Romulus, after he had grown up, built the city of Rome, having imposed upon it his own name as its name. In this very place there had been an ancient town, which was called Pallanteus, as the historians say, built by King Evander, in honor of his son, the young man Pallas, who was killed by Turnus, the son of Daunus, king of the Tuscans, while fighting against Aeneas for the kingdom of Italy, as Virgil writes in the tenth book of the Aeneid (10.439-609). It is evident that Pallas had been buried in the place where Rome was later founded. And in the time of Philip, king of the Franks (Philip I of France, 1052-1108), his body was found uncorrupted in Rome, in a kind of underground vault, as some of our compatriots who were then at Rome bear witness. Moreover, the body was preserved with balm and precious aromatic salts, having as its source the top of a pair of bronze (variant: silver) urns similarly filled with balm. And from each a hollow tube of the same metal, which entered the body through the nostrils, transported the powerful spices into the body. Thus the fact is that he looked like one asleep lying atop a table of bronze, remaining uncorrupted for more than two thousand years. Here a lamp was found still burning, along with much silver and gold, and an inscription of this kind: “Here lies, according to his custom, Pallas, the son of Evander, whom the spear of the knight Turnus killed.”
Therefore the Romans carried the body out into the open and placed it in the open air. They gathered and vied with one another to see the marvel. Moreover, he was so long that almost none of the Romans were able to stand equal with his shoulders. Beneath the breast was still evident the gaping wound, with which Turnus him killed. Since, therefore, the body stood in the open air, by chance an inundation of rain occurred. Soon after, the deluge of rain dissolved the balm, which ran off of the body itself. Once its power had been stripped, the body was at once reduced to ashes. And also that wonderful lamp, which was so long preserved under the ground, was handed over to a certain Jew who dipped it in the blood of a red-headed man (variant: red bull) and thus extinguished it. Astonishing how these things could remain intact and undiminished through the passage of so many years!
I imagine that should sufficiently establish that the Status’s account is unlikely to be true, but who first came up with the claim I could not say. The embalming method must have some tenth or eleventh century origin, perhaps as Truitt suggests, from Catholic corpse preservation efforts, though I simply don’t know enough about that to say for sure. I wonder, though, if the claim doesn’t derive in a backhanded way from medieval Arabic descriptions of Egyptian mummies and the canopic jars, which were suspiciously similar in discussing perfectly preserved bodies in stone coffins with jars or basins of aromatic compounds beside them. Such tales were perhaps filtered through Byzantine or Syriac sources, but I don’t know since I am no expert in medieval literature, and Romedio Schmitz-Esser wrote in a recent academic article that the history of medieval European awareness of Arabic knowledge of mummies and embalming is largely unknown and unstudied. According to Schmitz-Esser, Arabic writings on embalming techniques had just begun to spread in Europe at just about precisely the same time Benoit and the author of the Status described the embalming of Hector and Pallas. Gerard of Cremona offered, for example, a Latin translation of a Persian treatise of Ar-Razi, though it was perhaps not circulated until after out texts. Nevertheless, the Crusades likely diffused accounts of embalming and mummification back to Europe, which in turn seem to have manifested in our texts.
But to continue on the theme of giant bodies, I found a particularly bizarre problem while trying to trace back a claim for a different Classical hero’s corpse. A Victorian man named Edward J. Wood wrote a book called Giants and Dwarves in which he made a number of claims about the discovery of giant skeletons. In trying to find the sources for these, I discovered that Wood was a plagiarist, and he lifted whole chunks of his discussion verbatim from an 1804 article on giants from Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum, which in turn was none too careful about providing clear and checkable references. Thus, we find that Wood and Kirby give the following passage with only a few words changed:
Phlegenitral assures us, in his work De Mirabilis et Longaevis, that in the famous cavern of Diana, in Dalmatia, many bodies of the length of six yards were discovered. He likewise tells us that the Carthaginians, when sinking their trenches, met with two coffins, each containing the skeleton of a giant. The length of one was twenty-three cubits, and of the other twenty-four cubits. He adds, that in the Cimmerian Bosphorus an earthquake brought to light several huge bones, which being arranged formed an enormous human skeleton twenty-four cubits in length.
11. In Messina not many years ago, as Apollonius says, a jar of stone broke from the force of a storm and the inundation of much water, and from the broken jar there came forth a head three times human size, having two rows of teeth. When they tried to find out whose it was, it was revealed by an inscription. This was the inscription: IDAS. And so at public expense the Messinans devoutly prepared another jar, and they replaced the head of the hero within, and they carefully paid homage to this hero, whom they perceived to be the man of whom Homer wrote: “Idas, strongest of mortal men at that time, who for the sake of a beautiful nymph shot an arrow against Phoebus” (Illiad 9.558-960)
But enough philology. Let’s see what else Phlegon has to say. I have placed the complete translation of T. Thomas, to which I have affixed the standard chapter numbers, on my Fragments on Giants page, but there are a few interesting passages that suggest the discovery of mammoth or other megafauna bones mistaken for those of giants:
12. In Dalmatia, too, in that which is called the cavern of Artemis, many bodies may be seen, whose ribs exceed sixteen cubits.
14. Not a few, too, of the cities of Sicily suffered through this earthquake, and places near Rhegium, together with several of the cities in Pontus. But in those parts in which the earth was rent asunder, very large dead bodies were found; the magnitude of which, indeed, so astonished the inhabitants, that they were unwilling to move them….
17. And the same Apollonius says, that there is a certain island near Athens, which the Athenians fortified with walls; and that when they were digging the foundations of these walls, they found a sepulchre of one hundred cubits in length, in which there was a skeleton of the same dimensions with the sepulchre, with this inscription: “I, Macroseiris, who lived five thousand years, am buried in a long island.”
19. And Theopompus Sinopensis, in his Treatise on Earthquakes, says, that a sudden earthquake happening in the Cimmerian Bosphorus, a certain hill was rent asunder, and bones of a prodigious magnitude were thrown out of it: for the length of the whole skeleton was found to be twenty-four cubits. He adds, that the Barbarians who dwelt about those parts threw these bones into the lake Maeotis.