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The Tale Of King Cunincpert’s Body-Double Victory Over Duke Alahis At Bergamo

King Cunincpert became the ruler of the Lombards in Italy around 688 after succeeding his father, King Perctarit (r. 671-688). Upon Cunincpert’s ascendance to the throne, he likely knew who posed the greatest threat from within to the Lombard monarchy—this would be Duke Alahis of Trento. Alahis had already been a powerful and insubordinate duke in the reign of King Perctarit. The duke had independently conquered the region of Bolzano (seizing it from distant relatives of the Lombard royal family), and with this bolstered land and manpower, Alahis rebelled against King Perctarit. In the war that followed, King Perctarit and prince Cunincpert fought to a stalemate with Duke Alahis, who was able to demand favorable terms in a peace agreement with the monarchy. The terms of peace resulted in the region of Brescia being added to Duke Alahis’ now quite sizable domain in northern Italy. Therefore, the duke (who ruled Trento, Bolzano and Brescia at the time) was an intimidating figure, indeed, when Perctarit died in 688, leaving King Cunincpert to begin his precarious transition to the throne as an untested and vulnerable fledgling monarch.

Not long after Cunincpert ascended to the throne in 688, Duke Alahis raised his own forces in rebellion to challenge the new king. The duke’s early campaign maneuvers were a great success, and he even captured the Lombard capital city of Ticinum (later renamed Pavia). Yet, Cunincpert, who was not at Ticinum when it fell, was rallying his supporters and sympathizers to muster a loyalist army. King Cunincpert benefited from issues about Alahis’ character and governance, which caused men to defect from the rebel force and join the king. In particular, Duke Alahis seemed to have caused anger by raising taxes, and he somehow also disgruntled key church figures (perhaps by being a member of the Arian Christian sect that was popular in the early Lombard realm). Whatever the case, as told by the Catholic Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (720-799), “fear and hatred of the tyrant took possession of all the churchmen and priests, since they deemed they could not at all bear his rudeness; and they began to wish for Cunincpert…” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.38). In contrast to Alahis, King Cunincpert (as the reader might guess) was one of the first Catholic Lombard kings, and was resultingly well-liked by the Catholic clergy and historians in his kingdom. Religion aside, Duke Alahis, likely sensing the wavering allegiance of allies in the conquered territory, ultimately decided to withdraw and regroup in the heartland of his personal domain. Meanwhile, former rebels who decided to defect back to the monarchy soon returned the city Ticinum back into the hands of King Cunincpert. And with this, the final stage of the war between Cunincpert and Alahis was set to begin.

King Cunincpert, with the Lombard seat of power back in his possession and a freshly raised army at his disposal, now decided to go on the offensive against Duke Alahis. Cunincpert’s troops marched north, eventually tracking Duke Alahis and the rebel army to the vicinity of Bergamo by 689. There, a battle was commenced that would decide the fate of the war. This battle, however, according to medieval Lombard tradition, was anything but normal.

According to the aforementioned Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (who was a very pro-Cunincpert source), the king curiously decided to employ a body double during the battle at Bergamo. It was an interesting decision, for strength and fighting ability were said to have been some of the better qualities of King Cunincpert’s character, and folktales existed about the king reportedly even being a victor in weightlifting competitions against his vassals. Nevertheless, in this instance against formidable Duke Alahis and the rebel army at Bergamo, Cunincpert allegedly decided to let someone else play the part of the king during the battle.

According to Paul the Deacon, the person who impersonated the king during the battle was a warrior-priest named Deacon Seno of Ticinum. It should be reiterated once again that Paul the Deacon was a pro-Cunincpert source and that he likely went out of his way to describe Cunincpert’s reign as rosily as possible. Therefore, Cunincpert was described as being hesitant about sending Seno out as a body double, and the legends claim that it took emotional pleading and begging from Cunincpert’s trusted advisors to convince the allegedly bold, strong and courageous Catholic king to send someone else to face the rebels in battle. Paul the Deacon’s (translated) account of the peculiar battle and Seno’s fate read as follows:

“Overcome at last, since he was of tender heart, by their prayers and tears, he handed his cuirass and his helmet, and his greaves and his other arms to the deacon, and dispatched him to play the part of the king. For this deacon was of the same stature and bearing, so that when he had gone armed out of the tent he was taken for king Cunincpert by all. The battle then was joined and they struggled with all their might. And when Alahis pressed the harder there where he thought the king was, he killed Seno the deacon, and imagined that Cunincpert had been slain” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombard, 5.40).

