Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin arrives

Today I received a copy of Leo F. Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (via  I’ve not really had a chance to look at it yet.

But this evening it had its first test.  John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas describes the city of Patara, the saint’s home town, as once “rutilabat”.  The Oxford Latin Dictionary gives “rutilo, -are” as “to glow with a bright or golden red colour”, especially thinking of German hair!  Nor did Neimeyer or Blaise give anything different.

Stelten passed.  In church Latin, apparently, it means “shine” or “glow”.  This makes perfect sense of John’s, um, glowing description of the city.

Clearly I need to spend more time with this book.

From my diary

The third unfinished project on my desktop is a translation from the Latin of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon, who lived in Naples in the middle of the 9th century.   John was bilingual, and created his work by translating the Greek Life by Methodius – the one that defeated all my translators.

It is a hard thing to pick something after a year or more, even if you are reasonably well-organised, unless you leave a file of notes written to your future self as to where you were and what you were doing.  (Memo to self: do this next time!!)  So I spent the end of yesterday and a couple of hours today trying to work out what I had, and reorganising the working directory.

The Latin text was printed by Mombritius in his Sanctuarium in 1477 or 1478 – it’s undated.  I did OCR this and create a corrected file, but then I concluded that it was a bit too rough to work with; spellings, punctuation, etc.  The text was printed again from some Vatican manuscripts by Falconius in 1751, who helpfully placed chapters 13-15 as an appendix and instead inserted a bunch of chapters from completely different Life of St Nicholas.  Luckily the BHL volume specifies this, and I had prepared an electronic text with a note to myself about just this.

I had also divided the text into 15 files, and I had started the translation of chapter 1.  I vaguely remember finding it very hard work indeed, which was why I stopped.

I’ve now sorted out the directory, and done a little more on chapter 1.  After a year of Latin, it is less difficult.  It really does help to establish exactly what the construction is, and to footnote a query if not sure, for later examination!  Mind you, in a couple of sentences I have already come across two words which are not in my QuickLatin.  The word order is horrendous sometimes, although the case of the words makes clear their function.  Was John trying to show off in his prologue, like some dull Victorian German editor, I wonder?  Let us hope that it settles down in the next chapter!

So all I need now is time and motivation.  I shall start grinding away.

St George, 5th century “Passio” – English translation now online

The earliest account of the martyrdom of St George is palpably fictional, and probably Arian in origin.  It was composed in Greek, probably by an Arian.  It was a rather embarrassing work, and later versions remove much of the rubbish.  For this reason Matzke, who reviewed the tradition, referred confusingly to the original as the “apocryphal version” and the revised version as the “canonical version”.

Only a few leaves of the Greek of the original version exist in palimpsest.  A Latin translation of the whole does exist, however, dating from the 5th century.  An English translation of this has now been prepared.  Here it is:

The files are also available from here.

As usual, the file is public domain.  Make whatever use of it you like, whether personal, educational or commercial.

From my diary

I have now got all the way through the 5th century Latin “Passecrates” Life of St George, as edited by Arndt, and I have prepared an English translation of every sentence.

What a mess the text is in!  The editor, Arndt, plainly had trouble reading the manuscript at all.  At points it makes no sense.  You get readings like “deus Christianorum”, where the sense plainly calls for “genus Christianorum”.

Fortunately a collection of five Latin Lives of St George, printed by Huber, contains a version which is very close indeed to the Arndt Life.  It does help, in working out the meaning of the text.  Indeed in the above example Huber’s text does read “genus”.

Next, I need to resolve a couple of issues, and check whether the translation makes sense and has continuity: to move away from the focus on individual sentences to paragraphs and the text as a whole.  At one point St George tells the wicked emperor that he has put St George to death three times – as you do.  It would be good to check whether the text has actually done this!

The “miracles” seem over to the top to squeamish moderns like me.  But they must have seemed over the top to those in the Dark Ages too, because all of them tone it down!

I have started to wonder whether the text is actually intended satirically, to mock the credulity of Catholics in the 5th century.  The author definitely mocks this same group, by giving a villain the name of “Athanasius”.  Maybe I shall say something like this in a note.


From my diary

It is good to have the Life of St Cuthman out of the way at last.  But it is not the only project of mine that has been stalled for many months.

