Further thoughts on translating St Cuthman’s “Life”

While translating the Latin text of the Life of the anglo-saxon Saint Cuthman, I have taken to googling for fragments of the Latin, or even whole sentences.  The results are often interesting, and not infrequently important.

One reason that I do this is to identify biblical references.  Often a tortured phrase turns out to be an allusion.  Indeed I came across a reference to Tobit 10:4 half an hour ago.

Strangely Google does not prioritise the Latin bible in a search for Latin text, although it is hard to see why not.  What you DO get back is endless 16th and 17th century texts, most of which I have never heard of.  I don’t know why this should be so.  Occasionally these are useful; usually they are not.

One such search produced a snippet result in a journal called Sussex Archaeological Collections.  Looking at the handful of words, I gained the impression that whatever paper this was might be a modern edition of the Latin text.  So far I have been working with the Bollandist text of 1658.  I have, indeed, found some suspect text in the Latin text.  At one point there is reference to trabale unicum where I wonder whether it should be trabale iugum.  There is, otherwise, no noun in the sentence.  The reference would be to a ridge-beam.

Of course I was unable to see what the paper was, but it proved to  be John Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham” in SAC 135 (1997), 173-92.  I was unable to access this; but an offprint was for sale on Amazon, at a high price, but rather less than the cost of the petrol to get a copy; and this arrived today.

The Blair paper does indeed contain an edition of the text – indeed a critical edition, with apparatus of the two extant manuscripts, plus the Bollandist edition.  It also contains what the author describes as a “paraphrase” translation.  This is nearly full length, and, had I known that it existed, I might not have troubled to make a translation myself.

Why paraphrase?  Well, it’s considerably easier to get the sense of the text than it is to identify each and every Latin construction and pin down precisely what that last word means.  It also avoids the risk of some snooty person critiquing your translation!   Since the precise wording is generally less important than the idea, these kinds of things are quite serviceable and they seem very common in modern versions of hagiographical literature.  But all the same, they are an abomination.  The reader should be given a proper translation.

I’ve been learning a great deal about Latin syntax from struggling with Cuthman.  I’ve been processing much of it into context-sensitive help-materials in QuickLatin 2, which is a double benefit: I learn the stuff, and there are reminders for the future.

I’ve worked harder on Cuthman than any Latin text that I have ever translated.  I’ve been proceeding as follows:

  1. Create an electronic text.
  2. Split it into chapters, each in a separate file.
  3. Split each chapter into sentences, translate this in Google Translate and interleave the two in the document.  The Google translation is generally useless, but it can sometimes highlight that the words are a set phrase of some sort, which you can therefore search for.  This is most obvious when the Google output drops into Jacobean English!
  4. Now skim-read the text in PDF, to get a sense of what the chapter says.  Ignore any difficult bits.  Speed is all.  At the head of the chapter, write down this skim-read synopsis.  This acts as a kind of guide when doing the detailed translation.
  5. First pass.  Now translate each sentence in the chapter, one by one, looking out for correlatives like vel… vel, etc.  Leave difficult bits.  Highlight in bold and red stuff of which you are uncertain.  Add a note of any Latin constructions that you recognise, and say why you chose those words.  Wherever the text feels “stiff”, then you need to document what you did.  Pay lots of attention to the verb tenses, etc.
  6. Go through the whole text until you have done the first pass.  Then copy this to a folder for later.
  7. Second pass.  Now go through the chapters again, making sure that you understand the Latin construction in every single case.  Google for them!  There’s a huge amount of information out there on syntax.  Fix whatever you can.  By the end of this, you should have satisfactory translations of the lot, with a huge amount of notes, quotes, links to external websites, and changes of mind marked with strike-out.  At this stage I tend to make most the notes grey, if I have finished with them, but want to be able to refer to them.  Then copy all these files to a new folder.

This is where I am at the moment.  The next stage will be:

  1. Third pass.  Go through the files again, removing the grey stuff, writing real footnotes; but also rechecking.  Harmonise common words.  Then save copies of this lot.
  2. Fourth pass.  Combine the sentences into groups, then into paragraphs.  Read the lot and see if it makes sense.  Sometimes you will realise that two sentences together each mean something rather different to what you thought.
  3. Create a single file with the whole translation in it.

