A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, December 15, 2012

An Oddity

While researching for The Shipwrecks of Time, I was reading Paul the Deacon's 8th cent. History of the Lombards and came across this odd story:
In the farthest boundaries of Germany toward the west-northwest, on the shore of the ocean itself, a cave is seen under a projecting rock, where for an unknown time seven men repose wrapped in a long sleep, not only their bodies, but also their clothes being so uninjured, that from this fact alone, that they last without decay through the course of so many years, they are held in veneration among those ignorant and barbarous peoples. These then, so far as regards their dress, are perceived to be Romans. When a certain man, stirred by cupidity, wanted to strip one of them, straightway his arms withered, as is said, and his punishment so frightened the others that no one dared touch them further. The future will show for what useful purpose Divine Providence keeps them through so long a period. Perhaps those nations are to be saved some time by the preaching of these men, since they cannot be deemed to be other than Christians.
On the surface, this is simply one more telling of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; but it has some peculiar features; to wit:

  1. The cave is placed in the Low Countries, not Ephesus in Anatolia.  
  2. The Sleepers are "men," not "boys" or "young men."  
  3. They are venerated by the "ignorant and barbarous" natives, rather than lying unknown and undisturbed until they awaken on their own.  
  4. They do not awaken and marvel at how the world has changed.  
  5. No origin is suggested, such as hiding from the persecution of Decius in the original Greek narrative.
  6. No end or purpose is suggested, only the supposition that there must be one.
  7. No shepherd wanders into the cave, but a greedy fellow who wants to strip them.
  8. The fellow suffers both arms withered. 
So far as I know, which is admittedly not much, these features are unique to this narrative.  There is something eerily matter-of-fact in this telling.   Oh, by the way, there are these seven Roman dudes in a cave up in Holland, and they are like asleep.  I mean, like really asleep.  No one knows why, or who they are; but the dumb hicks up that way hold them in awe because, well, they're like really really asleep.  Maybe someday they'll wake up and do stuff that we 8th century Christians think is important.  Oh, and one of the locals who tried to rob them lost the use of both arms from touching the cryogenic suspended animation cells.

Well, that's what it sounds like....


  1. Soooo -- write that story, Mike.

  2. Hmm. It sounds to me like the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus story had a love child with the King In The Mountain story.

  3. Sounds like that Larry Niven story about the Gil the Arm and the inertialess drive.

  4. The account seems sufficiently similar to Sean McMullen's _The Centurion's Empire_ that I wonder if he could have read it and been inspired thereby, although as best I recall the details do not completely match.

  5. While I know it's just a story, I have a curious urge to now go exploring the coast of Germany.

  6. Actually, there's a lot of mummified people in caves in Switzerland. Especially salt caves. Not so much in the Low Countries.

  7. Well that is shiver-worthy....

    Cold storage would explain withering the arms...but wouldn't that have mention of coffins, or at least beds?


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