The Life of St. Benedict in the South English Legendary (c. 1270-80)
THE LIFE OF ST. BENEDICT: FOOTNOTES1 Lines 4-5: From her he stole away one day very quietly, [so] that she knew it not, / And forsook his school and also her, and all [those] who were related to him
2 Steadfast he was in his prayers; [a] very severe life he led
3 Lines 10-11: He (the devil) dreaded very much the [monastic] order that he (Benedict) was destined to found. / One time, when this good man took himself into (i.e., was engrossed in) his prayers
4 And flew all around his eyes so that he (Benedict) would exert himself
5 When he saw that kind of trickery was all for nought, he tried another "noble deed"
6 With fair speech and wanton demeanor, by such temptation she brought him
7 The good man soon repented his thought; to make amends he was quick (eager)
8 Lines 24-26: And briars, and turned himself here and there, so that all his flesh was torn to shreds. / He paid dearly for this sin, as we must [pay for] our own, and rightly so. / The devil would never again fight against him with this sin (i.e., sexual temptation) [as his weapon]
9 Lines 27-30: For when he (the Devil) may overcome a man with a sin, by means of his prompting (lit., teaching) / Tempt [the man] he will with that [same] sin ever more and more. / But if the man will fight back (lit., again), ashamed he (the Devil) is so sorely / That never afterwards will he, with that [same] sin, tempt him (the man) on account of fear (i.e., of being shamed)
10 "You make," he said, "food enough in preparation for this solemn feast["]
11 Lines 39-40: "Yes, surely," said this good man (i.e., disagreeing with the priest), "it is time to fast, / [For] me and all Christians, as long as Lent lasts"
12 "Are you speaking the truth?" said this holy man. "May our Lord let us please him (i.e., give us grace to do right)
13 Lines 44-46: Christ knows, I thought it was Lent: I wasn't paying attention. / It seems to me, it would take a very clever man (i.e., cleverer than I), unless he had mastered higher learning, / To steal a day of Lent. Say if I lie"
14 Lines 47-49: Saint Benedict ate well then, and drank, and thanked God's providence / And afterwards he went all over the countryside preaching. / He converted many people to [faith in] God and Christianity
15 Where men honored Jesus Christ, who heathen before were
16 They found a very fine stone, good and clean (i.e., just the right shape) for their wall
17 On another occasion, when the stone "work" (i.e., building under construction) had already been built to a considerable height
18 "Benedict," he said, "You have workmen. I'll go see how they are getting on["]
19 Lines 69-70: Before the messenger said his errand (message), the devil was well ready / And hurled (lit., felled) that work upside down; they were not able to be wary enough
20 The devil never again had power to overthrow his (i.e., Benedict's) building
21 Lines 77-80: There was a monk who could never bear to stay to hear the whole of the divine office with his brother monks - on account of weakness, as it seemed to them - / But every day he would leave the choir; his fellows complained, / Told about it in the presence of Saint Benedict, lest he (the monk) violate his order (i.e., his obedience to the rule of the order)
22 He saw a little, black, close-cropped boy take the monk by the sleeve
23 Lines 87-88: "Thank you, sir," this monk said,"on account of my feebleness of will, I was unable to forsake it (i.e., this habit of leaving church) even if I were to be beheaded (i.e., no matter what I did)"
24 Lines 94-95: To travel to Saint Benedict, fasting [on the way], in order to praise God's Son. / One day as he was traveling thither, a man came along the road
25 "Good man, you were not wont (accustomed) to do this kind of thing before now"
26 Lines 113-15: ["]It was no meadow, although it seemed so; he (i.e., the devil) wanted to plan carefully / How best he might betray mankind and destroy his piety." / This holy man had knowledge of events even when he did not see them
27 The truth about this he wished to put to a test. His best robe he took there
28 "Dear son," said this holy man, "take off other men's garments
29 Lines 123-25: One day, a nobleman [who lived] near there sent, with one of his servants, two flagons of wine to Saint Benedict. / But this messenger was ill-mannered. So [only] one flask he took all the way
30 He went forth with the one flask and offered his present graciously
31 This man was sorely ashamed, but then he went outside the town
32 Lines 133-34: It had come thither to poison him in revenge [for his theft], / But despite his falsehood, Saint Benedict did not want him to be poisoned
33 Because of a shortage [of food], as [did] many others, often had much hardship
34 Lines 137-38: When one day they, very hungry, were seated at the table, they had only five small loaves, altogether, for their meal
35 Lines 144-45: Two hundred sacks full of good wheat, they did not know whence it came. / A monk went out on a day, but as he ought not to have done
36 Lines 148-49: . . . before he had a chance to return. / Men dealt with him as men ought to do and buried him very securely
37 They buried him once and a second time, often and many times
38 Was this not a miraculous situation
39 Lines 162-64: Soon after, a strong fever seized him: he lay [sick] for only six days. / On the sixth day he had his brethren (i.e., fellow-monks) lead him to the high altar. / And there he had them give him the Eucharist and his prayers he said
40 And straightway died at the altar, between (i.e., supported by) his brethren's hands
41 Saw, it seemed to them, one and the same dream, in which an angel instructed them
42 Lines 171-72: It seemed to them that they saw a very fair road, with flowers sweet and bright, / [Extending] from Saint Benedict's monastery, eastward, brightly shining
43 Towards Heaven at the other end
44 And let us come at the end to the joy that he is in
THE LIFE OF ST. BENEDICT: EXPLANATORY NOTES5 and al that wer him sibbe. The poet's independence of LA is indicated here at the outset. Whereas Jacobus de Voragine says only that Benedict left his school and then his nurse, the ME version, in mentioning also Benedict's sibbe, appears to echo Gregory's Dialogues 2 Prologue 2: "and leaving his father's home and property," trans. White, p. 165. The ME poet, of course, has conflated Benedict's successive departures from the school and the nurse into one episode, omitting the miracle of the broken sieve (Dialogues 2.1.1-2). The wildernesse (line 6) to which Benedict retreated was a cave near Subiaco, in hilly country to the east of Rome.
