During the great migrations of the 4th-6th century, the Roman empire, or rather what was left of it, was invaded by Germanic tribes. One of these tribes were the Longobards `long-beards’, who held from 568- 774 a kingdom at current Lombardy in Italy. Like all Gemanic tribes setling in the Roman Empire, they took over many aspects of the culture, including the language. As the Goths before them, they were already Christians when they crossed the borders, but from the Arian branch, not the Catholic. The Longobards however converted to Catholicism. Their history was written down by the learned monk Paulus Diaconus (c.720 – c.799) in his Historia Longobardorum, a work written between 787 and 796. The work is very valuable as apart from its own merits, it makes use of sources now lost to us. Of course it is not a history in the modern sense and especially the first sections are more legendary than historical, though Paulus Diaconus was right in tracing the origin of the Longobards back to Scandinavia.
Very early in his history Paulus Diaconus makes a digression and tells about the miracle of the seven sleepers. The oldest sources are in Syrian and runs as follows: during persecution of the Christians under Emperor Decius around 250 AD, seven young men of Ephesus were ordered to give up their faith. They asked for some days to think about it and it was granted to them. However, they fled to a cave where they fell asleep. This was noticed by the emperor and seeing that they won’t give up their faith, he ordered the cave to be closed. Instead of dying from hunger and thirst, the seven men stay asleep. Under the reign of Theodosius II (409-450), when the Roman Empire was already converted to Christianity for some hundred years, the owner of the land decided to open the cave for using it as a cattle pen. The seven sleepers think they have only slept for one night and sent one of them to Ephesus for buying food, telling him to be careful. When this man enters Ephesus, he sees churches and crosses and the people of Ephesus are surprised that he uses old coins from the time of Decius. The local bishop interrogates the sleepers and realizes that God has performed a miracle. When the sleepers have finished their story, they die praising God.
This story gained wide popularity and several versions were told. It also found its way into the Quran (18.7-26), but there the fact that they were Christians is kept out. In the West it was popularized by Gregory of Tours and our Paulus Diaconus . However, he puts it in a different context, not near Ephesus but far in the north of Scandinavia, where they are still sleeping. He tells that once awake, these men will preach the gospel to the barbarous tribes there.
In my opinion Paulus Diaconus adapted this miracle for missionary purposes. He wrote in a time when missionaries were trying to convert Germanic tribes to Christianity and he made up a pia fraus: the far North of Scandinavia is out of reach for normal missionaries, but God has already his miraculous missionaries there….
Paulus Diaconus, Historia Longobardorum 1.4
(…..) In extremis circium versus Germaniae finibus, in ipso Oceani litore, antrum sub eminenti rupe conspicitur, ubi septem viri, incertum ex quo tempore, longo sopiti sopore quiescunt, ita inlaesis non solum corporibus, sed etiam vestimentis, ut ex hoc ipso, quod sine ulla per tot annorum curricula corruptione perdurant, apud indociles easdem et barbaras nationes veneratione habeantur. Hi denique, quantum ad habitum spectat, Romani esse cernuntur. E quibus dum unum quidam cupiditate stimulatus vellet exuere, mox eius, ut dicitur, brachia aruerunt, poenaque sua ceteros perterruit, ne quis eos ulterius contingere auderet. Videris, ad quod eos profectum per tot tempora providentia divina conservet. Fortasse horum quandoque, quia non aliter nisi Christiani esse putantur, gentes illae praedicatione salvandae sunt.
circium: a west-northwest wind, the west-northwest
versus: (prep + acc.) facing
litus, -oris: coast
eminens, -entis: standing out, hanging over
sopor, -oris: sleep
longo sopiti sopore: one would expect an accusative (the acc. respectus/Graecus) and one certainly has to translate it that way, but Paulus uses an instrumental ablative.
inlaesis corporibus…vestimentis: abl.abs
ex hoc ipso: from this very fact
sine ulla….. corruptione
perduro: abide, continue
indocilis: unlearned, stupid
veneratione habeantur: they are held in veneration amongst (apud)
quantum ad habitum spectat: as far as one looks ad their dress = as far as regarding their dress
cernentur = videntur: were seen, considered
dum = cum: in later Latin dum can be used instead of cum, where it has the meaning `when’.
exuo: to strip off (i.e. the clothes)
aruesco –arui: to become dry, wither
ulterius: further more
contingo: to touch
audeo: to dare
videris = videbis: the futurum exactum (`you will have seen’) seems a bit odd here.
ad quod profectum = ad quem profectum: slips in gender are common in later Latin, especially with words of which the nominative is hardly used.
quandoque: at some time
puto; to consider
horum gentes praedicatione salvandae: tribes will be saved by their preaching
(Scroll down to I.4. I have skipped the first sentence.)