Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

“ The western emperor, with the senate and people of Rome, embraced the most salutary resolution of deprecating by a solemn and suppliant embassy, the wrath of AttilaThe Roman ambassadors were introduced to the tent of Attila, as he lay encamped at the place where the slowwinding Mincius (Mincio) is lost in the foaming waves of the lake Benacus, and trampled with his Scythian cavalry the farms of Catullus and Virgil. The barbarian monarch listened with favourable, and even respectful attention ; and the deliverance of Italy was purchased by the immense ransom, or dowry, of the princess Honoria.”*

Attila advanced not farther into Italy than the plains of Lombardy, and the banks of the Po. He reduced the cities situated on that river and its tributary streams, to heaps of stones and ashes. But there his ravages ceased. The great star, which burned as it were a lamp, no sooner fell upon the fountains and rivers of waters, and turned cities into ashes, than it was extinguished. Unlike to the great mountain burning with fire, the great star that fell from heaven, after suddenly scorching a part of Italy, rapidly disappeared. During the same year in which Attila first invaded the Italian territories, and spread his ravages over the rich plains of modern Lombardy, which are divided by the Po, and bounded by the Alps and Appenine, without advancing beyond the rivers and fountains of waters, he concluded a treaty of peace with the Romans 66 at the conflux of the lake and river,” on the spot where the Mincius issues from the lake Benacus (L. di Garda.) One paragraph in the history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, describes 66 the invasion of Italy by Attila, A. D. 452.” Another is entitled, under the same date, 66 Attila gives peace to the Romans.”— The next paragraph describes “ the death of Attila, A. D. 453;" and the very next records, without any interval, “ the destruction of his empire."'+

[merged small][ocr errors]

There fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. Its great ness, its burning course, the place, the severity, and suddenness of its fall, leave nothing more to be here explained, while its falling from heaven seems obviously to imply that it came from beyond the bounds of the Roman empire, on part of which it fell. Allusion will afterwards be made to the significancy of the term third part, which so repeatedly occurs. The annexed sketch-map exhibits the rivers and fountains of waters, which are so numerous over the whole region of northern Italy, as to form its most distinguishing and appropriate symbol. The eternal snows of the Alps supply perpetual fountains ; while the opposite chain of the Appenines concentrates the rivers in a single region, which has been aptly denominated “ a land of streams."

But another verse is added, under the third trumpet, which, having thus seen the significancy of the former, we cannot pass over with any vague and general exposition, without calling on history to discharge its task, in expounding the full meaning of the words which sum up the decline, and are the immediate prelude to the fourth trumpet, the deathknell of the western empire.

And the name of the star is called wormwood. These words, which are more intimately connected with the preceding verse, as even the punctuation in our version denotes,recall us for a moment to the character of Attila, to the misery of which he was the author or the instrument, and to the terror that was inspired by his name. Our appeal is still to Gibbon :

« Attila, the son of Mundzuk, deduced his noble, perhaps his regal, descent, from the ancient Huns, who had formerly contended with the monarchs of China. His features, ac

dilim

cording to the observation of a Gothic historian, bore the stamp of his national origin, Attila exhibits the general de formity of a modern Calmuck ; a large head, a swarthy complexion, small deep-seated eyes, a flat nose, few hairs in the place of a beard, broad shoulders, and a short square body of nervous strength, though of a disproportioned form. The haughty step and demeanour of the king of the Huns, expressed the consciousness of his superiority over the rest of mankind; and he had a custom of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if he wished to enjoy the terror which he inspired.