7-10 Honger and chele . . . swithe sore he dradde. In these lines the poet gives a different impression of Benedict's wilderness experience from that in the Latin tradition, where there is no specific mention of him suffering cold or hunger, but rather we are told that various helpers made sure that he had a regular, if surreptitious, supply of bread from a local monastery and a comfortable feast on Easter Day. Moreover, the devil's hostility in the Dialogues is explicitly directed at Benedict's personal asceticism, not, as here, at the order that he would found (see Dialogues 2.2.4-7). The ME poet thus provides a larger motive for the ensuing, ongoing battle between Benedict and his disciples, on the one hand, and the devil on the other. See also below, note on lines 25-30.
12 threstelcok. Male thrush. The Latin sources describe it as "a small black bird, commonly called merula." Although merula means "blackbird," both the OE versions of this episode, like the SEL-poet, identify the bird not as an osle (ME ousel, ouzel, "blackbird"), but as a throstel, the song-thrush, a brown bird with a speckled breast, about the size and shape of an American robin. Dr. Christine Rauer informs us that the English blackbird and thrush belong to the same ornithological family, Turdus, of which throstel/thrush is the common English name (see Webster's Deluxe Unabridged Dictionary, second ed. [New York: Dorset and Baber, 1983], p. 1904, "thrush," with illustration). In all likelihood, therefore, threstelcok could just as easily mean today's "blackbird" as "thrush." De Vogüé in his edition of the Dialogues (2.137n1) notes the relevance of Matthew 13:4 (see also 13:19), and the fact that in hagiography demons frequently take the form of black birds.
15 holi mon. In the Dialogues and LA, Benedict drives the blackbird away with the sign of the cross, which the ME poet omits, transferring it to the episode immediately following. See next note.
17-25 Tho he sei that . . . we scholle oure myd righte. The poet makes significant changes to this episode, apparently to enhance Benedict's asceticism, and heighten the drama of the incident, but also to draw a moral different from that in the Dialogues. In the Latin version, it is implied that the blackbird is merely a sign that the devil is at hand, preliminary to the onslaught of a powerful erotic fantasy; but the SEL-poet treats the bird as a separate and different kind of temptation (thulke art - line 17), involving not just the joy of the chase, but also, presumably, the anti-ascetic prospect of a tasty little meal. The SEL Benedict, however, is so intent on his prayers to God, he does not even have to make the sign of the cross for the tempter to fly away discomfited. The second ploy, sarcastically termed a "noble deed" (doghede [line 17]: variant dogheþe, from OE duguþ; see MED douth), is also subtly different here from its sources. In the Latin Dialogues, the devil produces before Benedict's mind's eye (ante ejus oculos mentis) the silent image of a woman he had once seen, i.e., a memory of her. But in SEL the devil takes the actual form of a beautiful woman, enticing the lonely ascetic with her "fair" body and "fair" speech. This vivid bodily presence makes Benedict's momentary lapse more understandable, while his recovery is presented, with an emphatic piece of internal "rhyme rich," more as a triumph of individual will (The gode man sone ofthoghte his thoghte - line 21) than the result of divine aid (Dialogues 2.2.2: superna gratia respectus ad semetipsum reversus, "suddenly he was touched by heavenly grace and came to himself once more" [trans. White, p. 168]). In the Latin, Benedict's naked plunge into the briar patch is the means by which he frees himself forever of his temptation, a violent form of reflex conditioning, by which Benedict seeks (successfully) to associate the desire for sexual pleasure with the experience of extreme pain. Here in the SEL version, however, it is with the sign of the verei cross that Benedict drof awei the demonic erotic illusion, as if it were something more external than internal (line 22). The briar patch is now the consequence of, or penalty for, his sin (desire for sex and a return to the world), as the poet emphasizes with the metaphor of payment (boughte dere - line 25). The English poet's reinterpretation of this episode in penitential terms is characteristic of the pastoral theology of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. See, e.g., Pantin, The English Church in the Fourteenth Century, p. 192.
