“Duo mercatores” – Another miracle story about St Nicholas (BHL 6159)

Here’s the Latin text and a Google translation of another of the random miracle stories that fill up the medieval manuscripts of the Life of St Nicholas.  This one is uncommon. The Bollandists assign it the number BHL 6159, and it only appears in three manuscripts, all in Belgium.  None of these are online.  Luckily the Bollandists transcribed the text in Anecdota Bollandiana 4, p.203-4, which I reproduce below.  (AB4 is actually online at Google Books, but good luck in finding it!  I wish I’d kept the URL).

Again the translation is that of Google, but I’ve tweaked it a bit.

Duo mercatores consocii fuerunt, qui lustrando diversas regiones vendendo et emendo infinitam congregaverant pecuniam.  Deinde repatriantes, in cujusdam noctis crepusculo in hospitio unius eorum magno sunt recepti gaudio.  Nec mora, post susceptam cibi potusque receptionem fessa corpora dormitioni dederunt.

Interea antiquus ille humani generis persecutor fallaciae venenum in pectus mulieris infudit, ut domino suo consiliaretur illum socium suum clam intempesta nocte interimere, quatenus divitias utrorumque labore partas solus obtineret.  Quod dum mulier perfida auribus viri primo renuentis hortando, admonendo, obsecrando saepius instillavit, instinctu antiqui serpentis voluntati suae pestiferae acquievit citissime.  Igitur mitem immites, fidelem infideles sopori deditum more lupi membratim distrahunt, membra quidem in penetralibus suis occultantes, et immensam illius pecuniam in receptaculis abscondentes.

Matutinali vero tempore fama undique replevit confinia unum illorum cum gaudio reversum, alterum vero nusquam comparuisse.  Uxor igitur illius, hac dira legatione suscepta, quasi amens socium mariti sui aggreditur, quaerens quo vir suus devenisset. At ille, plenus fallacia, affirmabat multimodis juramentis hesterna nocte eum cum copiosa pecunia ab hospitio suo discessisse, nec postea vidisse.

Mulier vero his verbis utpote sagittis vulnerata letiferis, ad statuam sancti Nicolai, quam adorare consueverat, recucurrit, dolore dictante, in haec verba prorumpens:  “Tu gemma sacerdotii, electe Dei confessor, Nicolae, cujus misericordia et pietati virum meum, me ipsam et res nostras commiseram, quare nos oblivioni dedisti? Quamobrem virum meum mihi non reddidisti?  Vere nunc, si maritum meum tibi commissum mihi non reddideris, nomini tuo amodo nec gloriam conferam, nec honorem.”

Haec et his similia postquam flendo dixerat, discessit, obvians sancto Nicolao. Cui sanctus his usus est verbis: “Quid fles?  cur lacrimis manas?” Cui dum mulier omnia sicut gesta erant seriatim exposuerat, a sancto Nicolao ducta est ad viri sui occisorem.

Quem electus Dei servus his aggreditur interrogationibus: “Dic mihi, miser, dic ubi sit maritus istius mulieris.”   Qui postquam juramentis multimodis affirmavit socium suum in praeteritae noctis crepusculo sanum et incolumem discessisse, egregius Dei amicus, invocato Creatoris coeli et terrae nomine, occisum admonuit ut, si in receptaculis illius hospitii occultatus fuisset, responsum non denegaret.   Mira res: vix sanctus sermonem finierat, cum lingua dilaniati corporis aperta voce se adesse respondit.  Cujus vocem vir Domini hilari corde percipiens, membra illius dilacerata sibi praesentari jussit; et invocata summi regis majestate, anima ad corpus rediit.

Quo viso, postquam electus Dei servus omnipotenti Deo dignas persolvit gratias, erectum virum uxori reddidit, dicens: “Ecce, per Dei misericordiam virum quem mihi commendasti tibi sanum reddo.” Unde mulier laetificata gratias egit sancto Nicolao et omnipotenti Deo, cui est honor et gloria in seculorum secula.

There were two merchant partners who, by visiting different countries and selling and buying, had amassed an infinite amount of money.  Then returning home, in the twilight of a certain night they were received with great joy in the lodgings of one of them.  And without delay, after receiving the welcome of food and drink, their tired bodies gave way to sleep.

Meanwhile, that ancient persecutor of the human race poured the poison of deception into a woman’s breast, to advise her lord to kill his partner secretly in the dead of night, in order that he alone may obtain the riches obtained by the labour of both.  While the perfidious woman repeatedly poured into the ears of the man, who at first refused, encouraging, admonishing, and imploring, he very quickly yielded to the suggestion of the ancient serpent of his malicious will. So like wolves the faithless savage ones cut the sleeping mild faithful one to pieces, indeed hiding the limbs in their inmost places, and concealing his immense wealth in the hidden places.