Such was the unfortunate fate of the warrior-priest Seno. As for King Cunincpert, likely peeking out from his tent after hearing sounds of confusion and chaos from an army that thought it had lost its king, he finally decided to show himself and rally the troops. After donning whatever spare set of armor he had on hand, King Cunincpert joined the fray and managed to stop his army from retreating or shattering after the death of kingly-dressed Seno. Duke Alahis may have overextended himself in his earlier charge against the king’s body double, for when the second wave of battle renewed after the real Cunincpert’s appearance, Duke Alahis soon found his side to be at a disadvantage. The exhausted duke tried to rally his army and regain the momentum, but he was slain in battle during his vain attempt to push back King Cunincpert’s newly emboldened force. After the battle, Duke Alahis’s body was found and unfortunately mutilated. Paul the Deacon recorded that “the head of Alahis was cut off and his legs were cut away and only his deformed and mangled corpse remained” (History of the Lombard, 5.41).

Medieval historians could have remembered in a vastly different light King Cunincpert’s curious decision to send a body double to lead his forces in battle. Cunincpert, however, benefited from being an early Lombard monarch of the Catholic faith in a realm where the rival Christian sect of Arianism was still popular, and therefore, the Catholic storytellers and clergymen-historians such as Paul the Deacon evidently decided to do some damage control to safeguard the memory of Cunincpert’s pro-Catholic reign. Any insinuations of cowardice were stripped from the tale of King Cunincpert allowing a body double to wear his armor, lead his troops into battle, and duel the opposing general, Duke Alahis, to the death.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Bishop Otto II of Utrecht is killed in the battle of Ane, Anno 1226, by Antonie F. Zürcher (c. 1825 – 1876), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Amsterdam Museum).

Sources:

Orpheus And Eurydice, by Frederic Leighton (c. 1830-1896)

This painting, by the British artist Frederic Leighton (c. 1830-1896), was inspired by the sad and tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The instrument-wielding man on the left is Orpheus, a superstar musician of ancient Greek mythology who had the power to entrance almost everything in creation (animate and inanimate, mortal and divine) whenever he chose to play and sing. Clinging to him is Eurydice, a nymph who fell in love with the legendary musician. As Orpheus reciprocated her love, the two decided to become married. Yet, before they could live happily ever after, tragedy unfairly struck their love story. On or around their wedding day, Eurydice was heartbreakingly bitten by a venomous snake and she died from the wound. Ovid (c. 43 BCE-17 CE), a Roman poet, described this mythical death scene:

“The outcome was even worse than foreshadowed: the newly-wed bride,
while taking a stroll through the grass with her band of attendant naiads,
suddenly fell down dead with the fangs of a snake in her ankle.
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.8-10)

This sad event, no matter how tragic it was on its own, was actually just the prelude to a much more elaborate myth—which happens to be the myth depicted above in Anselm Feuerbach’s painting. It is the story of Orpheus journeying into the underworld in an attempt to bring Eurydice back from the dead. A concise summery of the myth was recorded by a scholar known as Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century), who wrote:

“[Calliope, the muse of poetry, bore] Orpheus, who practised the art of singing to the lyre, and set rocks and trees in motion by his singing. When his wife, Eurydice, died from a snake-bite, he went down to Hades in the hope of bringing her up, and persuaded Pluto to send her back to earth. Pluto promised to do so, provided that on the way up Orpheus never looked round until he had arrived back at his house. But Orpheus failed to obey him, and turning round, he caught sight of his wife, and she had to return below” (Apollodorus, Library, I.3.2).

