From my diary

This time of year is always busy, isn’t it?  But I’ve still been looking into hagiographical texts.  A kind correspondent sent me a link to a mass of links to various editions of the Acta Sanctorum, which I must look at.

Early in the week I was looking at various texts of the Life of St George.  I found that Metaphrastes’ life was in the Acta Sanctorum, and thought about getting this translated.  I also looked at the texts printed by Krumbacher in his collection of early lives of that saint.

But the legend of St George kept evolving.  This led me to look at the Legenda aurea, or Golden Legend of Jaques de Voragine.  For those that have not come across it, it is a 13th century collection of Saints’ lives, reworked and enhanced with material at the pleasure of the compiler.  Almost a thousand manuscripts exist, and it was printed almost as soon as printing existed, and promptly translated into the vernacular.  Caxton himself produced an English version.  They were read as stories.  But their popularity fell off a cliff in the 16th century, and the last printing was at the end of that century.  Renaissance scepticism and protestant hostility to silly superstition did for them.  Indeed in the 17th century the English word “legends” changed from the Latin idea of “things to be read” to its modern idea of “probably untrue”.

All this I get at second hand or worse from Sherry L. Reames, The Legenda Aurea: a reexamination of its paradoxical history, University of Wisconsin, 1985.  The JSTOR reviews of it confirm that much.  Sadly I don’t have access to the book itself; but then the whole business is outside our period.

But the point of all this popularity is that the legends of St Nicholas and St George, as we find them today, owe very much to the Golden Legend.  Fortunately English translations can be found online.  The legend of St George is relatively short; that of St Nicholas is very long.

I need to do more in this area, and also I need to decide what it is that I am trying to do here.  I’ve arranged for the translation of various early hagiographical versions of the Life of St Nicholas; although the peculiar Methodius ad Theodorum has defeated the best Greek translators that I know, and another gentleman has just given up on the Latin Life by John the Deacon.  I would like to do something for St George.  But … what?  The texts printed by Krumbacher are not that long, in truth.

Also a factor is that my current contract will probably not go on beyond the end of June.  At all events I shall want a couple of months off in the summer.  Of course I won’t want to commission anything just when I have no money coming in.  Indeed I have turned down a very kind offer just this week from a very talented gentleman, on just these grounds.

So there is much to consider here.  I suppose my habit of just doing whatever seems interesting at the time is as good as any, mind you.

My backlog of stuff to blog about is getting large again.  My thanks to several people who have sent me stuff.  I will get to it, I promise.

I’m still reading Hunter, The mystery of Mar Saba.  Some of the commentary on the situation in Palestine before WW2 is very prescient, and probably historically interesting.  But otherwise it’s losing its way and becoming a bit tedious.  I didn’t manage to finish it in the hotel this week, which is really testimony enough.

3 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Ranging over the ‘Golden Legend’ Wikipedia articles in various languages suggests there are a lot of interesting links to follow up, that way, too.

    Fruits of its accounts seem to survive in a lot of paintings, and probably a lot of literature, too – for example, Fr. John Hunwicke was recently noting on his blog (29 April) about details in a mediaeval Cornish play, “An erudite reader, Mrs Sue Sims, once much enlightened this ignorant classicist by explaining that the story comes from the Golden Legend. I wonder if that popular work was as well known to the peasantry as it clearly was to the Glasney clerics.”

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