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.


St George and the Crusaders

Today is St George’s Day. April 23rd is the feast day of the Patron Saint of England, adopted as such during the crusader period.  So I thought that I would collect a few early sources connecting the crusaders and St George.  This is not comprehensive: merely whatever comes to hand.

In the Latin Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolymytanorum, ch.15, written 1100-1101, St George is accompanied by St Demetrius and St Mercurius:[1]

The squadrons began to go forth from both sides and to surround our men on all sides, hurling, shooting, and wounding them. There came out from the mountains, also, countless armies with white horses, whose standards were all white. And so, when our leaders saw this army, they were entirely ignorant as to what it was, and who they were, until they recognized the aid of Christ, whose leaders were St. George, Mercurius, and Demetrius. This is to be believed, for many of our men saw it. However, when the Turks who were stationed on the side toward the sea saw that that they could hold out no longer, they set fire to the grass, so that, upon seeing it, those who were in the tents might flee.

There was celebrated Pentecost on the third day of outgoing May. Then we came to Ramlah, which through fear of the Franks the Saracens had left empty. Near it was the famous church in which rested the most precious body of St. George, since for the name of Christ he there happily received martyrdom from the treacherous pagans. There our leaders held a council to choose a bishop who should have charge of this place and erect a church.

The shrine of St George was that at Lydda.

In the Chanson d’Antioche, to which I have no access, I gather that St George is also accompanied by St Maurice.[2]

The Golden Legend reads:[3]

We read in the History of Antioch that during the Crusades, when the Christian hosts were about to lay siege to Jerusalem, a passing fair young man appeared to a priest. He told him that he was St George, the captain of the Christian armies; and that if the crusaders carried his relics to Jerusalem, he would be with them. And when the Crusaders, during the siege of Jerusalem, feared to scale the walls because of the Saracens who were mounted thereon. Saint George appeared to them, accoutred in white armour adorned with the red cross. He signed to them to follow him without fear in the assault of the walls: and they, encouraged by his leadership, repulsed the Saracens and took the city.

In the history of Richard of Devizes,[4] we find many references to “St George” – i.e. Lydda – as a town, a mile from Ramleh, and Richard the Lionheart and his men basing themselves there.

It would be nice to see a proper collection of sources.  (I’m currently busy with a new job, so I can’t do anything at the moment!)

Happy St George’s Day!

  1. [1]
  2. [2]See Susan B. Edgington, “Romance and Reality in the sources for the sieges of Antioch, 1097-8”, in:  Porphyrogenita: Essays on the History and Literature of Byzantium and the Latin East in Honour of Julian Chrysostomides, Ashgate (2003), p.37-8, 44.
  3. [3]Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, transl. and adapted from the Latin by Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York. 1969). pp. 237-8)
  4. [4]1848, p.253. Online here.

More on “Magganum” and St George

Following yesterday’s post, a kind correspondent wrote to tell me of a Greek word in wiktionary that seems relevant, μάγγανο.  This noun may be a form of war machine, but also a type of crane, or a windlass.  The email continued:

The -um endings in Latin coincide with the Greek ending -on, hence, “magganon”.

It is a byzantine war machine like a catapult, but also a windlass or a winch.   I looked into the biographies of Saint George, and one of the tortures he was made to suffer by the relentless persecuter Diocletian was a wheel, to which he was strapped, and as it was turned (by a windlass?) his body was slashed by various sharp objects.

This is an icon of that torture:

St George on the wheel

Another tidbit, regarding the term “magganon”: a modern, composite Greek word for the instrument used for drawing water out of a well (πηγάδι) = μάγγανο-πήγαδο.

The icon is very helpful.  It shows George, tied to the wheel with rope, and the swords positioned underneath to injure him.

Now this does indeed look like the right approach.  There are mentions in the Life of daggers, right next to the references to “maggana”.  It works!

What does “magganum” mean? Looking for the Commentator Cruquianus of Horace

While working on the Life of St George, I came across an unusual word, “magganum”.  Whatever it was, it was being used during the tortures inflicted on the saint.  The dictionaries were really not very helpful!  Gaffiot thought it could mean “wine barrel”, but also pointed me to “maganum” which Du Cange thought meant “war machine”.  Unhappily Arndt’s text of the Life is essentially a transcript of a medieval manuscript, so the spellings cannot be relied on; while a similar Passio was printed by Huber, but Huber didn’t know what the word meant either!

