Three more miracle stories of St Nicholas: BHL 6177, 6178 and 6209

Last year I created a file with the Latin text of 47 of the medieval miracle stories of St Nicholas, and a draft English translation for each.  Three more stories were left unfinished, containing BHL 6177 (the miracles at Angers), BHL 6178 (the miracles at Brauweiler), and BHL 6209 (a musical miracle at the Cluniac priory of Sainte-Croix in Burgundy).  I have now finished these up, and here they are:

They are also at here.

As usual, these files and their contents are public domain.  Use them in any way you like, personal, educational, or commercial.

The list of stories about St Nicholas in the Bollandist’s catalogue, the BHL, is longer still.  But most of the remaining pieces are quite long, and, in all honesty, late medieval.  It’s way too late for this blog, and out of scope.

I did think about BHL 6210 also, which is not too long, and I went so far as to scan the Latin text.  But in all honesty I feel no urge whatever to do any more St Nicholas material just now.  So let’s stop here.


From My Diary

The other evening I realised with a shock that the project with the St Nicholas material is actually done.  My original intention was to make the oldest hagiographical material available in English translation, and this I have achieved.  With the translation of the “Life of St Nicholas” by Methodius (ad Theodorum), which originally drew me into this, the project is complete.  All that remains is to tidy up.

What remains?  Well, I have a couple more fragments of Latin miracle stories that I did.  But the original reason for doing these was to help with the translation of John the Deacon’s “Life of St Nicholas”, which often is interspersed with Latin miracle stories.  But all those are done.  The remainder are all later stuff, and really are out of scope.  So I will just release the last handful that I have done, and stop there.  That will be it.

Something that I did long ago was the first recension of the “Praxis de Stratelatis”, the story of the three generals.  This a kind colleage translated from the text printed by Anrich in “Agios Nikolaos”.  A couple of days ago, I started to OCR the second recension from Anrich, so that I could put this into an AI Translator.  I did the first page, and the results were very nice indeed.  The AI translators do a fine job.  The OCR wasn’t too bad either, except that Anrich used a strange version of “theta” (θ) where the loop is not closed, so Finereader OCR thinks that is an ampersand (&).  Likewise sigma was sometimes handled as beta.  The high-point was always recognised with an asterisk.  And so on.  The accentuation was a mess, of course; but the machine translators do not seem to care.  My new unicode Greek SPIonic-layout keyboard for Windows 11 worked fine.  But … correcting the OCR became tiresome.  And I found myself wondering why I was bothering.  I never intended to translate everything between the covers of Anrich’s two fat volumes.

Thankfully an academic team has now come along and will do professional work on all the St Nicholas texts.  That is as it should be, and I wish them all the best.  My own humble efforts have made the texts more accessible to everyman, and they never had any purpose beyond that.  If they have spurred renewed interest from scholars, then that is better still.

So… what now?

I was quite impressed with how well the modern Greek translations of St Nicholas material were handled by the AI translators, with a bit of sanity-checking from Google Translate.  I really have almost no translations of patristic material into modern Greek.  Indeed I wonder… now that we can work with modern Greek, it might be interesting to see just what already exists in translation in that language!

The only other text that I have in modern Greek translation is the mass of hardly-edited texts under the name of “Ephraem Graecus”.  I have the Phrantzolas edition of these, thanks to a correspondent.  In fact I find that the ancient/medieval Greek of these is in the elderly TLG disks, which most of us have, so I have access to that too.

I fired up Diogenes, which I use to work with that disk, and picked a text at random.  (In fact it was “Sermo unde magi in Hierosolymam ineunt.”)  I copied some of the text, and ran it through Bard AI.  Here’s the text:

