Friday, 25 January 2008

Gallia est omnis divisa...

Bet you didn't know that of all the peoples of mainland Europe the Belgians are the bravest because they can't import feminine fripperies and because they are nearest the Germans, with whom they are constantly fighting, and that the Swiss are also pretty tough because of their battles with the Germans.

At least, that was how it was around two thousand years ago. Of course, modern Europe isn't Gaul, and its nations don't correspond to the tribes who were around at that time. But even after the unifying efforts of the Romans, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler and the EU, what was written then about the diversity of the squabbling ruffians over there on the mainland is still largely true today.

Here is a translation (via Project Gutenberg) of the opening words of what Gaius Julius Caesar actually wrote to introduce De Bello Gallico, his commentaries on the nine years of the war in Gaul:

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in ours Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws.

The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are farthest from the civilisation and refinement of [our] province, and merchants least frequently resort to them and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valour, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers.

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