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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct. 1932), pp500‑514.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p500  The Palace of Hugon of Constantinople

by Margaret Schlauch

Romance, broad mirth, gabs, piety, patriotism, and the glamor of remote places — with such ingredients as these, it is no wonder that Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne was popular both home and abroad. It is an entertaining tale to read; it must have been still more entertaining to hear recited in hilarious company. And even the research done on it is more entertaining than most, because it touches on some of the most fascinating problems of comparative literature: cultural relations of Western Europe with the East, Celtic influence, mythology, and the Crusades. Much of the discussion of these matters hinges on the setting of Charlemagne's chief adventure, the palace of the Emperor Hugon of Constantinople, where the French paladins make their amusing gabs or jesting boasts.

This palace, it will be recalled, was vaulted and circular; moreover, it was adorned with the images of two smiling youths, each holding an ivory horn, who acted as weathervanes. If a wind came up, these statues blew their horns, giving forth a loud clear sound, and at once the palace began to rotate:


Il le font torneier et menut et sovent

Come roë de char qui a terre descent.

In a storm, the rotation is violent; yet within the palace everything remains calm and peaceful 'as in the summer month of May when the sun shines clear.' Moreover, the interior is opulently decorated. The walls are adorned with the likenesses of boasts, birds, serpents, and other creatures. There is a profusion of precious stones. The bed‑chamber occupied by Charlemagne is vaulted, and adorned with painted flowers and crystal stones. It is illuminated by a carbuncle on a pillar in the center: no lamp is needed. Twelve rich beds are set up in a circle, and in the middle is a thirteenth bed, designed for Charlemagne. From a concealed opening a spy in an adjacent room is able to observe them. So splendid is the abode of Hugon that Charles, regarding it, holds his own possessions no more precious than a glove.

This description has been discussed a number of times by students of comparative literature. Gaston Paris​1 suggests that it echoes accounts of the real palace at Constantinople which might have been carried to France by travellers. The passages quoted by him are not, however, extremely close to the French account. Laura Hibbard Loomis​2 pointed out some close  p501 parallels in Irish literature, and argued that Hugon was really living in a mythological solar palace connected with Celtic sun‑worship. I have myself, in an earlier article,​3 pointed out that details of the description in this and similar romances seem to be derived from learned mediaeval classical lore about the sun, perhaps in combination with Irish tradition. At present I wish to point out some further material, this time in Byzantine literature, which I think is important for the study of Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. If I may state my conclusion by anticipation, I should say that I think the palace of Hugon is indeed modeled on a palace of the sun; that it is not impossible that the French poet used an Irish description as his source, though this is not absolutely sure; that public buildings in Byzantium did contribute details to the picture; and finally, whether or not the Irish accounts are mythological, they are not primitive, but due to learned literature of an earlier date.


One of the most striking features of the palace is the pair of statues which announce the coming of a storm. This, I think, is really an account of a similar pair which were placed over the gate to one of the chief palaces in Byzantium, known as the Βουκολέων.​4 William of Tyre mentions this gate because King Amaury I used it when he visited Manuel Comnenus in 1171. George Codinus, who lived under the first Paleologues, describes the gate and the statues as follows:

Τὸ λεγόμενον Βύκινον οὕτως ἐκλήθη. τὸ παλαιὸν γὰρ σάλπιγγες ἦσαν χαλκαῖ ἐπάνω τοῦ τείχους, ὁ δὲ πύργος ἦν κουφὸς καὶ συριγγώδης, καὶ νότου γεγονότος ἢ βορρᾶ σφοδροῦ καὶ τῶν κυμάτων τῷ τείχει προσκρουόντων ἀνήρχετο τὰ πνεύματα βίαια, ἄνωθεν πρὸς τοὺς αὐλίσκους τῶν σαλπίγγων, καὶ ὑπηχεῖ τὸ μέλος ξενίζον ἀκοάς, ὅλον Σειρήνιον. ἦν δὲ ἄντικρυ τούτου καὶ ἕτερος πύργος, καὶ δεχόμενος τὴν ἠχὼ τοῦ τοιούτου μέλους ἀπεδίδου καὶ αὐτὸς ἦχον τὸν αὐτόν.​5

In both the French romance and the Greek account the statues use their horns when a strong wind blows; in both they are made of bronze; and in both they number two. The likeness is close.

 p502  Vocal statues, like the famous one of Memnon, which gave forth melodic sounds upon being struck by winds, were of course well known in classical antiquity. They are to be found in Greek romances, both ancient and mediaeval. Codinus also mentions a horned statue on a column in Byzantium by which citizens could learn whether or not they were cuckold: if the suspicion were true, the statue groaned; if not, it remained silent upon being questioned.​6 But it is not necessary to search for literary parallels in order to explain the description in the Pèlerinage. The two real statues over the gate in Constantinople faced directly upon the sea and stood before the most imposing cluster of imperial buildings. No foreign visitor could fail to see them. Certainly many French visitors must have; and so it is easy enough to understand how the account of them reached Normandy, being carried thither by pilgrims, returned crusaders, or merchants.

