Posted by: ken98 | April 16, 2010

Gay Carthage, Human Time Capsules, and the Uber-Barbarian Attila the Hun

Day 217 – Ken here (F)(4-16-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.33, 34 pp.290-300)(pages read: 1390)

Still from I Love Lucy TV episode - The Chocolate Factory.  Blogger and reader of 2guys will quickly become familiar with the feeling of excessive volumes of things moving faster and faster past them as we tumble head over heels into the End of the West, the Beginning of the East and sparser and mythical historical writing for the next 500 years

Still from I Love Lucy TV episode - The Chocolate Factory. Blogger and reader of 2guys will quickly become familiar with the feeling of excessive volumes of things moving faster and faster past them as we tumble head over heels into the End of the West, the Beginning of the East and sparser and mythical historical writing for the next 500 years

Feeling OK, but not the greatest – probably a shorter day today – although as usual, the conveyor belt of Gibbonian history (a la I Love Lucy and the Chocolate Candy Factory) is speeding up more and more as sources and facts become less and less available – remember we have 1150 years to get through in the same space we made it through the first 300 years (the first 1/2 of the Decline and Fall only chronicles about 300 years of the 1450 years or so of the history of the empire in the East and West – so quite a lot to cover in shorter and shorter space – and we’re feeling it). But on we go…

We continue (and come to the end of) chapter 33 with a brief tale of the Carthaginian diaspora (the 911 of the year 439) as everyone who possibly could, evacuated Roman North Africa for the stabl(er) areas of the Eastern Roman Empire – lots of pathetic, melancholy refugee stories of former wealth and power and position reduced to begging bread in the streets or being ransomed from Vandal masters’ slavery by churches or relatives back East.

Chapter 33 ends with the famous tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (see below) (which Gibbon devotes 3 pages to describe and pontificate upon).

We start chapter 34 with Attila the Hun (a subject Gibbon will stay with for the next 60 pages – 6 days for us). Gibbon’s thesis for Attila and the Huns – Attila aspired to be (and succeeded at being for a short time) the sole monarch of the Barbarians (and tried to be the sole monarch of the Persians and Romans and get tribute from the Chinese to boot).

So on we go…

More I Love Lucy, Chocolate, and furiously faster, frequently fantastical and fabulous (in the literal senses of the words) history

More I Love Lucy, Chocolate, and furiously faster, frequently fantastical and fabulous (in the literal senses of the words) history

The Story
 
Carthaginian Diaspora Before the Unstoppable Onslaught of Vandal-Germanic Conquest in North Africa(early 440’s)
 
  • Carthage falls (10-9-439)
  • Gibbon gives a brief excursus on Gay Carthage (see below)
  • Vandals appropriate all property – real estate, gold, money, etc
  • The rich (and not-so-rich) citizens/senators flee in a vast flood of refugees to the remaining parts of the Roman Empire still standing – mainly in the East
  • Of course, the accounts that would interest readers that survive are those of the very rich – since written accounts would be directed to a reading audience of the rich (or the clergy) in Late Roman times
  •  

    Seven Sleepers of Ephesus
     
  • Seven noble youths hide in a cave to escape the persecution of Decius (251) and are put harmlessly asleep by God for 187 years to awaken in Theodosius the Younger’s (II) Christian Roman Empire of the year 437
  • The saint story (see below) is celebrated in Christianity in the West, East, and in the Koran (Sura 18 – the Cave)
  •  

    Huns under Rugilas – Attila’s Predecessor – and the Incredible Amount of Money the Empire Still was Capable of Spending on Foreign Tribute to Keep the Huns Away – National Blackmail
     
  • Rugilas – king of the Huns and Attilas immediate predecessor -inhabiting Pannonia (modern Hungary) acts as one of the kingmakers/emperor-makers/general-makers of the Late Roman world.
  • The Huns are very close to the fallen Roman General Aetius – and are his allies for a time
  • Rugilas demands (but does he get? probably yes – – -) an annual ransom of somewhere around 30 MILLION dollars a year (350 lbs of gold) from Eastern Rome NOT TO ATTACK – Theodosius calls it PROVISIONING his barbarian allies the Huns – not BLACKMAIL – which it certainly is. Remember – this “provisioning” is not a lot of money to the Romans – and so shows the immense still wealth available to the Romans in the Later Empire, and how easily dazzled a barbarian king (like Rugilas) could be by the immese plunder for them within the empire – just ONE rich Senator in Rome (before the loss of much of the West) could have an annual income of 500 MILLION dollars a year (4000 lbs of gold a year) (see here) – so this tribute was cheap – a joke on the Huns by the Romans. Attila will demand later it be increased two-fold to 60 Million dollars – still a pittance to the empire
  •  