19 fol semblaunt. The variant reading in C (fair semlant) recalls the name of one of the arrows of Love, Biaus Semblaunt ("Fair Seeming"), in the well-known Old French dream-vision of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le roman de la rose (thirteenth century); see the translation by Dahlberg, p. 43.
25-30 Thulke sunne he . . . fonde him vor fore. These lines have no specific parallel in the Dialogues and represent the longest addition among several that are aimed to teach readers why and how the devil attacks Christians and how to resist him (see also lines 9, 58, and 112-14). The discussion between Gregory and Peter at the equivalent point in the Dialogues (2.2.3-5) turns into an exegetical commentary on Numbers 8:24-25, on reserving positions of authority in the church for those old enough to have outgrown sexual temptation.
31-47 At Ester feste our Lord com . . . Seyn Benet et tho wel, and dronk. The Christian season of Lent (ME leynten, from OE lencten, "spring") lasts for forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday, during which time all medieval Christians were required to fast in imitation of Jesus' forty days of fasting and temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) and also as ritual purification and penance in preparation for Easter's celebration of Christ's death and resurrection (it was also a time when winter food stocks, especially meat, were usually running low). This episode of Benedict's Easter visitor is based on Dialogues 2.1.6-7, where it occurs earlier than the temptation episodes involving the bird and briar patch. As pointed out in the Introduction to this chapter, the poet has rearranged the order of episodes as found in the Latin versions, the better to represent Benedict as imitating the life of Christ. The original episode is a gently humorous reflection on Benedict's isolation from society and his absorption in his ascetic solitude: he has lost track of time, not realizing that Lent is finished, and Easter has arrived (most would be hungrily counting the days). But God sends a local priest to him, so that Benedict will be able to share in the great and joyful Easter feast like everyone else. The episode is also a subtle reminder that God expects even holy ascetics to gratify their appetite for food and drink on solemn occasions, such as the day of the Resurrection. The ME poet increases the humorous content somewhat by having Benedict at first resist the priest's request that he end his fast, whereas in the Latin sources Benedict cheerfully accepts the priest's news at once. Moreover, there is further humor in the way the poet has Benedict, after realizing his mistake, protest that he is not ingenious or learned enough to have deliberately tried to "steal a day of Lent," i.e., appropriate an extra fasting day for himself, by recalculating the date of Easter (at least, this seems to be the meaning of the rather enigmatic lines 43-46).
47 sonde. A colloquial word for God's providence, literally "sending," what God sends. Compare Chaucer's The Man of Law's Tale: "She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde" (CT II[B1]523).
50 hul of Casyn. Monte Cassino (modern Cassino, about 100 km southeast of Subiaco). In order to shorten his tale and give the impression that Monte Cassino (the mother house of the Benedictine order) was Benedict's first monastery, the SEL-poet omits several episodes from the Dialogues after the briar patch incident: e.g., Benedict's first (abortive) abbacy of a local monastery, whose monks he abandoned after they tried to poison him (2.3.1-5); his subsequent founding of twelve monasteries and the growing attractiveness of his way of life to the noblemen of Central Italy, among whom were his well-known disciples, Placidus and Maurus (2.3.13-14); the hostility of the priest Florentius (2.8), which forces Benedict to leave his own monastery (thought to have been at Subiaco) to establish a new monastic site (Monte Cassino) for himself and his immediate disciples. The SEL version, on the other hand, makes it appear that Benedict happened upon Monte Cassino in the course of his travels as an itinerant preacher.
51 Maumets. From OF Mahumet, a common medieval form of the name of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. Owing to the widespread misconception that he was worshipped as a pagan god, the name came to be used, as here, for any pagan idol. See also, e.g., the SEL Martyrdom of St. George, line 74 (I[a], above).
51-53 Maumets he vond ther . . . a chirche he let rere. Gregory (Dialogues 2.8.10-11) identifies Cassino as a castrum or fortified site half way up the mountain, with an ancient shrine (fanum) and temple of Apollo, and sacred groves of trees (luci). He explains how Benedict reconsecrated the temple as a Christian church dedicated to St. Martin of Tours, but smashed the statue of Apollo, overturned the god's altar and replaced it with a shrine or chapel (oraculum) in honor of John the Baptist. Gregory recommended similar procedures to his missionaries in England (see Bede, Ecclesiastical History 1.30), as is summarized memorably in the ME poem Saint Erkenwald, ed. Clifford Peterson, lines 15-19.
55 ordre of Blake Monekes. Benedict's famous rule was written at Monte Cassino, but the poet's language here is otherwise anachronistic. On the slow evolution of the Benedictine order, see the Introduction, above, and Knowles, Saints and Scholars, p. 8. The term "black monk," referring to the customary black robe or "habit" (see next note) did not come into regular use until the twelfth century, after the rise of the Cistercians, who wore a white habit. Not until the fourteenth century were those who followed the Benedictine rule actually called "Benedictines."