But in the morning the report filled the neighbourhood from all sides that one of them had returned with joy, but that the other was nowhere to be found. His wife, therefore, receiving this terrible news, attacked her husband’s companion as if mad, demanding where her husband had gone. But he, full of deceit, affirmed with many oaths that he had left his lodgings last night with a large sum of money, and that he had not seen him since.

But with these words the woman, as if she had been pierced by arrows, ran back to the statue of St. Nicholas, which she was accustomed to venerate, and, speaking with pain, burst into these words: “You jewel of the priesthood, chosen confessor of God, Nicholas, to whose mercy and piety I committed my husband, myself, and our affairs, why have you consigned us to forgetfulness?  Why did you not give me back my husband? Truly now, if you do not return to me my husband who was committed to you, I will give neither glory nor honor to your name.”

After she had said these and similar things, weeping, she departed, and met St. Nicholas. To whom the saint used these words: “Why do you weep? why do you shed tears?” While the woman seriously explained everything as it had happened to him, she was led by St. Nicholas to her husband’s murderer.

The chosen servant of God attacked him with these questions: “Tell me, wretch, tell me where that woman’s husband is.”  After he had affirmed by many oaths that his companion had departed safe and sound at the twilight of the previous night, the distinguished friend of God, invoking the name of the Creator of heaven and earth, commanded the murdered man, that if he was hidden in the hiding places of that lodging, he would not refuse to answer. A strange thing: scarcely had the saint finished speaking, when, with the tongue of his torn body, he answered in a clear voice that he was present.  The man of God, perceiving his voice with a joyful heart, commanded that his torn limbs should be presented to him; and being invoked by the majesty of the supreme king, the soul returned to the body.

When he saw this, after the chosen servant of God had paid the due thanks to Almighty God, he restored the husband to his wife, saying: “Behold, by the mercy of God I restore to you the man whom you entrusted to me.” Whereupon the woman, delighted, gave thanks to Saint Nicholas and to Almighty God, to whom be honour and glory forever and ever.

    *    *    *    *

This story reminded me of an anecdote.  There were once a pair of men who ran a shop.  While cashing up, one discovered that a customer had inadvertently given him two $50 notes stuck together instead of one.  This, he said to his son, meditatively, raised an important moral question: should he tell his business partner?  The answer of this honest merchant to his dilemma is not recorded.


Five miracle stories about St Nicholas

The medieval manuscripts that contain the Life of St Nicholas almost always continue with a mass of miracle stories about the saint.  The 1751 pre-critical edition by Falconius does the same.  The genuine Life by John the Deacon ends with his “chapter 13” – the numbering is his – but there are more chapters.  Anybody who looks at the manuscripts will find this mass of stuff on the end, which frankly adds very little.  C. W. Jones, in his book on the legends of the saint, dismisses it in a  sentence.

Since I scanned Falconius, I thought I would scan up to the end.  This would give me a file with the additional material in it.  When working with the manuscripts, you can get lost, and it can be  very helpful to do “Ctrl-F” on some wording and find out where you are.

Just for fun, I then pushed each chapter in turn through Google Translate, to get an idea of the content.  I was amazed – once again – at the quality of the translation.  I did the same with Falconius’ increasingly sarcastic footnotes.

I won’t do much more with this.  It is just a means to an end.  But nobody ever does anything with this stuff, as far as I can see.  So I thought that I would share the contents here.  I’ve not troubled to correct the translation much, so it’s more or less as it came out.  Of course if you see an obvious error, do signal it in the comments and I will fix it.

The effort was valuable in another way.  We can get an idea of just how carefully Falconius worked on his edition.  How?  Well, from the fact that he misnumbered his own chapters.  There really are *two* chapters  marked “XVII”, “17”!  Not good.

I’ve added the BHL numbers for each text (=Bibliographia Hagiographica Latina, the index of all saints’ lives).  I also went and looked at the earliest manuscript, Paris BNF lat. 989 (10th century) for the places where Falconius indicated uncertainty.

    *    *    *    *

The start of the first story in Paris BNF 989, fol. 91v.

[BHL 6150]  XIV. (a) Quodam itaque tempore, advenit quadam mulier, de vico qui dicitur Cyparissus, ad sanctissimam domum Archangeli, qui vocatur Croba, ubi erat sanctus Nicolaus. Haec adtulit filium suum, quem iniquissimus daemon ita vexabat crudeliter ut etiam vestimentum, quo induebatur, dentibus laceraret. Quem projecit ad pedes sancti Nicolai, flens et dicens, “Miserere serve Dei huic misello filio meo, quia fortiter vexatur a daemonio.” Pietate autem ductus, sanctus Dei famulus super eum apprehendit manum ejus, et insuper flavit in ore illius. Statimque, divina virtute et beati Nicolai meritis emundatus, immundus ab eo evanuit spiritus, sanusque ad propria, cum matre sua exsultans, reversus est.

