Variations on Epic and History
Rex autem misit fratrem cum exercitu in Saxoniam eam devastandam. Qui appropians urbi quae dicitur Heresburg, superbe locutum tradunt, quia nichil ei maioris curae esset, quam quod Saxones pro muris se ostendere non auderent, quo cum eis dimicare potuisset. Adhuc sermo in ore eius erat, et ecce Saxones ei occurrerunt miliario uno ab urbe, et inito certamine tanta caede Francos multati sunt, ut a mimis declamaretur, ubi tantus ille infernus esset, qui tantam multitudinem caesorum capere posset.
The king, however, sent his brother with an army into Saxony in order to lay it waste. When he approached a town named Eresburg, he is said to have proudly declared that he was worried about nothing more than that the Saxons might not dare to show themselves outside the walls, so that he might not be able to fight them. These words were still on his lips, when behold, the Saxons rushed upon him a mile from the town and, when the battle had begun, punished the Franks with such a mighty slaughter that the mimi declaimed: “Where is a hell so big that it can contain the great number of the slain?”
Like other medieval authors, Widukind of Corvey, the tenth-century historian of the Saxons, incorporated into his history not only annals and other sources that had reached him in writing, but also oral accounts of past happenings. 1. Some of these are eyewitness accounts (much of his Res gestae Saxonicae covers recent history); others have a longer tradition of oral telling and retelling behind them. The quotation given above narrates an event from the beginning of the tenth century: in 915, the Frankish king Conrad (r. 911—18) sent his____________________