It’s a lot of work; but it’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s quite rewarding really!


How papyrus rolls lost their tops and bottoms – from Oxyrhynchus

A truly fascinating post at Papyrus Stories tells us what happened when an archive of papyrus rolls was neglected in the early 2nd century.

“The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonides (…) were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten (…). Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached (…). Some were eaten away at the top because of the dry heat (…) and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart.”

This was only part of the story.  There was a position, Keeper of the Fayum archives, but by 107 AD Leonides was the man responsible for day to day care.  The rolls were already in a mess.  Over the next 50 years all those concerned were involved in endless bureaucratic argument and appeals to the prefect over whose fault this was and what should be done, and who should pay for it.

I recommend reading the whole article.  It is an interesting insight into the disfunction of the administration at that period, from the Prefect down.  But more, it explains how it is that we get so many texts which are missing the beginning.

For the last year I have myself been trying to obtain access to a document in an archive near me, where petty bureaucrats simply won’t solve the problems they themselves create.  I’ve had to give up, in fact.  So I have quite a bit of fellow-feeling for the poor souls caught up in this mess!


Some notes on St Alnoth

A correspondent was looking for the Life of St Alnoth in the Acta Sanctorum, and found himself confused by the series, as most of us are initially.

The Acta Sanctorum is confusing to the casual visitor, because all the lives of the saints are given on their saints’ day, the day in the Catholic Church on which they are commemorated.  For Alnoth this is February 27.  There is no overall numbering of volumes.  Instead the numbering is within each month – January vol 1, etc.

The material for St Alnoth is in February, vol 3, under the material for February 27th.  In the 1658 original edition, it’s on p.684.  I’m not sure if there is a standard way to reference this, but I might give it as something like:

Acta Sanctorum, Februarii III, Feb.27,  p.684 (1658)

This volume is online in a hard-to-read form here.  An electronic transcription is here.  (If you are on Windows, just do a ctrl-F in your browser for Alnoth)

Most people find the 19th century reprint easier to use.  There it’s on p.689, here (which is p.736 of the PDF).

There does not seem to actually be a “vita” for St Alnoth.  This item is instead a “sylloge”, which seems to be a collection of snippets from other hagiographical sources.  It was written in 1658 by the Bollandist editor: in this case, none other than Johannes Bolland (“I.B.”) himself.

Bolland quotes for St Alnoth the “Life” of St Werburgh, which is in February vol 1.  He also gives another couple of snippets from elsewhere.  I did look to see if the vita of St Werburgh had been translated, but if it has, it eluded me.

Alnoth himself was a 7th century anglo-saxon saint, who lived first as a herdsman.  He suffered from the attentions of an  unfair bailiff, and then he moved to become a hermit.  He was eventually murdered by robbers.

One day I ought to sit down and compile a “finder’s guide” for anybody wanting to work with the lives of the saints.  Maybe it already exists, I do not know.  Like most people, I wandered into the world of hagiography more or less by accident!


St Cuthman, the Vulgate, the sacramentary, and so forth

Translating the Latin text of the Life of St Cuthman, printed by the Bollandists, is an interesting exercise.  I find that the text quite often uses the approach of the Latin Vulgate bible, where quia means “that” rather than “because”.  This means that you can often get something from simply googling a passage – it may well bring up a translation, or at least highlight that the wording is very close to that of a biblical passage in Latin.

I’m not quite sure about the text that I am working with.  Today while googling I accidently came across signs that someone has produced a modern edition of all or part of it; in an article to which I have no access, unfortunately.  It is J. Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham”, in: Sussex Archaeological Collections, Relating to the History & Antiquities of the County (= SAC), 135, p.173-192.  If anybody has access to this, do drop me a line.

One example of the text is where St Cuthman is pushing his handcart, the rear end supported by a rope hanging from his shoulders.  Suddenly the rope breaks!  But he spies a “sambucus” lying by the way, takes a length from it, twists it, and remakes his rope.

Now “Sambucus” is an exotic form of harp.  Just the thing you’d find at random in Anglo-saxon England?  Well… maybe not.  The Oxford Latin Dictionary kindly directs me to “sabucus”, which is an elder tree.  That makes more sense.  It looks like Cuthman grabbed a branch from an elder tree and used that.

