Texts of the “Life” of St George

When I came to look at St George, my intention was to arrange for the translation of one or two versions of his Life.  What I had not anticipated was to find a mess, where there is still basic scholarly work to do in identifying and classifying versions of the Lives.  Originally I had hoped to list all the texts which contained versions of the martyrdom of St George; or at least the earliest ones.  But this quickly proved futile.  So here is what I was able to work out.


The relationships of the various Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic texts are dealt with in great detail by John E. Matzke, “Contributions to the history of the legend of St George”, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 17,1902, 464-535.[1] Each version of the legend is summarised; and better still, the characteristics of each strand of the tradition are listed.  But Matzke’s splendid article hardly touches on the Greek texts at all.

For the Greek, our main source of texts is K. Krumbacher, Der heilige Georg in der griechischen Überlieferung, 1908, online at Archive.org here, and in high-resolution at the BSB here.  These I list below, indicating page number as K1, K3, etc.  Krumbacher also discussed his texts, and was well aware of many more texts, as his discussion section makes clear.

Some texts are also printed in the Acta Sanctorum, in April volume 3, under 23rd April, the Saint’s Feast Day, and Krumbacher discusses which these are in his list of “Hilfs” texts.  His conclusion section is well worth reading, but he avoids going into the Latin texts.

Huber also prints some Latin texts.[2]

None of the early versions have ever been translated into any modern language, apparently.

Here’s what I can usefully glean.

The Apocryphal Text (O)

The oldest version of the Life of St George is known as the apocryphal version, or O.  The author is given as a certain Passicras, or Passicrates.  This version has reached us as follows:

  • The Latin “Codex Gallicanus” (G).  Passio Auct. Pseudo-Passecrate. BHL 3363.  This is in the Bollandists own library in Brussels, under the shelfmark “23. bibl. 1 Bollandiana 23 Bruz 1 (1842)”[3], and belongs to the second half of the 9th century.  Walter suggests that this is the oldest version of the story,[4] supposedly by a certain Passecrates. – Text: W. Arndt, in: Berichte über die Verhandlungen der kön. Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, philol.-hist. Classe, XXVI (1874), 49-70.  Online here.  Excerpts in the Acta Sanctorum, April vol. 3, p.101, n. 4, 5.  I have asked a translator to have a look at this.
  • The Latin Codex Sangallensis (Sg), Saint-Gall 550, 9th century.  This seems to be derived from the same Greek exemplar as G. – Text: Zarnacke, Berichte über die Verhandlungen der königlich sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, 17, 1875, p.265-277. Online here (but several vols bound together starting with 13 so be careful!).[5]
  • The Greek Vienna Palimpsest, “Pal.” (Krum. p.1).  Cod. Vindobon. lat. 954.  5th century.  Discovered by Detlefsen.[6]  This is part of the Greek version from which G and Sg derive.

Four more Greek versions of the apocryphal legend are given by Krumbacher, who says that these provide the full Greek text of the apocryphal text.  Prior to Krumbacher these were unknown.  They relate closely to the Gallicanus text.

  • Athens version (K. p.3).  Cod. Athen. 422, paper, 1546 AD, f. 277v-291r.
  • Venice version (K. p.16).  Codex Marcianus gr. II 160 fol. 150r-172r.
  • Paris version (K. 18).  Codex Paris gr. 770, parchment AD1315, fol. 59r-72r.
  • Vienna mixed text (K.30).  Codex Vindobonensis theol. gr. 123, 13th century, fol. 37v-43v.

The Coptic versions are also based on the Apocryphal text.[7]  So are the Syriac versions; but they have been revised in the same way as the normal text (but independently), to remove discreditable material.[8]  The Arabic version is also based on the apocryphal text. There are also Ethiopic versions (a late translation from Arabic[9]), Armenian, Old Slavonic, and Sogdian[10] (translated from Syriac), Georgian, and Nubian versions (these close to the Athens form of the Greek)[11] and probably more.