More than a year ago, a kind correspondent offered to translate a very early Latin Life of St George.  He did sent in drafts of all the chapters, but each requires quite a bit of revision.  Four were still outstanding when I last looked.  So I will pick this up next and try to get it completed.  The translation can only be approximate, because of the terrible state of the text.

Another project that was hardly begun, but for which a link sits on my desktop, was to translate the Latin Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  This was the origin of most of the western lives of St Nicholas.  But the orginal Greek text was an awful thing, and the Latin of John is not easy either.

The Cuthman project taught me much.  The most important revelation was that the Vulgate bible was key to all these medieval compositions.  In a sense, all of the Latin saints’ lives are vulgate fanfic.  The language of the bible is used to create this literature of Christian fiction.

Some interesting ideas follow from this.

Firstly, if these texts are all basically based on the Vulgate, then anybody intimate with that version of the bible ought to be able to read them freely.  So it is really important to get acquainted with the Vulgate.  But …. it is much more difficult to obtain handy printed texts than it ought to be, if anyone still reads the Vulgate.  I have found, curiously, that the mobile web version of BibleGateway (link) allows you to easily display on your Android handset the Vulgate with parallel Douai translation.  This is actually easier to use than any printed text known to me!

Secondly, if we treat the legends of the Saints, not as history, but as Christian fiction, then I find that they become much more useful, and acceptable.

For Christian fiction is a really important thing, as I discovered eight years ago during a time of much personal re-evaluation.  Quite by accident I started to read novels purchased from the local Christian bookshop.  They were random; whatever that shop happened to have.  For instance I read Left Behind, and others.  I found, in so doing, that they affected my imagination in a day to day way.  I felt myself feeling closer to God, more aware of spiritual things in daily life, more aware of eternity, and less influenced by the clamour of worldly nothingnesses.

Could the legends of the saints have served the same purpose?  To enhance the devotion of the readers?  I think probably so.  They probably were always known to be fictional; bible-fanfic, essentially.  Thus such books could be composed about any figure of the bible or the fathers etc.

Maybe so; maybe I am wrong.  But it is an interesting thought all the same.

St Cuthman, the wheelbarrow saint – Life now online in English

I have today completed my translation of the medieval “Life” of St Cuthman.  Unlike most anglosaxon saints, Cuthman was a peasant.  He founded the church of Steyning in Sussex.  He is noted for carrying his mother about with him in a wheelbarrow!

Here is the translation, together with the text that I translated and some introductory material:

The files may also be found at here.

As usual, these files are public domain.  Do whatever you like with them, whether personal, educational or commercial.

A 14th century manuscript, the Luttrell Psalter, preserves a depiction of a cart almost identical to St Cuthman’s wheelbarrow:

Luttrell psalter (BL add ms 42130), f.186r – medieval invalid carriage like St Cuthman’s wheelbarrow

It does not look very comfortable to me!

It has taken almost a year to complete the translation of this short piece, with a six month break for work in the middle.  I have worked on it fairly carefully, as a vehicle to add syntactical information to my Latin tool, QuickLatin.  No doubt it still contains errors, but it is the first complete English translation known to me.

From my diary

Back in March I was working on making an English translation of the hagiographical Life of St Cuthman.  At the same time I was working on adding syntactical help to my QuickLatin tool.

But then by the mercy of God I was able to get a contract and earn a living, at a time when most people were unable to do so.  I was and am profoundly grateful.  All the same I was also glad to stop after six months of daily Zoom meetings, as the pressure at work began to increase.  The dynamics of a team that work from home, where most people have never met, can be peculiar.

This week I have started to work again on the Cuthman.  Thankfully I left it obvious where I was.  In fact the task is much more advanced than I had remembered.  I’ve now resolved all the issues in all 12 chapters of this little work.  But there is another task to do.

My translation is/was made from the 17th century Acta Sanctorum text.  After I had made the first draft, I learned that a critical edition does exist, made by John Blair and published in a local journal in 1997.[1]  So I have tonight started to go through the files and compare the text that I have with Blair’s edition.  The differences are not great, so far.

The old Bollandists worked from two now lost manuscripts, labelled A and B by Dr. Blair.  The modern Bollandist database tells us that two manuscripts exist today.  I had assumed that these were the same as those used for the Acta Sanctorum; but it turns out that this is not so.  The new manuscripts are labelled G and R by Blair.