Not every foreign visitor was permitted to enter the great palace, to be sure, and yet some pretty circumstantial stories about its splendors must also have been current. The most famous banquet hall, the Chrysotriclinos, constructed in the sixth century, must have been a dazzling spectacle, and in some respects it recalls the palace of Hugon. It had a vaulted circular roof,​7 pierced by sixteen windows. A chandelier (polycandilon) was suspended from the center. The monarch decorations suggested a garden full of flowers. In addition to thrones, couches, and golden tables used at banquets, some ecclesiastical ornaments were borrowed from churches to dazzle strangers, such as sacred vases and suspended golden doves ordinarily used as repositories of the Host. Besides this room there was a Triclinos of the 19 Beds (τρίκλινος τῶν δεκαεννέα ἀκκουβίτων), supposedly built by Constantine. During the twelve feast days of Christmas and Epiphany the Emperor gave a series of banquets there. The Emperor invited twelve friends — always twelve, according to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, author of the lengthy book on the Ceremonials of the Byzantine Court​8 — to recline at his circular table. At each of the other tables also there were usually twelve guests. Of course the Emperor and his friends (φίλοι) were supposed to symbolize Christ and the Disciples. Court etiquette dictated the rank of those to be invited on each of the feast days: sometimes they were twelve churchmen, sometimes twelve lords; sometimes twelve poor brethren (πένεται ἀδελφοί). Here again one is reminded of the disposition of Charlemagne and his twelve peers in the banquet hall and in the sleeping chamber, but the similarity may be fortuitous. However, the decorated walls,  p503 the suspended chandelier, the rich columns, and the circular vaulted roof of the Chrysotriclinos may have something to do with the chanson de geste; if only because the architect of the real palace and the author of the imaginary one were both copying the same description or real building. It may be mentioned by the way that the Church of SS Sergius and Bacchus was built on the same plan as the Chrysotriclinos, and was surmounted by a circular vaulted roof.

The number twelve is associated with the months of the year as well as with the Apostles, of course, and therefore there is a double reason for the frequency of its appearance in descriptions of Byzantine buildings. The twelve signs of the zodiac were often used for decoration. Codinus mentions moreover an ἀνεμοδούλιον or palace of the winds erected in the time of Leo Syrogenos, which contained twelve simulacra representing the twelve winds (οἱ δώδεκα ἄνεμοι), corresponding to the twelve points of the compass. This type of decoration appears again and again in the mediaeval Greek romances where rich palaces are described.

Of course​a there was no rotating palace at Constantinople, no matter what other marvels that city may have contained. But there are some accounts of hemispherical domes there by mediaeval authors, which actually recall the strange movement of Hugon's palace. Apparently if one gazed long enough at a circular church with its many lights, the whole thing seemed to move. This is attested by several witnesses. For instance, Patriarch Photius says of one church:

ὡς εἰς αὐτὸν οὐρανὸν μηδενὸς ἐπιπροσθοῦντος μηδαμόθεν ἐπιβεβηκώς, καὶ τοῖς πολυμόρφοις καὶ πανταχόθεν ὑποφαινομένοις κάλλεσιν ὡς ἄστροις περιλαμπόμενος, ὅλος ἐκπεπληγμένος γίνεται. δοκεῖ δὲ λοιπὸν ἐντεῦθεν τά τε ἄλλα ἐν ἐκστάσει εἶναι καὶ αὐτὸ περιδονεῖσθαι τὸ τέμενος ταῖς γὰρ οἰκείαις καὶ παντοδαπαῖς περιστροφαῖς καὶ συνεχέσι κινήσεσιν ἃ πάντως παθεῖν τὸν θεατὴν ἡ πανταχόθεν ποικιλία βιάζεται τοῦ θεάματος, εἰς αὐτὸ τὸ ὁρώμενον τὸ οἰκεῖον φαντάζεται πάθημα.​9

Paulus Silentiarius presents a similar ideas as early as the sixth century, in describing St. Sophia. Here the description implies circular shape, rather than motion; but some of the words are ambiguous, and might be misunderstood to signify rotation:


ἐγρομένη δ’ ἐφύπερθεν ἐς ἄπλετον ἠέρα πήλης

πάντοθι μὲν σφαιρηδὸν ἑλίσσεται οἷα δὲ φαιδρὸς

 p504  οὐρανὸς ἀμφιβέβηκε δόμου σκέπας ἀκροτάτης δὲ

σταυρὸν ὑπὲρ κορυφῆς ἐρυσίπτολιν ἔγραφε τέχνη.​10

It was because of these and other expressions of Paulus that Ducange spoke of the same phenomenon in his description of St Sophia:

rem mirandam, inquit Silentiarius, intueri licet, ut inferne latior sensim deficiat et in orbem veluti caelum convolvatur testudo.​11

The comparison of such domes to the supposedly concave vault of heaven with its moving planets is, of course, a fairly obvious thought. Paulus says:


ἧ τάχα φαίης

οὐρανὸν ἐς πολύκυκλον ἀλώμενον ὄμμα τιταίνειν.