Λόγος ὅτε οἱ μάγοι παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα

 Ὅταν ἀγαθοῦ τινος ὁδοιπόρος τύχῃ συνόδου, χαίρει τὸν πόνον τῆς μακρᾶς ὁδοιπορίας κλεπτόμενος ὁμιλίᾳ· ὡς ῥάβδῳ γὰρ ἐρειδόμενος λόγῳ ἀκονιστικῷ γλώττῃ, συμβαδίζειν κεκονισμένῳ δοκεῖ τῷ ποδὶ καὶ τῷ στόματι ἀκαμάτῳ· μεριζόμενος γόνασι κόπον, κουφίζει χείλεσι πολυβάδιστον βῆμα.  Οὕτω δὴ καὶ τοῦ Χριστοῦ γεννηθέντος, οἱ μάγοι τὸν ἀστέρα ἰδόντες καὶ τοῦτον λαβόντες συνοδοιπόρον, τὸν πολυπόρευτον κόπον ἔκλεπτον τῆς ὁδείας ἐρωτήσει κοπούμενοι, ποῦ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεὺς πυθόμενοι· ὡς κλέπτας τοῦ τεχθέντος ἠρεύνουν φωνῇ τοὺς Ἑβραίους.  Τοῖς δὲ ἐρωτῶσιν εἰκὸς Ἰουδαῖοι, τί δή, ξένοι, τολμᾶτε, τί φατε, ἄνδρες, φασί; Τί φέροντες ἐπικίνδυνον ἥκατε φήμην; Τί βασιλέα καινὸν βασιλευομένῃ σαλπίζετε πόλει; Τί πρὸς ἄωρον κυβιστεύετε τέλος; Τί κατ’ οἰκείων μαχαιροῦτε γλῶτταν τραχήλων; Τί τάφον ἐπιφέρεσθε στόματι, καθεύδοντα καθ’ ἑαυτῶν διυπνίζετε θάνατον; Ἠπόρει μνημάτων Περσίς, ἵνα ἔτι ζῶντος Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως ἄλλου πυνθάνεσθε; Πολλὴν ἀκούσας ὁμολογήσει χάριν ὑμῖν καὶ μεγάλοις ὑμᾶς ἀμείψειε δώροις.  Ἀλλ’ ἡ πρὸς ταῦτα τοῖς μάγοις ἀπόκρισις σύντομος· εἴδομεν αὐτοῦ, φασί, τὸν ἀστέρα ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν προσκυνῆσαι αὐτῷ. Οὐκ ἠρκέσθησαν ἐρωτῆσαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ προσκύνησιν φῆσαι· διὰ τῆσδε τῆς λέξεως Θεὸν εἶναι τὸν τεχθέντα δηλοῦντες.  Ὡς δὲ ἦλθε τῶν τοιούτων πρὸς Ἡρῴδην ἡ φήμη, τοὺς μάγους τέως ἀνείς, τοὺς σοφοὺς Ἰουδαίων καλεῖ λέγων· ποῦ ὁ Χριστὸς γεννᾶται; Οἱ δέ φασιν, ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας.  Ὢ τοῦ θαύματος! Τὸν τόπον ἐπίστανται, καὶ τὸν τόκον βδελύττονται· τὴν Βηθλεὲμ βοῶσι, καὶ τὴν οἰκονομίαν σιγῶσι· τὴν Ἰουδαίαν σημειοῦνται, καὶ τὴν δεσποτείαν ἀρνοῦνται. Εἰ οὕτω γέγραπται, διατί μὴ συντίθεσθε; Εἰ ἀνέγνωτε, διατί μὴ πιστεύετε; Εἰ ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τεχθήσεται, διατί μὴ παρ’ ὑμῶν προσκυνηθήσεται; Ὅθεν συνιεὶς ὁ Ἡρῴδης ὡς οὐχ ἁπλῶς ἥκεσαν ἐρωτῶντες οἱ μάγοι, λάθρα τούτους καλέσας ἐπυνθάνετο παρ’ αὐτῶν τὸν χρόνον τοῦ φαινομένου ἀστέρος, ἀκριβῶς, λέγων, τὸν τρόπον ὃν ἥκατε φάσκοντες, εἴπατε τὸ τῆς ὑμετέρας <ὁδείας>

And here is the output from Bard AI, unedited:

The Story of the Magi

When a traveler meets a good companion, he rejoices, stealing away the pain of the long journey with conversation. For as if leaning on a staff with a sharp-pointed tongue, he seems to walk with ease, his foot and his mouth tireless. Dividing the fatigue on his knees, he lightens his weary step with his lips.

