Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 1
1. Constantine and his Mother Helena.
A little anonymous work of some thirty pages, edited by Heydenreich from a fourteenth-century manuscript, was published under this title in 1879, and has drawn forth an astonishing amount of literature for so slight a thing. It has little value except as an illustration of mediæval romance, though Coen seems to think the honor of having introduced it into literature enough to warrant the expenditure of a good deal of pains in vindicating his claim to it. The story is written with tolerable art, and runs, abbreviated, something as follows:
Helena, daughter of a noble family of Trèves, came on a pious journey to Rome. The Emperor Constantius, crossing a bridge of the Tiber, saw Helena among other pilgrims. Struck with her beauty, he arranged that she should be detained by force at the inn where she stayed, when her fellow-pilgrims returned to Gaul. The emperor then constrained her by force, but, seeing the great grief which his act had caused, gave her a certain ornament of precious stones and his ring, as a sort of pledge, and went away. She did not venture to return to her country, but remained at Rome with the son who was born to her, representing that her Gallic husband was dead. This son, Constantine, grew up pleasing, handsome, and versatile. Certain merchants, seeing his excellent quality, formed a scheme of making money by palming him off on the emperor of the Greeks as a son-in-law, representing him to be a son of the Roman emperor.
The scheme was carried out, and the merchants after some time embarked again for Rome, with the Constantine and the princess, and much treasure. Toward the end of their journey they stopped over night at a little island. In the morning the young people awoke to find they had been deserted by the merchants, and Constantine in great grief confessed the deception which had been practiced. To this the princess replied that she cared little who he was or his family, since he was himself and her husband. After a few days of short rations they were taken by passing voyagers to Rome, where they joined Helena, and having purchased a house with the proceeds from the sale of certain valuables which the princess had kept with her, they went to hotel-keeping. Constantine took naturally to military life, and at tournaments surpassed everyone else so far as to arouse astonishment and inquiry. The emperor would not believe him a poor and friendless man, and had his mother called. After much vigorous evasion the truth came out, confirmed by the ring which the emperor had given Helena. Constantius first had the merchants put to death, and gave all their property to Constantine. Then a treaty was made with the emperor of the East, and Constantine was recognized as heir to the empire.
A more wildly unhistorical historical novel could hardly have been written even by a Muhlbach. For further account, see under Literature especially articles by Heydenreich and by Coen.
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