56 abit. "From earliest times the symbol of 'conversion,' of becoming a monk, was the reception of the habit, which publicly indicated an intention of living the life of a monk." Benedict, RB 1980, trans. Fry, Appendix 5, p. 449.
bere. The regular preterite plural of ME bere(n) (from the OE strong verb, beran). The preterite singular is bar, as below (line 62). The vowel of bore, the Modern English preterite, was transferred or "leveled" from the past participle, -bore(n).
57 verst abbei he let ther rere that was in eny londe. The poet's claim that Monte Cassino was the first monastery in the world (understandable in view of the prominence of the Benedictines in the history of the Western Church) is, of course, historically untrue, and is indirectly contradicted elsewhere in SEL itself. The SEL St. Jerome, for example, has abundant details of life in the Bethlehem monastery of which Jerome was abbot (DM 2.428-34; see also above, III[b]). That text (line 157) dates Jerome's death (erroneously) in 334 in the twelfth year of Theodosius the Great, so his monastery is clearly said to predate Benedict's by almost 200 years, since SEL dates Benedict's death (again erroneously) in 580 (see below, Life of St. Benedict, line 167). See also the SEL St. Martin (lines 95-98), where Martin is clearly depicted as builder of a substantial abbey of monks, and later (line 267) said to have died in 466 (DM 2.486, 492), over a century before Benedict.
66 ofservy my mede. We adapt the reading of C (of serui mi mede) rather than that of A (of hem servy my mede), which does not correspond to any recorded usage of serve and produces a metrically heavy line. It is possible, however, that the A scribe's exemplar had of hem ofservy my mede, "earn my pay from them" (the rare verb ofserve, "earn, deserve," is explained in OED as a "half-translation" of OF deservir, English of- rendering French de-). The devil's darkly humorous remark here is the poet's own addition. The Latin version (Dialogues 2.11.1) says only that the devil taunted (insultans) Benedict and told him he was off to visit his workmen.
71 offalle. From OE offeallan, to fall upon, kill, destroy.
74-76 The devel nadde never . . . in to luther lore. The resuscitation miracle (adapted from Dialogues 2.11), which ends here, forms the climax of the episodes skillfully selected and arranged by the SEL-poet to demonstrate Benedict's personal conquest of the devil and his imitation of Christ. Next the poet relates a pair of episodes showing how the devil, after failing with the saint himself, seeks easier victims among Benedict's monks and laymen friends. The first of these episodes (lines 77-92) is moved from a point much earlier in the Dialogues (2.4) than the resuscitation miracle, while the second (lines 93-114) is taken from somewhat later (Dialogues 2.13), but they fit naturally together in the new arrangement.
77-92 Ther was monek . . . in that cas. In the equivalent episode of Dialogues (2.4.1-3), the monk has difficulty devoting himself to silent prayer with the rest of the brothers after the end of the psalmodia of the Night Office or Matins. The SEL-poet, on the other hand, clearly states that the monk's problem was that he could not endure his service to hure (line 78), i.e., the long office of Matins itself (line 81).
80 leste he his ordre breke. The poet here uses ordre not to mean "constituted body or association," but virtually as the equivalent of "rule," i.e., the regulations governing the conduct of monks in the Benedictine ordre. For the poet's use of the same expression in his life of Benedict's sister, see the Life of St. Scholastica, line 42 (see V[b], below), and with regard to the Franciscan Rule, see the SEL Life of St. Francis: "he halt noght his ordre, ich wene" (line 164; see VII, below).
82 lute, blac, pollede grom. This topos, whereby a sin, such as lust or monkish "instability," might be caused by, or embodied in, a demon in the form of a little black boy or "Aethiopian," derives from earlier hagiography. De Vogüé in his edition of the Dialogues (2.152-53n2) cites several examples from the lives of the Desert Fathers, including that of Saint Antony. ME grom (boy, man-child, man, servant) is of uncertain etymology, and is apparently unrelated to OE grama (anger, envy, demon).
87-90 "Merci, sire . . ." ". . . schal nan more thee lere." In the Dialogues (2.4) Benedict and the monk do not exchange words after the saint beats the monk with a rod and the demon flees. The SEL-poet's added dialogue seems intended to clarify the significance of the incident, but the translation is uncertain. Our footnote gloss represents one possibility, but it is also feasible that the monk means that he would never, for the life of him, have left the service on account of mere physical weakness ("feblesse," line 78). Benedict's response completes the explanation: on the contrary, he says, the problem was the monk's susceptibility to demonic temptation. While the episode continues the theme of diabolical assault on Benedict's monastic project, it also implies that monkish recalcitrance can be cured with a dose of old-fashioned discipline. Corporal punishment was, of course, provided for in the rule (e.g., chapters 23 and 27; Benedict, Rule of St. Benedict, trans. McCann, pp. 34 and 36), as in all walks of medieval life. With the monk's expression, thei me wolde habbe ismyte of myn heved (line 88), compare the familiar ME oath, "mawgree my hed," as in Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, line 1201.