To be sure, some of the verbs meaning 'to rotate' also mean merely 'to be circular in shape;' but I do not think this is true of all the expressions: περιδινεῖν ('to whirl about, spin like a tip;' Photius), παντοδαπαῖς περιστροφαῖς καὶ συνεχέσι κινήσεσιν ('various turnings and continuous movings'; ibid.); ἑλίσσεται, ἀνέρπει (ἀνέρπω = 'spring up' or 'creep up'; Paulus), and convolvatur (Ducange). In any case, if the roof of Hugon's palace was supposed to represent the heavens, certainly these real domes did also; the movement (real or imaginary) is a necessary corollary according to mediaeval cosmology. At least it is clear that Byzantine architects were particularly apt to represent the heavens on the vaulted roofs of their buildings; the shape is characteristic of Eastern, not Western Europe.


The classical Greek romances, as is well known, are adorned by many descriptions of pictures, landscapes, statues, gardens, and other architectural beauties. In fact, a long digression in order to describe one of these things is a common enough rhetorical device of Heliodorus and Achilles Tatios. The fashion set by them was continued in the later Sophistic romances and the mediaeval Greek tales. In the latter particularly there are many long descriptions of splendid palaces and miraculous images, some of which are astoundingly close to those in the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. They too deserve to be compared with the French account. Some of the passages to be quoted are late enough to have been influenced by the French romance, but the general style is native Byzantine, and for the present we shall not discuss the matter of relation­ships.

 p505  As is to be expected, marvellous images are fairly commonplace in Byzantine romance. In Belthandros and Chrysantza,​12 the hero finds a human image of sapphire near a diamond peacock. The image seems to suffer and sigh. In the garden nearby is a stone dragon with wings outstretched, which discharges water from its mouth to make a spring. On the citadel of the palace are lions' and dragons' heads of gold, to be used as catapults (ἀντιπυργοβολήματα), from which emanates a roaring and whistling sound, no doubt caused by the wind. They therefore resemble the vocal images of the Pèlerinage, and the real ones in Constantinople. In Charicles and Drosilla13 there is a description of a circle of statues near a spring:


ἀγαλμάτων ἕστηκεν εὐζέστων κύκλος —

but none of these is endowed with a voice. In Hysmine and Hysminias14 a statue of Diana serves as a chastity test, in an episode clearly modelled on the Aethiopica of Heliodorus. In this same romance we are regaled with a fairly elaborate description of statues representing four virtues. In the allegorical poem Sophrosyne by Meliteniotes​15 there are also images representing abstract qualities; but the closest parallel to the statues of Hugon is to be found in Lybistros and Rhodamne.​16 Here the heroine resides in a palace adorned with many images designed by a cunning artist, two of which are bronze warriors placed opposite each other at the entrance to the walled citadel. One of them plays a lyre, and the other a reed, and the wind causes real sounds to come forth:


τοὺς ἄλλους πάλιν ἔστησεν ἐκεῖνος ὁ τεχνίτης

τὸν μὲν νὰ παίζῃ λύραν . . .

καὶ ἄλλος νὰ παίζῃ τεχνικὸ καλάμιν ἀπὸ πόθου,

καὶ τὸ κατ’ ἔναν τῶν ἤχων τοῦ καθενὸς κάλαμον

ἤκουσες πῶς ἐφώναζεν ἐκ τὴν φωνὴν τοῦ ἀνέμου

ὡς ἦτον ἀπὸ μηχανῆς ἐκείνου τοῦ τεχνίτου.

This description was probably suggested by the real statues of the Boukoleon Gate at Constantinople.

The romancers were particularly fond of decorations representing the twelve months and other groups of twelve images;​17 and in this they were carrying out a genuine classical tradition.

 p506  One of the most famous of these groups is described in Hysmine and Hysminias, where the 12 figures correspond to architectural designs preserved in Greek manuscripts.​18 In Lybistros and Rhodamne the heroine's castle has twelve towers (δώδεκα πύργους), and is adorned with figures representing the 12 months, the 12 virtues, and the 12 attributes of love. The planets are used for decoration of the roof in Sophrosyne and Callimachos and Chrysorrhoe.

It is no wonder, then, that a number of the palaces in Greek romance appear to be Heliocastra or Abodes of the Sun, and some of them are so named. In Belthandros and Chrysantza, Erotocastron (the Palace of Love) contains a hall or triclinos constructed of sapphire, richly adorned, glowing with light, and roofed in part with three especially rare stones:


Ἦτον τὸν τρικλινόκτισμα ἀπὸ ζαφείρου λίθων,

λίθων μεγάλων καὶ λαμπρῶν, τεχνολατομημένων.

τὸ στέγος δὲ τοῦ κτίσματος τὶ νὰ τὸ ἀφηγῆται;

πολὺς ἦτον καλλωπισμὸς τὸ τρίτον τοῦ τρικλίνου.

τρία λιθάρια θαυμαστὰ ἐξαίρετα μεγάλα,

ἐσκέπαζαν, ἃ εἴπομεν, τὸ τρίτον τοῦ τρικλίνου.

φῶτα καὶ φῶς λαμπρόμορφον αὐγὰς παρέχων ἒσω.

Near by is a still more remarkable structure; a hall of diamonds and pearls, which actually hangs in the air — 'it had no foundation nor did it rest on the earth, but the four walls of the koubouklion were suspended like the spheres of heaven':


θεμέλιον οὐκ εἴχασιν, εἰς γῆν οὐκ ἠπατοῦσαν.

ἐκρέμαντο οἱ τέσσαρεις τοῖχοι τοῦ κουβουκλίου

νὰ εἶπες καὶ νὰ ἀπείκαζες τὰς οὐρανίους σφαίρας.

