Goths and History

Investigating for your novel is fun, but you cannot get lost on it, as we have just discussed, or you'll never write a single line of it.

On the other hand, you cannot just make up History and be proud of it, for it will be a lie: call it Fantasy and be proud of it! (remember Lucian of Samosata, which incidentally I'm currently reading, pretty interesting author, indeed!) But it's History and historical novel or fiction what we are dealing with in here, Fantasy has its place elsewhere.

I am investigating the Goths, specifically I'm concentrating on the Visigoths, a.k.a. Tervingi, Getae, Gutons, etc on the Sources.

Problem is, the Sources are not necessarily trustier than any other current author that could write the History of its People (or others). We are used to manipulation of truth, and how easy it is to set in stone that someone is, indeed, the Bad Guy (do you remember "terrorism" and its, say, "malleable" nature?). I mean, victors write History, and most sources on Goths were Roman or Greek (and then, most when it was a Roman province).

Tacitus, Cassiodorus, Jordanes, Orosius, &c . . . Sorting through their works is like moving in moody waters. If you add to the mix Ulfila's bible translation, the first and basically only "Germanic" text from the old times, things get really ugly. I put 'Germanic' between double quotations, because the Germanic origins of the Goths can be doubted. At least the origins as we thought they were. Some authors point to Alphonse X's and Jordanes's texts to show the Baltic origins of the Goths, others suggest they are from Jatt (Indo-Iranian) origins, although, apparently, that hypothesis is very discredited nowadaus, and others that they were Germanic, but not quite as we thought they were, with very different origins (and therefore, probably, societies and culture).

Which path to follow when writing them?

I'll let you know when I find out. In the meantime I'm watching the nicer and uglier faces of Science and Scientific Method. Which I do like. And not.


Alex Bordessa said...

One of my favourite novels is an alternative history: 'Ash: a secret history' by Mary Gentle. Although reference is made to the 15th century and certain real characters, the author takes history and changes it wonderfully! Gentle is so gritty, realistic and audacious, I think I would vote her one of the best novelists historical fiction never had. In truth, she's a sad loss for historical novels, and sf's triumphant gain. However, at least show knows what she's writing and makes no claims to being a historical novelist, though she's firmly grounded in history (and has the academic qualifications to prove it)

Back to history though: for my period, the main (i.e. written closest to the events) source Gildas, and guess what, he doesn't mention Arthur. Ha-ha, that suits me just fine, as I'm not writing about him :-)

Choose the the history path that appeals or makes most sense to you Excalibor, and you can't go wrong. Good luck!

Excalibor said...

Sounds solid and good sense advice, thank you very much!

As for Arthur, yeah, surely there was much more happening in Britain, uh? :-)

Alternative history, if done well, is definitely science-fiction, at least in my definition of SF (we may discuss about this another day, it's a fertile and fascinating field by itself). My "What if Alexander wouldn't have died at Babilon in 323BCE?" story grown into a short novel (so far!) is exactly that. But my main concern in here was maintaining as much History integrity as it made sense, exactly as if it would happen. Of course, lots of things are arbitrary, but then many historical facts do actually seem arbitrary seen from the present. I also wanted to have battles between Makedonian phalanxs ad Roman legions :-)

(it's an "ancient" hoplological question, that History couldn't reply at our full satisfaction)

"True" historical fiction, in the sense of novelizing History (e.g. Gisbert Haef's Hannibal) or in the sense "it may have happened, it may not, we don't know, but everything else is as historical as I can make it" (e.g. Haef's Hamilcar's Garden) has, however, the ability of entertaining, educating *and* making us think about the Important Things(tm) in a very different way to theater, philosophy, popularization or, yes, science-fiction (even mainstream literature, sometimes ;-)

But, definitely, feeling right is important.

Again, thanks for the advice, I'll have it present the next dozen of months or so.


Gabriele C. said...

Well, for me the Goths are a Germanic people. There's now way any linguist could argue out the fact that Gothic is a kentum language down to the level of personal names, and Baltic a group of satem languages, and that's one of the oldest distinctions. There might have been some mutual influence during the time the Goths stayed close to Baltic tribes, loan words, cultural exchange, maybe even intermarriage, but I don't think the Goths are Balts. (Yes, I followed the discussion on RAT *grin*)

I try to combine plotting my novels and doing the research, especially detail research (I have to know the basics before I think about a plot, of course), but there's still the danger of overdoing the research - and the fact that I have a degree in History doesn't exactly help avoiding that. ;)

But a good story comes first, and if I deviate from history somewhere, I'll write an epilogue or something where I tell the reader what I changed and why. Small details are more tricky, in fact, because those won't influence the story and so you better get them right. There's no reason to have potatoes in a Mediaeval setting, but there might be a reason to predate Duke Heinrich of Saxony's marriage a few years.

*off to find out which Roman legions/auxiliaries fought Constantine in Gaul*