It is this myth that inspired Frederic Leighton’s painting. In the artist’s scene, perhaps Eurydice is the instigator of her tragic fate, tempting Orpheus to look, instead of the usual ancient tale of the musician being the one to take a curious and cautious glimpse behind him. Otherwise, maybe Eurydice clings to Orpheus, hoping he could somehow use his magical music to ward off the agents of the underworld who were coming to bring the unfortunate nymph back to the realm of the dead. Nevertheless, this time, Orpheus could not overcome or sway the decision of Hades, and the musician had to depart without his wife. After losing Eurydice for this second time, Orpheus withdrew into depressed seclusion, seemingly shunning all contact with anything besides the flora and fauna of nature.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Sources:

  • Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by David Raeburn. Penguin Classics; Revised Edition, 2004.
  • Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • https://artvee.com/dl/orpheus-and-eurydice-5/

The Tale Of How Fu Sheng And Kong Anguo Protected Historic Books From Qin Dynasty Censorship And Destruction In China

During the reign of the Qin Dynasty (r. 221-207 BCE), censorship was imposed in China and the Qin emperors reportedly ordered destroyed numerous books and records that they did not want their subjects to read. One such work was the Shang Shu (variously translated as The Book of Documents or The Most Venerable Book), a text that comments on the earliest Chinese legends, as well as rulers and events from the ancient Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties in China. This important book was endangered by the censorship of the Qin Dynasty, as well as by the rebellions and civil war that led to the rise of the Han Dynasty (r. 206/202 BCE-220 CE). It was saved, however, by the work of at least two individuals who saved copies of the text for posterity.

The two most notable men who rescued the Shang Shu from destruction were Master Fu Shen and Kong Anguo. A later Han historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), applauded both of these men and recorded their stories in his Shi Ji, or Records of the Grand Historian. Naturally, more people besides Fu Shen and Kong Anguo tried to save the Shang Shu, or to at least preserve fragments from its chapters. Fu Shen and Kong Anguo were the most successful in this task, however, and their editions of the Shang Shu became the most influential in the Han Dynasty. Here are their stories.

Master Fu Shen was a high-ranking scholar in the imperial court of the Qin Dynasty, and therefore had ample access to, and interest in, the historical texts of ancient China. When Fu Shen learned of the censorship program, he sealed up a small library of restricted and banned books into the very walls of his home. Due to political turmoil, rebellion, and civil war, he became a refugee and the texts in the walls of his house were temporarily abandoned. Fu Shen reportedly lived in exile for decades, watching the Qin Dynasty be overthrown by rebellion, followed by the fragmentation of China between former-rebel warlords, and, finally, the consolidation of a new imperial order under the Han Dynasty. After peace was restored to the land, Fu Shen returned home, only to find that time, war and weather had not been kind to the texts he had hidden in his walls. The copy of the Shang Shu that he had stored there was damaged and degraded, with many chapters lost beyond repair. When he set up shop once more as a teacher, he made copies of his Shang Shu, modernizing the surviving chapters into newly-standardized Chinese characters. His edition came to be known as the ‘New Version’ of the Shang Shu.

Kong Anguo, a philosopher and courtier active in the 2nd century BCE, found a more intact edition of the Shang Shu. Curiously, Kong Anguo was a descendant of the famous philosopher, Confucius (c. 551-479 BCE), and it was within a wall of a building that was once inhabited by this celebrated ancestor that Kong Anguo reportedly found his intriguing copy of the Shang Shu. The text was written in archaic characters, as opposed to the more modern and standardized version produced by Fu Shen. Due to the archaic style of this new edition, it came to be called the ‘Old Version.’ Although Kong Anguo’s copy of the Shang Shu was named after its archaic origins, he did ironically translate it into the modern written language used in his time.

