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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: Dark Ages Semi-Illuminated
[Note to readers, December 2013: This is a review of the Penguin Classics translation; however, Amazon has also linked it to an edition of the old Ernest Brehaut translation of selections (described below). Take care to be sure which you are ordering.]

Gregory, Bishop of Tours from 573 to 594, was a member of a prominent Gallo-Roman family of aristocrats, and,...
Published on May 2, 2004 by Ian M. Slater

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "A Fulfilling Read"
Gregory, the assiduous bishop of Tours, treats the history of the world until the year 511 in the first two books, and covers the history of the Franks up the the year 591 in the remaining eight. Although he wrote in the crude Latin that was later to become the native French, his narrative is still entertaining and valuable for the knowledge he provides of sixth-century...
Published on November 30, 2001 by Johannes Platonicus


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95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: Dark Ages Semi-Illuminated, May 2, 2004
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This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
[Note to readers, December 2013: This is a review of the Penguin Classics translation; however, Amazon has also linked it to an edition of the old Ernest Brehaut translation of selections (described below). Take care to be sure which you are ordering.]

Gregory, Bishop of Tours from 573 to 594, was a member of a prominent Gallo-Roman family of aristocrats, and, like some of his relatives, was eventually canonized. His accounts of holy men, martyrs, and miracles are still extant; a work on liturgy is lost. He is best remembered, however, for a long work (which he called just "Ten Books of History") on how Gaul was conquered by the Franks, and ruled (after a fashion) by their royal dynasty, the Merovingians; with their relationships with neighboring kingdoms. It is commonly known as "The History of the Franks," although modern scholars tend to disapprove of the title. Gregory generally tells us about what involved members of the dynasty and their followers, or the Church, not the Franks in general. The various rival "Kingdoms of the Franks" corresponded very roughly to modern France and western Germany, and Gregory clearly did not have later political units in mind.

The Franks were Germanic warriors -- probably from a variety of tribes mentioned by Roman historians -- who entered Roman territory as (at least mainly) pagans. The Burgundians, Ostrogoths and Visigoths, Vandals, and other predecessors, had adopted an archaic form of Christianity much earlier, and had come to be stigmatized as followers of the Arian Heresy when they insisted on following their now-traditional ways. The Franks converted -- at least in name -- directly to Post-Nicene, Trinitarian, Catholic, Orthodoxy. This gave their kings an otherwise inexplicable reputation for piety, if not exactly for virtue. (A Merovingian ruler with only one or two illegitimate children, who refrained from murdering more than a few opponents, and tried to protect his subjects, was widely regarded as a saint.)

Gregory, after summarizing the history of the world (Biblical and Christian), focuses on events in the lands of the Franks and their neighbors, eventually reaching his own time, which he reports in considerable, sometimes confusing, and not always reliable, detail. He is a primary source for much of the period. Although sometimes frustrating, he is markedly superior to his immediate (and many not so immediate) successors. As a bishop, he was also an important administrator and judge. He understood practical affairs, and he knew many of the people he describes. A tendency to alleviate the blood-stained darkness with miracle stories is understandable. Given the intellectual assumptions inherited from late antiquity, they do not mark Gregory as particularly gullible or superstitious. One does miss the Venerable Bede's moderation in such matters. (And if you are interested in "Dark Age" Europe, but have not yet read Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English," try either the Penguin Classics or Oxford World's Classics translation.)

Gregory's world is the reality behind some later medieval literature, He describes the age of Beowulf (literally; King Hygelac's raid on Frankish-allied Frisia is reported in one chapter). With its royal feuds, pursuit of buried treasure, and royalty with names like Sigibert, Sigismundis, and Brunnichildis, it is the background of parts of the "Nibelungenlied" and "Volsunga Saga." For these reasons alone it would be worth attention. It is also interesting on its own. Despite many lapses in narrative logic (from a modern point of view), and uneven command of Latin, Gregory could tell interesting stories reasonably well. (Erich Auerbach's "Mimesis" has a brilliant discussion of Gregory's failures as a narrator, but fails to mention that the analysis is of a passage -- with inconsequential details of a minor quarrel leading up to a scandalous blood feud -- in which Gregory is reporting testimony given *in his own courtroom*.)

The late Lewis Thorpe's translation is the second complete version in English. The first, by O.M. Dalton, appeared in two volumes -- the first being an Introduction -- in 1927, and was reprinted in the early 1970s. It has a reputation for meticulous accuracy, not for enjoyable reading. (I made unsuccessful attempts to read it through, not long before Thorpe's translation became available in 1974.) And Dalton's impressive scholarship (mainly from before World War I) is nearly a century out of date.

(There is a volume of selections from the "History" and other books by Gregory, translated by Ernest Brehaut, reprinted several times, and excerpted on various websites. It was published in the Columbia University "Records of Civilization" series in -- I think -- 1922; some sources say 1916. Gregory went on record opposing any excerpting or abridging of the "Ten Books" (and was right -- the longer stories are reduced to rubble ), but Brehaut's offering is still worth a look.)

