The “Collectanea” of Pseudo-Bede

There is a famous prophecy about the Colosseum, given in variable forms such as this:

As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand.
When the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall.
But when Rome falls, the world will fall.

The source for this is the “Collectanea” of pseudo-Bede.

This is not a text that many will be familiar with.  It is listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum as CPL 1129, “Collectanea (Excerptiones Patrum: Flores ex diversis)”, i.e. Miscellaneous (Excerpts from the Fathers, sayings from various).  The incipit is “Dic mihi, quaeso, quae est illa mulier”.  It’s a collection of excerpts of various sorts.

The Latin text is available in PL 94, cols. 539-560.  This, I learn, reprints the Basel edition of 1563, from the Opera Bedae Venerabilis presbyteri Anglosaxonis of Johann Herwagen, 8 vols in 4, vol 3, pp.647-74.  Apparently there is no manuscript, only that solitary edition. This is reprinted in the modern text and translation by Martha Bayless & Michael Lapidge, Collectanea Pseudo-Bedae, Dublin (1998), although this was not accessible to me.[1]

The start of the 1563 edition, our only source for the text.

It is often said that, in the 16th century, printing houses, who received grubby old manuscripts and created nice new clean printed editions, were in the habit of chopping up the now surplus manuscripts in order to use the parchment to bind books.  I don’t know on what that is based.  It was often supposed that this fate befell the sole manuscript of Velleius Paterculus at Basel, until an 18th letter recording the sale of the manuscript two centuries later came to light.  A paper in the Bayless edition apparently offers this as the likely fate of the manuscript.

The Latin text quoted online varies, but here is the 1563 text:

Quamdiu stat Colysaeus, stat & Roma;
Quando cadet Colysaeus, cadet & Roma;
Quando cadet Roma, cadet & mundus.

The CPL tells us that the text is apparently 8th century, because it does not include any source later than that date.  But opinions vary, it seems.

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  1. [1]First page of review accessible at https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/abs/10.1484/J.Peri.3.449?journalCode=perit

Easter: A translation error in Bede, De Ratione Temporum

The word “Easter” is used only in English for the Christian commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ.  In most languages the word is passover (pasch), or some version of it.  This is indeed what Easter is, the Christian version of passover.  That’s why it moves: Jesus was Jewish, and lived in Judaea, and the events of his life are based around the Jewish lunar calendar, which gives passover as the full moon after the equinox.  Jesus died on passover and rose on the Sunday after, so Easter is in principle the Sunday after passover.  The Julian calendar was not in use in Judaea, unfortunately.  None of this is known to the general public, and in the anglophone world it is widely assumed that every language calls it Easter.

Where does the English word “Easter” come from?  Our information on this comes from a single source, Bede De ratione temporum, (CPL 2320) on the reckoning of time, dated 723 AD.  Chapter 15 of this contains a list of the Anglosaxon months, which is full of interest and reads as follows:

Antiqui autem Anglorum populi (neque enim mibi congruum videtur, aliarum gentium annalem obser­vantiam dicere, ct mese reticere) juxta cursum lunae suos menses computavere; unde et a luna Hebraeorum et Graecorum more nomen accipiunt. Si quidem apud eos luna mona, mensis monath appellatur. Primusque eorum mensis, quem Latini Januarium vocant, dici­tur Giuli. Deinde Februarius Solmonath, Martius Hredmonath, Aprilis Eosturmonath, Maius Thrimylchi, Junius Lida, Julius similiter Lida, Augustus Weodmonath, September Halegmonath, October Winterfylleth, November Blodmonath, December Giuli, eodem quo Januarius nomine, vocatur. Incip­iebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Janua­riarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctam, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem, ap­pellabant, ob causam; ut suspicamur, ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles agebant. Et quotiescunque communis esset annus, ternos menses lunares singulis anni temporibus dabant. Cum vero embolismus, hoc est, XIII mensium lunarium annus occurreret, superfluum mensem aestati apponebant, ita ut tunc tres menses simul Lida nomine vocarentur, et ob id annus ille Thrilidi cognominabatur, habens IV menses gestatis, ternos ut semper temporum caete­rorum. Item principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hyemis, videlicet, et aestatis dispartiebant, sex illos menses quibus longiores noctibus dies sunt aestati tribuendo, sex reliquos hyemi. Unde et men­sem quo hyemalia tempora incipiebant Winterfylleth appellabant, composito nomine ab hyeme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio ejusdem mensis hyems sortiretur initium. Nec ab re est si et caetera mensium eorum quid significent nomina interpretari curemus. Menses Giuli a conversione solis in auctum dici, quia unus eorum praecedit, alius subsequitur, nomina accipiunt. Solmonath dici potest mensis placentarum, quas in eo diis suis offerebant; Hredmonath a dea illorum Hreda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur; Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis voca­bulo gaudia novae solemnitalis vocantes. Trimilchi dicebatur, quod tribus vicibus in eo per diem pecora mulgebantur. Talis enim erat quondam ubertas Bri­tanniae, vel Germaniae, de qua in Britanniam natio intravit Anglorum. Lida dicitur blandus, sive naviga­bilis, quod in utroque mense et blanda sit serenitas aurarum, et navigari soleant aequora. Weodmonath mensis zizaniorum , quod ea tempestate maxime abundent. Halegmonath mensis Sacrorum. Winterfylleth potest dici composito novo nomine hyeme-plenilunium. Blotmonath mensis immolationum, quia in ea pecora quae occisuri erant diis suis vove­rent. Gratias tibi, bone Jesu, qui hos, ab his vanis avertens, tibi sacrificia laudis offerre donasti.