    Attila’s Character – during his Reign (433-453)
     
  • Used his brain rather than brawn to cow and conquer barbarians from the Baltic to Spain to Mongolia
  • Considered a just and indulgent master
  • Gibbon describes Attila physically and gives Attila the typical (and expected) 18th cent. British deprecatory description of an Asian/Mongol physique – “genuine deformity, swarthy complexion, deep-seated eyes, disproportionate form”
  •  

    The Hun’s Sword of Mars – What They Worshipped (per Gibbon)
     
  • Farmer finds a wounded heifer, follows the trail of blood to an ancient sword – the Sword of Mars – which brings to the ruler who bears it unlimited, unstoppable command and victory
  • The Huns worship the sword and believe in Attila who wields it
  •  

    The Extent of Attila’s Empire – Truly the Monarch of the Barbarians for a Generation (433-455)
     
  • The steppes of Asia
  • Hungary – Middle Europe
  • Germany, Burgundians, Scandinavia, Franks
  • Gepidae, Ostrogoths
  • Banks of the Volga
  • Deputations to China
  •  
     

     

    14th Century Manuscript showing the Emperor Decius walling in the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.  Decius didn't know it but he was creating a Late Antique Roman Time Capsule of Humans (at least to us 21st century historians) - their eventual story becoming a fascinating exercise in ancient socio-anthropoligical cross-cultural study

    14th Century Manuscript showing the Emperor Decius walling in the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Decius didn't know it but he was creating a Late Antique Roman Time Capsule of Humans (at least to us 21st century historians) - their eventual story becoming a fascinating exercise in ancient socio-anthropoligical cross-cultural study

    The Famous Tale of the Seven Sleepers – Rip Van Winkle, Late Antique Roman-Christian Style – a Sign of a Sea-Change Even the Ancients Could Appreciate
     

    Gibbon ends chapter 33 with the legend-saint-story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. This is a famous story, beloved by many historians – for its obvious socio-anthropological values – because it shows 2 world-views and contrasts them with the context of the new world-empire-Christian culture just coming to maturity in the beginning of the 400’s. This marks the extreme beginning of Modern Europe (in its absolute infancy – more a seed more than an actual plant at this point). A fundamental divide has taken place. The world of Antiquity (for better or worse) is over – and relegated to fable. The new world is aborning. It is a tough, complicated, and uncomfortable time – heady with possibility, riven with catastrophic change, riddled with contradiction. And the Seven Sleepers fall into the middle of it all.

    Statue of Rip Van Winkle in Irvington New York.  Washington Irvings tale of a man out of time is a 19th century example cross-cultural differences - watersheds in history that drastically change how people view their world.  In Rip's case it was pre and post Revolutionary America.  In the Seven Sleepers case it was the Roman Empire, pre and post Christian

    Statue of Rip Van Winkle in Irvington New York. Washington Irvings tale of a man out of time is a 19th century example cross-cultural differences - watersheds in history that drastically change how people view their world. In Rip's case it was pre and post Revolutionary America. In the Seven Sleepers case it was the Roman Empire, pre and post Christian

    Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, the Seven Sleepers (noble youths of Ephesus) are cut off from time (at this point, in the old pagan empire of Emperor Decius during the persecution (251) – the turbulent Crisis of the 200’s – perpetual civil war in the still-unified Roman Empire). They are walled in by Decius to die for their faith, but are kept alive, only sleeping harmlessly by the power of God. They sleep for nearly 200 years, only to be awakened in the year 437 in an empire under the control and care of the (very) Christian emperor Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria. They marvel at the changes – crosses, strange behavior, and the modern (5th century) Bishop of Ephesus who meets them when they try to pass apparently fake coinage (200 year old coins) in the marketplace. All (including the emperor Theodosius the Younger) come to Ephesus to marvel at the youths, the cave, and the miracle.