(a) Has lectiones, & 18, non Johannes Diaconus, sed alius ex Actis antiquis consarcinavit cap. 30. ipso seculo decimo, vel undecimo (quod est verisimilius) qui, ad usum Ecclesiae Neapolitanae, Diaconum in lectiones redegit.

At a certain time, there came a certain woman, from a town called Cyparissus, to the most holy house of the Archangel, called Croba, where St. Nicholas was. She brought her son, whom the most wicked demon was tormenting so cruelly that he even tore the clothes which he was wearing with his teeth. She laid him at the feet of St. Nicholas, weeping and saying, “Have mercy on this poor son of mine, servant of God, because he is strongly tormented by a demon.” But led by piety, the holy servant of God took hold of his hand over him, and, moreover, blew into his mouth. And at once, cleansed by the divine power and by the merits of the blessed Nicholas, the unclean spirit disappeared from him, and in good health he returned, rejoicing with his mother, to his home.

(a). These readings, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, are not by John the Deacon, but were stitched on the end from some earlier Acts, ch. 30, by someone else, of the 10th or (more likely) 11th century, who arranged John’s text into readings according to the usage of the Neapolitan church.

The BHLMS lists 49 manuscripts of this story.

[BHL 6151] XV. Rursus autem alio tempore, altera mulier, de vico Neapoleos (b), ab immundo Spiritu graviter torquebatur. Quam assumens vir ejus, adduxit ad monasterium Viri Dei, ubi ipse tunc temporis morabatur (c), et projecit eam ad pedes beati Nicolai, dicens, “Sancte Dei, succurre huic mulieri miserae, quae graviter torquetur a daemonio.” Sanctus autem Dei Nicolaus, mox, ut orationem fudit pro ea ad Dominum, immundum ab ea pepulit Spiritum, et sana effecta, abiit in domum suam, glorificans Deum,et sanctam Sion. Hoc erat vocabulum monasterii Sancti Nicolai: id est Sancta Hierusalem.

(b) Haec sumpta est ex fine cap. 29.  Sed ibi pro Neapoli est Nicapo.

(c) Sic saltat foveam homo cautus.  Ubi modo est, ille Myrensis Archiepiscopus Nicolaus?

Then again, at another time, another woman, from the village of Naples,(b) was severely tormented by an unclean spirit. Her husband picked her up and brought her to the monastery of the Man of God, where at that time he was staying, and laid her at the feet of blessed Nicholas, saying, “Saint of God, help this poor woman, who is severely tormented by a demon.” Then Nicholas, the saint of God, immediately, as he poured out a prayer for her to the Lord, drove away the impure spirit from her, and being healed, she went to her house, glorifying God and Holy Sion. This was the name of the monastery of St. Nicholas: that is, “Holy Jerusalem”.

(b) This is taken from the end of ch. 29. But there for “Neapoli” it reads “Nicapo”.

(c) Thus a cautious man leaps over a pitfall. In what way is this about Archbishop Nicolaus of Myra?

The BHLMS lists 48 manuscripts of this story.  The oldest is BNF 989 (10th c.) which reads “Necapoleos”.

[BHL 6152] XVI. Venit quidam homo ad Sanctam Sion, nomine Nicolaus, de vico Sibino, (d) tempore Sancti Jejunii. Hic adduxit quendam infirmum, super animali sedentem, ad Sanctum Nicolaum, ut saluti eum pristinae redderet. Erat autem homo ille toto exsiccatus corpore, ab ea aegritudine, quae Graeco vocabulo, “paralysis”, Latine vero “resolutio membrorum” dicitur. Quem in conspectu viri Dei, in terram projiciens, obsecrat dicens, “Nicolae vir Dei, pro isto misello homine interveni, quatenus per tuas sanctas orationes propitietur ei Deus.” Cujus infirmitati, plurimum vir Dei condolens Nicolaus, assumpto oleo de dominica lampade, perunxit eum. Inde autem facta super eum oratione, illico eum pristinae reddidit sanitati. Benedictioneque percepta, reversus est ad domum suam, gratias agens glorificans Deum.

(d) Ex eodem cap. 30. sumpta.

A certain man, named Nicolaus, from the town of Sibinum,(d) came to Holy Sion at the time of Holy Lent. Here he brought a certain sick man, sitting on an animal, to St. Nicholas, that he might restore him to his former health. Now that man was withered throughout his body, from that sickness which in the Greek word is “paralysis”, but in Latin is called “the dissolution of the limbs”.  In the presence of the man of God, laying him on the ground, he beseeched him, saying, “Nicholas, man of God, intercede for this poor man, inasmuch as through your holy prayers God may be propitiated for him.” Nicholas, the man of God, sympathizing greatly with his infirmity, took oil from the Lord’s lamp and anointed him. Then, after a prayer was made over him, he immediately restored him to his former health. Having received the blessing, he returned to his house, giving thanks and glorifying God.

(d) Taken from the same ch. 30.