91 stable. The word is not casually chosen. As well as connoting the physical act of standing still in the abbey choir during the long night office, it also evokes the time-honored monastic concept of stabilitas (physically staying put within the confines of one's monastery, resisting wanderlust, and mentally preserving unwavering commitment to the strict ideals of the monastic life). See above, line 8.
96 wondri aboute and pleie. In the Latin sources, the newcomer does not announce himself as so evidently frivolous, but merely offers his fellow-traveler food.
101 Another dai. In the Dialogues, the three attempts on the pious layman's resolve are made during the same journey on the same evening, whereas here in the Life of St. Benedict the devil, apparently in the same form each time, tries on three separate days.
106-07 swithe vair stude . . . murie stude. These phrases, and especially the second ("pleasant place"), translate locus amoenus in Dialogues 2.13.2, evoking the classical literary topos of the "pleasance." See the discussion by Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, pp. 192-93, 195-200. The literal demonization of the classical topos recalls the early antipathy between the Greco-Roman literary tradition and Christian culture. For another reflection of the same conflict, see the castigation of Saint Jerome's classicism in Simon Winter's Life of Jerome, above, III(a).
115-16 Several of the demonic temptation episodes in Dialogues 2 depend on Benedict's gift of miraculous "sight" for their resolution. The SEL-poet, on the suggestion of Dialogues 2.13.4-14.1, now makes this "gift of prophecy" explicit as the theme of the next several episodes. The king in the present episode is the Ostrogoth, Totila (541-52), the most effective of the successors of Theodoric (490-526, whose rule over Italy effectively signaled the end of the Roman Empire in the West). Totila's visit to Benedict, argues De Vogüé in his edition of Dialogues (2.181n1), took place in 546. He died in battle against the Byzantine emperor Justinian's troops under the command of Narses.
120-22 In Dialogues 2.14.1-2, the impersonator is not a "jogulour" (line 118), minstrel, or fool, but Riggo, one of King Totila's guards. The change allows the SEL-poet to make Benedict's verbal unmasking of the impostor more pungent and amusing than in the Latin, where Benedict simply says, Pone, fili, pone hoc quod portas: non est tuum. ("Take off what you are wearing, my son, take it off. It does not belong to you," trans. White, pp. 182-83). Here, Benedict puns on two meanings of the word fol: namely, "foolish one" and "the king's fool," whose job was to provide jokes, music, and entertainment in a medieval court. The basic expression (a fool is the same, coming and going) is apparently proverbial. See Whiting F392.
123 costres. DM (3.48) gloss this OF word as "bottle," although De Vogüé translates the equivalent word in Dialogues 2.17, flascones, as "barillets" (2.195), i.e., small kegs. The SEL-poet is evidently envisaging some sort of large flask or small barrel.
135 dere yer. I.e., when food is scarce and very "dear," expensive. Compare Modern English dearth, "lack." De Vogüé cites contemporary sources to pinpoint 535-39 as years of widespread famine in Italy. See the note on Dialogues 2.21.1 in his edition (2.198-99).
138 vif smale loves. Compare Matthew 14:17. The biblical miracle of the five loaves and two fishes initiated a popular hagiographical topos. Early examples are cited by De Vogüé, in his notes to Dialogues 2.21.1-2 (2.199).
145-58 In Dialogues 2.24.1-2, the truant monk is a young boy, puerulus monachus, "who loved his parents more than he should have" (trans. White, p. 192). The SEL-poet may have felt the original version of the story to be a little severe, at least for lay readers, and produced this blander version instead. The story, unlike those immediately preceding it in the Life of St. Benedict, which concern Benedict's special powers of vision or prophecy, demonstrates his authority beyond the grave through the "merit [he] possessed in the eyes of our Lord" (trans. White, p. 192). Even the earth rejects someone who had died in a state of disobedience to Benedict. For another episode illustrating Benedict's power over the dead, see Dialogues 2.23.2-6; this and similar stories are discussed below in the context of excommunication (Introduction to VI, below).
159 no tonge telle ne may. With this commonplace apology, the SEL-poet dismisses the next dozen chapters of the life of Benedict in the Dialogues, including the famous last encounter with his sister, Scholastica, which is the subject of a separate legend of SEL (see V[b], below).
164 houseli. The term is from OE huslian, to give or receive the husl, i.e., Communion or Eucharist; but the pre-Christian meaning was simply "sacrifice."
167 Confusion over dates is common in medieval texts, partly through faulty calendars and chronology, partly through scribal errors in transcribing Roman numerals. The date the poet gives here is off by about forty years, but no one knows the exact year of Benedict's death, only the date, March 21. Gregory gives no specific information in the Dialogues, and the year 518 offered by Jacobus de Voragine in LA does not refer to Benedict's death, but to the time when he was in his prime, floruit (ed. Maggioni, p. 320).