We are fortunate to have an excellent English translation of this long volume (1988, p.53-4) by Faith Wallis in the Liverpool University Press series “Translated Texts for Historians.”  Here is the corresponding passage.

In olden time the English people – for it did not seem ¢tting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s – calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called “mona” and the month “monath”.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is “Giuli”; February is called “Solmonath”; March “Hrethmonath”; April, “Eosturmonath”; May, “Thrimilchi”; June, “Litha”; July, also “Litha”; August, “Weodmonath”; September, “Halegmonath”; October, “Winterfilleth”; November, “Blodmonath”; December, “Giuli”, the same name by which January is called. They began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word “Modranecht”, that is, ‘‘mother’s night’’, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.

Whenever it was a common year, they gave three lunar months to each season. When an embolismic year occurred (that is, one of 13 lunar months) they assigned the extra month to summer, so that three months together bore the name ‘‘Litha’’; hence they called [the embolismic] year ‘‘Thrilithi’’. It had four summer months, with the usual three for the other seasons. But originally, they divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter. Hence they called the month in which the winter season began ‘‘Winterfilleth’’, a name made up from ‘‘winter’’ and ‘‘full Moon’’, because winter began on the full Moon of that month.

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the trouble to translate the names of the other months. The months of Giuli derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows. Solmonath can be called ‘‘month of cakes’’, which they offered to their gods in that month. Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘‘Paschal month’’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance. Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day; such, at one time, was the fertility of Britain or Germany, from whence the English nation came to Britain. Litha means ‘‘gentle’’ or ‘‘navigable’’, because in both these months the calm breezes are gentle, and they were wont to sail upon the smooth sea. Weodmonath means ‘‘month of tares’’, for they are very plentiful then. Halegmonath means ‘‘month of sacred rites’’. Winterfilleth can be called by the invented composite name ‘‘winter-full’’. Blodmonath is ‘‘month of immolations’’, for then the cattle which were to be slaughtered were consecrated to their gods. Good Jesu, thanks be to thee, who hast turned us away from these vanities and given us [grace] to offer to thee the sacrifice of praise.

Interesting stuff, but clearly belonging to a time past even in Bede’s day.

All the same there appears to be an error in the Eosturmonath translation, where the translator has split the sentence in two and in the process introduced a confusion.

Eosturmonath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquae observationis voca­bulo gaudia novae solemnitalis vocantes.

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘‘Paschal month’’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

Parsing this word by word:

et cui in illo festa celebrabant – and for whom, in that (month), feasts they used to celebrate.

nomen habuit, a cujus nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant – (Eosturmonath) has a name, by which name now the paschal season they designate

consueto antiquae observationis voca­bulo, gaudia novae solemnitalis vocantes –  of the accustomed ancient observance by the name, the joys of the new rite calling

The translator has treated “cuius”, “of whom/which” as referring back to “dea … Eostre”.  Well it could.  “cuius” could refer to either a feminine or a neuter noun.  But the curious position of the “nomen  habuit” – “it has a name”  – seems designed solely to avoid this.  The whole bit about Eostre is put between “Eosturmonath” and “nomen habuit”, precisely to keep it out of the way of the rest of the sentence.  So I suggest that “cuius” should be understood to refer to “nomen”, i.e. to the season, not the goddess.

This would mean that the TTH should read “now they designate the paschal season by its name”.

This means that – unsurprisingly – the word “Easter” comes from “Eosturmonath”, not directly from “Eostre”.  According to Bede, the name Eostre gave rise to the season Eosturmonth (April) which in turn was used by the Christian English to mean the Christian festival of pasch.

So “Easter” is merely a worn down form of “Eosturmonath”.

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From my diary

I have spent a few days, researching the Martyrologium Poeticum of pseudo-Bede.

This work would ordinarily be a bit late for us.  Bede himself appears in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, but the editors declined to include his dubia and spuria, doubtless realising that this would take them centuries into the middle ages.

The text is the first witness to All Saints’ Days – All Hallows Day – being celebrated on 1st November.  So it gets quoted in the literature.  I’ve been trying to find out about it, with this in mind.

However I noticed a funny thing, when I was looking through the papers.  There was nothing at all under this name for more than 50 years.  There were a cluster of papers by John Hennig in the 1920s and 30s, and a couple of French papers of the same era, and then nothing.  This made me suspicious.  Generally texts do not cease to be worked on entirely, after attracting interest for centuries.