    This miracle has been a favorite saint-story for 1500 years. From the early church, it made its way into the Koran (Sura 18 – The Cave – here in English translation), to Medieval Europe in the West, and it a favorite of the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of my favorite authors, Peter Brown, gives a lengthy analysis of what the Sleepers meant to the Church in the formative 400’s ( and 300’s) in The Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity.

    It is interesting to note that at this point Sociology and Anthropology (not yet even distantl-percieved sciences, but only tangential digressions in history) can only be referred to as “philosophical Romances” by Gibbon. Gibbon is, in effect, trying to create the intellectual furniture/tools of the sociologist 100 year before the science’s infancy. This is just another example of his imaginative and far-thinking uses of historical materials and his attempts at applying cutting-edge (or ahead-of-the-cutting-edge) analytical historical techniques to previously well-researched primary sources.

    This, from Gibbon:

    Among the insipid legends of ecclesiastical history, I am tempted to distinguish the memorable fable of the SEVEN SLEEPERS; whose imaginary date corresponds with the reign of the younger Theodosius, and the conquest of Africa by the Vandals.

    When the emperor Decius persecuted the Christians, seven noble youths of Ephesus concealed themselves in a spacious cavern in the side of an adjacent mountain where they were doomed to perish by the tyrant, who gave orders that the entrance should be firmly secured with a pile of huge stones. They immediately fell into a deep slumber, which was miraculously prolonged, without injuring the powers of life, during a period of one hundred and eighty-seven years. At the end of that time, the slaves of Adolius, to whom the inheritance of the mountain had descended, removed the stones, to supply materials for some rustic edifice: the light of the sun darted into the cavern, and the Seven Sleepers were permitted to awake.

    After a slumber, as they thought of a few hours, they were pressed by the calls of hunger; and resolved that Jamblichus, one of their number, should secretly return to the city to purchase bread for the use of his companions. The youth (if we may still employ that appellation) could no longer recognise the once familiar aspect of his native country; and his surprise was increased by the appearance of a large cross, triumphantly erected over the principal gate of Ephesus. His singular dress and obsolete language confounded the baker, whom he offered an ancient medal of Decius the current coin of the empire; and Jamblichus, on the suspicion of a secret treasure, was dragged before the judge. Their mutual inquiries produced the amazing discovery that two centuries were almost elapsed since Jamblichus and his friends had escaped from the rage of a Pagan tyrant.

    The bishop of Ephesus, the clergy, the magistrates, the people, and, as it is said, the emperor Theodosius himself, hastened to visit the cavern of the Seven Sleepers; who bestowed their benediction, related their story, and at the same instant peaceably expired.

    The origin of this marvellous fable cannot be ascribed to the pious fraud and credulity of the modern Greeks, since the authentic tradition may be traced within half a century of the supposed miracle. James of Sarug, a Syrian bishop, who was born only two years after the death of the younger Theodosius, has devoted one of his two hundred and thirty homilies to the praise of the young men of Ephesus.(44) Their legend, before the end of the sixth century, was translated from the Syriac into the Latin language, by the care of Gregory of Tours. The hostile communions of the East preserve their memory with equal reverence; and their names are honourably inscribed in the Roman, the Abyssinian, and the Russian calendar.

    Nor has their reputation been confined to the Christian world. This popular tale, which Mahomet might learn when he drove his camels to the fairs of Syria, is introduced, as a divine revelation, into the Koran. (46) The story of the Seven Sleepers has been adopted and adorned by the nations, from Bengal to Africa, who profess the Mahometan religion; and some vestiges of a similar tradition have been discovered in the remote extremities of Scandinavia.

    This easy and universal belief, so expressive of the sense of mankind, may be ascribed to the genuine merit of the fable itself. We imperceptibly advance from youth to age without observing the gradual, but incessant, change of human affairs; and even in our larger experience of history, the imagination is accustomed, by a perpetual series of causes and effects, to unite the most distant revolutions. But if the interval between two memorable eras could be instantly annihilated; if it were possible, after a momentary slumber of two hundred years, to display the new world to the eyes of a spectator who still retained a lively and recent impression of the old, his surprise and his reflections would furnish the pleasing subject of a philosophical romance.