171 with floures swote and brighte. The Latin versions do not mention flowers along the heavenly road, but describe it instead as spread with cloaks and shining with innumerable lights" (strata palliis atque innumeris corusca lampadibus via: Dialogues 2.37.3; trans. White, p. 203). Upon Jesus' entry into Jerusalem the crowds "spread their garments on the road" (straverunt vestimenta sua in via, Matthew 21:8). It is hard to see why the SEL-poet sacrificed the biblical parallel.
176 aten ende. I.e., at then ende, in which then is the oblique case of the definite article, as in line 161, "then sevethe day," and 175, "then wei."
THE LIFE OF ST. BENEDICT: TEXTUAL NOTESAbbreviations: A = Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 43 [base text]; C = Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 145.
1 Nursie. A: Mursie. C: Nuirsie. A's mistaken rendering of Nursie/Nursia (modern Norcia, near Spoleto in Umbria, Italy) is also found in the Hereford Breviary (Fuit vir vite venerabilis, benedictus nomine, ex prouincia mirsie exortus), but the two texts share little else in common.
8 his. A: is. I have made this regularization throughout the text.
9 me may be. So A. C: ic ne mai noʒt be.
13 scholde. C: ssolde. A: schode.
14 chatche. A variant form (from Southern AN chachier) of catch or chase, the forms and meaning of which are frequently confused in the early ME period. C has cacche.
15 holi mon. So C. A: holi.
19 fol semblaunt. So A. C: fair semlant. See explanatory note to this line.
20 orisouns. A: orisous.
30 eft. So C. A: ef.
vor fore. So A. C: more. The "harder" reading of A makes sense if we take fore as a Southern variant of fere, "fear." Compare SEL St. Katherine, line 241: "ʒoure maumetʒ ich forsake; y ne bileue for no fore" ("Your idols I forsake; I will not remain [or "believe in them"?] for any fear [i.e., whatever you threaten me with]), ed. DM 2.541.
31 At Ester feste. So A. C: ac efter feste.
38 schost. A contraction of scholdest.
66 ofservy my mede. So C (of serui mi mede). A: of hem servy my mede. See also the explanatory note to this line.
68 hor fo. So A. C: hou he.
88 feblesse. So C. A: febesse.
115 wuste. So A. C: thohte.
125 unhende. So C. A: unhede.
126 he hudde. So A. C: leuede.
133 icome. So A. C: icrope.
there. So C. A: nere.
161 The tyme. So C. A: To tyme. The reading in A is a recognized idiom, but it normally means, "forever" or "until the time when," neither of which makes good sense here, whereas C's reading seems right.
170 Seie. So A. C: Beie.
from: Saints' Lives in Middle English Collections 2004
Seyn Benet was ibore in the lond of Nursie.
To Rome he was wel yong isend to lerny of clergie.
His norise he hadde ther with him, that him wel wuste.
Fram hire he stal aday wel stillich, that heo it nuste,
And bilevede his scole and ek hyre, and al that were him sibbe, 1
And wende him into wildernesse, in penaunce vorte libbe.
Honger and chele he hadde ther and no conford he nadde.
Stablich he was in his beden; swithe strong lif he ladde. 2
Siker me may be that the devel to him envye hadde.
Of the ordre that he make scholde swithe sore he dradde.
At on tyme, as this gode mon in his orisouns him nom, 3
In fourme of a threstelcok the devel to him com,
And flei al aboute his eien, that he scholde his mighte do 4
Vorte chatche this vaire fowel and bileve his beden so.
This holi mon nom never yeme, ac to God his herte sette.
The devel flei vorth his wei, tho he ne mighte him noght lette.
Tho he sei that thulke art nas noght, another doghede he nom. 5
In fourme of a vair womman sone to him he com.
With vair speche and fol semblaunt, in such fondyng heo him broghte 6
That he bilevede his orisouns: go vorth with hire he thoghte.
The gode mon sone ofthoghte his thoghte; to amende he was cof. 7
Thoru signe of the verei Crois the devel awei he drof.
Himsulf he strupte naked anon, among thornes he wende
And breres, and turnde him her and ther, that al his flesc torende.
Thulke sunne he boughte dere inough, as we scholle oure myd righte.
The devel agen him never eft nolde with thulke sunne fighte. 8
Vor wen he mai a mon overcome with a sunne, with his lore,
Vonde he wole myd thulke sunne ever the leng the more.
Ac gif the man wole fight agen, ofscamed he is so sore
That never eft he nele, myd thulke sunne, fonde him vor fore. 9
At Ester feste our Lord com to a prest ther biside.
"Thou makest," he sede, "mete inough agen this heie tyde, 10
And my seriaunt in wildernesse is in much pyne,
Vor he nath nother mete ne drinke. Parte myd him of thyne."
This prest, as our Lord him het, to wildernesse he gan gon;
Mete and drynke he nom with him, Seyn Benet he vond anon.
"Seyn Benet," he sede, "ichabbe thee here mete and drinke ibroght
That schost bothe ete and drinke, vor vaste ne schaltou noght."