It’s not just the vulgate bible that gets used either.  I’ve reached chapter seven.  Most of this consists of a long and boring prayer.  But I came across this phrase:

hic tibi gratiarum referat actiones.

This, I confess, baffled me.  What on earth does “referat” mean here, and “actiones gratiarum”.  But some serious time on Google led me to

Ut reddita sibi sanitate, gratiarum Tibi in Ecclesia Tua referant actiones, per DNJC.

It turned out that this was a chunk of the prayer for the sick from the Roman missal or sacramentary.  I then undertook a search for an English translation, but in fact Google Translate gave me the clue.  It turned out that “actiones gratiarum” are “thanks”, and “refero” in this context is “give”.  The idea is “let them give thanks to You in Your church, through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  There was no way that you could work that out from a dictionary.

It does make sense, tho.  The medieval author of the Life of St Cuthman knew two Latin texts intimately, and used them every day – the vulgate bible, and the missal.  Both would inevitably enter his composition.

For those working with Latin Saints’ Lives, then, a knowledge of both texts is clearly essential.

I have found that Bible Gateway will allow me to display the Latin with parallel Douai English translation, such as this example from Psalms 15This 1815 edition of the missal has a lot of English versions in it.  Both are useful tools.

Translating Cuthman, I have found it useful to skim-read each chapter, on my mobile phone, while lying on the sofa, and just get some idea of what it is about.  Once done, I write down some sort of summary, ignoring hard bits, at the top of each Word document – I do one per chapter – as a guide to what ought to be coming out.  This does seem to ease the process of translation, curiously.



Literary sources for the “Life” of St. Eanswythe

There is a big news story yesterday about the bones of St Eanswythe, an anglo-saxon saint ca. 630 AD, which have been discovered in the wall of a Kentish church.  They were stashed there at the Reformation, and rediscovered a century ago, but without any certainty as to who they were.  The modern story is that they have been carbon dated and shown most likely to be authentic.  This all arises from the Finding Eanswythe project.

Here’s the headlines from the Daily Mail: here:

England’s missing saint is found: Scientists reveal skeletal remains squirrelled into the wall of Kent church belong to St Eanswythe who died 1400 years ago.  Hidden bones dating back as far as the 7th century are those of the Kentish Royal Saint of St Eanswythe. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxon kings and one of the earliest English saints. Relics survived upheavals of the Reformation, squirrelled away in a wall, and were discovered in 1885. Patron saint of Folkestone is believed to have founded one of England’s earliest monastic communities.

Bones dating back to around the seventh century are those of St Eanswythe, the daughter and granddaughter of Anglo-Saxons who is venerated in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy.

The relics survived the major upheavals of the Reformation, during which Henry VIII’s agents seized and plundered the Folkestone church, before smashing the shrine of St Eanswythe.

Her remains, however, remained squirrelled away in the north wall of the church, and were discovered in a 12th-century reliquary in 1885, after church workmen stumbled upon a niche which had been plastered up.

The patron saint of Folkestone, Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England, most likely around 630 on the Bayle, the overlooked historic centre of the town. She is thought to have died in her late teens or early 20s, though currently the cause of her death is unknown.

Now, over 1,300 years after her death, Kent archaeologists and historians, working with Queen’s University in Belfast, have confirmed the human remains kept at the Church of St Mary and St Eanswythe are those of the saint.

St Eanswythe was the only daughter of King Eadbald and his wife Emma, a Frankish princess. Born in around 614, it is believed that she was baptised and raised as a Christian. The princess committed her life to the service of God as a nun, and refused to marry.

Her father built her England’s first female monastery in Folkestone, into which she moved around 630 with companions who had received guidance from Roman monks who had moved to England in around 597 with St Augustine. Though she was not made an abbess, given she was aged 16, historians do not know of any abbesses prior to St Eanswythe.

Stories of her miracles including healing the sight of a blind man and casting out a devil in a sick man circulated during her life, and proliferated after her death in around 640. Historians believe that St Eanswythe prayed day and night, read spiritual books, copied and bound manuscripts, cooked and cleaned, and cared for the sick and elderly in her community.