This evening I had a go with Google.  A site called Dicolatin knew of the word, but suggested that it simply meant “wooden barrel”.  Another site seemingly based on LSJ suggested that it meant “a wine-vessel made of wood, Schol. Cruq. ad Hor. C. 1, 9, 8.”

What on earth was that reference, tho?  Luckily the same page expanded this a bit, “Schol. Cruq. u. Acro Hor. carm. 1, 9, 8.”, and a bit of googling revealed the meaning.  This gnomic phrase indicates the scholia from Cruquius on the “carmina” of Horace, book 1, poem 9, line 8.

But who is Cruquius?  And where can I find his scholia?

Cruquius turns out to be an old editor of Horace, who printed an edition in 1578 in Antwerp, reprint 1579.  Cruquius had had access to four manuscripts from a Dutch monastery, all destroyed a decade earlier during the wars of religion.  These contained interesting comments on the text, explaining individual words.  These scholia were ancient, and contained in no other manuscript.  For lack of a better term, the unknown ancient author of the scholia is known as the “Commentator Cruquianus”.  This, then, is what I needed to access.

But where on earth could these scholia be found?

It turns out that there are several sets of ancient scholia on Horace.  There are scholia from the 3rd century AD by Porphyrio;[1] other scholia by pseudo-Acronis.[2]  Any search for “Commentum in Horatium” brings up endless editions of both in  There is also a four volume Scholia in Horatium, by H. J. Botschuyver, Amsterdam 1935-42.  But this was inaccessible to me.

But I was unable to establish if anyone had ever reprinted the scholia from Cruquius.  Nor could I locate his edition in Google Books.

Eventually I had a lucky break: I found a reprint of Cruquius, from 1579.  It’s online here at Google Books.

On page 28 is the text of the Commentator Cruquianus on Carmen I.9, line 8.  It reads:

diota. vas еst vinarium duas ansas habens, quasi duas auriculas, unde nomen habet: aliud еst quod Magganum dicitur, vas vinarium ex ligno confectum.

This is an explanation of the word “diota” in the line of Horace: “a vessel is a wine-container having two handles, like two ears, from which it gets its name: otherwise it is what is called “magganum”, a wine-container vessel made out of wood.”

Which is what I was looking for.  Is it the right meaning for St George?  Well, I shall now have to go back and look at the context.  But it was interesting to find these ancient scholia!

UPDATE: The meaning in the Life of St George is in fact “windlass” – see my next post!

  1. [1]Meyer, Pomponii Porphrionis Commentum in Horatium, 1894. Online here.
  2. [2]Keller, Pseudacronis scholia in Horatium vetustiora, 1902. Vol. 1 online here; vol 2 here.

From my diary

A couple of things have held my attention in the last few weeks.  Firstly I have been working on the QuickLatin codebase.  The migration to dotNet is complete, and it is now a question of firing stuff at it and finding why it breaks!  I’ve also updated the dictionaries to the latest version.

Basically I can now enhance it as I like; which was the purpose behind doing all this in the first place.  It might be an idea to merge into it some translation tools that I have created over the years.  The main user of this will undoubtedly be me, so I may as well make myself comfortable.

The other piece of work is the ongoing translation of the very ancient Life of St George.  This is in 21 chapters.  The translator has done a draft of chapters 1-12, which I have revised and made ready for release.  I have in turn prepared a draft of chapters 18-21, which I have sent to the translator for comment.  I am now working on chapter 17, and using bits from it to test out QuickLatin.  The completed translation will of course be released online as public domain once it is done.

Easter is now behind us.  I had meant to do an Easter post, but somehow I got distracted.  I spent quite a bit of my downtime on Twitter fighting the “Easter is pagan” jeer that is circulated every year by the malicious and their innocent dupes.  This year the fight really got some traction behind it, and a number of people were patrolling and posting corrective links.  Alas it is probably an unwinnable battle, at least while the false story is agreeable to a certain sort of influential person; but it is something to have tried.