Thorpe is readily available, less expensive, and far more enjoyable. The weird and violent world of witchcraft-fearing, God-bribing, homicidal dynasts (sometimes compared to the Wild West, but without many White Hats) presents itself to the reader, with helpful notes along the way. A superb index also help sort out characters and events, which frequently are spread over several chapters or different books, as events unfolded before Gregory's eyes.

Some medievalists have challenged the accuracy of Thorpe's translation. The examples I have seen look to me (a very amateur Latinist, to be sure) more like debatable interpretations than obvious errors. Thorpe does tend to prefer the clear and interesting, but questionable, reading of the original to the cautious but obscure one. A nautical historian will be concerned that Thorpe has Scandinavian *navi* (ships, or large boats) prepare to "sail back" instead of "turn back," (*reverti*), because he suspects they were using oars, not sails. Most readers, for whom motor-driven vessels also "sail" from place to place, will not be aware of the distinction.

If you need such precision (say, for a college-level course), checking a passage against Dalton, and if possible a well-edited Latin edition, would obviously be advisable. (There is an on-line Latin text, as "Historia Francorum," which is helpful, but lacks information on variants and other important details found in full editions. Inevitably, Thorpe was not able to take advantage of the last quarter-century of scholarship, which has re-evaluated Gregory's methods, goals, and accomplishments, along with those of other early medieval historians and chroniclers. But Gregory's "History" is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in early medieval Europe, particularly the early Germanic kingdoms, and Thorpe's translation is a fine entry into the field.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fratricide, Poison, Being Ripped Apart by Wild Horses - Gotta Love Those Franks!, August 25, 2006
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I first ran across Gregory of Tours years ago in an Early Medieval History course at the University of Houston (Go Haskins Society!). Under the tutelage of a great instructor (Dr. V~) the class read primary texts instead of the usual dry drivel that history teachers resort to. The History of the Franks was one of these.

And it's a great book no matter how you approach it. First, if it was not for Gregory's tome we fans of barbarians would have to resort to the rather sketchy coda (or laws) and archaeological data of that era to ascertain what was going on. (Okay there were those dry church records too.)

With Gregory of Tours we get sort of an "Examiner" newspaper view of earthly events.

For example, about the Bishop Cautinus:

Once he had taken possession of his bishopric, Cautinus began to behave so badly that he was soon loathed by everybody. He began to drink heavily. He was often so completely fuddled with wine that it would take four men to carry him from the table.

For example, mother-daughter relations:

Rigunth, Chilperic's daughter, was always attacking her mother (Fredegund), and saying that she herself was the real mistress, whereas her mother ought to revert to her original rank of serving-woman. She would often insult her mother to her face, and they frequently exchanged slaps and punches. 'Why do you hate me so, daughter?' Fredegund asked her one day. 'You can take all your father's things which are still in my possession, and do what you like with them.' She led the way into a strong-room and opened a chest which was full of jewels and precious ornaments. ...

... Rigunth was stretching her arm into the chest to take out some more things, when her mother suddenly seized the lid and slammed it down on her neck. She leant on it with all her might and the edge of the chest pressed so hard against the girls' throat.... (well you'll have to go to page 521 to see how it turns out - lol.)

Five Stars. Interesting and exciting reading - at least for barbarian fans and historians. One should note that there is a great deal of violence so that the book might not be for everyone.

Pam T.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doom, Defeat, Despair. Welcome to the Dark Ages., January 2, 2006
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I have been very fond of this book for a long time and after repeatedly checking it out from my local college library, I finally decided to buy a copy. I'm not sorry I did. St. Gregory of Tours takes the reader deep into an era about which very little is known. A world where the power of the Roman Empire in the West had crumbled to dust and real power had fallen into the hands of the warlords, some of them Roman, others German Clan Chiefs. But even as the walords sacked and pillaged the provinces of the former Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, with it's hierarchy dominated by the old Roman nobility, continued to function as a check to the chaotic rule of the warlords. The German Clan Chiefs and their families read like the most entertaining parts of Seutonius's Twelve Caesars. Atfer they "conquered" the Roman Empire, the German Royals whiled away their time with depravity, debauchery and greed. Princess Amalasuntha of the Lombards, after her slave boyfriend was murdered on her mother's orders, put poison in her mother's communion cup during the Arian Rite Mass. Princess Clotild, after using mercenaries to sieze control of the Convent of the Holy Cross in Poitiers, proceeded to run it in a manner that makes Charles Manson look like an amateur. One other reviewer compared St. Gregory to a 6th Century gossip columnist. I couldn't agree more. The only beef I have with this book is with the translator. For some reason he chose, when St. Gregory quoted the Holy Scriptures, to write out the quotes as they appear in the King James Bible instead of the Douay-Rheims which is much closer to the original Latin Vulgate that St. Gregory would have quoted from. It may not seem like a big deal but it had me wondering how accurate the Biblical quotes were. Aside from that, this is an utterly enjoyable book that I would recomend strongly for anyone interested in the Dawn of the Middle Ages.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "A Fulfilling Read", November 30, 2001
By 
Johannes Platonicus (South Bend, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Gregory, the assiduous bishop of Tours, treats the history of the world until the year 511 in the first two books, and covers the history of the Franks up the the year 591 in the remaining eight. Although he wrote in the crude Latin that was later to become the native French, his narrative is still entertaining and valuable for the knowledge he provides of sixth-century Gaul. His primary purpose for this work is to show the spread of Christianity through the exploits of kings, missionaries and martyrs. This book will be rewarding for anyone serious about history.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, December 7, 2008
By 
Neutiquam Erro (Isles of Llyonnesse) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
To say that the History of the Franks is a grisly and bloody first-hand account of life in the early middle ages would be an understatement. In this book you will become familiar with all four horsemen of the apocalypse, get to know their hobbies, their hatreds and their views on church and state, like the drunk at the bar who won't leave you alone till he's told his complicated tale of misery and despair. It seems impossible that anyone could have survived this period in history and still retained their sanity to boot.