The BHLMS lists 47 manuscripts of this story.  BNF lat. 989 = “Sivino”.

[BHL 6153] XVII. Nec multo post, quidam energumenus, de vico Cendino (e); cui nomen erat Timotheus, adductus est in Monasterium Sanctae Sion, ad famulum Dei Nicolaum. Habebat enim homo ille spiritum pessimum, qui ita eum exagitabat, ut, per ligna et lapides, hinc et inde, caput suum percutiendo contunderet. Unde factum est, ut de creberrimis percussionibus, plagis horridis, caput vulneratum haberet, ita ut etiam sanies cum vermibus proflueret. Sustentatus itaque a tribus viris, perductus est, ut diximus, in Sanctam Sion, ad sanctissimum Dei famulum Nicolaum: Quem etiam orabant, ut suis eum curare precibus dignaretur. Inquiunt: “Nicolae serve Dei excelsi, conspice miseriam hominis hujus; ora pro eo ad Deum, ut possit evadere, et Christi consequi misericordiam.” Quem Sanctus Nicolaus, propriis consignans manibus; daemonium ab eo expulit, et ab omni aegritudine liberavit, et sanum et incolumem remisit ad propria: gaudens et glorificans Deum, qui hanc confessori suo, gratiam contulerat Nicolao.

(e) Et haec ex eodem cap. 30. sumpta est.  Sed pro “Cendino”, ibi est “Cedemorum”.  Num proprium sit “Cendenum”?

17.1. Not long after, a certain strong man, from the town of Cendinum,(e) whose name was Timotheus, was brought to the monastery of Holy Sion, to the servant of God Nicholas. For that man had a very bad spirit, which so agitated him, that he was bruising his head from side to side with sticks and stones. As a result he had a wounded head from the frequent knocks and terrible blows and it was oozing pus and worms. Supported therefore by three men, he was led, as we have said, to Holy Sion, to the most holy servant of God, Nicholas: whom they also begged, that he might condescend to cure him with his prayers. They said, “Nicholas, servant of God on high, behold the misery of this man; pray for him to God, that he may escape, and obtain the mercy of Christ.” St. Nicholas, sealing him with his own hands, cast out the demon from him, and freed him from all sickness, and sent him back to his own home, safe and sound, rejoicing and glorifying God, who had bestowed this favour upon his confessor, Nicholas.

(e) And these things were taken from the same ch. 30. But instead of “Cendino” this reads “Cedemorum”.  Possibly the correct reading is “Cendenum”?

The BHLMS lists 50 manuscripts of this story.  BNF 989 = “Cendino”.

[BHL 6154]  XVII. Cum igitur his, et aliis pluribus miraculis, ac virtutibus beatissimus floreret Nicolaus, decidit in aegritudinem, de qua, ex hac instabili luce subtractus est. Qui cum jaceret in grabatu; accessit ad eum quaedam mulier lunatica, de vico Olcon (f); cujus nomen erat Eugenia. Quae eum exorabat, ut sibi conferre dignaretur sanitatis gaudia.  Cujus precibus beatus Nicolaus annuens; pro ea fudit orationem ad Dominum. Deinde signavit eam: sicque sanitatem, quam optabat consequi; adipisci promeruit. Remeans ergo mulier ad propria; sana et incolumis, magnifice collaudavit Dominum Jesum Christum; qui in Sanctis suis, semper est mirabilis.

(f) Haec etiam ex Actis sumpta est cap. 31.

17.2.  Therefore, while the most blessed Nicholas was flourishing with these and many other miracles and virtues, he fell into an illness, because of which he was withdrawn from this unstable light. When he was lying on a pallet, a certain lunatic woman came to him, from the town of Olcon (f), whose name was Eugenia. She entreated him to condescend to confer upon her the joys of health. Blessed Nicholas, assenting to her prayers, poured out a prayer for her to the Lord. Then he signed her [with the cross], and so succeeded in securing the health which she wished to obtain. The woman, therefore, returning to her own home, safe and sound, praised the Lord Jesus Christ magnificently, who is always wonderful in His Saints.

(f) This is also taken from those Acts ch. 31.

The BHLMS lists 59 manuscripts of this story.

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There are many more tales of this sort.  I shall look at some more.


From my diary

Tomorrow is St Nicholas’ Day.  I’ve been working hard to complete my translation of the earliest Latin “life” of St Nicholas, by John the Deacon.  I pulled it all into one Word document at the weekend.  My intention was to read through it today a couple of times, and then get it out of the door.  At the moment various urgent but unimportant chores are getting in the way, unfortunately.

But this morning, when I woke up, I found myself thinking about the opening sentence.  I’m always wary of translationese, and I started turning it over in my head, thinking about what the writer was actually saying, and how to best express that in English.  Gradually I came up with a form of words, not very different from the translationese, and I rushed to the computer to jot it down.  This I did, and compared it with the Latin.