So too, when Christ was born, the Magi, seeing the star and taking it as their companion, stole away the long journey of the road, inquiring and asking, “Where is the king?” They sought out the voice of the Hebrews, as thieves of the newborn.

It is likely that the Jews asked the questioners, “What do you mean, strangers? What are you saying, men? What dangerous rumor do you bring? Why do you trumpet a new king in a city that is already ruled? Why do you stir up trouble at an inopportune time? Why do you sharpen your tongues against your own necks? Why do you bring a tomb to your lips, awakening death against yourselves? Persia is full of tombs. Why do you ask about another king while Herod is still alive? He would hear your confession with great gratitude and reward you with great gifts.”

But the Magi’s answer to this was short: “We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” They were not satisfied with asking, but they also said that they would worship him. By this word they declared that the one who was born was God.

When word of this came to Herod, he dismissed the Magi for a time and called the wise men of the Jews, saying, “Where is the Christ born?” And they said, “In Bethlehem of Judea.”

Oh, the wonder! They know the place, and they abhor the birth. They cry out Bethlehem, and they are silent about the economy. They point to Judea, and they deny the lordship. If it is so written, why do you not agree? If you have read, why do you not believe? If he is to be born in Bethlehem, why will he not be worshiped by you? Therefore, Herod, realizing that the Magi had not come simply to ask questions, called them secretly and inquired of them the time of the appearance of the star, saying, “Tell me exactly the way you came, and tell me the time of your journey.”

And here, for comparison, is the Google Translate text, again unedited:

Reason when the magicians were brought to Jerusalem

It was a fellowship of the Synod, he enjoys the pain of the long -standing manner of the mackerel; ITON VIMA.   Even so, when Christ was born, the magicians, seeing the star and receiving this as a companion, asked the rich laborer, the thief of the covenant, when they were cut down, where the king was; they sought out the Jews by voice as the thief of what had been done.   And they will ask them if they are Jews, what do you say, foreigners, you dare, what do you eat, men, fasi?  What dangerous fame have you come? What city do you trumpet the king’s new reign? What do you end up turning against the hour? Why do you stab the throats of necks? Persis, the treasurer of monuments, why should you marry Herod’s living king? He heard many confessions for your sake and rewarded you with great gifts.  But the answer to this to the magicians was short: we saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him. It was not enough to ask, but also to worship; through this word God is declaring what has been done.   And when the rumor of these came to Herod, he called the magicians of old, the wise men of the Jews, saying: Where is Christ born? They said, in Bethlehem of Judea.   Ὢ of the miracle! The place they visit, and the interest they detest; Bethlehem loudly, and the economy quietly; Judea they mark, and despotia they deny. If it is written like this, why do you not compose it? If you read it, why do you not believe? If it is made in Bethlehem, why does it not worship before you? How did Herod know that the magicians did not simply come inquiring, and you secretly called them a priest for them at the time of the vision? stay star, exactly, saying, the way you came, you said that of the mother <Odeia>

Google Translate is now out-dated, but because it uses a different technology – NMT – it acts as a useful check on AI.  For instance the first sentence is paraphrased by AI, rather than translated.  At least one can count the sentences and get an idea if it’s all there!

Likewise Diogenes allows you to click on individual words and get the L&S result for each, which  helps in checking.

But all the same, the AI translation looks wonderful.  Basically we can now make use of it for ancient and medieval Greek.  So long as we proceed with caution!

I’m not sure whether I want to start working on Ephraem Graecus tho.  What is there in this mass of texts that is going to be interesting?  At the moment I don’t know.

There is another issue with the Ephraem Graecus material.  The edition was made by Assemani, in the 18th century.  He just printed in a heap whatever he found in the manuscripts.  What this means is that some short “texts” are actually just abstracts of other texts.

But which ones?  There ought to be a list, but if so, it has not reached me.

I wonder whether we could get AI to work out the relationships?  After all, the task is basically one of text comparison.  We have all the Greek in electronic form, thanks to the wonder that is the TLG.  So… can we get AI to look through it and tell us?

I think it might be possible.  But there’s only one way to find out, which is to try.  When I get a break, I might experiment a bit!


Methodius ad Theodorum (BHG 1352y) – now online in English

Here is the final version of the “Life of St Nicholas” by Methodius “ad Theodorum” – to Theodore.

