Thursday, October 3, 2013

Did Clovis Ever Get Arthritis? A History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours.

Clovis was the first king of what would become France.  In 483, when he was only 15-years-old, he succeeded his father and led his tribe to conquer most of what would later become modern day France establishing  the Merovingian dynasty which would rule France for over 200 years, all before dying in 511 at the age of 45.  

I'm turning 50 in just over a month.  Yesterday, the doctor told me I something like mild carpal tunnel in my left wrist and probably arthritis in my right shoulder.  She says I most likely got arthritis because I'm a teacher who has spent the last 23 years writing on the white board.  I told her I've been writing on the white board since it was black. My first dry erase marker was a piece of chalk.

For the last 20 years, I've been touching on the life of Clovis in my 7th grade history class, so this summer I decided to read up on him some.  It has taken me a while by I just finished reading Gregory of Tours History of the Franks, which depicts the life and reign of Clovis, among many others, at as close to first hand as we're ever likely to get.  (Clovis died in 511.  Gregory of Tours lived from 538 to 593.

That makes A History of the Franks the oldest book I've read in a very long time.

It was also a lot of fun.

I mean that.

Gregory begins his history in the Garden of Eden, but moves very quickly up to the tail end of the Roman era in Gaul.  It's very interesting to note that the he presents the Biblical portion of his history as factual.  He does the same with several accounts of the miraculous lives of various saints.   While his book is full of interesting detail about the customs of the Franks during the darkest part of the dark ages, it's the political intrigue and the action that make A History of the Franks so much fun.

Take this bit....

After a victorious battle against a Christian rival, Clovis doesn't convert to Christianity until 496, the Abbot of a defeated monastery comes to Clovis to ask that one particular vase of religious significance be given back to the church.  Clotilde, Clovis's Christian wife, probably had a say in his decision to return the vase to the church, but one of Clovis's men refused to break tradition.  The spoils of war, he insisted, are to be divided among the men of Clovis's army.  To keep Clovis from giving back the vase, he smasheda it.

Several months later, Clovis calls on all his men to assemble for inspection.  When he comes to the man who broke the vase, he grabs the man's weapons, throws them on the ground and then insults him for being unprepared for war. When the man bends down to pick up his weapons, Clovis strikes him in the head with his battle axe, splitting the man's head open, killing him.  Clovis says, this is what you did to the vase, now I do it to you.

It's like Game of Thrones but without all the talking.

A History of the Franks is full of incidents like this one. While the book is short on character development, that wouldn't really come along for another 600 years, and there is no narrative thread pulling the reader through the entire book, for a 1500 year old text it's a pretty darn exciting read.

I even managed to work in the above story, along with a few other choice details, when we talked about Clovis in my classes this year.

So what does Clovis and Gregory of Tours have to do with turning fifty and getting arthritis?  Wish I knew.  I really wanted some clever way to bring this little post back to the topic, but I can't think of one.    So please indulge me and imagine I thought of something really insightful about how Clovis didn't live long enough to become old, something like that.  Sure, he founded the kingdom of France, but I've already lived five years longer than he did, and think of the arthritis all that battle-axe wielding would have given him.

And there was neither Ibuprophen nor physical therapy in the 6th century.  I'm currently on both so I won't be breaking any vases.


1 comment:

Sandy Nawrot said...

First, I love the name Clovis. Do you know Taylor Polites, author of The Rebel Wife? He has a Chihuahua named Clovis, wears hand-knitted sweaters, and is just as fabulous as his daddy. Second, this is bizarre. I just went to the hand orthopedist because I have carpal tunnel in my right hand. Had to have a steroid shot and wear a splint at night. Getting old sucks. But at least we have outlived King Clovis.