I have enquired about access to the Ipswich Museum files in Suffolk Record Office, in order to locate the survey of the Roman fort by the 1969 sub-aqua expedition.  The archivist has now looked at these, and found nothing.  It looks very much as if the report has been mislaid in the last 20 years.  However I can’t even go and look at the files; I’m told that permission to view the items must be obtained from Ipswich Museum, and their response time is six weeks (!)  I have written of course.  But it is a forlorn hope.

We must always be grateful for the internet and the ready availability of research materials on the web.  I certainly am!

From my diary

I was able to sit at my computer this evening for the first time and work a little on the translation of chapter 11 of the Vita of St George.  So I am clearly improving.  But I still can’t really walk, or leave the house, and I must keep my foot elevated most of the time.  So it will be a while yet.  Another chapter (12) of the vita has come in, in very rough draft, so I will have to look at that some time.

I received an email yesterday from Suffolk Record Office, suggesting strongly that the report on the sub-aqua survey of Felixstowe / Walton Roman fort has been lost.  It looks as if the archivist only looked at a catalogue, however, so there is still hope that it may just be  mislaid and might be found on examination.  This will have to wait until I am mobile again, however.

A rather large number of items have arrived in the last week or so which I have placed in my “things to blog about” folder.  One day perhaps I will get to them!

From my diary

I’ve had rather a busy week, ending with a rather splendid college reunion.  But of course everything else has gone out of the window, and I also have rather a large sleep debt to pay off.

Today brings another chunk of translation of an early Latin Vita of St George.  Chapters 9 and 11 are in my inbox now.  The version is a very rough draft. The only difficulty is that the translator doesn’t read my emails with feedback, so makes the same mistakes every time.  This means that I shall have to correct and finish it myself.  I hope to do the job on these chunks this week.  The translation is going forward nicely, tho; some 8 chapters still to do.

Today also brought a welcome email from the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service with unwelcome news.  In 1969 a team of divers surveyed the ruins of a Roman fort in the sea off Felixstowe, known locally as Walton Castle.  A report was filed with the museum, and was accessible a decade ago.  The email today tells me that they cannot locate it now.  I have written therefore to the sub-aqua club, who may have it in their files.  Another email went to the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, who published the article mentioning the survey, to see if I can get in contact with the author in case he has a copy.  We tend to think of museums and archives as safe repositories.  But the truth is that history is vanishing before our eyes.  So it has always been.

Last week I was working industriously on the new QuickLatin.  This is going well, and crude errors are disappearing.  I must get a version released online, as a base version for further work.

My backlog of interesting topics to blog about continues to increase.  So much to do!

From my diary

This evening I spent some time looking at Huber’s article, Zur Georgslegende (1906).  I’d not looked at this before, so it was time to do so.  It contains five Latin versions of the Life of St George.

I also OCR’d the article, so that I could pass the German introduction through Google Translate, to see if it contained anything useful.  It was indeed very waffly and poorly structured, as is often the case at that period.  There was a lot of criticism of Papebroch, the Bollandist editor, for not printing much of the Latin versions.

But I learned from it that Arndt’s edition of the “Passicrates” Life that I am currently working on is indeed every bit as bad as I had thought.  Huber suggests that the text itself probably suffered, both from a bad translator, when it was created from Greek; and then from errors in transmission by copying.  He queries whether it has been significantly interpolated.  He also makes clear that Arndt isn’t a critical edition.  He gives as his third Passio another recension of the “Passicrates” life, which isn’t as old but is much easier to read.  My thanks to the kind correspondent who drew my attention to this.  But on the whole Huber achieves little in the pages he devotes to the question.

I came away from the exercise feeling even more strongly that a scholar needs to dedicate himself to sorting out the hagiography of St George, and write a definitive monograph.  It really can’t be that hard to list the versions, compare the texts within them, and do a proper analysis for both Latin and Greek.

My next task was to look at the possible meanings of “separo”, which usually means “separate”.  This appears at various points in Arndt’s text, in contexts where this meaning does not make sense.  Possibly “sever” will cover most of the choices.

However it is becoming clear that I ought to prepare a Word document containing the Latin, if only to use for searching through.  This will probably be my next task.  I have OCR’d and corrected chapters 12-21 already, but the rest should be done too.