The files are also on here.  As usual, this material is public domain.  Make whatever use of it you like, personal, educational or commercial.


Translations of St Nicholas of Myra material on this website

I’ve just created a page on this blog with links to every post that contains a translation of one or the other of the medieval texts containing St Nicholas material.  It’s here.

Looking back, I started taking an interest in 2013.  The first translations of the legends appeared in 2015.  The most recent was earlier today.

That’s a long, long time.  And how things have changed.  Back in 2015, I was commissioning translations from the Greek of various short pieces.  In 2020, Google Translate suddenly became usable, at least for Latin.  And this year, we have the new AI Translators.  It’s possible to do stuff, even if you don’t have much knowledge of the languages.  It’s rather marvellous really!


Methodius ad Theodorum (BHG 1352y) in modern Greek – part 1

I’ve now obtained access to the modern Greek translation by Ch. Stergioulis of the “Life of St Nicholas” composed by Methodius I, patriarch of Constantinople, around 843 AD, and dedicated to a certain Theodore.  I’ve OCR’d the text using Abbyy Finereader 15, and corrected it – I had to install the Greek language patch into Windows.  I have created a Word document containing the text.  Doing so caused Word to do some funny things, but I got there in the end.

Google Translate is not quite – not quite – good enough; but it gives us quite a lot.  The actual storyline starts in chapter 3, which Stergioulis renders as follows:

3. Καταγόταν ο Νικόλαος από τα Πάταρα, πόλη της επαρχίας των Λυκίων, η οποία εκείνη την εποχή (του αγίου Νικολάου) είχε αρκετούς κατοίκους. Τώρα όμως μοιάζει περισσότερο με κώμη παρά με πόλη14. Κι αυτό παθαίνουν πολυτρόπως οι πόλεις-παρακμάζουν και οι κάτοικοί τους μεταναστεύουν-εξαιτίας των αμέτρητων κριμάτων τους έναντι του θεού. Έτσι λοιπόν κατανοούμε και αυτό που συνηθίζουμε να γράφουμε, ότι δηλαδή οι πόλεις τιμωρούνται για τις αμαρτίες των κατοίκων τους15. Βρίσκεται δηλαδή, εκεί κοντά τόπος πεδινός, σχισμένος στα δύο, σαν ξεσχισμένο ιμάτιο. Κι από το ρήγμα που έχει δημιουργηθεί, φαίνεται να αναδύεται, την ημέρα, καυτός ατμός, ενώ τη νύχτα ξεπηδά σαν από χάλκινο καμίνι φλογώδης καπνός16. Και καίει το χέρι όποιου τολμά να το ακουμπήσει, χωρίς όμως να του το κατατρώγει αλλά και την σάρκα, όπως θα γινόταν στην περίπτωση που κάποιος απλώνει το χέρι του στη φωτιά• είναι όμως απεικόνιση και προοίμιο, με μικρή ομοιότητα, του αιωνίου πυρός. Και ευρισκόμενοι σε απορία με το φαινόμενο οι μεγαλύτεροι σε ηλικία μετέφεραν από γενιά σε γενιά, ο κάθε πατέρας στο παιδί του, (όπως μας διασώζεται ο άγραφος πλην αληθινός τούτος λόγος), ότι εξαιτίας της ακολασίας και της σαρκολαγνείας των κατοίκων της η θεία δίκη κατεδίκασε τούτη τη γη στο φρικτό αυτό θέαμα, για να αποτρέψει την επι-στροφή τους στο μέρος αυτό.

Google Translate:

3. Nicholas came from Patara, a city in the province of Lycia, which at that time (of Saint Nicholas) had several inhabitants. But now it looks more like a county than a city[14]. And this is what cities suffer in many ways – they decline and their inhabitants emigrate – because of their countless crimes against God. This is how we also understand what we usually write, namely that cities are punished for the sins of their inhabitants[15]. In other words, there is a lowland area nearby, torn in half, like a torn garment. And from the rift that has been created, hot steam seems to rise during the day, while at night fiery smoke rises as if from a copper furnace[16]. And it burns the hand of whoever dares to touch it, but without consuming it but also the flesh, as it would be in the case of someone stretching out his hand into the fire; but it is a representation and prelude, with little resemblance, of the eternal fire . And being perplexed by the phenomenon, the elders conveyed from generation to generation, each father to his child, (as this unwritten but true word is preserved to us), that because of the debauchery and carnal lust of its inhabitants the divine judgment condemned this land in this horrible sight, to prevent their return to this place.