    The scene could not be more advantageously placed than in the two centuries which elapsed between the reigns of Decius and of Theodosius the Younger. During this period the seat of government had been transported from Rome to a new city on the banks of the Thracian Bosphorus and the abuse of military spirit had been suppressed by an artificial system of tame and ceremonious servitude. The throne of the persecuting Decius was filled by a succession of Christian and orthodox princes, who had extirpated the fabulous gods of antiquity: and the public devotion of the age was impatient to exalt the saints and martyrs of the Catholic church on the altars of Diana and Hercules. The union of the Roman empire was dissolved; its genius was humbled in the dust; and armies of unknown barbarians, issuing from the frozen regions of the North, had established their victorious reign over the fairest provinces of Europe and Africa.

    And in the footnote on the mention in the Koran:
    Note 046
    See Maracci Alcoran. Sura xviii. tom. ii. p. 420-427, and tom. i. part iv. p. 103. With such an ample privilege Mahomet has not shown much taste or ingenuity. He has invented the dog (Al Rakim) of the Seven Sleepers; the respect of the sun, who altered his course twice a day that he rnight not shine into the cavern; and the care of God himself, who preserved their bodies from putrefaction by turning them to the right and left.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.291-292, fn. 42)

    More Seven Sleepers - a modern (19th century) Russian icon

    More Seven Sleepers - a modern (19th century) Russian icon


    Seven Sleepers - modern photo - the actual cave outside of Ephesus in modern Turkey

    Seven Sleepers - modern photo - the actual cave outside of Ephesus in modern Turkey

     
     
     

    Painting by joseph Turner of Dido's Building Carthage.  The streets of Carthage were alive with both fundamentalist Christians, famous preacher/authors of the Church (Augustine) and armed gangs of militant "Old Catholics" (Donatists)  - all while the city was being beseiged by barbarians and the empire was abandoning North Africa to the Germans (for the next 100 years or so) - a heady and complicated city - and a lost North African culture of Late Antique Rome

    Painting by joseph Turner of Dido's Building Carthage. The streets of Carthage were alive with both fundamentalist Christians, famous preacher/authors of the Church (Augustine) and armed gangs of militant - Old Catholics - (Donatists) - all while the city was being beseiged by barbarians and the empire was abandoning North Africa to the Germans (for the next 100 years or so) - a heady and complicated city - and a lost North African culture of Late Antique Rome

    Last Word…
    Gibbon and Homosexuality – Saint Augustine’s Carthage Was a Wild Place (400’s) – OR Reading Between the Lines Reveals the Lost, Unwritten History of Late Antique Gay Life
     

    Granted, the word “gay”, with all its modern 20th/21st century connotations doesn’t exactly correspond with Antique values on the subject of same-sex relationships. Male Gay society was much more fluid – bisexuality was the norm – and position (dominance, submissiveness) more important than the gender of the object of your affection, or physical acts performed. So the “separateness” of being gay was much less evident (everyone was “gay” in some respect), but the “degradation” of a male in being submissive much more an issue with the comman man. Christianity was very equivocal about it – sex (lust) was still just one way to give in to the “body” – up there with gluttony and avarice – regardless of the object of its affection (ie same-sex, or opposite-sex) .

    The idea of “unnatural” acts was alien to Antique culture, and really didn’t firmly take hold in European culture until well into the High Middle Ages at least (see here John Boswell, The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, 1979, Fordham Online). John Boswell (sadly no longer with us) spent his considerable intellectual powers and his academic career blazing the trail through Christian and other historical writings to uncover the unwritten histories of gay men and women in the last 2000 years of European history – an excellent introduction to a new perspective on an often-misunderstood subject clouded by strong political controversy).

    Gibbon reports on the famous (or infamous to Gibbon) very active gay life of Carthage in unhesitatingly scathing terms (which is not atypical of his approach to any reference to same-sex relationships in the Decline and Fall). As usual, gay = corruption, luxury, and surrender to unnatural (whatever that term “nature” means to Gibbon) tendencies.

