Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.12.11

José María Sánchez Martín (trans.), Jordanes. Origen y gestas de los godos.   Madrid:  Ediciones Cathedra, 2001.  Pp. 262.  ISBN 84-376-1887-8.  

Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University (
Word count: 294 words

In 551 CE, when the emperor Justinian was engaged in the last stages of a long and stupid war to subdue the Italian peninsula and its rulers, a hanger-on in his court circles produced a short and vivid history of the Gothic peoples. The underlying story was the self-serving one that Romans and 'barbarians' alike enjoyed, linking contemporary political entities to legends of ancient peoples. The 'Goths' on this story were the linear descendants of Scandinavian heroes of eld, which is somewhat more likely to be true than the proposition that they were actually ancient astronauts, but only somewhat. (Modern work on ethnogenesis and ethnopoesis among late antique barbarians tells a much more complicated story.) Jordanes' narrative presents itself as an abridgment of the much larger work on Gothic history in the same vein done some thirty years earlier by Cassiodorus, writing then at the Gothic court in Italy to flatter his colleagues and masters.

Just who Jordanes was and what the relationship of his work to Cassiodorus' are topics that continue to exercise scholars, with limited results. But the narrative is vivid, important, and influential. As the account draws closer to current events, the quality and quantity of the information it transmits increases sharply. Attila, Theoderic, and Theoderic's desperate successors all come vividly to life in these pages.

There is a good French translation, an idiosyncratic Italian translation, and a very old (1915) English translation. This Spanish rendering is careful and correct, accompanied by a substantial introduction as well as maps and a very useful chronological index. For the Latin text, which is not printed here, one should still go back to Mommsen's edition, but this volume makes an extremely serviceable and welcome introduction to the text in the context of modern scholarship.

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