Hmm.  I’ve underlined bits that look strange in the English.  Surely the sense is that Patara had “lots” of inhabitants?  Hardly “several”?  But it’s not bad, considering that I know not a word of modern Greek myself.

I did wonder if there were some online Greek dictionaries in which I could look up individual words, and verify the meaning.  Even better if there was something that could cope with inflections, and tell me what case etc it was.  But I must be using the wrong search terms, because all I got was junk sites.

Even so, this is interesting.  It explains why John the Deacon, in his Latin version – clearly a paraphrase – devotes the second half of the same chapter (= 2) to a digression about a field where volcanic fissures had opened, and you could burn your hand but it was not consumed.  It’s because he’s following Methodius, and making rather a hash of it.

The footnotes are also interesting:

14. Η συγκεκριμένη φράση υπαινίσσεται ίσως τη φυσική παρουσία του συγγραφέα στην περιοχή. Το ίδιο προκύπτει κι από την περιγραφή του ηφαιστειώδους εδάφους της περιοχής της Λυκίας που ακολουθεί.

14. This particular phrase perhaps alludes to the author’s physical presence in the area. The same follows from the description of the volcanic terrain of the Lycia region that follows.

15. Γρηγόριος Νύσσης, Εις τόν Εκκλησιαστήν, Όμιλία Α’, σ. 282,11-14: «τάχα δ’ άν ήμιν γνωριμώτερον τό ζητούμενον νόημα γένοιτο, εί την γραφικήν συνήθειαν έπί τών πρός τό κρεϊττον νοουμένων συνεξετάσαιμεν.»

15. Gregory of Nyssa, To the Ecclesiastes, Sermon I, p. 282,11-14: “so if we knew the meaning sought in general, we should consider the scriptural custom of those who understand the creed.”

16. Το έδαφος της Λυκίας είναι ηφαιστειώδες, εξαιτίας της έκρηξης ηφαιστείου κοντά στη Φασήλιδα.

16. The terrain of Lycia is volcanic, due to the eruption of a volcano near Phasilida.

Notes 14 and 16 are clear enough. Note 15 tho, is not.

It would be interesting to put the whole thing into English.  As far as I know there is no English translation of the Methodius ad Theodorum, despite its key importance for the transmission of the legend of St Nicholas.  But I don’t think Google Translate alone will do.  Dictionaries of modern Greek are needed!

UPDATE:  It occurred to me to try Bing Ai, with the Copilot in Microsoft Edge.  The result was impressive:

Nikolaos came from Pataras, a city in the province of Lycia, which at that time (of Saint Nicholas) had many inhabitants. Now, however, it looks more like a village than a city. And this is what happens to cities – they decline and their inhabitants emigrate – because of their countless sins against God. Therefore, we understand what we usually write, that is, that cities are punished for the sins of their inhabitants. There is a nearby plain, split at the 8th degree, like a torn garment. And from the rift that has been created, hot steam appears during the day, while at night fiery smoke emerges like from a copper furnace. And it burns the hand of anyone who dares to touch it, but without corroding it or the flesh, as would happen if someone were to put their hand in the fire. It is, however, a representation and prelude, with little similarity, of the eternal fire. And the elders, perplexed by the phenomenon, passed down from generation to generation, each father to his child (as this unwritten but true story is preserved), that because of the debauchery and carnality of its inhabitants, divine justice condemned this land to this terrible spectacle, to prevent their return to this place.