Copies from these two versions of the Shang Shu were allowed to be recirculated through libraries in Han Dynasty China. Unfortunately, the cycle of danger for the Shang Shu would begin again with further rises and falls of dynasties. Later preservers of the Shang Shu, however, were not as successful in instilling confidence about the authenticity of their versions. Consequently, existent editions of the Shang Shu have long been riddled with questions about which chapters are legitimate, which chapters are interpretations or summaries, and which chapters are mere forgeries.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Scholar Fu Sheng Transmitting the Book of Documents, by Du Jin (c. 1465–1509), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).

 

Sources:

  • The Most Venerable Book (Shang Shu), translated by Martin Palmer, Jay Ramsay and Victoria Finlay. London: Penguin Classic, 2014.
  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Han/personskonganguo.html

The Rape Of Europa, Painted By David Teniers The Younger (1610–1690)

This painting, by the Flemish artist David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690), was inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Europa. According to the ancient tales, she was a daughter of a mythical Phoenician king named Agenor. Yet, her royal standing did not spare her from awkward and dramatic twists of fate in her life. In fact, the woman being dragged off to sea by the white bull is Europa, herself (albeit in a world with fashion that looks closer to the painter’s time than her own). The strange creature to which she clings, unsurprisingly, is a pivotal character of the odd myth. As the story goes, the mysterious white bull had only recently wandered into King Aginor’s royal herds. Behaving in a friendly and unthreatening way, the bull befriended Europa, allowing her to groom him and to dress up his horns with garlands. This charming friendship between beast and woman, however, was not all that it seemed. The mysterious bull was actually Zeus (or the Roman Jupiter) in disguise. As Zeus was a notoriously lusty god, the conclusion to Europa’s unfortunate tale should be no mystery. Taking advantage of Europa’s misplaced trust, Zeus soon lured the unsuspecting princess onto his back, and once she fell for his trap, the magical god raced out over the depths of the sea, so that she could do nothing else but continue to cling to her kidnapper. This scene was described by the Roman poet, Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE):

“The princess even ventured to sit with her legs astride
on the back of the bull, unaware whose sides she was resting her thighs on;
when Jupiter, gradually edging away from the land and away
from the dry shore, placed his imposter’s hooves in the shallowest waves,
then advanced out further, and soon he was veering the spoils of his victory
out in mid-ocean. His frightened prize looked back at the shore
she was leaving behind, with her right hand clutching one horn and her left
on his back for support, while her fluttering dress swelled out in the sea breeze”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.868-875).

Such is the gist of the action that is playing out in the painting featured above. It shows Europa being dragged out to sea by her godly captor, leaving behind her startled friends and attendants (minus the unperturbed musician), who can only helplessly stare in shock, dismay and disbelief from the shoreline. After the abduction, Zeus was said to have carried Europa to the island of Crete. There, the god got what he wanted, one way or the other. According to myth, Europa had several children with Zeus, including Rhadamanthys, Sarpedon and King Minos.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Sources:

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli (c. 1469-1527)

“It is not reasonable to suppose that one who is armed will obey willingly one who is unarmed; or that any unarmed man will remain safe among armed servants.”

  • From The Prince (chapter 14) by Machiavelli, translated and printed by the Henry Regnery Company, 1948.

Euripides’ Dramatic Jab Against Aeschylus’ Orestes Footprint Scene

Aeschylus (c. 525-456 BCE) and Euripides (c. 485-406 BCE), as ancient Greek playwrights often did, covered many of the same mythical topics within the poetic plays that they produced. One such saga of myth that they both wrote about was the Oresteian tales, centering around the tumultuous family of King Agamemnon. In brief, the Oresteian myths tell that Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, before sailing off to lead the Greeks in the famous Trojan War. Iphigenia’s siblings, Orestes and Electra, apparently coped with the loss of their sister, but Agamemnon’s wife, Clytemnestra, harbored a bitter grudge over the sacrifice of her daughter, and she found new love with a man named Aegisthus. Consequentially, when Agamemnon eventually sailed home victorious from the Trojan War, Clytemnestra had no emotions left for her long-absent husband except for hate. Rather than give Agamemnon a warm welcome home, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus instead killed the newly returned king. The murderous couple maintained power after the killing, but Clytemnestra’s slaying of Agamemnon ended up ruining her relationship with her children. Orestes and Electra, who had forgiven their father’s controversial actions, now felt duty-bound to avenge their father’s death, even if it meant killing their own mother. This premise sets up the Oresteian myths, which narrate Orestes’ quest to seek vengeance against his murderous mother, Clytemnestra, as well as her lover, Aegisthus. The Oresteian myths also cover the complicated consequences of Orestes’ success in his quest, and tell of his efforts to ritualistically clean himself and clear his name after committing the taboo crime of matricide. It is this storyline that Aeschylus and Euripides both shared in some of their plays, each adding their own characteristic twists, turns, and special insights to the plot.