But I wrote that material some months ago.  Since then I have got far more familiar with John’s word order trickery.  And it struck me, at once, that I had made a couple of significant mistakes.  In the very first sentence.  Disaster!  Because if that’s wrong, how many more are wrong?

I must reluctantly conclude that I had better read through all the sentences again, and check.  So the release of the translation will be delayed.

    *    *    *    *

As I’ve worked on translating the text, I’ve also been learning how to translate it.  The process is not linear, but circular.  You have to attempt the translation, from wherever you are, and with whatever tools you have.  The process forces you to learn how to translate it.  You then have to redo your initial attempts.

This used to happen to me sometimes in my programming days.  I would attempt to make some kind of change to a mass of someone else’s code.  I’d wade into it.  And, instead of it getting simpler, more and more problems would arise.  I’d learn that I’d gone about it the wrong way.

Unwary programmers would press on, and sometimes I would be called to assist some sad-looking junior, sunk deep in a morass from which they could not extricate themselves.

But I knew better than to do that.  This was the benefit of experience, of the mental toolset that I had acquired of ways to do things.  I would simply abandon what I had done, and went back to the last version of the code that I knew worked.  Then I would start again, but this time with a greater awareness of the problems, and the places where it would all go wrong.

It’s been the same with John.  I’ve had to simply charge in and do stuff, somehow, and then find out, repeatedly, that I was wrong.

When I first started, I had the choice of two Latin texts.  There was the Mombritius edition of 1477, which was not punctuated in any normal way.  And there was the much more friendly looking Falconius edition of 1751, with chapters, punctuation.  So I chose that. There was also an 1822 edition by Angelo Mai, but this, I knew, was abbreviated.  At this time I knew nothing of the modern Corsi edition, which I was not to obtain access to for many months, nor of the 16th century Lippomano edition.

The opening portion of the 1751 Falconius edition

It was only once I had translated the whole Falconius text that I started looking at the Mombritius text.  I did so only out of laziness; because in some places the text is weird, and I wondered if the other was a better variant.

The opening section of the 1477 Mombritius text, in a modern reprint.

It all started when I got into second sentence of chapter 2, the tail end of which was basically incomprehensible.  Falconius had one reading; Mombritius another.  I wondered what the manuscripts said, and I found that none of them followed Falconius, and that they varied a lot in that sentence.  Falconius wasn’t comprehensible either.  But it became obvious from this that Falconius had silently altered the text at this point, without manuscript authority, and probably wrongly.

This led me to scan the whole Mombritius text into a word file, so that I could do a machine comparison with the Falconius text.  Of course I had to find out how to do this!  I tried various bits of software, which all had too steep a learning curve.  My skills are in linux anyway, so I ended up using something odd called dwdiff, and then writing a bit of software to display the output in colourised form.  I had to strip out the punctuation, normalise the text to lower case, turn all the v into u, and j into i.  Yes, I had to create my own method and teach myself how to compare two Latin texts.

I also scanned the Mai edition for good measure, to see just how different that was; and also the Corsi edition once I had it.

But once I had this output, the extent of the differences between the two editions became very obvious.  There they were, line upon line, in black and white – or rather, in red and green!

The output of a machine comparison between Falconius and Mombritius

It was very interesting to see how few of these changes actually affected the meaning in any way.

In the process, it became increasingly clear that the reading in Falconius could most easily be explained as derivative; that the real text of John’s work was a text of Mombritus type, which was modified.  The diff also showed that the abbreviated text printed by Mai had plainly been produced by a scribe who had a Mombritius-type text in front of him, chopping out the irrelevant moralising reflections that John added to his story; and, that after a few chapters, the scribe had simply paraphrased what John wrote.  Corsi had also started with the Falconius edition, and used a Berlin manuscript, but his edition leaned strongly toward the latter.

We have all sorts of manuscripts online these days.  So naturally it’s not too difficult just to download one.  And … suddenly I find myself wanting to collate these, to engage in stemmatics, recensio.

But I shall have to find a way to teach myself how to do these next!


From my diary – thoughts about the text of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas

I have now scanned in the text of Corsi’s edition of John the Deacon, and found that – as he says – it is really a transcription of the Berlin manuscript, with better punctuation, plus a collation with the 1751 Falconius edition. He didn’t look at the Mombritius or Mai editions.

But that’s just fine.  It means that we can do an electronic comparison of Corsi’s text – the Berlin manuscript – with the other three editions – Falconius, Mai and Mombritius.

When I compare Falconius with Corsi, using dwdiff and dwdiff viewer that I wrote, the initial differences are small:

Small differences between Falconius and Corsi

But then when you look at chapter 12, and 13, the comparison goes nuts.  These are not the same text, basically:

Massive differences between the Falconius edition and Corsi's edition

In fact Corsi himself says the same: he didn’t bother to give an apparatus.