Update (14th Jan): I’ve fixed the “8” and removed a spurious dash.  Interestingly Google Translate handled the “8uo” as “duo” correctly.  Thank you Ikokki for pointing that out.  Bing AI isn’t speaking to me tho, so I cannot rerun it.  I’ve tried with the free account at ChatGPT, and asked: “Can you translate something for me from modern Greek to English?”  It replied “Certainly! I’ll do my best to help you with the translation. Please provide the text you’d like me to translate from modern Greek to English.”  I pasted in the text above and got this:

Nicolas originated from Patara, a city in the province of Lycia, which at that time (during the era of Saint Nicholas) had numerous inhabitants. However, now it resembles more of a village than a city. Cities undergo this fate in various ways—they decline, and their residents migrate—due to their countless sins against God. Therefore, we understand what we commonly write, namely that cities are punished for the sins of their residents.

Nearby, there is a low-lying area, split in two, like a torn garment. And from the rift that has formed, hot steam seems to rise during the day, while at night, it emerges like fiery smoke from a bronze furnace. It burns the hand of anyone who dares to touch it, without, however, consuming it or the flesh, as would happen if someone were to place their hand in fire. It is, however, an image and prelude, with little resemblance, of the eternal fire.

Perplexed by this phenomenon, the older ones conveyed from generation to generation, each father to his child (as this unwritten but true account is passed down to us), that because of the licentiousness and carnal desires of its inhabitants, divine justice condemned this land to this terrible spectacle to prevent their return to this place.

Paragraphing by ChatGPT.


A collection of modern Greek translations of St Nicholas legends

An interesting volume of St Nicholas literature has come to my attention, published in 2017. I learned of it from the wonderful Dumbarton Oaks list of Translations of Byzantine Saints Lives.  It contains modern Greek translations of a number of the early Greek “Lives” of St Nicholas.

You may wonder why most of us care.  Well, Google Translate handles modern Greek rather well.  So this means that even those of us with no knowledge of medieval Greek can read the texts by means of this edition.

But first some details.

The volume is Ch. Stergioulis, Ἅγιος Nικόλαος. Ἐγκωμιαστικοὶ Λόγοι ἐπιφανῶν βυζαντινῶν λογίων, Athens: Zitros, (2017), Series: ΒΥΖΑΝΤΙΝΟΙ ΣΥΓΓΡΑΦΕΙΣ / Byzantine Writers 19.  ISBN 9789604633234.  In English that appears to mean something like “Encomia by eminent Byzantine writers”.  The website of the publisher is here, and if you use Chrome, you can read the site easily using Google Translate.

The book is actually very cheap – only about 17 euros – and I would have bought a copy.  But doing so has proven beyond my abilities, since all the websites offering copies want to be paid by bank transfer rather than credit card.  Many of them won’t ship to me anyway.  Fortunately I was able to find a PDF with sample pages online here, including the table of contents!

Πρόλογος σεβασμιωτάτου μητροπολίτου Λα- Σελ.ρίσης κ. Ιγνατίου……………………………………………. 9
Εισαγωγή Β. Κατσαρός……………………………… 13
Πράξις του εν αγίοις πατρός ημών Νικολάου…. 65
Τευδο-Πρόκλου Εγκώμιον εις τον όσιον Νικόλαον…………………………………………………………….101
Ανδρέου επισκόπου Κρήτης Εγκώμιον εις τον όσιον πατέρα η μών Νικόλαον………………………….. 123
(Μιχαήλ) Βίος και πολιτεία και μερική θαυμάτων εξήγησις του εν αγίοις πατρός ημών Νικολάου 169
Μεθοδίου πρεσβυτέρου και ηγουμένου εις τον βίον καιταλείποντα του οσίου πατρός ημών Νικολάου ……………………………………………………………. 251
Μεθοδίου αρχιεπισκόπου Κωνσταντινουπόλεως εγκώμιον εις τον άγιον Νικόλαον………………… 307
Συμεών του Μεταφράστη Βίος και Πολιτεία…. 419
Νεοφύτου Εγκώμιον εις τον μέγαν Νικόλαον…. 535

From this I  get:

Foreword by a church dignitary
Introduction by B. Katsaros.
Nicholas of Myra, “Praxis de stratelatis” (BHG 1350) p. 65–100.
Nicholas of Myra, encomium by Pseudo-Proclus (BHG 1364c) p. 101–22.
Nicholas of Myra, encomium by Andreas of Crete (BHG 1362)  – p.123-68
Nicholas of Myra, vita by Michael (BHG 1348) pp. 174-243.
Nicholas of Myra, vita by Methodios (BHG 1352y) – p.256–98.
Nicholas of Myra, encomium by Archbishop Methodius of Constantinople (BHG 1352z) pp. 312–405.
Nicholas of Myra, vita by Symeon Metaphrastes (BHG 1349), 424–520.
Nicholas of Myra, encomium by Neophytos the Recluse(BHG 1364), 542–651.

