Any fool can publish a Latin text without a translation. Few people will want to go through it, looking for problems. But if you have to translate the text, that forces you to examine every word. This in turn brings you immediately into contact with any problems in the text.
One of the miracle stories of St Nicholas is the “Golden Vessel”. It exists in two versions, BHL 6172, and an epitome, BHL 6173. I’ve already retrieved the text and translation of the latter, as it is extracted from Honorius Augustodunensis. The story is as follows:
A powerful man living overseas makes a pilgrimage every year to Myra to the tomb of St Nicholas. One year he commissions a well-known goldsmith to create a golden vessel, set with precious stones, as an offering to St Nicholas. The result is a success! In fact it’s so nice that the man feels that he’d like one too. The goldsmith makes another, but it’s just not the same, so he hands back the raw materials to the man. By this point the man has really become attached to the vessel, so he decides instead just to give the raw materials at the shrine.
When the time comes for his annual pilgrimage, he sets off in his ship. But on the way he gets his son to bring him a drink in the vessel, just as the wind is getting up. The son drops it, and it rolls overboard! Grabbing at it in vain, the son tumbles after it. The wind blows the ship away. Disaster! Rather depressed, the man rolls up at Myra, and makes his offering anyway, only for the altar to throw it back in his face! St Nicholas isn’t amused. So the man grovels, explains, and promises to give a much larger sum. Then – ta-da! – the son rushes in, carrying the vessel. St Nicholas grabbed him as he was drowning, and set him down outside Myra. The man hands over the vessel, and “they all returned home rejoicing”, to face the credit card bill.
All this from the epitome, BHL 6173. The story seems rather too like a cynical clerical invention, designed to extort money from the faithful, but no doubt God has already handed out spankings in and on the right quarters.
While working away on BHL 6172, however, I found myself wondering if I was doing the translation correctly.
Ille autem hoc audiens et in sua cupiditate permanens, decrevit illud aurum et gemmas pariter sancto Nicolao devehendum.
But he, on hearing this, and remaining in his cupidity, decreed that the gold and gems equally should be carried over to St. Nicholas.
The sense requires “instead”; but the word is literally “as well” or “also”. Possibly one could wrestle it around to “in the same way”; and I do find this in the Oxford Latin Dictionary.
But I wondered whether it was simply an error in the manuscript. The text was printed from a Namur manuscript by the Bollandists a century ago, as part of a catalogue – what excelllent chaps they were! – and has no critical value.
A quick look at the BHLms site showed 48 witnesses to this amusing story! Many of them were manuscripts already known to me from my work on John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas. Of course this is why I was working with these stories in the first place; to get a reference file together of this material, so that when using the manuscripts, I would know what I was looking at.
The oldest manuscript listed – that I have access to – was BNF lat. 5607, of the 11th century. And on folio 83r, there’s the text, “Igitur operae pretium remur, ut ea quae nostris temporibus per eius gloriosa…”, although I see immediately that this reads “ut” where the Namur ms reads “si”.
Over the page, we find our sentence.
Ille autem hoc audiens, et in sua cupiditate permanens, decrevit illud aurum et gemmas pariter sancto Nicholao deferendas.
The last word is a different verb, but of very much the same sense – presented. But “pariter” is still is.
I’m not going to trudge through any more mss, but it was worth a quick check. So… I’ll just accept that “pariter” here means effectively “instead”.