In this hall sits Eros on a throne of jewels with a footstool of lychnite (λυχνιταρίν), a red self-luminous stone like the carbuncle, at his feet. — In Callimachos and Chrysorrhoe, the Dragon's Castle is also called the Shining Castle (τὸ κάστρον τὸ λαμπρόν), for the citadel tower is of gold and precious stones, the wall is also all gold (ὁλόχρυσον), and surpasses the rays of the sun in splendor:


ἐνίκα πάσας ἐκ παντὸς ἡλιακὰς ἀκτῖνας.

Elsewhere it is said that someone sees this castle glittering like the sun itself:


Εἶδον τοῦ κάστρου τὸ λαμπρὸν ἀστράπτον ὥσπερ ἄστρον,

ὥσπερ αὐτὸν τὸν ἥλιον ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τοῦ φέγγους.

Within this place is a magnificent bath-hall (λουτρόν), adorned with flowers of gold. Here Callimachos finds a marvellously rich bed, set with gold and red lychnite and pearl:

 p507  371

κλίνῃ λαμπρὰ, πολύτιμος, χρύσῃ μετὰ μαργάρων,

κοκκίνων λίθων τηλαυγῶν οὓς λέγουσι λυχνίτας.

Another room of gold has a roof representing the courses of the planets:


ἀλλ’ εἶχεν στέγην οὐρανὸν καὶ τοὺς ἀστέρων δρόμους . . .


Τὸ στέγασμα τὸ πάγχρυσον ἐκείνου τοῦ κελλίου

ὁ Κρόνος ἦν ὡς ἐν χερσὶν τὸν οὐρανὸν συνέχων

καθήμενος ἐφ’ ὑψηλοῦ θρόνου λευκὸς τὰς τρίχας

ἐκεῖ καὶ Ζεὺς ἱστόρητο λευκὸς οὐρανόδρομος,

ὥσπερ τις μέγας βασιλεὺς, δυνάστης ἐπηρμένος

αὐθέντες ὅλων τῶν ἀρχῶν καὶ τῶν στεμμάτων ὅλων.

Ἀστὴρ ἐκεῖθεν ἔλαμπεν λαμπρὸς τῆς Ἀφροδίτης

ἔχων ἀκτῖνας τηλαυγεῖς, ἡδονικὰς, ὡραίας·

καὶ μετ’ αὐτὸν ἱστόρησεν τὸν Ἄρην ὁ τεχνίτης

ἐρωτικῶς συμπαίζοντα μετὰ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης.

Εἶχεν ἐκεῖ τὴν Ἀθηνᾶν ἐν θρόνῳ καθημένην

καὶ διακοσμούσας χάριτας τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐκεῖνον.

Ἐν μέσῳ τούτων συμπλοκὰς πολλῶν ἀστέρων εἶχεν.

In the center of this room Callimachos finds the heroine suspended by her hair, and he proceeds to rescue her from the dragon, who approaches with thunder and lightning and storm.

In Digenis Akritas we find a similar delight in rich and glittering decoration, in marble, gold, precious stones, and sculpture:

VII, 46

τοὺς ὀρόφους ἐκόσμησε πάντας μετὰ μουσίου

ἐκ μαρμάρων πολυτέλων τῇ αἴγλῃ ἀστραπτόντων

τὸ ἔδαφος ἐφαίδρυγεν, ἐψήφωσεν ἐν λίθοις.​19

But none of the details is particularly significant. — Argyrocastron (Silver Castle) in Lybistros and Rhodamne is, on the other hand, expressly compared with the sun:


τὸ κάστρον ἐσυνέριζεν τὸν ἥλιον εἰς τὸ λάμπειν

ἐκ μὲν εἰς ἥλιον ἤθελες πολλάκις ἐντρανίζειν

ἔδερνεν ὁ ἥλιος τὴν αὐγὴν τὸ πύργωμαν τοῦ κάστρου.

καὶ ἔβλεπες ἥλιον αἰσθητόν, οὐκ ἦτον συντυχία

ὅτι ἀνατέλλει τὴν αὐγὴν ἀπέσω ἀπαὶ τὸ κάστρον.

There follows a description of the decorations: images of the months, the virtues, and the attributes of love; and the vocal statues over the gate, already mentioned. As is appropriate, the Princess who inhabits this splendid palace is called ἡλιογεννημένη, or sun‑born.

The most elaborate parallel to Hugon's palace is contained in a long allegorical poem called Sophrosyne or Temperance by Meliteniotes. The hero accompanies the goddess for whom the poem is named to her abode, which he portrays in great detail. He must pass a swift river, a bridge, a large iron  p508 gate, several walls, and sundry guardian monsters. The palace is resplendent with gold, silver, and precious stones. The κουβουκλεῖον is supported by red porphyry and milk-white pillars (κίονες, στοαί), and on these 'the artist had constructed a roof, making its various turnings, and the vaults of its well-rounded apses':


Ἐν αἷς τὸν ὄροφον λαμπρὸν στεγάσας ὁ τεχνίτης

πολυειδεῖς ἐποίησεν τὰς τροπικὰς τῆς στέγης,

τυρωσὰς τῶν ἡλιακῶν εὐκύκλων τὰς ἀψῖδας.