This list does not in any way convey to the reader the value of the contents.  For this, in fact, an academic publication.

First, it contains both the medieval Greek and the modern Greek on facing pages.  Secondly each text is preceded by an introduction.  And each introduction and text has detailed footnotes to the literature, although these are sadly banished to the end.

There is no English translation for many of these texts, other than those which I have placed online over the years, and which I must collect into a single place.  According to the DOAKS list, there are German translations for some of them, by L. Heiser, in Nikolaos von Myra. Heiliger der ungeteilten Christenheit,Trier (1978), which is probably more accessible.

But the great find is a translation of BHG 1352y, the “Methodius ad Theodorum”, which was the source for the legend of St Nicholas throwing gold through windows so that poor girls could have a dowry, and thus of our modern tradition of “Santa” the bringer of gifts.  This was used by John the Deacon for his “Life” in Latin, ca. 880, and is how the story reaches us.

Material in Greek tends to be unknown to western academics, because of the language barrier.  But this need no longer be so, and volumes like this make clear that we are all missing out.



John the Deacon, “Life of St Nicholas” – now online in English

I have finally completed my translation of the “Life of St Nicholas of Myra” by John the Deacon (BHL 6104, 6105, 6106 etc).  Written around 880 AD, it is the foundation text for the entire western tradition of legends about St Nicholas.  There are no critical editions of the Latin, and all of the early modern editions are low quality, or worse, or worse.

I have collated a bunch of the earliest manuscripts accessible to me, and established a reasonably reliable text.  I have included the collation in the footnotes.  I have also collated and translated the variant version of the legend of the Three Generals (a.k.a. “Stratilates”) found in one of the early editions and almost nowhere else.

I have also looked at the Bibliographia Hagiographia Latina (BHL) entries for St Nicholas, and pointed out various errors.

Here are the files:

I also include two working files which might be useful to those poking at the Latin text.  Most people should ignore these.  They are very rough.  If you need them, here they are.

I have uploaded the same files to here.

As usual, I make all this material public domain.  Use it for whatever purpose you like, personal, educational or commercial.

I first attempted a translation in 2018, but I started to work seriously on it only in 2019. It’s been four hard years of work.  The project kept growing in size, and all of it was fascinating.  In the end I have decided to stop where I am, and do no more.  So here it is!


Working out the manuscript affinities from a collation

Yesterday I finally finished collating the 4 editions and a selected 12 manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas.  This gives me a Word .docx file with every line of the text, the collation beneath it, and my translation under that.  In the left margin, it gives me a list of significant-looking variants:

I’ve had to recollate the early chapters, because I got better at this as I went on, and the earlier stuff needed to be redone, extra manuscripts added etc.

The text still contains a lot of working notes.  I have already found that it is a mistake to remove these too early.  Keep them to the last, and then remove them all as a specific activity, rather than along the way.

But then the question arises: how do I analyse this data in order to get a stemma out of it?  It’s too big, and I can’t get my head around it.

After some thought, I decided to create an Excel spreadsheet and process the supposedly significant variants into it.  This morning I did so.  I found that this required some intervention.  Actually I had to “simplify” some of the variants as I put them in.  Because unique variants are most likely errors, or mistakes, of no special meaning.  It’s the stuff in common that you need.  So where 3 manuscripts have “meritis” and the 4th has “et meritis”, and the 5th was “procul”, I entered the first 4 all up as “meritis”.

I also ignored variants that were merely endings.  The truth is that all the ending variants probably arise from scribes misreading abbreviations.  There’s just so many!

I then put a column for each manuscript, and put them in.  In the end I only had 19 locations where the text gave clear divergence into families.  On each row I coloured one set of readings in red, and another set in black, just so I could see the groupings (because you just try skim-reading “vocitatur” and “vocaretur”!).  Where a manuscript didn’t have that part of the text, I indicated with hatching.

