Thomas Hodgkin’s thoughts on Hungarian history and Attila are invalid

…and need to be removed from pertinent Wikipedia pages ASAP. Why? Because he has a clear anti-Hungarian bias and agenda.

Let me explain.

Tonight, while I was lost in a Wikipedia hole about Hungarian history,  I came across some of Thomas Hodgkin’s thoughts on Hungarian language and anthropology from 1892, printed as gospel on the Wikipedia page. Not the famous British scientist mind you, but his nephew, who was a Quaker minister and banker. Just like his uncle, Hodgkin’s hobby was also that of an armchair historian. The writings of both Hodgkins were trusted, printed and widely circulated.

The thoughts of his that enraged me, in his book “Italy and her Invaders,” are as follows:

“The Hungarian traditions no more fully illustrate the history of Attila than the Book of Mormon illustrates the history of the Jews.”

Besides being outright offensive, this is a false equivalence. The Hungarian traditions Hodgkin writes of were written by Hungarian scholars and writers living in Hungary, in the Carpathian Basin, where Atilla the Hun had a capital city. One of the texts in question, the medieval Gesta Hungarorum, was written in the 12th century, incorporated oral history motifs and made mention of minstrels rhymes and tales from peasants. The book of Mormon claiming ancestry with the Jews was written in the late 1800’s, in America, by a wealthy man who had visions in his backyard. They are not the same thing.

Hodgkin dismisses Hungarian traditions in his book because, he says, most were written 500+ years after Attila existed. His reasoning is people could have embellished stories, and this makes their tales problematic and unfit to be used. Fine. I understand this. The same argument can be used on Christianity too but whatever.

However, reading further, Hodgkin was more keen to entertain stories of Attila, also written 500 years later, if they came from countries that were not Hungary, but say France or Norway.

The Hungarian texts cannot be trusted though, he writes, because there is no evidence that these Hungarian scholars actually bothered to go outside, interview village-folk and write down tales of Attila and the Huns. Rather, Hodgkins argues, these Hungarian propagandists  were making it up because they wanted a “pedigree.”  To quote Hodgkin, “all this invented history should be sternly disregarded…”

Wait, so Hodgkin thinks texts written about a person by people living where said person lived are not to be trusted or considered, at all?

Attila the Hun’s empire, from Wikipedia

As if that wasn’t enough to convince you of Hodgkin’s anti-Hungarian bias, there are more blatant examples in the passages where he writes about Priscus, the Roman diplomat who actually met Attila. Hodgkin calls Priscus’ writings on the nomadic king the “true historic Attila.” (As well he should, because they are first hand accounts.)

He summarizes Priscus’ detailed account of ambassadors from Constantinople traveling to meet Attila. They have to go through what Hodgkin calls the “recesses of Hungary,” to “meeting in a dingy little village in Hungary” to get to Attila’s palace.

Hodgkin continues to display his seemingly random hatred of Hungary with this next line: “students have discussed whether this Hunnish capital is… the modern city of Pesth, by Tokay [Pesth is old spelling of Pest, as in Budapest the capital of Hungary] … but we may dismiss with absolute indifference the inquiry in what particular part of a dreary and treeless plain a barbarian reared his log-huts…”

Yes, according to Hodgkin, whatever city in Hungary was Attila the Hun’s capital is irrelevant, as is the writings of the people that lived there. The “dreary and treeless plain” Hodgkin describes is the Great Hungarian Plain, which has been the subject of numerous paintings depicting its size and beauty. Of the Great Hungarian Plain, the BBC calls it Europe’s “cowboy country” and writes in its first slideshow image caption:

For more than 2,000 years, the Great Hungarian Plain (known as the Alföld in Hungarian) has been home to a rich cultural tradition of pastoral living and animal husbandry techniques – from ancient nomadic tribes who left behind stone burial mounds known as kurgans, to the fierce Magyar warriors who arrived in the late 9th Century and founded a network of settlements along the Tisza River.

TL;DR: Historian Thomas Hodgkin clearly hates Hungary, as evident by how he describes the country, and dismisses all texts written by Hungarians. Maybe a Hungarian woman was mean to him once?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s