The Normal Text

Most of the articles tell us that this was produced by removing the most outlandish versions of the earlier apocryphal text.

  • The normal text is printed by K. p.41, from two mss.,  Cod. Vatic. 1660[12] (AD 916), fol. 272r-288r (=V) + Cod. Paris 499 (11th c.), fol. 289v-300r. (=P).

Krumbacher also prints an interpolated form of the normal text.

  • The interpolated standard text (K.51).  Cod. Paris. gr. 1534 (11th c.) fol. 107v-124v.

Further Greek texts are given by Krumbacher, each a representative of a large collection of orations, encomiums, etc.  None of these are of any interest here, however.

  • Rhetorical reworking by Theodoros Daphnopates (K. 59)
  • Eulogy: The homily of Arcadius of Cyprus (K. 78)
  • Eulogy: The encomium of Theodoros Quaestor (K. 81)
  • 3 songs, two by Romanus the Melodist (K. 84)
  • The story of the illegitimate birth of St. George (K.103)

The edition of the legend by Symeon Metaphrastes (BHG 676) does exist in print, not by Krumbacher, curiously, but in the Acta Sanctorum, April III. 7-12, printed at the end of the volume.[13]  It is also reprinted in the PG 115, cols. 141-161.

How any of the Latin or other texts relate to the Normal text is unknown to me.

For further research

Krumbacher also lists a mass of Greek manuscripts containing the legend of St George.  The BHG gives a bunch more Greek texts. The BHL gives a mass of Latin texts.  How all these relate to the Greek, or each other, I do not know. Krumbacher chapter 3 discusses the genealogy of the Greek texts.

It may be the limits of my German, I have been unable to find any article that indicates the relationships between all this material in Greek and Latin.  What is needed is a list of them all, in spreadsheet format, with incipit, shelfmark, BHL/BHG/AASS reference, date, and relationship to each strand of the tradition, using the characteristics identified by Matzke.

Does anyone care to undertake such a task?

A final thought, sent in by a correspondent:

I have only just begun looking into hagiography and it seems to me that there are very few “academic” translations. Rather, as there are usually several recensions/version of an hagiography floating around, academics provide summaries.  This seems fair, because it would be a very expensive exercise to translate each recension for little added value. Those hagiographies which are still used for liturgical purposes would have long been translated into their appropriate liturgical language. This is just my own observation. Those who work in the field would be better placed to comment.

  1. [1]Online at JSTOR, JSTOR.
  2. [2]Huber, “Zur Georgslegende”, In: Festschrift zum XII. Allgemeinen Deutschen Neuphilologentage in München, Pfingsten 1906, 175-235. Online here.
  3. [3]Matzke, p.466.
  4. [4]Walter, p.111.
  5. [5]List of volumes here; don’t get confused by the similarly-named series.
  6. [6]D. Detlefsen, “Über einen griechischen Palimpsest der k. k. Hofbibliothek mit Bruchstücken einer Legende vom heiligen Georg”, Vienna, 1858. Online here.
  7. [7]So Matzke p.466, Krumbacher, p.xviii.  Printed in E. W. Budge, The Martyrdom and Miracles of Saint George of Cappadocia. The Coptic text edited with an English translation, London, 1885.
  8. [8]Printed with English translation in E.W.Brooks, “Acts of St George”, in: Le Museon 38 (1925).  Online in v poor quality here.
  9. [9]So Krumbacher, p.xviii.
  10. [10]Hansen, “Berliner sogdische Texte II”; Benveniste, “Fragments des Actes de Saint Georges en version sogdienne”, JA, 1943-5, 91-116. See E. Yarshater, The Cambridge History of Iran: Seleucid Parthian, p.1226.
  11. [11]Gerald M. Browne, The Old Nubian Martyrdom of St George, CSCO 575, 1998.  Preview here.
  12. [12]Not 166, as in Walters.
  13. [13]If you get the PDF from here, it’s on p.1062 of the PDF.  But this is the original edition; the Paris reprint would probably be more readable.

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