Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

and were conducted, after this ceremony, to their respective seats in a spacious hall. The royal table and couch, covered with carpets and fine linen, was raised by several steps in the midst of the hall; and a son, an uncle, or perhaps a favorite king, were admitted to share the simple and homely repast of Attila. Two lines of small tables, each of which contained three or four guests, were ranged in order on either hand; the right was esteemed the most honorable, but the Romans ingenuously confess, that they were placed on the left; and that IBeric, an unknown chieftain, most probably of the Gothic race, preceded the representatives of Theodosius and Valentinian. The Barbarian monarch received from his cup-bearer a goblet filled with wine, and courteously drank to the health of the most distinguished guest; who rose from his seat, and expressed, in the same manner, his loyal and respectful vows. This ceremony was successively performed for all, or at least for the illustrious persons of the assembly; and a considerable time must have been consumed, since it was thrice repeated as each course or service was placed on the table. ISut the wine still remained after the meat had been removed ; and the IIuns continued to indulge their intemperance long after the sober and decent ambassadors of the two empires had withdrawn themselves from the nocturnal banquet. Yet before they retired, they enjoyed a singular opportunity of observing the manners of the nation in their convivial amusements. Two Scythians stood before the couch of Attila, and recited the verses which they had composed, to celebrate his valor and his victories.* A profound silence prevailed in the hall; * This passage is remarkable from the connection of the name of Attila, with that extraordinary cycle of poetry, which is found in different forms in almost all the Teutonic languages. A Latin poem, de primâ expeditione Attilae, IRegis Hunnorum, in Gallias, was published in the year 1780, by Fischer at Leipsic. It contains, with the continuation, 1452 lines. It abounds in metrical faults, but is occasionally not without some rude spirit and soune copiousness of fancy in the variation of the circumstances in the disferent combats of the hero Walther prince of Aquitania. It contains little which can be supposed historical, and stil less which is characteristic concerning Attila. It relates to a first expedition of Attila into Gaul, which cannot be traced in history, during which the kings of the Franks, of the Burgundians, and of Aquitaine, sibmit themselves, and give hostages to Attila : the king of the Franks, a personage who seems the same with Hagan of Teutonic Romance; the king of Burgundy, his daughter, Heldgund, the o Aquitaine, his son Walther. The main subject of the poem is the escape of Walther, and Heldgund from the camp of Attila, and the combat between Walther and Gunthar, king of the Franks, with his twelve peers, among whom is Hagen. Walther, had been betrayed while he passed through Worms, the city pf the Frankish king, by paying for his ferry over the Rhine with some strange fish, which he had caught during his flight, and which were unknown in the waters of the Rhine. Gunthar was desirous of plundering him of the treasure, which Walther had carried off from the Camp of Attila. The author of this

poem is unknown, nor can I, on the vague and rather doubtful allusion to Thule, as Iceland, Velature to assign its date. It was, evidently, recited in a monastery,