In this passage τροπικαί probably does not mean rotations, but curved lines; nevertheless it is easy to see how the two ideas could be confused. In the description of another hall (πάτος), however, the expressions are more ambiguous. Here too there many other details which recall the palace of Hugon: there are decorations in gold in the lower part representing the creatures who dwell on the earth, in the sea, and in the air, so life-like that they seem to move; the roof is circular and resembles a 'revolving wain' ('comme roë de char qui a terre descent,' says the French); and the whole place is illuminated by a fiery self-luminous spherical carbuncle suspended from the center:


Χρυσὸς γὰρ ἦν μονώτατος τῷ πάτῳ κεχυμένος,

φέρων ἀπὸ χυμεύσεως παντοίων ζῴων γένη,

καὶ τετραπόδων, καὶ πτηνῶν, καί τινων θαλασσίων,

κινούμενα φαινόμενα τῇ τέχνῃ τοῦ τεχνίτου

καὶ ὡσανεὶ φαινόμενα φυσίζωα τὰ ζῷα.

Μέσον δὲ τοῦτον τοῦ λαμπροῦ καὶ χρυσοτάτου πάτου

λίθος λυχνίτης ἔκειτο κυκλοφερὴς καὶ μέγας,

κυκλοειδὴς, φαινόμενος ὡσεί τροχὸς ἁμάξης,

συνηρμοσμένος καὶ αὐτὸς καὶ συγκεκολαμμένος

τῷ χρυσοχύτῳ καὶ λαμπρῷ τοῦ κουβουκλείου πάτῳ.

Who shall do justice to the splendor of this carbuncle (λυχνίτης), asks the author. It seemed that the whole roof was afire with its light, and its resembled a second sun:


Ἐδόκει γὰρ τὸν ὄροφον ἐκεῖνον ἐμπυρίζειν . . .


Ὥσπερ τις ἄλλος ἥλιος ὁ λίθος κατωρᾶτο

Ταχθεὶς θεόθεν ἐπὶ γῆς διφρηλατεῖν καὶ λάμπειν.

The roof, which is further characterized as στρογγυλοσφαροσύνθετος and οὐρανοκυκλόδρομος, is made of sapphire, and to it are affixed representations of the planets (ἀστέρας) above and in circles around the torch-like carbuncle, so that he who looked up (even as in St Sophia) seemed to behold the very heavens:


Ὡς φαίνεται τοῖς βλέπουσιν τὸν ὄροφον ἐκεῖνον

Τὸν οὐρανὸν αὐτὸν ὁρᾶν μετὰ καὶ τοῦ φωσφόρου.

 p509  Four doors of this hall face north, south, east, and west. Within is a ladder (κλίμαξ) having 365 steps (βαθμῖδες).


Καὶ μίμησιν ὡς ἔοικε τῶν ἡμερῶν τοῦ χρόνου.

Tiles on the floor represent rain-storms and other variations of the weather.

Another marvel of the κουβουκλεῖον is a large, spherical, snow-white pearl about the size of a wine‑jar which depends from an iron pin above these tiles. This sphere rotates like a wheel, when a breeze or a wind blows through the hall: it is to be supposed, thinks the observer, that the motion and the winds themselves indicate the breath of an invisible controlling lord who turns the sphere, a god of the winds:


Ἡνίκα δέ τις ζέφυρος ἔπνει τῷ κουβουκλείῳ

ὡσεί τροχὸς φαινόμενος ὁ μάργαρος ὡρᾶτο

ὑπὸ ῥευμάτων ποταμοῦ δονούμενος ταχέως.

Εἰ γὰρ μικρὸν ἀνέπνευσέν τις αὖρα λεπτοτάτη,

στρεφόμενος ὁ μάργαρος ὡρᾶτο ταχυτάτως

ὑπὸ λεπτῆς ἀναπνοῆς κινούμενος ὀξέως·

καὶ νηνεμίας οὔσης δὲ πολλάκις καὶ γαλήνης,

ὁ μαργαρίτης, τὴν αὐτοῦ κίνησιν ἐποιεῖτο,

οἶμαι δεικνύων δι’ αὐτῆς τὶς τῶν ἀνέμων πνέει

τὶς κυριεύσει τῶν λοιπῶν ἐκείνην τὴν ἡμέραν,

προφήτης τις δεικνύμενος τὰ μέλλοντα σημαίνων.

Finally there is in the center of the hall a fabulously rich bed, adorned with every imaginable precious stone. (The catalogue of these jewels occupies many lines.) It is supported by legs in the shape of sculptured men bearing it on their shoulders; it is covered with an opulent spread; and yet there is something painful (τι λυπηρόν) about it which serves to recall death (εἰς μνήμην τοῦ θανατοῦ), to prevent pride, and to keep the mind on heaven. What that thing is, the author does not tell; nevertheless the bed and the carbuncle remind one of the room in which Charlemagne slept in Hugon's palace. The two descriptions must be connected. Meliteniotes, who probably flourished in the fourteenth century, could not have furnished the material for the French chanson de geste. There is a possibility that the reverse is true, and that the Greek borrowed from the French, but I do not think this is likely. The style of Meliteniotes, his material, and his treatment of it, are not isolated, as we have seen, but typically Byzantine. Even the most luxuriant imagination would scarcely take the few hints given in the chanson de geste and make of them what he did, without models nearer home. The relation­ship is probably not a case of direct borrowing. Moreover, there are other literatures to be considered before we have done.