Euripides, Aeschylus’ junior contemporary, was able to consume and critique the older playwrights works as he composed his own plays. Ancient Greeks were sometimes known to give shoutouts or take jabs at contemporary figures in their written works, and Euripides took the opportunity in his play, Electra, to offer a curious stab against one particular scene from one of Aeschylus’ Oresteian plays called The Libation Bearers (aka the Choephoroe). Both plays, Euripides’ Electra and Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, cover the story of Orestes (who for most of his youth was raised abroad by a guardian) finally returning to his homeland to seek revenge against his mother. According to Aeschylus’ account of the myth, Electra was tipped off to her brother’s return when she noticed a lock of hair and sets of footprints at the site of Agamemnon’s tomb. In Aeschylus’ mind, Orestes must have had small feet or Electra’s were large, for when Electra put her foot on top of the print, it was a perfect match (as was the color and curl of the hair). The hair aside, it seemed to be the foot experiment in Aeschylus’ tale that acted as the definitive evidence needed by Electra to convince herself that Orestes had returned. Speaking as Electra, Aeschylus wrote:

“A new sign to tell us more.
Footmarks…pairs of them, like mine.
Two outlines, two prints, his own, and there,
a fellow traveller’s. The heel of the arch
like twins. Step by step, my step in his…we meet—
Oh the pain, like pangs of labour—this is madness!”
(Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers, approximately lines 206-211)

Euripides evidently thought that this idea of Orestes and Electra having identical foot sizes made for a silly scene, and he decided to directly rebuke the idea in his own Electra play. In his narrative, Euripides sets up a conversation in which someone tells Electra that strangers had paid a visit to Agamemnon’s tomb and left a lock of hair. The speaker asks if Electra could identify the visitors to the tomb by inspecting the hair or footprints. To the hair question, Euripides had Electra answer, “[H]ow can locks of hair be compared when one has been grown by a noble man in the wrestling schools, while the other comes from a woman who uses a comb? It’s impossible” (Euripides, Electra, approximately between lines 520-530). As the banter continued, Euripides’ Electra eventually addressed the idea of footprints at the tomb of Agamemnon. She quipped, “How could there be a footprint in a rocky stretch of land? And if there is one, how could the foot of a brother and sister be the same size? The man’s is bigger” (Euripides, Electra, approximately between lines 530-540). After these witty challenges to Aeschylus’ scene, Euripides moved on with his narrative of Orestes and Electra’s revenge-killing of their mother.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled “Daniël onthult het bedrog van Bels priesters, Philips Galle, after Maarten van Heemskerck, 1565,” [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum.jpg).

 

Sources:

  • Electra by Euripides, translated by James Morwood in Euripides: Medea and Other Plays. Oxford University Press, 1997, 1998, 2008.
  • Aeschylus, The Orestia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides), translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1979.

The Strangers Entertained, by Walter Crane (c. 1845-1915)

This illustration, by the English artist Walter Crane (c. 1845-1915), is titled “The Strangers Entertained.” A series of notes scribbled in the margin of the object lists the artwork’s genre as mythology, and a parenthesized sentence briefly sums up the piece as a scene depicting “Jupiter in disguise & Mercury at the house of Philemon and Baucis.” Although short and concise, these scrawled notes fortunately allowed Walter Crane’s illustration be cataloged with a higher degree of accompanying subject information than is usually found in many museum galleries and online archives, but more information can be provided.

