymus Valesianus 38: Orestes Pannonius eo tempore, quando Attila in Italiam venit, se illi iunxit et eius notarius factus fuerat: unde profecit et usque ad patriciatus dignitatem pervenit.
12 o. c.
13 Bell. Pers. I 8 (on the years 502-505): Godi/disklo\s te kai\ Be/ssas Go/tqoi a)/ndres. Compare with this the mention of nostri temporis Bessa patricius by Jordanes in the same passage (L 265-266) with Gunthicis . . . mag. mil.
14 On the year 536: limitem Euphratesiae ingressa, ubi Batzas dux eosdem partim blanditiis partim districtione pacifica fovit et inhiantes bellare repressit.
15 In further support of which see the letter to Vigilius prefaced to the Romana: me longo per tempore dormientem vestris tandem interrogationibus excitastis.
16 See Erhardt, l.c.
17 Bergmuller, Einige Bemerkungen zur Latinitat des Jordanes. Progr. Augsburg 1903.
18 Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters (Leipzig 1889), p. 557, n. 2.
19 So Mommsen, following Muratori (Scriptores rerum Italicarum Vol. 1, 1723). In support of his view he quotes the preface of the de orthographia of Cassiodorus (gramm. Lat. ed. Keil 7, 144): post commenta psalterii, ubi . . . conversionis meae tempore primum studium laboris impendi.
20 Friedrich, o.c. pp. 395-402, feels convinced that he became a religiosus.
21 Mommsen claimed further that he wrote in a Moesian, Thracian or Illyrian Monastery (Introduction to the Getica p. ix, and Mommsen’s edition of Marcellinus Comes p. 53).
22 See Simson, Neues Archiv 22, pp. 741-743; Pope Gelasius I (Thiel p. 370): sub religiosae conversionis obtentu vel ad monasteria sese conferre, vel ad ecclesiasticum famulatum . . . indifferenter admitti.
23 See below (p. 7-10). There was also a Iordanes defensor eeclesiae Romanae in 556 (mentioned by Pope Pelagius in his fifth letter to the bishops of Tuscia, Mansi 9, 716).
24 So also Sigebert of Gembloux, de script. eccl. 35: Iordanus episcopus Gothorum scripsit historiam.
25 Muratori, Scriptores 1, 189.
26 N. A. 22, 741-747.
27 Among the adherents to this theory are Bessell, Cassell, Erhardt, Grimm, von Gutschmid, Manitius, Martens, Schirren and Wattenbach.
28 Acta concil. tom. 5, p. 1314; Mansi 9, p. 60.
29 See below (p. 10).
30 Getica, preface 2.
31 Friedrich (o.c. pp. 402-428) in support of his theory that Jordanes wrote in Thessalonica cites arguments which indicate an eastern rather than a western origin of the work and which are at least equally applicable to Constantinople.
32 Geschichte d. christlich lat. Lit. I, pp. 556-562 (1889).
33 p. 433: So toricht spricht kein Bischof oder gar ein romischer defensor ecclesiae zu einem Papst. Others who agree with Mommsen on this point are Teuffel § 485 and Werner, Die Latinitat der Getica des Jordanis, Halle 1908.
34 Kleinere Schriften 3, pp. 171-235.
35 Friedrich claims that no argument can be based upon a comparison of the salutations of these two letters because the introduction of the Getica is borrowed from Rufinus, asserting that even the words frater Castali merely correspond to the frater Heracli of that author! And since magnificus was a title of respect bestowed upon the holders of certain offices of importance, he would see in Jordanes, Castalius and Vigilius three men in secular life, perhaps veterans of the imperial army. Yet Friedrich elsewhere calls attention to the fact that Pope Vigilius was of distinguished ancestry, a Roman and the son of a consul, which might in itself account for such a title of respect, and further the use of the word frater in both letters is a significant fact; it surely savors more of ecclesiastical than military life.
36 In Epist. roman. pontif. ed. Constant, Paris 1721, pp. 125, 131, 139.
37 Ibid. p. 1242.
38 See Vigilius Encyclica p. 55 Migne.
39 See above (p. 7).
source : Corpus Scriptorum latinorum, a digital library of Latin literature