 p510  III

The closest parallel to the palace of Meliteniotes is to be found in the Metamorphoses of Ovid, as part of the story of Phaëton. When that young man goes to visit his father the Sun‑god, he finds himself in the following imposing edifice:

II, 1

Regia Solis erat sublimibus alta columnis,

clara micante auro flammasque imitante pyropo,

cuius ebur nitidum fastigia summa tegebat,

argenti bifores radiabant lumine valvae.

materiam superabat opus; nam Mulciber illic

aequora caelarat medias cingentia terras

terrarumque orbem caelumque, quod imminet orbi.

caeruleos habet unda deos, Tritona canorum

Proteaque ambiguum ballenarumque prementem

Aegaeona suis inmania terga lacertis

Doridaque et natas, quarum pars nare videtur,

pars in mole sedens viridis siccare capillos,

pisce vehi quaedam: facies non omnibus una,

non diversa tamen, qualem docet esse sororum,

terra vivos urbesque gerit silvasque ferasque

fluminaque et nymphas et cetera numina ruris.

haec super imposita est caeli fulgentis imago,

signaque sex foribus dextris totidemque sinistris.


. . . purpurea velatus veste sedebat

in solio Phoebus claris lucente smaragdis.

a dextra laevaque Dies et Mensis et Annus

Saeculaque et positae spatiis aequalibus Horae

Verque novum stabat cinctum florente corona,

stabat et Autumnus calcatis sordidus uvis

et glacialis Hiems canos hirsuta capillos.

Although this passage lacks the abundant details given in the mediaeval Greek, it nevertheless gives a picture already familiar to us in its general outlines. Particularly interesting is the word pyropo, which refers to a stone like the carbuncle.​20 The self-luminous carbuncle is one of the details appearing most frequently in the descriptions so far analyzed.

Old Irish literature likewise contributes an analogue to the palace of Hugon. It occurs in the famous Fled Bricrend or Feast of Bricriu, a story no doubt much older than the earliest manuscript we have (12), though how much older we do not know. This is the account of the palace built by Bricriu:

It is thus that his house was made: it had the plan of the banquet hall at Tara. Then were nine sleeping-compartments from the fire to the wall, and a front-piece of bronze all overlaid with gold thirty feet high was on each. A royal couch was  p511 built for Conchobar in the front part of the hall above the couches of the whole house; it was set with gems of carbuncle and precious [stones] besides, and there was a splendor of gold and silver and carbuncle and colors of every land, so that it was as bright as day there even at night. And there were wrought also twelve couches of the twelve heroes of Ulster about it. And the quality of the work was as good as the material used to make the house. A waggon [was needed] for the fetching of every beam, and seven strong men of Ulster to place each pole, and thirty of the best masons of Ireland to make and direct it. . . .

An upper room was made likewise for Bricriu himself as high as the couch of Conchobar and the brave heroes. The room was made with decorations and wondrous ornaments, and windows of glass were placed on every side [looking] out of it. One of the windows he wrought above his own bed, so that the observation of the great hall was visible to him from his couch, for he knew that the Ulstermen would not let him in his house.​21

Many of these details are familiar, notably the self-luminousness of the carbuncle (an attribute of the stone mentioned by such classical writers as Pliny),​b the arrangement of the twelve couches about a central one, the windows around the upper part of the room, and the coign of vantage from which the interior can be observed. But there is less detail given than in the French poem or the Greek accounts, and the edifice of Bricriu is remote indeed from the Regia Solis of Ovid. The interrelations of these descriptions of imaginary places are probably quite complicated, but one is forced to try to disentangle them. The similarities and correspondences may be tabulated as follows:

Vocal statues

Greek French

Luminous carbuncle

Greek Latin French Irish

Twelve couches in a circle

(Greek)​22 French Irish

Signs of the zodiac, planets, seasons, months, etc., used as decoration

Greek Latin

Reliefs representing forms of animal and vegetable life

Greek Latin

Splendid bed described

Greek French Irish

Use of winds

Greek French

Rotation of the roof

Greek French

Coign of vantage for spy

French Irish

 p512  It is apparent the Greek romance (and reality) gives us the fullest account. For my own part, I believe that Ovid and the Byzantine sources together represent the classical tradition, that Ovid himself was borrowing ideas from Greece in his description (perhaps from actual designs in temples), and these same ideas remained popular among romancers in Greece throughout the Middle Ages. I do not believe that an elaborate description like that of Meliteniotes, so far surpassing the French poem in abundance of detail, can be merely an imitation of the French. To be sure, French influence can be detected in Greek romance, but usually it is betrayed by subject matter and vocabulary associated with chivalry. When the Princess Rhodamne is confronted by two wooers (one of them favored by herself and the other by her father), and suggests a tournament to settle the question, she is borrowing a device from French romance, quite obviously; and even the vocabulary betrays her. She speaks of one of the wooers as ρῆγας τῆς γῆς Λιβάντρου (Rex Libantri); she calls both of them cavaliers or καβαλλαραίοι, and refers to the jousting by the verb καβαλλικεύειν — all of these words being borrowed from the language and literature of the Franks. When on the other hand the author of this same story interrupts his narrative to describe the architecture of her palace, her Heliocastron; when he paints the images of the months and their attributes, and dwells with loving detail on the statues, the splendid reliefs and opulent materials, he is following a native fashion. The late Sophistic novelists before him, and still earlier the Alexandrian romancers, had revelled also in the detailed, voluptuous descriptions of statues and paintings. Moreover, I think that the author of the French poem shows signs of contact with Byzantine culture, as well as a knowledge of Ovid. Probably he had never read or heard a Greek romance, but he may have seen or heard lively accounts of some of the marvels of Constantinople: the statues over the Gate, the splendid vault of St. Sophia, and the Imperial banquet-hall where the Emperor dined with twelve φίλοι.