and the attention of the guests was captivated by the vocal harmony, which revived and perpetuated the memory of their own exploits; a martial ardor flashed from the eyes of the warriors, who were impatient for battle; and the tears of the old men expressed their generous despair, that they could no longer partake the danger and glory of the field.” This entertainment, which might be considered as a school of military virtue, was succeeded by a farce, that debased the dignity of human nature. A Moorish and a Scythian buffoon * successively excited the mirth of the rude spectators, by their deformed figure, ridiculous dress, antic gestures, absurd speeches, and the strange, unintelligible confusion of the Latin, the Gothic, and the Hunnic languages; and the hall resounded with loud and licentious peals of laughter. In the midst of this intemperate riot, Attila alone, without a change of countenance, maintained his steadfast and inflexible gravity; which was never relaxed, except on the entrance of Irnac, the youngest of his sons: he embraced the boy with a smile of paternal tenderness, gently pinched him by the cheek, and betrayed a partial affection, which was justified by the assurance of his prophets, that Irnac would be the future support of his family and empire. Two days afterwards, the ambassadors received a second invitation: and they had reason to praise the politeness, as well as the hospitality, of Attila. The king of the Huns held a long and familiar conversation with Maximin; but his civility was interrupted by rude expressions and haughty reproaches; and he was provoked, by a motive of interest, to support, with unbecoming zeal, the private claims of his secretary Constantius. “The emperor” (said Attila), “has long promised him a rich wife : Constantius must not be disappointed; nor should a Roman emperor deserve the name of liar.” On the third day, the ambassadors were dismissed : the freedom of several captives was granted, for a moderate ransom, to their pressing entreaties; and, besides the royal presents, they were permitted to accept from each of the Scythian nobles the honorable and useful gift of a horse. Maximin returned, by the same road, to Constantinople; and though he was involved in an accidental dispute with Beric, the new ambassador of Attila, he flattered himself that he had contributed, by the laborious journey, to confirm the peace and alliance of the two nations.” But the Roman ambassador was ignorant of the treacherous design, which had been concealed under the mask of the public faith. The surprise and satisfaction of Edecon, when he contemplated the splendor of Constantinople, had encouraged the interpreter Vigilius to procure for him a secret interview with the eunuch Chrysaphius,” who governed the emperor and the empire. After some previous conversation, and a mutual oath of secrecy, the eunuch, who had not, from his own feelings or experience, imbibed any exalted notions of ministerial virtue, ventured to propose the death of Attila, as an important service, by which Edecon miglit deserve a liberal share of the wealth and luxury which he admired. The ambassador of the Huns listened to the tempting offer; and professed, with apparent zeal, his ability, as well as readiness, to execute the bloody deed : the design was communicated to the master of the offices, and the devout Theodosius consented to the assassination of his invincible enemy. But this perfidious conspiracy was defeated by the dissimulation, or the repentance, of Edecon; and though he might exaggerate his inward abhorrence for the treason, which he seemed to approve, he dexterously assumed the merit of an early and voluntary confession. If we now review the embasssy of Maximin, and the behavior of Attila, we must applaud the Barbarian, who respected the laws of hospitality, and generously entertained and dismissed the minister of a prince who had conspired against his life. But the rashness of Vigilius will appear still more extraordinary, since he returned, conscious of his guilt and danger, to the royal camp, accompanied by his son, and carrying with him a weighty purse of gold, which the favorite eunuch had furnished, to satisfy the demands of Edecon, and to corrupt the fidelity of the guards. The interpreter was instantly seized, and dragged before the tribunal of Attila, where he asserted his innocence with specious firmness, till the threat of inflicting instant death on his son extorted from him a sincere discovery of the criminal transaction. Under the name of ransom, or confiscation, the rapacious king of the Huns accepted two hundred pounds of gold for the life of a traitor, whom he disdained to punish. He pointed his just indignation against a nobler object. His ambassadors, Eslaw and Orestes, were immediately despatched to Constantinople, with a peremptory instruction, which it was much safer for them to execute than to disobey. They boldly entered the Imperial presence, with the fatal purse hanging down from the neck of Orestes; who interrogated the eunuch Chrysaphius, as he stood beside the throne, whether he recognized the evidence of his guilt. But the office of reproof was reserved for the superior dignity of his colleague, Eslaw, who gravely addressed the emperor of the East in the following words: “Theodosius is the son of an illustrious and respectable parent: Attila likewise is descended from a noble race; and he has supported, by his actions, the dignity which he inherited from his father Mundzuk. But Theodosius has forfeited his paternal honors, and, by consenting to pay tribute, has degraded himself to the condition of a

46 If we may believe Plutarch (in Demetrio, tom. v. p. 24), it was the custom

of the Scythians, when they indulged in the pleasures of the table, to awaken their languid courage by the martial harmony of twanging their bow-strings.

as o by the first line, and no doubt composed there. The faults of metre
would point out a late date ; and it may have been formed upon some local tradi-
tion. as Walther, the hero, seems to have turned monk.
This poem, however, in its character and its incidents, bea’s no relation to the
Teutonic o of which the Nibelungen Lied is the most complete form. In this,
in the IHellenbuch, in some of the Danish Sagas, in countless lays and ballads ini
all the dialects of Scandinavia, appears King Etzel (Attila) in strife with the
Burgundians and the Franks. . . With these appears, ly a poetic anachronism,
Dietrich of Berne (Theodoric of Verona), the celebrated Ostrogothic king : and
many other very singular coincidences of historic names, which reappear in the
),oems. (See Lachman, Kritik der Sage in his volume of various readings to the
Nibelungen; Berlin, 1836, p. 336.)
I must acknowledge myself unable to form any satisfactory theory as to the
connection of these poems with the history of the time, or the period, from which
they may date their origin; notwithstanding the laborious investigations and
critical sagacity of the Schlegels, the Grimms, of P. E. Muller and Lachman, and
a whole host of German critics and antiquaries, not to omit our own countryman
Mr. Herbert, whose theory concerning Attila is certainly neither deficiont in
boldness nor originality. I conceive the only way to obtain anytling like a clear
conception on this point would be what Lachman has begun (see above), patiently
to collect and compare the various forms which the traditions have assumed,
without any preconceived, either mythical or poetical, theory, and, if possible, to
discover the original basis of the whole rich and fantastic legend One point,
which to me is strongly in favor of the antiquity of this poetic cycle, is, that the
manners are so clearly anterior to chivalry, and to the influence exercised on the
poetic literature of Europe by the chivalrous poems and romances... I think I
find some traces of that influênce in the Latin poem, though strained through the
imagination of a monk.
The English reader will find an amusing account of the German Nibelungen
and Heldenbuch, and of some of the Scandinavian Sagas, in the volume of
Northern Antiquities published by Weber, the friend of Sir Walter Scott. Scott
himself contributed a considerable, no doubt far the most valuable, part to the
work. See also the various German editions of the Nibelungen, to which Lach-
man, with true German perseverance. has compiled a thick volume of various
readings; the Heldenbuch, the old Danish poems by Grimm, the Eddas, &c.