The monastery survived for around two centuries after her death, before it was sacked by the Danes in 867, according to some historians. St Eanswythe’s holy relics were moved to a nearby church, before a new monastery and church dedicated to St Mary and St Eanswythe were built further inland in around 1138.

The story is copiously illustrated.  Her saints’ day is August 13th.

There seem to be two literary sources.

First there is a Latin vita (BHL 2555) in the Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 6, for 31st.[1]  This may be found online here., in vol. 40 the Paris reprint, on p.684 (p.728 of the PDF).

This is the only item listed in the BHL.  Incipit: Ethelbertus rex Angliae per s. Augustinum ep. – Des. et carnem prorsus a dolore purgavit.

There is a manuscript in British Library Cotton Tiberius E I/2, (late 14th century) fol. 60r-v.

A great number of catalogues of manuscripts are listed on the Bollandist website.  The material there is slender on editions.

Secondly an abridged version in Middle English in John of Tynemouth’s 1360 Sanctilogium Angliae, Walliae, Scotiae et Hiberniae.[2]  The electronic text may be found here, and, with modernised spelling, is as follows:

De sancta Eauswida virgine & abbatissa.

Saint Eauswyda was daughter to the king, son to king Ethelbert, Edbaldus. And from her youth she forsook the pomps of the world, and induced her Father to make her an oratory at Folkstone that she might in virginity serve our Lord.

And as the oratory was in building, the king of Northamhumbrorum, who was a pagan, desired to have her in marriage and her Father counselled her thereto, and praised the King much. And she said if he could in the name of his gods make a beam of her oratory, which was too short, long enough,  she would assent to him, if not she desired to be left alone.  And the king trusting in his gods gladly assented. And when he had long prayed, all was in vain that he did, and so he went away with shame.  And then the virgin prayed in the name of our Lord. And anon her prayer was heard, and the beam made long enough. And so the King departed.

And by her prayer water came against the hill from a town called Swecton to her oratory. And it came by another river and yet joined not with it.

Four brethren of great riches denied to give dysmes to St Eauswyda.  And after many years, three of them were compunct, and advertised the fourth to go with them to her sepulcre to do penance, and make satisfaction, and he denied it.  And anon the Devil entered into him.   And so his brethren bound him and brought him to her altar. And anon he was made whole and paid his tithes. And she went from this present life the day before the kalends of September.  And because her church was destroyed with the sea, her body was brought to Folkstone.

All useful.  It would be nice if someone would translate the Vita in the AASS.

  1. [1]My thanks to Mark for this.
  2. [2]My thanks to Judy Doherty for this!

The harvester who became a magistrate – an inscription from 260-270 AD

On twitter this evening, I saw a Latin inscription in the Louvre, in a cursive script (!), which tells an interesting story.  It’s from Mactaris, in ancient Africa Proconsularis, between 26–270 AD (h/t Susan Rahyab).  It tells an interesting story of how a humble corn harvester rose to become a magistrate:

CIL 8, 11824

The monument is today ca. 1.09m high, 0.54m wide, and 0.23m thick.  It suffered minor damage during its journey from Tunis to the Louvre in 1886, but at some point lost the upper part of the inscription.

It begins with the remains of four separate but brief funerary notices, of at least two women and one man, and one unknown, not bearing the classic three names, but which each feature a formula pius/pia vixit annis which is normally Christian.  They are also in a quite different script, and must be later as they run over the top of the poem.  There is a detailed discussion of the monument in Brent D. Shaw, Bringing in the sheaves: Economy and Metaphor in the Roman world, p.281 f.  [1]

Thanks to Miranda Halsey, to whom I also owe many of the references, I learn that this was published as Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 8.11824 = Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae 7457 (from Tunisia, 3rd century A.D.).

