The History of the Franks
Penguin Books Limited, Nov 28, 1974 - History - 710 pages
Written following the collapse of Rome’s secular control over western Europe, the History of Gregory (c. AD 539–594) is a fascinating exploration of the events that shaped sixth-century France. This volume contains all ten books from the work, the last seven of which provide an in-depth description of Gregory’s own era, in which he played an important role as Bishop of Tours. With skill and eloquence, Gregory brings the age vividly to life, as he relates the exploits of missionaries, martyrs, kings and queens – including the quarrelling sons of Lothar I, and the ruthless Queen Fredegund, third wife of Chilperic. Portraying an age of staggering cruelty and rapid change, this is a powerful depiction of the turbulent progression of faith at a time of political and social chaos.
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This is an exceptional translation of a unique text. Gregory, Bishop of Tours in the second half of the sixth century, is virtually our only source for what life was like in Western Europe after Roman military power had collapsed and been replaced by a combination of the secular power of Germanic warrior kingdoms and the psychological power of the Roman Church.
Although Gregory called his book a history, it would not pass muster as such by, say, the standards of Tacitus. Rather it is more a memoir - an undifferentiated chronicle of events in Gregory's own time, much of it witnessed by him - preceded by a "history" of the world up to that point, beginning with Adam and Eve.
Gregory was well-placed to write such a memoir. Descended on both sides from the Gallo-Roman senatorial aristocracy, he knew all the people of importance in the Merovingian world of what is now France. Although he shows some prejudice for and against certain characters, the book also contains evidence for the trouble he took to be accurate. In recording his separate religious disputes with an Arian, a Jew, and a sceptical priest, Gregory is at pains to present their points of view, which he does so effectively that the reader may well side with his opponents rather than Gregory himself. He also faithfully describes what we now recognize as a near-death experience, complete with the classic view of one's own body from outside and above.
Gregory writes in a racy colloquial late Latin that is far removed both from the classical Latin of Cicero and from contemporary Church Latin. He even ruefully apologizes for his style. Professor Thorpe has done an outstanding job of rendering this difficult text into equally racy and colloquial English. The result is a vivid story that is a must read for anyone trying to understand how the late Roman world of Diocletian, Constantine and St. Augustine emerged into the medieval world of Charlemagne.