That said, Gregory of Tours seems like a remarkably level head in the face of pestilence and war, famine and flood, invasions and intimidation, by all and sundry and the chance of torture, death and damnation at the whims of the so-called Frankish Kings. His tale begins with creation, moves rapidly to the Romans and then traverses the story of the early Franks. While he often laments the "good-old" days of the early Frankish kings, he doesn't paint them with the brightest of colours. The history Gregory actually lived through only covers books V-X although possibly book IV has some personal experience in it. As one reads through the horrors executed by Kings Guntram, Chilperic, Childebert and assorted others (King was a loosely used term meaning a goon with swords at his command and a long ponytail) on each other, their populace and the church, one wonders if perhaps Gregory is exaggerating or seeing only the dark side, like some tabloid newspaper. We can only hope this is the case because the wanton destruction, murder of children, forced marriages, burning houses and brutal fratricide don't do much to lift the tone of the book. Of course, it makes for fascinating reading, if you can avoid feeling guilty as you drive by the trainwreck that was real life under the Frankish Kings. It makes you thankful to be born in the 21st century in a peaceful society. I can only imagine that Afghanistan or Iraq at their worst were something like Tours in the sixth century.

On a happier note, the translation is rollicking and easy to read. There is a brief introduction covering history, literary sources and Gregory's style (earthy and to the point). The translator like to interject occasionally with footnotes that read more like commentary than information (for example, he compares the justice of the Franks to that of modern Africa). There is also an extensive index raisonne with all the characters and places mentioned which runs to a hundred pages.

The book was generally an exciting read, keeping in mind it's original source material. Gregory is apparently quite reliable and the age is "interesting" as the Roman's used to say. Not a time I would have liked to have been alive.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, once you understand Gregory., November 15, 2007
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This book is a valuable resource for any Dark Ages historian or anyone seeking good primary source material on early Germanic peoples. It requires, however, that you understand why Gregory writes this work in the first place. Gregory's goal, from what I interpreted, is to distance the Franks from other Germanic tribes such as the Alamanni and the Goths. Gregory lived his entire life under Frankish rule and of course is a bishop, and it would only be natural for him to want to portray the Catholic Franks as more noble or righteous than other tribes. But once you swim through the pro-Frankish bias and the musings about various martyred saints, this book can reveal a great deal about the political and social conditions of Europe immediately after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. I would recommend it to any student seeking to learn more about the early foundations of the Middle Ages.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy, February 1, 2011
By 
Joshua (VALLEJO, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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Don't buy this book. At least a third of it is edited out. "less significant sections of the text" are "summarized" as deemed necessary by the editor or translator. This is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe that I paid for a partial text. With such an egregious amount of text removed from the book, Amazon should either include a disclaimer or pull the book from the store. I feel robbed. I am reading this book for school and will have to buy the penguin version to get the full text. To call this "History Of The Franks" by Gregory of Tours is an outright lie. Do not buy this edition of the book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shedding light on the Dark Ages, August 29, 2000
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
St. Gregory's "History of the Franks" is a far better read than almost any other manuscript handed down to us from the ancient post-Roman period. His powers of observation are exceeded only by his keen eye for a scandalous story. If you can stomach the dry readings of historical documents, this oldest of the primary post-Roman European histories will be a pleasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Historical Work, March 28, 2013
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This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a great historical depiction about the French kings and the Catholic Church. It's a remarkable 6th century historical work. For those seeking genealogical information, names and family links are easily understood, but birthdates are sparse. Royal family searchers should be prepared for skeletons in their closet. The families are barbaricly portrayed. These were uncivilized times of conquest and intrigue. For those seeking acts of divine intervention, Gregory introduces plenty.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frankly, I liked it well, November 11, 2012
By 
Steven M Latour (Nashua, NH United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Not an easy read, but rewarding nonetheless. This may be the best book to help your friends realise that Merovingian is not just a guy in "The Matrix." This book documents a fascinating period in history that is often ignored by snooty types.
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A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics)
A History of the Franks (Penguin Classics) by Saint Gregory Bishop of Tours (Paperback - February 28, 1976)
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