There remains the three-cornered relation­ship of the French, the Irish, and the Latin. Obviously the description in Ovid could have been accessible to the two later writers. On the other hand, the French coincides with the Irish in two important details: the arrangement of the twelve beds around a thirteenth, and the existence of a coign of vantage from which a spy may observe events within the hall. This would indicate indebtedness of the French to the Irish. Where then did the Irish get their account? Were they too echoing a classical ancient convention about a Regia Solis? I think this  p513 very likely. I do not feel warranted in saying that Ovid served as source for the paragraphs of the Fled Bricrend, but one parallelism in phraseology should be pointed out. Ovid writes: 'materiam superabat opus,' the Irish has 'Ba chómart idrom indas in gníma sin ocus ind adbur dobreth dó dénom in tigi,' or, 'The quality of the work was as good as the material used to make the house.'

After all, there may be many ways of accounting for a similarity between Old Irish literature and the traditions of classical antiquity. The Celts came in contact with Mediterranean culture often, and it would be strange if they had not borrowed ideas from the Greeks and Romans at an early date. In Scandinavia there is plenty of evidence of contact with Southern cultures in ancient times; and parts of the Northern mythology once considered purely and typically Germanic have been proved to be foreign importations. Loki, writhing on his cliff at the edge of the world, was originally an enchained Giant causing earthquakes in the Caucasus — the same Giant who became Prometheus for the Greeks; Baldr, the beautiful dying god, belongs in Asia Minor along with Attis and Adonis. An exquisite silver goblet found in Laaland, Denmark (now in the Danske Samling, Copenhagen), and dating from the time of Augustus, indicates graphically the many ways by which Italic and Hellenic culture reached the remote North. On the outside of the goblet is a relief of Priam on his knees before Achilles, begging for the body of Hector. Whether or not the Germanic 'barbarians' of Denmark learned the story when they acquired the lovely silver thing; whether they bought it or stole it or had it made by a captive we do not know; but there it is in Denmark as early as the first century of our era, and its presence is eloquent. So with the Celts, who came quite as near to Roman trade (witness Caesar) as the Germans. And later, when the Celts had become differentiated and the Irish were settled in Ireland, no branch of the family cared more for classical studies or did more to keep them alive than they. They developed their 'native traditions' to be sure, and preserved them carefully; but if Loki is Caucasian and Baldr Lydian, how sure can we be of the Irish?

To me it seems very likely that the palace of Bricriu and the palace of Hugon are both modified Regiae Solis, or Abodes of the Sun, and they may be Celtic for all I know, but I do not think they are therefore primitive. Compared to the pre‑animistic stage of thought, mythology itself seems a late and sophisticated development. And certainly the use of symbols such as carbuncles, or twelve beds surrounding a thirteenth, or the signs of the zodiac, does not argue a primitive intelligence groping blindly among the most immediate phenomena of nature. Hans Naumann expresses the distinction in words upon which I cannot improve:

An die fundamentale Bedeutung astraler Vorgänge für die primitive Religiosität glaube ich nicht. Die Mythologie der Mexikaner ist mir kein Beweis, weil deren  p514 ganze Kultur nicht ursprünglich genug ist, Der ganz Primitive bemerkt die Natur gar nicht, weil er selbst vollkommen noch ein Stück der Natur ist. Naturreligionen sind, wenn und wo es sie gibt, nichts Ursprüngliches. Der geregelte Lauf von Sonne und Mond, der geregelte Wechsel von Tag und Nacht, der ewig gleiche Auf-und‑Niedergang der Gestirne erregen die Aufmerksamkeit des ganz Primitiven nicht; wohl aber der überraschende Uebergang von Leben zum Tod. . . .​23

This is perhaps an extreme statement, but it serves to remind us that the word 'primitive' should not be lightly used, even in speaking of very ancient things; even in discussing Palaces of the Sun that may be as old as Babylon.

New York University

The Author's Notes:

1 'La Chanson du Pèlerinage de Charlemagne,' Romania, IX (1880) I, 1‑50.

2 Modern Philology, XXV (1928), 331‑349.

3 'The Rémundar Saga Keisarasonar as an Analogue of Arthur of Little Britain,' Scandinavian Studies and Notes, X (1929), 189‑209.

4 For a general discussion of these buildings, and a plan, see Jean Ebersolt, Le Grand Palais de Constantinople (Paris, 1910).