On the other hand if I compare the Mombritius (1498) edition with Corsi, at once we see that we’re dealing with the same text:

Small differences between Mombritius and Corsi in chapter 12

This is very useful, although a little bit annoying in that I have already translated chapters 12 and 13 from Falconius.  So there are now a few things to do, focusing on chapters 12 and 13:

  • Mark up the manuscript print-outs to indicate exactly where chapter 12 and 13 appear, and see which version of the text is contained in each.
  • Look at the two Vatican manuscripts that Falconius used, find chapters 12 and 13, and see if these reflect Falconius’ text, or Corsi’s.  I have an idea that they will in fact reflect that of Corsi.  Falconius used a lectionary from Naples, but the Naples manuscripts are not online.  There is clearly an article to be written on what exactly Falconius did, when he produced his edition, but not by me.

In the mean time I have been scanning the material in the Falconius edition which he himself states is not genuine (!) but from the Life of St Nicholas of Sion.  I’m correcting the OCR in Finereader 15 now, and he’s quite right – the chapters all refer explicitly to Sion monastery.

Once I have an electronic text of this, I can search it for words found elsewhere.  At least I will be able to identify *some* Nicholas of Sion material.

Of course this leads to the question of where the Life of St Nicholas of Sion might be found.  The Greek Life has been edited, and there is a 1984 translation into English by Sevcenko.  It might be worth my while to lay hands on this, although no copies are for sale.  But… what about the Latin Life?  Is there one?  Has any work been done on this?  Do I really want to find out?!

The original project was to produce a translation of the Life, as made by John the Deacon.  I don’t want to lose sight of this.  It is clear that Falconius has mixed in stuff which does not really belong to the Life of Nicholas of Myra.

Just to digress a moment, I was reflecting that all this is rather more serious than the “difficulties” of biblical critics, which seem to concentrate on a single word.  This is indeed what text criticism was devised for.

I’ve also been thinking about the dwdiff utility.  It seems merely to be a wrapper around something called wdiff, which itself is a wrapper around the standard tool diff, made by splitting the text into two files of words, and processing the output.  But unlike dwdiff, wdiff exists in a Windows version!  So I may go and investigate that.  It would be handy to avoid popping open a Ubuntu window every time I compare a text.

Lots to do.  I could use a few solid days on this, but, as ever, I can only do stuff in short bursts.  Still… lots to do!


From my diary

Back to John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.

I’ve now completely retranslated chapter 1, the prologue, which I made an attempt at last year.  I’ve been comparing the text of the Falconius (1751) edition, which I am translating, with the Mombritius (1498) and the Mai (1820-ish) editions, and finding small differences, and noting them.

Over the last week I started downloading copies of manuscripts from the Bibliotheque Nationale Francais site, Gallica.  I’ve been bookmarking the start of John the Deacon, and looking at two places, one at the start and one at the end of the chapter.  I’m seeing variation alright.  But many of these manuscripts are probably all closely related.  I now have 9 manuscripts on disk, 2 of which do not contain chapter 1.

I’ve got three different lists of manuscripts.  The Bollandists list 121, and there are clearly more.  I don’t know how many are online – possibly around 20, I would guess.

Just finding online manuscripts by shelfmark is hard.  I have discovered the Biblissima site, and am using this.

It’s very helpful that the BNF allow downloads.  Less helpful are sites like the Vatican that force you to use a crummy viewer.

Ideally I could collect manuscripts using my mobile phone while lying on the sofa.  In actual practice it is quite hard work just to collect them, even using the PC.  But I am learning all the time.



From my diary

I’ve had no time to do anything useful for a week, but I’m still gathering materials on John the Deacon as a sideline.  Thanks to the kindness of Fr. Gerardo Cioffari at the St Nicholas Centre in Bari (= Centro Studi Nicolaiani) – himself a considerable scholar -, I now have access to Pasquale Corsi’s translation of John the Deacon.

I don’t dare look at Corsi’s translation until I’m rather more advanced with my own translation than I currently am!   Of course Dr Corsi worked on the text for years, rather than my dabbling, and knows far more about it.  Dr Cioffari also sent me a booklet with critical text of an important work on the translation of the relics of St Nicholas to Bari, which may be very useful in time.

The translation is contained in P. Corsi, La traslazione di San Nicola: Le fonti, Bari (1987), p.87-109.  His introduction is also useful, as this extract shows (plus google translate):

A tal fine, viene qui proposta una traduzione della Vita di san Nicola dal testo latino di Giovanni, diacono della Chiesa napoletana, il quale verso l’880 aveva tradotto precedenti fonti greche6. L’edizione seguita è quella da me stesso pubblicata di recente7, però con alcune modifiche sug­erite da ulteriori letture e da qualche ripensamento; naturalmente ho provveduto anche ad eliminare alcuni errori materiali di stampa. Per quanto riguarda la traduzione, ho cercato di mantenere un giusto equili­brio tra la fedeltà al testo latino e le strutture linguistiche dell’italiano mo­derno, allo scopo di non sacrificare né lo stile del nostro agiografo né la scorrevolezza della versione moderna. Ovviamente, non posso essere certo di essere riuscito nell’intento. Mi auguro comunqe di aver conservato per il lettore le principali caratteristiche dell’opera di Giovanni, senza per que­sto rendere difficoltosa la comprensione dei concetti e delle espressioni.

