Zerkon the Moorish Dwarf



Ever wonder what it was like to have dinner with Attila the Hun? An ambassador named Priscus from the Byzantine Empire dined with Attila and left an account of it, which I found in a book called “The Mammoth Book of Eyewitness: Ancient Rome” edited by John E, Lewis. The painting is by Hungarian painter Mór Than.

“A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver.

“His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword he carried by his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle of his horse were not adorned, like those of other Scythians, with gold or gems or anything costly…

“When evening fell, torches were lit, and two barbarians coming forward in front of Attila, sang songs they had composed, celebrating his victories and deeds of valor in war. And of the guests, as they looked at the singers, some were pleased with the verses, others reminded of wars were excited in their souls, while yet others, whose bodies were feeble with age and their spirits compelled to rest, shed tears.

“After the songs a Scythian, whose mind was deranged, appeared, and by uttering outlandish and senseless words forced the company to laugh.”

But those are just the opening acts. Now comes the headliner:

“After him Zerkon, the Moorish dwarf entered and threw all except Attila into fits of unquenchable laughter by his appearance, his dress, his voice, and his words, which were a confused jumble of Latin, Hunnic, and Gothic.

“Attila, however. remained immovable and of unchanging countenance, nor by word or act did he betray anything approaching to a smile of merriment, except at the entry of Ernas, his youngest son, whom he pulled by the cheek, and gazed on with a calm look of satisfaction.”