Walter Crane’s illustration depicts a tale from ancient mythology in which the Roman gods Jupiter and Mercury—or rather their Greek equivalents, Zeus and Hermes—paid a momentous visit to the humble home of the elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis. Prior to arriving at the home of the hospitable old pair, Zeus and Hermes (disguised as mortals) had toured the surrounding area and discovered that, besides Philemon and Baucis, the whole town was a rude and unwelcoming lot. Whereas other households turned the gods away or refused to open their doors, saintly Philemon and Baucis invited in the disguised gods and played the role of host to the best of their ability. Ovid (43 BCE-17 CE), a Roman poet, described the scene:

“Jupiter once came here, disguised as a mortal, and with him
his son, the messenger Mercury, wand and wings set aside.
Looking for shelter and rest, they called at a thousand homesteads;
a thousand doors were bolted against them. One house, however,
did make them welcome, a humble abode with a roof of straw
and marsh reed, one that knew its duty to gods and men.
Here good Philémon and Baucis had happily passed their youth
and here they had reached old age, enduring their poverty lightly
by owning it freely and being content with the little they had.”
(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 8.626-634).

Despite not having much at their disposal, Philemon and Baucis threw a feast for their guests, bringing whatever was available in or around the house to the table. This hospitality and generosity impressed the gods, and as it would soon turn out, the feast would be of great consequence to the lives of Philemon and Baucis. The two gods had been in the region to scout out a spot for a new temple, and Philemon and Baucis’ hometown was, to put it mildly, in the way of the divine plan. Mid-feast, the deities revealed their godhood to Philemon and Baucis. The gods then quickly ushered the two awed mortals out of town and led them to a mountain. With Philemon and Baucis safely stowed on a mountaintop, the gods called in a flood to wipe out the town—of all the houses in the community, only that of Philemon and Baucis survived the inundation. As the story goes, the site of the hospitable couple’s home was transformed into the temple that the gods wanted, and Philemon and Baucis spent the rest of their lives there, serving as priests.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

 

Sources:

Dogling Kings Of Denmark

“Doglings” was one amusing way (at least to the ears of English speakers) by which Danish royals were sometimes referred to by medieval writers. The title linked Denmark’s kings and princes to the reign of a certain legendary King Dag the Powerful. This enigmatic figure and his dynasty reportedly ruled contemporaneously with the similarly famous and legendary Yngling Dynasty. In fact, according to the family trees and chronology presented by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), King Dag’s daughter, Dageith (or Dageid), became the mother of a certain King Alf (nicknamed Elfsi), who was said to have been the fourteenth or fifteenth king from the line of the Ynglings. On this connection, Snorri Sturluson wrote, “He was called Elfsi. He was a taciturn man, imperious and of a morose disposition. His mother was Dageith, the daughter of King Dag the Powerful, from whom the Doglings are descended” (Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Saga of the Ynglings, chapter 21). Dogling was apparently in use as a label during the prosperous era of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark (r. 958-985), as well as his conquering son, Sweyn Forkbeard (r. 987-1014), and grandson—mighty Canute [or Knut] the Great (King of England r. 1016-1035, Denmark r. 1019-1035, and Norway r. 1028-1035). Snorri Sturluson also cited the poem, Glælognskvitha, by the 11th-century skald Thórarin Loftunga (or Praise-Tongue), in which the poet used the term, Dogling, to refer to King Canute’s son, Svein. Thórarin Loftunga wrote:

“No one doubts
what dapper band
of Danes were
with the Dogling”
(Thorarin Loftunga’s Glælognskvitha, cited in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 239).

Such is one example (or perhaps two, counting both Snorri Sturluson and his source, Thórarin Loftunga) of medieval Nordic writers referring to Danish royals as Doglings. Therefore, although the word “Dogling” could conjure up images of small and cute pups to the minds of English speakers, the label can actually be applied to mighty Viking-age Danish kings. Though not be the most enlightening piece of trivia, but it is an interesting tidbit from history, nonetheless.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Image labeled “Odin Illustration til Fabricius’ Danmarks historie 1, 112,” by H. C. Henneberg, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Statens Museum for Kunst.jpg).