To this end, a translation of the Life of St. Nicholas is published here from the Latin text of John, deacon of the Neapolitan Church, who had translated previous Greek sources towards 1880 (6). The edition followed is the one I published recently (7), but with some changes suggested by further reading and some rethinking; naturally I have also taken steps to eliminate some printing errors. As for the translation, I have tried to maintain a fair balance between fidelity to the Latin text and the linguistic structures of modern Italian, in order not to sacrifice either the style of our hagiographer or the fluency of the modern version. Obviously, I cannot be sure that I have succeeded in this intention. However, I hope to have kept the main characteristics of John’s work for the reader, without making it difficult to understand the concepts and expressions.

6 BHL 6104-6117, particol 6104-6106; cfr. BHG 1352y. Si veda, in proposito, anche l’introduzione al saggio qui appresso citato al n. 7.  (=On this, see the introduction to the article in note 7 below)

 7 P. CORSI, La ‘‘Vita” di San Nicola e un codice della versione di Giovanni Diacono, in “Nicolaus” VII/2 (1979), pp. 359-380, particol. pp. 361-380.

I’ve now placed an interlibrary request for the article in note 7, which should bring the Latin text, as edited from Ms. Berlin 741.

Interestingly a random Google search revealed an earlier translation by P. Corsi, in Autori Vari, Bibliografia agiografica italiana 1976-1999, p.23, item 254:

254. Corsi Pasquale, Giovanni Diacono: Vita di San Nicola, tradotta dal latino dal ms. Berolin. 741. Bari. Centro Studi Nicolaiani. 1982. 28 pp., ill.

The St Nicholas Centre publications are very nicely printed and illustrated, I should add.

But Corsi’s edition, although certainly an advance on any previous edition, is not the critical edition that we all need.  This I learn from a really useful database page, at Mirabileweb, here:

Non è disponibile un’edizione critica; un recente lavoro di P. Corsi non esaurisce i complessi rapporti tra i lemmi BHL e le edizioni antiche di Mombrizio, Falconio e A. Mai.

A critical edition is not available; a recent work by P. Corsi does not exhaust the complex relationships between the BHL lemmas and the ancient editions of Mombrizio, Falconio and A. Mai.

This is in line with my own understanding: the transmission of the text is very complicated.  Somebody needs to do a doctoral thesis on it!


Working with pre-critical Latin texts

Which comes first?  The text or the translation?  The question is not as simple as it seems.

There is no finer way to come to grips with a text than by preparing an exact translation of it into another language.  This forces the translator to look at every case ending, every -ae and -um; every verb tense and mood and voice.  It highlights, very rapidly, areas of the text that have some kind of awkwardness about them.

I once knew a Swedish scholar who was tasked with preparing a critical edition of one of the works of Tertullian – I no longer remember which one.  He began by translating an existing edition into English (!), very literally.  This gave him a word-by-word knowledge of the text, which is why he did it.

My own efforts to translate John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas have reminded me of this forcefully.  Some portions of the text are very much harder to translate than others.

In some cases the text itself – the Falconius edition of 1751 – seems suspect.  When this happens, I increasingly find myself consulting the Mombritius edition of 1478, and the Mai edition of 1840.  I have, indeed, come to mistrust the Falconius text.  But along the way, I find that interesting things emerge.

I have found that the Mai edition often simply omits a “difficult” sentence altogether.  The first three chapters of the text are particularly difficult, and I see that Mai simply omits most of it.  Clearly the scribe of whatever manuscript lies behind the Mai edition felt exactly as I did about the text; and didn’t propose to strain his brain with it.  Omitted sentences include all those which simply transcribe a Greek word.  These are a source of difficulty to the Mai scribe.  I do understand, indeed.  At one point John uses the word “heroes” with the meaning “bishops”!  I wonder what a Greek dictionary would show?

For John was translating an awful Greek text, the “Methodius ad Theodorum”, which is beyond my abilities.  I suspect that the two – Methodius and John – need to be edited together.  But my long years of corporate experience make me well aware of “scope creep”, as a risk to any project, and I refuse to be side-tracked.  My translation will be of John, and John only.

It would also be possible to start doing some text critical work on the text.  After all, a small number of manuscripts are already online.  The Bollandist website lists a good many.

I have already OCR’d the texts of Falconius, Mombritius and Mai, and created Word documents of them.  What I might do is to run a text comparison on these, and see what comes out.  It would be purely for fun, of course, but it might be interesting.