"Yuse, sothes," quath this gode mon, "tyme it is to vaste,
Me and ech Cristeneman, the wule Leynte ilaste." 11
"Nai," sede the prest, "nost thou noght that Leynte is al ido,
"And the heie tyme of Ester is nou icome us to?"
"Seistou soth?" quath this holi mon, "Our Lord ous lete him queme. 12
Wat Crist, ich wende it were Leynte: ne nom ich never yeme.
Me thincth it were a quinte man, bote he couthe of gramerie,
That scolde stele a day of Leynte. Sugeth yif ich lie." 13
Seyn Benet et tho wel, and dronk, and thonkede Godes sonde,
And suththe he wende wide aboute and prechede in the londe.
To God he turnde much folc and to Cristendom, 14
So that to the hul of Casyn thoru Godes grace he com.
Maumets he vond ther vele, and men of luther lawe.
That folc he turnde to Jhesu Crist, the maumets he gan todrawe,
Of Seyn Jon the Baptist a chirche he let rere,
Ther men honoured Jhesu Crist, that hethene er were. 15
The ordre of Blake Monekes verst he made there.
Mony gode men come to him that the abit bere.
The verst abbei he let ther rere that was in eny londe.
To him and to his word also the devel hadde gret onde.
A ston hi vounde swithe vair, to hor wal good and clene 16;
Al that folc that ther was ne mighte it hebbe up ene.
Seyn Benet isei the devel him holde, he blessede the ston,
The devel orn tho awei; a man it bar anon.
Another tyme, tho this worc was heie imad of stone, 17
The devel com to Seyn Benet as he sat alone.
"Benet," he sede, "thou hast worcmen. Icholle loke hou hem spede. 18
I ne com noght nei hem mony a day. Ich mot ofservy my mede."
Seyn Benet sende his worcmen word and bed hem iwar be;
He sede hor fo hem wolde lette, thei hi ne mighte him isé.
Ar the messager sede his ernde, the devel was wel yare,
And that worc velde up to doun: hi ne mighte hem be so ware. 19
A yong child, that monek was, was offalle there.
Gret deol his bretheren vor him made and bivore Seyn Benet him bere.
This holi mon thoru Godes grace rerede him fram dethe to lyve.
The devel nadde never eft no power his worc so to drive. 20
Ac tho he nadde power non his worc to lette more,
He fondede bringe his monekes in to luther lore.
Ther was monek that he ne might noght with his bretheren dure
- As him thoght, vor feblesse - his service to hure,
Ac al dai eode out of the quer. His felawes it bispeke,
Seyn Benet hi tolde vore, leste he his ordre breke. 21
This gode mon bihuld at matyns, yif he it mighte leve.
He sei a lute, blac, pollede grom nyme the monek bi the sleve 22
And ladde him out fram his felawes. Seyn Benet yeme nom;
Bihynde he siwede afterward and to the monek com.
A lute he smot him with a yerd, and a lute bigan to chide,
The pollede boie flei anon, he ne dorste no leng abide.
"Merci, sire," this monek sede, "I ne mighte it habbe bileved
Vor feblesse, thei me wolde habbe ismyte of myn heved." 23
"No," sede this holi mon, "al to prest thou were
"To the devel that thee ladde vorth. He ne schal nan more thee lere."
This monek eode in to his felawes and ever eft stable was.
Never eft nadde the devel mighte to bringe him in that cas.
A good, seli mon biside ofte hadde in wone
To Seyn Benet vastyng wende, to herie Godes Sone.
A dai as he was thuderward, a man come bi the weie 24
And sede he wolde with him go, wondri aboute and pleie.
"Bred," he sede, "ichabbe ibroght: it is good that we ete,
Leste we be feble bi the wei, vor defaute of mete."
"Nai, sothes," this other sede, "I nele noght my fast breke
Ar ic habbe thoru godes grace with this holi mon ispeke."
Another dai bi thulke weie, this felawe com efsone,
And bed him ete vor feblesse, ac he nolde noght do his bone.
The thridde tyme as this gode mon toward Seyn Benet eode,
His felawe com yut to him, and gret love him gan bede.
He ladde him in to a wel vair med of floures and of gras,
A cler welle theron amydde, a swithe vair stude it was.
So vaire he spak tho with him, vor this murie stude,
That this gode mon sat adoun and et, as he him hadde ofte ibede.
Ac tho he com to this holi mon, Seyn Benet anon sede,
"Gode mon, thou nere noght iwoned to don er this dede. 25
The devel thee hath ifonded thrie, to bringe thee to this rede.
At the thridde tyme he thee overcom in thulke false mede.
Hit nas no med, thei it thoghte so; he wolde him narwe thenche
Hou he mighte man best bitraie, his godnesse to quenche."
This holi mon wuste of alle thing, thei he ne seie it noght, 26
So that the tidinge of this wonder to the kynge was ibroght.
That sothe he wolde therof fonde. His beste robe he tok there 27
And clothede therwith a jogulour as thei he kyng were.
Noblich he eode to Seyn Benet: kyng he was, he sede.