 

Sources:

Thetis Bringing the Armor to Achilles, Painted By Benjamin West (c. 1738-1820)

This painting, by the British-American artist Benjamin West (c. 1738-1820), shows a pivotal scene from the storyline of the hero, Achilles, featured in Homer’s ancient epic poem, The Iliad, set during the mythical or legendary Trojan War. West’s painting takes a snapshot of a specific event that occurred well into Homer’s war-torn plot. Yet, before we comment on the scene shown above in the painting, a quick recap of The Iliad’s storyline is in order to bring clarity to what has happened in the picture, as well as the ramification of the event to the overall plot of the epic poem.

Achilles, while he served alongside the warriors of the Greek coalition during the Trojan War, had to grudgingly follow the lead of King Agamemnon (the commander-in-chief of the Greek forces for the duration of the Trojan War). Achilles’ obedience to the Greek leader, however, was tested when a chaotic dispute broke out over two women who had been captured by the Greeks during their siege of Troy. The women were named Chryseis and Briseis, the former being held by Agamemnon, and the latter being claimed by Achilles.

Chryseis, so the story goes, was the daughter of a priest of Apollo who was greatly respected by the god that he served. Apollo, in response to the imprisonment of his favored priest’s daughter, decided to ravage the Greek army with a terrible plague. In order to end the plague, the king needed only to return Chryseis to her father. Ultimately, Agamemnon agreed to let Chryseis go, but the king loathed to lose his spoils of war and decided to make up his losses by commandeering a captive from another leader in his army. To the dismay of the whole Greek coalition, Agamemnon decided that he wanted the other recently-captured woman, Briseis, whom Achilles had taken into custody. Although Achilles balked at the demand, King Agamemnon ultimately used his authority and status as leader of the Greek coalition to force Achilles to give up Briseis.

Agamemnon’s acquisition of Briseis came at a steep price. Although Achilles did indeed hand over the captive woman, the incident consequently angered the mighty Greek hero to the extent that he decided to cease his cooperation with the Greek war effort. At first, Achilles’ band of elite warriors—the Myrmidons—decided to join their leader in his protest. Yet, when the Greek forces at the siege of Troy began to struggle in the absence of their greatest fighters, certain members of Achilles’ warband felt the need to rejoin the battle, despite Achilles’ feud with Agamemnon. This brings us to the character, Patroclus—Achilles’s best friend and the man to whom the Greeks and other battle-eager Myrmidons turned when Achilles refused to fight.

Patroclus, unwilling to continue sitting out the war, decided to rejoin the battle. Hoping to boost the morale of the Greeks and to demoralize the Trojans, Patroclus decided to go to battle not in his own set of armor, but instead to show up for war in the famous gear of Achilles. When Patroclus did this, his actions, indeed, caught the eyes of the Trojans. In particular, it attracted the attention of Troy’s greatest hero, Hector, who engaged Patroclus in battle. Although Patroclus was a mighty warrior, he stood no match against Hector. In the end, Hector slew Patroclus in battle and looted the armor of Achilles that had been brought to the battlefield. News eventually trickled back to camp that Patroclus had died, and when Achilles learned of his best friend’s death, he flew into a rage. Achilles’ horrifying howls could be heard from the battlefield, flipping the momentum of the fray back into Greek favor. Patroclus’s body was recovered by Achilles, who decided to rejoin the war effort to seek revenge against Hector.

