On Thursday evenings, we have a little gathering at the local parish where, over the course of an hour, I attempt to go over the feasts and saints of the upcoming week. About 20-25 people show up, which I can only explain by mentioning that there are snacks, often prepared by my beloved wife or some other good cook.
These little presentations do tend to lead me off into philosophy, history, art, music, architecture and so on. Like the prehistoric seas, my knowledge in these areas is, at best, broad and shallow.
Hey! I spent most of a year at an art school! Been to the Uffizi – twice! I’ve read Tacitus! And Herodotus! More than once, even! And a bookcase or two full of pretty much random history, art and philosophy books. And – I got nothin’.
Even more surprising than there being 20-25 people willing to show up for this is that, repeatedly, I’ve been told by these dear souls that they *like* the digressions into art and history and such.
The snacks must figure into this, somehow, but it’s tricky to see how.
The danger here is that – you, my 12.5 regular readers, will be shocked – I *like* rambling on about things I kinda maybe understand a little. There are dangers in encouraging me to blather, similar to the dangers associated with throwing gasoline on a flame, as observed by Dr. Lazarus.
The other danger: I’ll be having a thought, know that I don’t know, hit the interwebs, and come up for air an hour or two later, my head full of half-understood, poorly contextualized (is that a word? Probably shouldn’t be.) FACTS.
Oh, boy. This is how I came to be thinking about Geats. Actually, not Geats, per se, but all those scary Germanic tribes that ended up strongly represented in the gene pools of just about anybody with European ancestry.
And how, one might ask, did I get to thinking about Geats in a presentation on feasts and saints? St. Isidore of Seville, naturally. He was more or less a Visigoth – a Western Goth, as opposed to Ostrogoth, an Eastern Goth. The words Goth and Geat are closely related, along with a number of other similar terms. Jutes might be Geats, too. There is no end to speculation, invariably the case when the topic is interesting and the facts few. Doubly so when smart guys are involved.
Anyway, dipping a toe into the shallow sea: in 410, when Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome, the The Romans cut some sort of a deal where the Visigoths got a nice chunk of Gaul, the central western part, in exchange for going away.
The funny thing: the Romans could not have been sacked by a nicer, as it were, bunch of barbarians. The Visigoths had for a long time been mercenary partners with the Empire, fighting its wars and defending its frontiers. The Visigoths, especially Alaric, had understandably begun to think of themselves as Romans for all practical purposes. They didn’t just want the money, although they certainly did want to be paid. They wanted respect.
Alaric’s beef with the Empire was that they were happy to treat him like a Roman when they needed his army to save their necks, but treated him like, well, a barbarian mercenary when they didn’t. This did not go over well with Alaric, a proud Germanic king. After a series of insults and having to threaten the Empire to get paid, he started in getting even. He couldn’t sack Constantinople, which was well defended. Not that he didn’t try. So he went after Rome, by then certainly a second-class target but symbolically still the heart of the Empire.
But, as a Roman wannabe, he didn’t want to burn it to the ground and slaughter everybody, and so Rome came through the sack with surprisingly little damage.
And then Alaric died, and his troops move on to Gaul, from which they were fairly promptly driven south into Spain – by other Germanic tribes, who, in turn, were under pressure in the East from yet other Barbarians – Huns, I think, but don’t make me look it up! I’ll be gone for hours!!!
So the oddity here is that the Visigoths were the high class barbarians by the standards of the other German tribes. They proved this by settling down in Spain and putting together a nice Kingdom, comprising most of what is now Spain and a good piece of France. Into which Kingdom of the Visigoths St. Isidore was born. And so on and so forth.
(The Ostrogoths ended up settling in – Italy. Along with the Lombards, the Germanic tribe from which St. Thomas Aquinas is descended. The Ostrogoths conquered Italy by defeating Odoacer, King of Italy, who was Scirian, the Scirii being yet another Germanic tribe. This stuff never ends!)
Geats, on the other hand, were Swedes – sort of. Beowulf was a Geat, probably. Their neighbors along the shores of the Baltic and North Seas included the Jutes (Jutland being pretty much modern Denmark) , the Angles and the Saxons – who ended up in the British Isles, partly, displacing to some extent the Celts, who seem to come from Bohemia, who no doubt displaced the Picts or somebody.
It. Never. Ends. This of course occasioned a search for a quotation from Will Rogers (I’m almost sure) about how there’s not a man in the world living on land he has any real right to. But I couldn’t find it.
5 thoughts on “Geats”
It was Mark Twain who said there’s not an acre of land on the face of the earth in possession of its rightful owner, but I forget where he said it. I heard him say it (or heard Hal Holbrook say him saying it) on a record. Let me explain what a ‘record’ was… No, it would take too long.)
For an excellent account of Alaric and the Fall of Rome, try reading the cryptically titled book The Fall of Rome by the mad Catholic writer R.A. Lafferty. It contains such gems as “Because they were Germans, they must have had philosophies; but also because they were Germans, these philosophies must have been wrong.” And also: “It is said that Alaric destroyed half the art of Greece. It may have been the worst half. He was a critic of unusual effectiveness.”
“The drink of the Goths was wine, beer and mead. Christian men had not yet been seduced by the oriental impostors tea and coffee; the nothing drinks. They knew that only the drink that moves itself, that undergoes a form of metamorphosis or fermentation, can be the resurrection and the life.”
Or the closing lines:
“There is a term placed on everything, even the world. On the night of August 24 of the year 410 the term was finished. One account states that it was at midnight; but a more trustworthy version states that it was about an hour after dark, and that it had begun to rain. At that time the Salarian Gate of Rome was secretly opened by Gothic slaves in the City. The troops of Alaric entered, and their entry was signaled by a giant trumpet blast such as will never be heard again till the last day.
And, on the terrible blast of the Gothic Trumpet, the world came to its end.
It had endured, in the central core of it that mattered, for eleven hundred and sixty-three years.”
Twain. Was thinking of the *other* American humorist.
Lafferty – same dude who wrote Narrow Valley? Nexus reminds me a little bit of that story. That is a compliment – off the wall hilarity in both. Fall sounds like a must read.
Also, speaking of walking togethers, Lafferty died in Broken Arrow, OK, not too far from Oologah, where Will Rogers was born. My father grew up in Claremore, between the two.
And the Incomparable Marge was born and raised in Tulsa, where Lafferty spent his time, too. And she counts Choctaw ancestry of which Lafferty wrote in his Okla Hannali.
Grandma Etta Walker Moore was something like 1/8 Cherokee, making me practically a native! Wonder how the Choctaw and Cherokee got along? Must. Resist. Google.