But I have seen this before.  This evening my suspicion was confirmed – that the text is today known under a different title.  No longer do we study the Martyrologium Poeticum; instead it is the Metrical Calendar of York, or even simply MCY!

The text with an English translation has been edited by Kazutomo Karasawa in The Old English Metrical Calendar (Menologium), Cambridge, 2015, in Appendix 2 (p.138), as one of a number of related texts that Dr. K. included in his edition.

It’s very bad practice to do something like this, without better reason than I have yet to see.  I nearly wrote an article, entirely based on the older literature.  I am not the only one to be misled.

I shall have to write something with a bibliography about all this, and I do need to read the articles by Michael Lapidge that list the manuscripts.  But that can wait to another time.

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A fragment of Bede’s “De ratione temporum” from his own lifetime?

Here’s a fun item!  Inside the binding of a book, somebody found a really early fragment of a manuscript of Bede’s De ratione temporum.  (This is the only work which mentions “Eostre”, and includes all his calculations of dates and events.)

Even more fun – it’s online in a nice high-resolution image at Darmstadt!  It can be found here, where it is manuscript 4262.  The piece originates at Wearmouth – i.e. in Bede’s own monastery – around 725, in his own lifetime.

It’s amazing to consider that Bede may have seen this being copied!

But there is more.  This is a chunk of chapter 27, De magnitudine, vel defectu solis et lunae, as you may verify from this old edition here.  In this passage, he quotes Pliny the Elder book 37.  You can see the red heading of Bede’s chapter in the left hand column; and the name of “Plinius” on the third line underneath.

Here’s one side of the folium:

And here’s the other (which plainly needs a bit of work with a graphics tool):

Here’s some of the Latin text:

CAPUT XXVII. DE MAGNITUDINE, VEL DEFECTU SOLIS ET LUNAE.
De magnitudine, vel defectu solis, sive lunae, Plinius secundus in opere pulcherrimo naturalis historiae ita describit: Manifestum est solem interventu lunas occultari, lunamque terrae objectu, ac vices reddi, eosdem solis radios luna interpositu suo auferente terrae, terraeque lunae.

The “eosdem solis radios luna” is particularly clear in the right-hand column, two lines down.

Here’s the same bit in the Liverpool University translation by Faith Wallis, p.78-79:

27. ON THE SIZE,OR ECLIPSE,OF THE SUN AND MOON
Pliny relates the following information concerning the size or eclipse of the Sun and Moon in that most delightful book, the Natural History: “It is obvious that the Sun is obscured by the intervention of the Moon, and the Moon by the interposition of the Earth, and each affects the other. The Moon takes away by its interposition the very same rays of the Sun which the Earth takes away from the Moon.”

Isn’t it amazing that a page of a copy contemporary with the author, and from the same monastery, is still extant?  It does demonstrate the importance of looking in these 16th century bindings.

Well done Darmstadt, for making that accessible online!  (They ask that I mention their reference of urn:nbn:de:tuda-tudigit-51806)

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Bede on Yule

In De ratione temporum (On the reckoning of time), chapter 15, the Venerable Bede lists the English months:

In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the moon, for the moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March, Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called.  They began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 Dec.], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord.  That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, ‘mother’s night’, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.

The months of Giuli derive their name from the day when the sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because one of [these months] precedes [this day], and the other follows. … [1]

‘Giuli’ is Yule, I believe.  Note how it is a two-month month.

 

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  1. [1]Bede, The reckoning of time, translated … by Faith Wallis.  Liverpool, 2004, p.53-4

A Byzantine exegesis of Paul in the “depth of the sea”

The following interesting passage can be found in a work by the Venerable Bede 1:

The same apostle (Paul) said, “a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea’ (2 Cor. 11:25).  I have heard certain men assert that Theodore of blessed memory, a very learned man and once archbishop of the English people, expounded the saying thus: that there was in Cyzicus a certain very deep pit, dug for the punishment of criminals, which on account of its immense depth was called the depth of the sea.  It was the filth and darkness of this which Paul bore, amongst other things, for Christ.

Theodore was a Greek from Tarsus, who happened to be in Rome in 667 AD at the moment when a Saxon archbishop-elect of Canterbury had died while in Rome to get his pallium. Pope Vitalian was open to eastern influence, and promptly appointed this 67-year old man (d. 690) as archbishop.  His episcopate was a considerable success, he increased the status of the clergy, reorganised the diocese, and Bede says of him that he was the first archbishop whom the whole English church willingly obeyed.  This in turn helped to foster English political and cultural unity.  He brought knowledge of Latin and Greek to Dark Ages England, and interesting snippets like this from a part of the ancient world where the darkness had yet to fall.

1. Liber Quaestionum, Patrologia Latina 93, cols. 456D-457A.  The reference comes to me from Henry Mayr-Harting, The coming of Christianity to anglo-saxon England (1972), repr. 1977, p.207, n. 58 (on p.312).

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