Something that distracted me this evening was the tools that I am working with.  I’m using my old QuickLatin product for quick morphologies, which it does perfectly well.  But I find that I am using other PDFs and online dictionaries.  Surely these could be integrated somehow?

The problem is that it was written in Visual Basic 6, which is now some twenty years old, and only runs on Windows 10 by a special miracle.  Another tool that I use, to interleave Latin and English text, was written in VB.Net 2008, which replaced it.  This too is now more than ten years old.  Microsoft have been terrible at keeping their development tools working, and compatible, and I have complained before about their current offering, Visual Studio Community Edition, as nearly unusable by anyone but a professional.

My eye was caught by the old Delphi product, which I downloaded and played with a bit.  I always liked Pascal, the language it used.  It would be a bonus to be able to generate Android and iPhone apps.  Why can’t you do that from Visual Studio?  But of course my code is all in VB.  I have to work on this stuff in odd moments, unlike the way a professional works.  There is no way that I will ever port all this to Delphi; which is, in any case, nearly a dead tool itself.

Eventually I decided to leave that task for another time.  I was slightly nervous today that I might get a call about a job, and need to put everything to one side.  Whatever I do, it has to survive the call to go and earn a living, and to drop everything else in the mean time.  That is quite a demand of any project.

I’d better settle down and work up a text for chapters 1-11.

Update: I have just discovered, to my utter astonishment, that Arndt prints his corrections to the text, sometimes in the text with the manuscript reading in the footnote; and sometimes in the footnote, leaving the (unintelligible) manuscript reading in the text!  Generally “corr. minimos” means that minimos is what he thinks it should be.  “se. cod.” means that he has corrected it, but the ms. read “se”.

Less clear is “seccabo prius, corr. rad.” where he has printed “secabo” in the text.  The latter is the normal spelling.  But what is “prius”? Not the manuscript?  and what is “rad.” short for?  Some of his “corrections” in the footnotes don’t even make sense.

Incredible rubbish.  Both he and his editor should have been shot.

Update: An even worse example. Footnote reads: “corr. inest” on “inextimabiles”. By this he means we should read “inestimabiles”.  Good grief.  Fortunately after the first few pages he settles down.  But clearly his editor never read any of this.

Update: A commenter has pointed out that the mistake is mine! that “corr.” indicates a feature of the manuscript, changes introduced by a “corrector”.  “rad” is for “radendo”, “scraped away”.  Thank you!

The importance of standard spelling in critical editions

A few months ago a kind gentleman offered to translate some Latin for us all.  Meaning no harm, I suggested that the earliest Latin version of the Life of St George might be a good candidate.  For narrative texts are easier to translate, and how difficult could a late antique saints’ life be?  There was a 19th century edition by Arndt, and this I sent him.

Chunks of this have proceeded to arrive over the last few months.  I commented in detail on the first couple, and then pressure of work meant that I just filed the next few.

However last week I started to collect them, and go through them, and try to create a final version.  This evening I finished with what I had.  This consists of chapters 1-8 and chapter 10 (out of 21).

I feel really rather guilty now.  It’s a nightmare to translate and revise.  The reason, simply, is that the editor, Arndt, slacked on the job.  All he seems to have done is to fix one or two obvious errors, and leave the rest as he found it, weird late spellings and all.  That makes it very hard indeed to read.

I can cope with “capud” for “caput”, “head”.  But more obscure words have frequently left me baffled and guessing.  It’s obvious that “maggana” is “magana”, “daggers”, once you know.  Other words like “amos ferreos” – “iron whatsits” – are beyond me.

These spelling choices make it very difficult to find words in dictionaries!  The tortures that St George undergoes name quite a lot of bits of the body, as the wicked emperor gloats on what he will do to the saint unless he recants.  I do have a specialist glossary for body parts.  But even so what is the noun in “nerbona incidam”?  Or what does bella in “humera et bella secabo” mean?

In these few cases, indeed, I have been quite unable to work out what the word means.  Maybe this is down to the eccentric spelling.

What on earth did Arndt think he was doing here?  If he was providing a transcription, he had no business correcting the text, as his apparatus makes clear that he did.  If he was providing a text, then using normal spellings was essential.

We will plod on, of course.  But Arndt’s laziness makes the task much harder than it should have been.