There is a translation by Tim G. Parkin and Arthur J. Pomeroy, Roman Social History: A Sourcebook, London: Routledge, 2007, p. 39-40.  (Google Books preview) which reads:

I was born into a poor dwelling and of a poor father, who had no property or household. From the time of my birth, I lived in the country looking after my business; there was no time off in the countryside and none for me at any time. And when the time of year had brought forth the grain ready for harvest, then I was the first reaper of the stalks. When the sickle-bearing gangs of men had made their way to the fields, whether heading for the nomads of Cirta or the fields of Jupiter, as harvester I preceded them all, first into the fields, leaving the packed bands behind my back. I reaped twelve harvests under the raging sun, and afterwards became a work gang leader instead of a labourer. We led the gangs of harvesters for eleven years and our band cut down the Numidian fields. This effort and my frugal lifestyle brought success and made me master of a household and gained me a house, and my home itself lacks nothing. And my life gained the rewards of office: I was myself enrolled among the conscript councillors. Elected by the order [of the decurions], I had a seat in the order’s temple and, starting out as a humble country boy, I too became censor. I produced children and saw them grow into young men and saw their children too. In accord with our services in life, we have enjoyed years of fame, which no bitter tongue has hurt with any reproach. People, learn to pass your lives without giving reason for reproach. The man who has lived without deceit has earned meeting his death in such a manner.

But Dr Halsey posted a different, and rather moving translation made by another:

My cradle stood in a hut of poor parents;
no money, no personnel in sight.
Since then I kept on working my fanner’s land;
my plot was never rested, nor was I.
When the season produced a harvest,
I was the first to mow the grain
and when the farmers travelled the country
in droves, carrying their scythes, all the way to Cirta
I was the first; I was the front mower,
leaving plenty of sheaves behind me.
For twelve harvests I mowed under the burning sun,
then I became a headman
and I was in charge of the teams for eleven years.
My men mowed every field in Numidia.
My hard work, my modest wishes
proved successful in the end: they earned me
a home. I became the owner of a large villa,
and who lives there is never in want.
Life also offered me a bunch of honors:
I was elected to join the municipal council.
In the temple I sat in the seat of honor
and from a peasant I became a censor.
I got sons and I had the privilege of seeing them grow up,
as well as grandsons, whom I loved very much.
By living well I had many beautiful years.
No vicious neighbor’s tongue to ruin it.
Dear People, leam to live without sin;
he who lives without blame has earned the right to die blamelessly.

The Latin text can be found in the Clauss-Slaby database as EDCS-23200467:

Caeselia Namina […]
pia vixit annis
lianus pius [vix]it annis
[…] pia vixit annis […]
[……] annis[2]
VE[…]AIIIS[…]MA[3… fui
paupere progenitus lare sum parvoq(ue) parente
cuius nec census neque domus fuerat
ex quo sum genitus ruri mea vixi colendo
nec ruri pausa nec mihi semper erat
et cum maturas segetes produxerat annus
demessor calami tunc ego primus eram
falcifera cum turma virum processerat arvis
seu Cirtae Nomados seu Iovis arva petens
demessor cunctos anteibam primus in arvis
pos(t) tergus linguens densa meum gremia
bis senas messes rabido sub sole totondi
ductor et ex opere postea factus eram
undecim et turmas messorum duximus annis
et Numidiae campos nostra manus secuit
hic labor et vita parvo con(ten)ta valere
et dominum fecere domus et villa paratast
et nullis opibus indiget ipsa domus
et nostra vita fructus percepit honorum
inter conscriptos scribtus et ipse fui
ordinis in templo delectus ab ordine sedi
et de rusticulo censor et ipse fui
et genui et vidi iuvenes carosq(ue) nepotes
vitae pro meritis claros transegimus annos
quos nullo lingua crimine laedit atrox
discite mortales sine crimine degere vitam
sic meruit vixit qui sine fraude mori

D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum)  C(aius) Mulceius  Maximus  vixi(t) an(nos) XXX
D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum)  S(extus) Au[reli]us F[…]nus vix(it)  an(nos) XL

The lines at the top probably have no connection with the poem.  Caeselia Namina is a shortened form of a punic name, perhaps Namphamina.

The subject of the poem is known in English as the “Maktar harvester”, as his name is no longer readable.

On either side of the stela are recorded the deaths of C. Mulceius Maximus, died age 30, and S. Aurelius F…nus, who died aged 40.[3]  These are probably late and probably 4th century.

Interesting and new to me.

  1. [1]Google Books preview.
  2. [2]Up to this point I have followed Brent D. Shaw’s text rather than the Clauss-Slaby text.
  3. [3]H. Singor, “Africa Romana: een overzicht”, Hermeneus 78 (2006), 65-78.  Online here.