“ The religious arts of Attila were not less skilfully adapted to the character of his age and country. It was natural enough that the Scythians should adore with peculiar devotion the god of war: but as they were incapable of forming either an abstract idea, or a corporeal representation, they worshipped their tutelar deity under the symbol of an iron scimitar. One of the shepherds of the Huns who perceived that a heifer who was grazing had wounded herself in the foot, curiously followed the track of blood, till he discovered among the long grass the point of an ancient sword, which he dug out of the ground, and presented to Attila. That magnanimous, or rather that artful prince, accepted with pious gratitude this celestial favour, and, as the rightful possessor of the sword of Mars, asserted his divine and indefeasible claim to the dominion of the earth. If the rites of Scythia were practised on this solemn occasion, a lofty altar, or rather pile of faggots, three hundred yards in length and in breadth, was raised in a spacious plain; and the sword of Mars was placed erect on the summit of this rustic altar, which was annually consecrated by the blood of sheep, horses, and of the hundredth captive. Whether human sacrifices formed any part of the worship of Attila, or whether he propitiated the god of war with the victims which he continually offered on the field of battle, the favourite of Mars soon acquired a sacred character, which rendered his conquests more easy and more permanent; and the barbarian princes confessed, in the language of devotion and flattery, that they could not presume to gaze with a steady eye on the divine majesty of the king of the Huns. His brother Bleda, who reigned over a considerable part of the nation, was compelled to resign his sceptre and his life. Yet even this cruel act was attributed to a supernatural impulse; and the vigour with which Attila wielded the sword of Mars convinced the world, that it had been reserved alone for his invincible

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

· - Total extirpation and erasure,” are terms which best denote the calamities he inflicted.

“ One of his lieutenants chastised and almost exterminated the Burgundians of the Rhine. The Thuringians served in the army of Attila ; they traversed, both in their march and in their return, the territories of the Franks; and they massacred their hostages as well as their captives. Two hundred young maidens were tortured with exquisite and unrelenting rage; their bodies were torn asunder by wild horses, or their bodies were crushed under the weight of rolling waggons; and their unburied limbs were abandoned on pub. lic roads, as a prey to dogs and vultures.”*

It was the boast of Attila, that the grass never grew on the spot which his horse had trod. - The scourge of God” was a name that he appropriated to himself, and inserted among his royal titles. He was 66 the scourge of his enemies, and the terror of the world.” The western emperor, with the senate and people of Rome, humbly and fearfully deprecated the wrath of Attila. And the concluding paragraph of the chapters which record his history, is entitled, 66 Symptoms of the decay and ruin of the Roman government.” The name of the star is called wormwood.

And the third part of the waters became wormwood ; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. After a duration for nearly twelve centuries from the days of Romulus, scarcely the fourth part of one elapsed from the time of the invasion of Italy by Attila, till Rome was no longer the seat of an emperor or the head of an empire. Like a falling star, scorching wherever it fell, and then itself extinguished, Attila ravaged the rich plains of Lombardy, which are divided by the Po. But the sound of the trumpet ceased not with the fall of the great star. The name by which it was called was also given to

* Gibbon's Hist. pp. 121, 122.

the region where it fell. As it had been wormwood, the waters which it tainted also became wormwood to Rome; and from thence new calamities arose, which accelerated and caused the subversion of the empire.

After the death of Attila, the emperors both of Rome and Constantinople vainly attempted to “recover" from Genseric the province of Africa and the empire of the sea. He had invaded Africa, and gathered its swarthy sons around his standard, when the name of Attila was unknown in Europe, and the maritime territory over which he ruled was no longer the refuge but the terror of the Romans. The sea they could not touch ; and on the north the waters were made bitter that encompassed them. Italy, so long the terror of the world, was a trouble to itself. From the foot of the Alps, the bulwarks which nature had set for its defence, and from the midst of the waters which fertilized its richest plains, the troubles arose that inflicted on Rome the bitterness of death, in the last dying struggles of the empire. Although Genseric, even in old age, and in the full execution of the remnant of his charge, destroyed its ships, and lived to see imperial Rome smitten, till extinct, by another hand than his ;- although, like a great mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea, he survived as well as preceded the sudden blasting of a part of Italy by Attila, who burned as it were a lamp, and fell like a star ;—yet, after the last naval wars of the Vandals had ceased, the embittered waters were as wormwood to the empire of Rome, new enemies arose from the very region of Italy which Attila had ravaged, or where the great star fell; when none died any longer in the sea, many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter ; and, from the first sound of the Gothic trumpet to the extinction of the western empire, the connexion is closely established to the last between each succeeding trumpet.

« AnteriorContinuar »