Herbert’s Attila, p. 510, et seq.—M.
* The Scythian was an idiot or lunatic; the Moor a regular buffoon.-M,

* The curious narrative of this enbassy, which required few observations, and was not susceptible of any collateral evidence, may be found in Priscus, o: 49– 70. But I have not confined myself to the same order; and I had previously ex tracted the historical circumstances, which were less intimately connected with the journey, and business, of the Roman ambassadors.

* M. de Tillemont has very properly given the succession of chamberlains, who reigned in the name of Theodosius. Chrysaphius was the last, and, according to the unanimous evidence of history, the worst of these favorites (see Hist. des Empereurs, tom. vi. pp. 117–119. Mém. Eccles. tom. xv. p. 438). His partial. ity for his godfather, the heresiarch Eutyches, engaged him to persecute the orthodox party.

[ocr errors]

slave. It is therefore just, that he should reverence the man whom fortune and merit have placed above him: instead of attempting, like a wicked slave, clandestinely to conspire against his master.” The son of Arcadius, who was accustomed only to the voice of flattery, heard with astonishment the severe language of truth: he blushed and trembled, nor did he presume directly to refuse the head of Chrysaphius, which Eslaw and Orestes were instructed to demand. A solemn embassy, armed with full powers and magnificent gifts, was hastily sent to deprecate the wrath of Attila; and his pride was gratified by the choice of Nomius and Anatolius, two ministers of consular or patrician rank, of whom the one was great treasurer, and the other was master-general of the armies of the East. He condescended to meet these ambassadors on the banks of the River Drenco; and though he at first affected a stern and haughty demeanor, his anger was insensibly mollified by their eloquence and liberality. He condescended to pardon the emperor, the eunuch, and the interpreter; bound himself by an oath to observe the conditions of peace; released a great number of captives; abandoned the fugitives and deserters to their fate; and resigned a large territory, to the south of the Danube, which he had already exhausted of its wealth and inhabitants. But this treaty was purchased at an expense which might have supported a vigorous and successful war: and the subjects of Theodosius were compelled to redeem the safety of a worthless favorite by oppressive taxes, which they would more cheerfully have paid for his destruction.” The emperor Theodosius did not long survive the most humiliating circumstance of an inglorious life. As he was riding, or hunting, in the neighborhood of Constantinople, he was thrown from his horse into the River Lycus: the spine of the back was injured by the fall; and he expired some days afterwards, in the fiftieth year of his age, and the forty-third of his reign.” His sister Pulcheria, whose authority had been controlled both in civil and ecclesiastical affairs by the pernicious influence of the eunuchs, was unanimously proclaimed Empress of the East; and the Romans,

49. This secret conspiracy, and its important consequences, may be traced in the fragments of Priscus, pp. 37, 38, 39, 54. 70, 71, 72. The chronology of that historian is not fixed by any precise date; but the series of negotiations between Attila and the Eastern empire must be included within the three or four years which are terminated, A. D. 450, by the death of Theodosius.

50 Theodorus the Header (see Wales. Hist. Eccles. tom. iii. p. 563) and the Paschal Chronicle, mention the fall, without specifying the injury : but the consequence was so likely to happen, and so unlikely to be invented, that we may safely give credit to Nicephorus Callistus, a Greek of the fourteenvh century.

« ForrigeFortsett »