    Tangential Digression on The Enlightenment and Gibbon (patently a man of the Enlightenment)

    Sometimes, I envy the “natural” confidence of that first generation of “rational” thinkers of the Enlightenment – it was a kind of honeymoon of sweet reason and mechanical elegance when the world, man, and God had been neatly categorized and reduced to an amazingly complex and vast (but understandable and model-able) clockwork universe – all spread before man’s enquiring gaze and inviting him to assume god-like powers of prediction and control over the physical (and mental) world around and within him. Of course, the French Revolution, Romanticism, the Nineteenth Century, The Industrial Revolution, and World War I pretty much destroyed our exalted view of the future and our unswerving optimism in our ability to control/subdue nature around us and our own nature within us. But it must have been comforting and re-assuring to live in the “Best of All Possible Worlds”, at least for a few decades or so – in the late Eighteenth Century.

    This – from Gibbon – on the Carthage of Saint Augustine’s day – kind of gives you a better idea of Augustine’s Confessions and what Augustine was reacting to when he wrote them and the City of God. North Africans were famous for passion, freedom, wildly strong loyalties, and white-hot, trigger-happy anger.

    This, in a description of Carthage on the verge of being destroyed by the Vandal invasions of 10-9-439:
    (it is curious that Gibbon manages to insert his scorn for both gay men AND for monks all in one passage – quite the Gibbonian acheivement)

    A new city had arisen from its ruins, with the title of a colony; and though Carthage might yield to the royal prerogatives of Constantinople, and perhaps to the trade of Alexandria, or the splendour of Antioch, she still maintained the second rank in the West; as the Rome (if we may use the style of contemporaries) of the African world.

    That wealthy and opulent metropolis displayed, in a dependent condition, the image of a flourishing republic. Carthage contained the manufactures, the arms, and the treasures of the six provinces. A regular subordination of civil honours gradually ascended from the procurators of the streets and quarters of the city to the tribunal of the supreme magistrate, who, with the title of proconsul, represented the state and dignity of a consul of ancient Rome. Schools and gymnasia were instituted for the education of the African youth; and the liberal arts and manners, grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy, were publicly taught in the Greek and Latin languages. The buildings of Carthage were uniform and magnificent: a shady grove was planted in the midst of the capital; the new port, a secure and capacious harbour, was subservient to the commercial industry of citizens and strangers; and the splendid games of the circus and theatre were exhibited almost in the presence of the barbarians.

    The reputation of the Carthaginians was not equal to that of their country, and the reproach of Punic faith still adhered to their subtle and faithless character. The habits of trade and the abuse of luxury had corrupted their manners; but their impious contempt of monks and the shameless practice of unnatural lusts are the two abominations which excite the pious vehemence of Salvian, the preacher of the age.(39)

    The king of the Vandals severely reformed the vices of a voluptuous people; and the ancient, noble, ingenuous freedom of Carthage (these expressions of Victor are not without energy) was reduced by Genseric into a state of ignominious servitude. After he had permitted his licentious troops to satiate their rage and avarice, he instituted a more regular system of rapine and oppression. An edict was promulgated, which enjoined all persons, without fraud or delay, to deliver their gold, silver, jewels, and valuable furniture or apparel to the royal officers; and the attempt to secrete any part of their patrimony was inexorably punished with death and torture as an act of treason against the state. The lands of the proconsular province, which formed the immediate district of Carthage, were accurately measured and divided among the barbarians; and the conqueror reserved for his peculiar domain the fertile territory of Byzacium and the adjacent parts of Numidia and Gaetulia.

    and this from the (juicier) footnotes:

    Note 039
    He declares that the peculiar vices of each country were collected in the sink of Carthage (1. vii. p. 257). In the indulgence of vice the Africans applauded their manly virtue. Et illi se magis virilis fortitudinis esse crederent, qui maxime viros feminei usus probrositate fregissent (p. 268). The streets of Carthage were polluted by effeminate wretches, who publicly assumed the countenance, the dress, and the character, of women (p. 264). If a monk appeared in the city, the holy man was pursued with impious scorn and ridicule; detestantibus ridentium cachinnis (p. 289).

    (TRANSLATION of the (typically) untranslated and juicy Latin above (Et illi se…):

    And they (the Carthaginians) believed themselves to have stronger male power (virility) – the greater number of men they shamefully got together with in the manner of women.

    (DEF, II, v.3, ch.33, p.289, fn.39)

    An altogether typical Late Antique attitude I would suppose (ie male-male sex = gaining virility or male power). I don’t think Gibbon is quite getting what the ancient author (Sylvan) is trying to say.

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