I’m not entirely convinced by all of the choices in Blair’s edition, although it is a marvellous work of collation.  For instance at one point he conjectures that the author drops into the second-person singular – “you…”, without any manuscript evidence, and when the rest of the text is entirely third-person.  I have followed the Bollandists here.

But I daresay Dr B. knows much more Latin than I do.  So I have decided that I will follow his choices, except when I really feel that the Bollandist editors were right.  I will footnote where I deviate.  I’d like to hope that my work will be useful to others, and the best way to ensure that is to follow the edition that they will have to follow.

Of course I need some kind of excuse to myself, at least, for ignoring Blair at points.  Currently I am muttering to myself that, “of course the Bollandist editors of the 17th century knew far more Latin than any modern editor, especially ecclesiastical Latin.”  Let’s hope that I am right!

But I will include the text that I translate as an appendix.

On the other hand I’ve not yet got back to working on QuickLatin and reading grammars.  I’m very grateful for what I did in this area earlier in the year.  The syntax facilities are really helpful, even as far as I have gone.  But I will need more time to get back up to speed with this.  I have also changed PC, so not everything is ready to hand as yet.

It’s good to have a project to take me into the winter months.

  1. [1]John Blair, “Saint Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham”, in: Sussex Archaeological Collections 135 (1997), 173-92.

The first mention of St Austell, ca. 900 AD, in a Vatican manuscript

In the Vatican there is a Latin manuscript, shelfmark Vatican Reginensis Latinus 191, which contains a collection of texts assembled for the church in Reims in northern France.  The manuscript is online, and may be found here.

At some point before the 12th century, the manuscript was given some parchment guard-leaves on either end.  These are not blank.  They were taken from another volume and turned upside down to avoid distraction.  The pages contain part of ps.Seneca, De Moribus, followed by the notice of Jerome on Seneca from De viris illustribus.

Jerome finishes part way down what is now folio iir.  Then on the same line there is a list of 48 names, written in an larger insular book hand, and carrying on over the page.

Here is the first page, turned back the right way:

Vatican Reg. Lat. 191, f. iir.

And here is the verso:

Vatican reg. lat. 191, folio ii, verso.

On the verso, at the start of line 2, are two names: Austoll and Megunn.

A list of names is inscrutable, and the reader may well ask what he is looking at.

In a brilliant article in Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies,[1] B. L. Olson and O. J. Padel analyse the list and come out with some fascinating conclusions.

They show that these names are all in Old Cornish.  Of the 48, 21 are most certainly the patron saints of modern Cornish parishes.  St Just, for instance, is there.  Other names are very obscure, and it is possible that the parish patron saint has simply changed since to one better known.

Even more interestingly, they print a map of Cornwall, showing the location of each church.  This shows that the parishes cluster together.

These cannot be coincidences.  They conclude from this that this is a list of Cornish parishes, written down for some unknown purpose shortly after 900 AD, either in Cornwall or in Brittany.  As such this is testimony to the existence of some sort of parish system at this date, in the Anglo-Saxon period, a century before the Norman conquest.

Austoll is of course St Austell (see this previous post).  This scrap of waste parchment is the earliest mention of the saint; but since this is a list of parish saints, this is also the earliest witness to the church and village of St Austell.

The name “Megunn” is undoubtedly Megwin, i.e. St Mewan, or S. Méén, so important in Brittany.  There is still a village of St Mewan near St Austell, and we learn from the medieval life of St Mewan that St Austell was a deacon who was the disciple of St Mewan.  The two stand together in the list, as on the ground.

There is almost nothing left of Old Cornish, or so the authors tell us.  The history of the land has perished.  Cornwall began to be assimilated into English even before the conquest.

So this is a precious peek into a land which became Christian in the Roman or sub-Roman period, but about which nothing is really now known.  Thus it is only from archaeology that we know of Byzantine ships visiting north Cornwall during this period, off-loading  goods from far away, and doubtless taking on a cargo of tin.  What did the sophisticated Greek merchants see, on the hills above the landing, in this rude land?  Simple churches dedicated to Celtic saints, it would seem.

  1. [1]B. Lynette Olson & O. J. Padel, “A tenth-century list of Cornish parochial saints”, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 12 (1986), 33-72, with plates.