If only one could OCR the manuscripts.  But that said, today I found in one sentence of Falconius three OCR errors.  This did delay me rather.

As with everything I do, I believe that whatever I do will be useful to others; and whatever I leave undone, well, the world is no worse off in this than it was before.

But clearly it would be possible for me to continue this, and produce some form of critical text.  It might not be very good, depending on how much time and effort I devoted to it.  But in this case, the translation would be the father of the text.  Yet here again, to produce a proper critical edition of John the Deacon would certainly require knowledge of the Greek.  It would not be a simple task.

I shall not go down this route.  As I usually do, I will include the text that I have translated.  This will be a somewhat modified version of Falconius.  But I won’t go further than that.


A bit of web searching for BHL 6106 = chapter 12 of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas

Alright, I got tempted.  I did a google search on BHL 6106, the chapter of John of the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas that I am currently translating, or rather prevaricating about translating!

Almost instantly I came up with two manuscripts at the French National Library.  The first is 12th century, Ms. BNF Paris Latin 5573.  The splendid catalogue – which came up with the match – is here.  At the bottom is a link to a full digital manuscript, fully downloadable.    The catalogue tells me which folio to look on.  Magic.

The next was BNF Paris Latin 18303, 11th century, and really rather attractive!  Catalogue is here.  I downloaded it and scrolled to fol. 37, and there is the start of my text:

BNF Paris Latin 18303 fol. 37r.

Magic.  This sort of thing is so easy.  Everyone should do it!

Well done the BNF for getting this stuff up there and out there.


From my diary

I’ve settled back down to translating the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  The new and improved Google Translate for Latin has made it a far easier task.  The word order was exotic, and I had to crawl through each sentence, one by one, decrypting each word.  This was tedious and time-consuming.  Now at least I have a very decent guide to each sentence, and can concentrate on individual points.

As happens sometimes, I have ended up translating the chapters – or readings, for I think these are probably readings for church services – in reverse order.  I have done chapters 15, 14 and 13, and am now wading through chapter 12.

The later chapters are of dubious authenticity.  Chapter 12 is the first – starting from the end – to have transliterations of Greek words in it, for proper names.  This reflects the fact that the Life was translated from the Greek Methodius ad Theodorum, in Naples in the 9th century.

The text is the 1751 edition of Falconius, which is fairly dodgy.  At points I think it must be corrupt.  Curiously this does not bother Google Translate at all, which laughs at spelling mistakes etc.  One word didn’t feature in any dictionary that I have, but it did not stop Google.  I would guess that Falconius has printed some odd medieval spelling.

Once I have a complete draft translation, I think that I shall have to look at manuscripts.  It is really curious that no critical edition exists.  I believe that several manuscripts are online, and it might be useful to look at these.

I also need to follow up whatever bibliographical hints I can get from the Bibliographia Hagiographica Latina.  Simply googling the BHL references will probably lead me to a few sources.

I think there is a full Italian translation of the text by Pasquale Corsi in La traslazione di San Nicola: le fonti, Bari: Biblioteca di San Nicola: Centro Studi Nicolaiani (1987) Series: Studi e testi / Centro Studi Nicolaiani 8.  But much Italian scholarship is ridiculously hard to access here, and little of it is online, or has attracted the attention of the PDF pirates.   However I gather that book might be available from the Centro Studi Nicolaiana, so I have just popped them an email to enquire.

Now back to John the Deacon!


From my diary

I have returned to work on making a translation of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  In July 2019 I prepared a Latin text.  The edition of Falconius, in 1751 seems to be all that there is!   During November and December 2020 I translated a couple of chapters with immense pain and huge labour – the structure of the sentences is hard to work with – and then I set it aside and went off to do other things.  At one point last night I was seriously contemplating simply abandoning the job.

How things have changed.  Last night I jumped to the end and passed chapter 15 through the new and greatly improved Google Translate for Latin.  It did a  magnificent job, far better than I could have done, and did it in seconds.  Of course it needed manual adjustment, but it was sobering how much better it was.  In half an hour the chapter was complete.

At one point Falconius printed in the text, “Ab atis dirigas”, in the middle of a prayer asking the Lord to guide the monks, etc.  This was beyond me, until I put the sentence into the standard Google search and found a parallel text with the same sentence, where it read “Abbatis dirigas” – “may you guide the abbots”!  Wonderful!

Falconius’ text is less than ideal.  This morning I was looking at chapter 14 – I’ve already done about half of it using the same tools – and I suffered a bit from him printing “penniculum” rather than “peniculum”, a sponge.  There is no critical edition.  Falconius seems to be the only edition of any sort, except for an incunable by Mombritius which does not contain these final chapters.  But there are manuscripts online – more than Falconius had -, and I have Google search.  The job can be done.

It is 10:20 here, and I must go out.  This afternoon I shall return to John the Deacon.  I’m looking forward to it.