5 Georgius Codinus, De Antiquitatibus Constantino­politanis, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., XXXVIII, p86 f. Translation: Buccinum locus ex eo ita appellatus est, quod ibi olim supra murum essent buccinae aereae; turris autem in fistularum modum concava erat. austro igitur vel aquilone vehementius spirante et fluctus maris ad murum allidente spiritus intus cohibitus ascendebat usque ad foramina buccinarum, et Sirenum instar edebat concentum auditu admirabilem; cuius sonum inde resultantem opposita turris excipiebat et similiter resonabat.

6 Codinus, Excerpta, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., XXXVIII, p119.º

7 The Greek word is τροῦλλος, which Du Cange glosses as aedificium rotundum. It is used by Byzantine authors to describe the hemisphere forming the roof of St Sophia.

8 De Ceremoniis Aulae Byzantinae, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., I 742 ff.º and 77 ff. See also Ebersolt, Palais de Constantinople, 58 ff. and 77 ff.

Thayer's Note: and Reiske's commentary on I.742, in Vol. II, p869.

9 Novae Sanctissimae Dei Genetricis Ecclesiae Descriptio, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., XXXVIII, 197 f. Translation: [When one enters the interior] tanquam enim in ipsum caelum nullo obstante adscenderit, variis et undequaque fulgentibus veluti astrorum splendoribus illustratus totus in stuporem agitur; iamque et alia omnia loco moveri et ipsum delubrum circumvolvi putat. nam cum sese frequentibus motibus et conversionibus circumquaque vertat, quod spectatorem pati cogit spectaculi varietas, id in ipso spectaculo accidere spectator sibi configit.

10 Descriptio S. Sophiae et Ambonis, Corpus Script. Hist. Byz., XXXII, 25. Translation: excitatus autem desuper in infinitum aërem apex ubique quidem in circuli speciem volvitur, et veluti pulchrum caelum, aedis tectum ambit, supra summum vero verticem crucem urbis liberatricem ars descripsit.

11 Caroli du Fresni Domini du Cange, Descriptio Ecclesiae S. Sophiae, appendix to Paulus Silentiarius.

12 Émile Legrand, Bibliothèque Grecque Vulgaire (Paris, 1880), vol. I.

13 By Niketas Eugeniano, ed. R. Hercher, Scriptores Erotici Graeci (Leipzig, 1859), vol. II.

14 Eustathii de Ismeniae et Ismenes Amoribus Libri XI, ed. Gilbertus Gaulminus (Paris, 1617); also R. Hercher, vol. II.

15 Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale (Paris, 1858), vol. XIX.

16 Ed. W. Wagner, Trois Poèmes Grecs, Berlin, 1881.

17 J. Strzygowski, in 'Die Monatscyclen der byzantinischen Kunst,' Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, XI (1888), 23‑46, has given instances of the use of this motif in art, and of its close connection with descriptions in literature. B. Kiel, in 'Die Monatscyclen der byzantinischen Kunst in spätgriechischer Literatur,' Wiener Studien, XI (1889) 94‑142, adds further parallels from the literature.

18 See Strzygowski, loc. cit.

19 G. Soyter, Byzantinische Dichtung, Heidelberg, 1930, 42‑45.

20 The Delphin edition (London, 1751) gives the following note on this word: 'Carbunculum intellige lapillum, eo, quem vocant Rubinum, preciosiorem.'

21 Translated from: Ernst Windisch, Irische Texte, I, 254. The text is: Isamlaid trá dorónad a tech sin: Sudigud Tige Midchúarta fair. Nói n‑imdada and o thenid co fairgid, tricha traigid i n‑airdi cacha hairinig crédumæ co m‑diórad óir friú uile. Conrotacht rígimdae and íarom do Chonchobur i n‑airinuch ind rígthige sin úss imdadaib in tige uile co n‑gemaib carrmocail ocus lógmaraib an chens, ocus lígrad óir ocus airgit ocus charrmocail ocus datha cach thíre, co‑m‑bo chomsolus lá ocus adaig inti. Ocus conrotachtá dan da imdaí déc in da erred déc Ulad impe. Ba chómmart iarom indas in gníma sin ocus inda adbur dobreth dó dénom in tigi. Sesrech oc tabairt cecha clethi mórfessiur di thrénferaib Ulad oc cor cach hóenslaite, ocus tricha sǽr do prímsǽrib hErend oc a dénam ocus oc a ordogud. . . .

Dorónad dan gríanan la Bricrind fodessin fó chomardus imdai Cochobair ocus inna láth n‑gaile. Conrotacht iarom in gríanán sin do imdenmaib ocus cumtaigib sainamraib ocus ro sudigthe senistre glainide ass for cach leth. Conrotacht iarom senester díb uasa imdaid-seom fadéin, co m‑bo fodirc dó‑som imcissin in tige máir úad assa imdaí, deig ro fitir‑som, ní léicfitis Ulaid isa tech.

22 In the accounts of real imperial banquets; not in the romance.

23 Primitive Gemeinschaftskultur (Jena, 1921), p8.

Thayer's Notes:

a It doesn't seem probable, but "of course" is unwarranted; Suetonius (Nero, 31.2) records a large revolving banquet hall, or a hall in which the ceiling revolved, in the Domus Aurea in Rome, about three hundred years before the foundation of Constantinople.

b N. H. XXXVII.92‑94.

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