Yet, for Achilles to go back to battle, he would need a new set of armor, as his previous gear had been taken by Hector. This predicament was solved by Achilles’ mother, the influential nymph Thetis, who speedily traveled to the craftsman god Hephaestus and convinced the talented deity to fashion a new set of armor that was exponentially better than the last. Hephaestus agreed to the proposal and quickly forged masterpieces of armament that Achilles could wield and wear in battle. The ancient poet, Homer, described the scene of Thetis bringing the god-forged gear back to Achilles, who was still mourning over Patroclus. Speaking as Thetis, Homer wrote: “My child, the man who lies here was struck down by the will of the gods. For all your grief, let him be now and take this impressive armour I have brought you from Hephaestus. It is utterly magnificent. No mortal has worn anything like it.’ With these words the goddess laid the intricately worked armour before Achilles” (Homer, The Iliad, book 19, approximately between lines 10-20). It is this scene that Benjamin West re-creates in paint. Achilles, after accepting the armor, would rejoin the war and ultimately slay Hector in a famous duel. With Hector no longer manning the walls of Troy, the city was doomed to inevitably fall to the Greek siege. Yet, Troy’s last stand would also fatefully prove to be Achilles’ final battle, as he would be ushered to the realm of the dead by a well-placed arrow shot by the Trojan prince, Paris.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

 

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The Odd Ejection Of Duke Faroald II Of Spoleto

Duke Faroald II was a fairly autonomous Lombard duke of Spoleto from around 703 until 724. He lived during a prosperous, but tumultuous, time for the Lombard realm. Faroald became duke of Spoleto during the reign of the usurper, King Aripert II (r. 701-712), whose family seized the Lombard throne from a vulnerable boy-king named Liutpert (r. 700). King Aripert II was ultimately defeated in war by Ansprand, the former guardian of the murdered boy-king. Victorious Ansprand proclaimed himself king, but only ruled for a short time around 712. The new order, however, was continued by Ansprand’s son, King Liutprand (r. 712-744). Such was the complicated political situation that Duke Faroald II of Spoleto had to navigate during his time in power.

Duke Faroald II, it appears, had a hard time reading King Liutprand’s national ambitions for the Lombards. It is not quite a surprise that the duke had trouble, for Liutprand was a talented geo-political schemer, who could, in one breath, preach peace with his regional rivals (the Roman pope and the Emperors of Constantinople), while, in the very next breath, launch wars to reduce papal and imperial land and influence in Italy. Confused by these mixed signals, Duke Faroald II of Spoleto stopped trying to understand the king’s true wants and wishes. Ultimately, putting concern over the king’s reaction to the wayside, Duke Faroald II decided to embark on a mission that would have pleased most previous Lombard rulers—he chose to conduct a private military campaign to capture a long-coveted port called Classis, which was vital to Constantinople’s Italian stronghold city of Ravenna. Duke Faroald II reportedly succeeded in his campaign, capturing the strategic port. Yet, sadly for the duke, the conquest seemed to have been at a disadvantageous time for King Liutprand’s overarching plans. Duke Faroald’s campaign and Liutprand’s response was recorded by a Lombard historian named Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote, “During these times Faroald, duke of the Spoletans, attacked Classis, a city of the Ravenna people, but by command of king Liutprand it was restored to those same Romans” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.44).

After the Classis debacle, Spoleto became a place of unrest. Perhaps, the locals were angry with Faroald for launching his campaign in the first place, or, on the other hand, maybe they were frustrated that he did not insist on keeping the port after having shed sweat and blood to conquer it from Ravenna. Whatever the case, the populace and nobles in Spoleto soon turned against Duke Faroald II. Around 724, Faroald was deposed by his own son, Transamund II, and the replacement did not seem to be condemned or objected to by the monarchy. Unfortunately for King Liutprand and his successors on the troubled Lombard throne, Duke Transamund II of Spoleto would prove to be a much more rebellious and belligerent figure than his father. The more reserved Faroald II, meanwhile, was forced to become a churchman. Ironically, Classis—the reported cause of Duke Faroald’s downfall—was quickly reconquered by unpredictable King Liutprand around 725. That year, according to Paul the Deacon, “Liutprand besieged Ravenna and took Classis and destroyed it” (History of the Lombards, 6.49). Despite this curious turn of events, Faroald II remained relegated to church life.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Duke Friedrich IV, disguised as a minstrel, reveals himself to his faithful Tyroleans while fleeing Constance (1851), by Franz Schams (c. 1824–1883), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Artvee).

 

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