This volume in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series presents two historical works: an Apocalypse, long wrongly attributed to Saint Methodius of Olympus and originally written in Syriac, and the Excerpta Latina Barbari, also of (different) unknown authorship, here presented as An Alexandrian World Chronicle, originally written in Greek but here presented in the Latin translation.
Apocalypse is a fairly short work, a chronicle from biblical beginnings—Adam and Eve leaving paradise—through then-modern history and a promise of what is to come (yes, the apocalypse). It’s an odd sort of warning tale. On the one hand, the sense of historical inevitability is near overwhelming. There have been and will be times of peace—but catastrophe will follow (until that final time). For a quick apocalypse story, this does do the trick: it’s action-packed, and a roller coaster of ups and downs. But perhaps in those times—and these?—it at least suggested to readers that their uncertain situation was just the way things had to be.
An Alexandrian World Chronicle is essentially a chronology, the history of the world as chronicled in its generations and leaders. There is some commentary on some of what happened at certain times—the Tower of Babel story, for example—but mostly it focuses on specific, leading personages. The rulers of various nations, well beyond the near and familiar, of the times are collected—as are, notably, the stories of the Greek gods and heroes, for example, from Zeus to Aeneas. It’s an interesting overview of history—biblical, mythical, and actual—focused on the (leading) men (and a few women) behind it. Along with Garstad’s quite detailed introduction to it, it does prove more than of simply historical interest.
M. A. Orthofer
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