The result looked a bit like this, except that M was originally on the left and C on the right.

As soon as I did this, I could see the PQO group, and the BGD group, which I was aware of anyway. I drew the vertical black lines to separate the groups.

Then I did some rearranging.  M, which I had thought isolated, I moved to be with W.  C, which I sort of thought was related to O, was now obviously part of the PQO group, so I moved that.

All the same some things do not jump out.  I’d already found that G is actually a copy of B in the first 6 chapters, but then switches to a copy of D!    Indeed the layout on the page is identical.  But that does not jump out from that table.  I’m fairly sure that I can eliminate G.

So … have I learned much?  A bit more than I knew before, perhaps.  But clearly I have a long way to go.


Analysing the manuscripts of the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon

I have made a full collation of all the 9-10th century manuscripts of John the Deacon’s Life of St Nicholas, as far as the beginning of chapter 6, where manuscript Q (BNF lat. 17625) breaks off.  I’ve recollated the first chapter, since I did that in a rather perfunctory way.

But how do I work out the relationships of the manuscripts?  I’m doing this blind – I can find no “how to” guide – so I’m just guessing, and trying things out.

This evening I decided to pick three places in chapter 1, where the collation already suggested differences in the manuscripts, and collate the 11th century manuscripts for these places in the text.  I’ve put a “heading 3” in my text, so that I can see the Latin around the area:

Screenshot of my Word text with H3 markers visible

I’m experimenting with a trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro 2020 (permanent license), which allows me to open the PDFs in tabs, unlike my elderly copy of Acrobat Pro 9.  I took the opportunity to add bookmarks and stickys to the PDF of each manuscript, as far as chapter 6, as I went.

After I had collated the 10 manuscripts for the three places in chapter 1, I felt the results were a bit thin.  So decided to collate another three places from chapter 5, where I knew that a line, or a phrase, was omitted.

This I did in a separate Word document.  I had a list of manuscripts; and I indicated the 6 places, comma-separated, against each.  In retrospect a spreadsheet might serve better.  They all started out as black text.

But the results were rather interesting, and here they are:

List of manuscripts and variants

Once I was done, I colour-coded manuscripts that were basically the same.  I have three groups!

Not all of my “places” were significant, at least in the 11th century.  Thus I chose “inclammationem” because I had a bunch of witnesses on both sides:

  • “inclamationem”, “crying out against” – Fal., M, P, Q, O, B, C; “in cachinnationem”, “in immoderate laughter” – Corsi, A, Linz 473 (13th), Munich Clm 12642 (14th); “in vocem” – Mom., Lipp.;

But in actual fact there was no variation on this, at least not in the 11th century.  It looks as if it must originate later.  Likewise the sentence beginning “hactenus” and the clause starting “trade” are unimportant.

But “et laudem / ex laude” and “aede / sede” form a clear group.  Likewise the weird Nacta / Notata / etc lines up with them, and splits the “ex laude” group further.

That’s a useful result.  I have learned a bunch about ten manuscripts from this exercise, which took me less than an hour.

So far so good.  Onward.


Forty-Seven Latin Miracle Stories of St Nicholas – Now Online in English

I’ve just uploaded a file containing the Latin text, with a translation, of 47 of the miracle stories of St Nicholas which are found in medieval manuscripts.  These are BHL 6130-6147 inclusive.  A couple of the texts I have transcribed from manuscripts online.  Most are from the Bollandist catalogues of the Brussels and Paris libraries, or from early editions.  The translations are basically from Google Translate, but I have at least read over them and fixed some obvious errors.  As usual I put this file and its contents in the public domain – do whatever you like with it, personal, educational or commercial.  Just don’t put your own copyright notice on my work, thank you.

Here are the files:

I’ve also uploaded them to here.

I made this file while working on the Life of St Nicholas by John the Deacon.  In the manuscripts this gets tangled up with all these texts, and it gets fairly confusing.  With this file, all I have to do is a Ctrl-F Find, and I can at once see just what the page of text in the manuscript image in front of me belongs to.

There are still more miracle stories to do, but I ran out of puff at this point.  Maybe one day I will return to it and add more!  Or maybe not.