"Leve sone," quath this holi mon, "do of other monnes wede. 28
Kynges clothes thou hast on, vor he dude the hider sende,
Ac a fol thisulf thou hider come, and a fol thou schalt hom wende."
A gentil man ther biside twei costres myd wyne
Sende a day Seyn Benet, bi on of his hyne.
Ac this messager was unhende. That on costret vorth he ber; 29
That other he hudde bi the wei, to nyme it hamward ther.
He eode vorth with the on costret and dude his presaunt blithe. 30
"Leve sone," quath this holi mon, "thonk thi lord swithe,
Ac of that costret ne drink thou noght that thou hast bileved bihinde.
Ac ar thou drinke, loke wat thou might therinne fynde."
This hyne was ofschamed sore, ac tho he com withthoute toun, 31
A neddre he vond in his costret swymme up and doun.
That was vor wreche thuder icome him to aposny there;
Ac, vor al his gile, Seyn Benet nolde that he apoisined were. 32
In a dere yer it bivel that Seyn Benetes covent
Vor defaute, as mony othere, hadde ofte gret turment. 33
As hi were a day, sore afyngred, to the bord isete,
Hi nadde bote vif smale loves, hi alle, to the mete. 34
Ech monek was sori in his herte, ac nothing hi ne sede.
"Wi beth ye sori?" quath Seyn Benet. "Of nothing nabbe ye drede.
Habbeth gode hope to Jhesu Crist, vor he is good and hende
Ar tomorwe this tyme, inou he wole you sende."
In hor gerner, that empty was, amorwe hi fonde and nome
Two hondred sak vol of gode wete, hi nuste wanne it come.
A monek wende out in a day, ac so ne aughte he noght do, 35
Withthoute leve of Seyn Benet and withthoute his blessynge also.
He wende to speke with his frend, as he dude er ilome,
And among his frendes he deide ther, ar he agen come.
Me dude bi him as me aughte do, and burede him wel vaste, 36
Ac the erthe, anon so he was iburede, up agen him caste.
Hi burede him enes and efsones, ofte and fele sithe, 37
Ac the erthe him caste up agen. His frend were wel unblithe.
Seyn Benet hurde herof telle: thuder he gan gon.
He blessede this wrech bodi and het it burie anon.
This men in the erthe it burede: stille anon it lay.
Ech mon hadde therof wonder, that this miracle isay.
The erthe him nolde avonge, vor he iblessed nas
Of this holi mon Seyn Benet. Nas this a wonder cas? 38
The vaire miracles that of him were, no tonge telle ne may.
Tho he was old and feble inou, his ending he say.
The tyme he told of his deth, ther bivore then sevethe day.
Tho son him nyme a strong fevere: bote six dawes he ne lay.
Then sixte day he lette his bretheren to the heie aughter him lede.
And there he let him houseli and his orisouns he sede. 39
To our Lord he huld up his honde and thonkede his swete sonde,
And ther righte deide at the weved, bitwene his bretheren honde. 40
In the vif hondred yer, and in the eightethe yere,
After that God an erthe com, Seyn Benet deide here.
Twei monekes thulke nyght, that in diverse stude were,
Seie, hem thoghte, on metynge, as the angel hem gan lere. 41
Hem thoghte hi seie a wel vair wei, with floures swote and brighte,
Fram Seyn Benetes celle, estward, swithe lighte, 42
Into Hevene tille the other ende, 43 and the angel hem sede:
"Thervorth Seyn Benetes soule to Hevene we gonne lede."
Nou God, vor the love of Seyn Benet, ous lete then wei wende,
And to the joie that he is inne, to him come aten ende. 44
sent; get an education
for to (i.e., in order to) live
cold; comfort; (see note)
men (i.e., one) can be sure; (t-note)
chase (hunt); abandon; (t-note)
took; heed; (see note); (t-note)
when; hinder (disturb)
fair (lovely); soon
(see note); (t-note)
to go forth; intended; (t-note)
Through; true Cross
feast of Easter; nearby; (see note); (t-note)
has neither; share
found at once
That you should; (t-note)
knowest; done (finished)
hill; (see note)
Idols; many; wicked belief; (see note)
to break in pieces
had [men] build
first; (see note)
who donned the [monk's] habit; (see note)
lift; once (i.e., at all)
saw; him (i.e., it)
an; one man carried it
must earn my pay; (see note); (t-note)
bade; aware (wary)
their foe; hinder; though; (t-note)
monk; killed (crushed); (see note)
although he had no power; hinder
tried to; wicked ways
watched; if he would leave it
little; smote; switch
you were far too amenable
steadfast; (see note)
virtuous; from nearby; was accustomed
wander; joke around; (see note)
lack of food
certainly; will not
on that same road; again; (see note)
bade; grant his request
yet again; friendship; offered
very fair meadow
in the middle of it; place; (see note)
in favor of; pleasant
tempted thrice; decision
(see note); (t-note)
As a result; miracle
Nobly (i.e., in a stately manner)
he (i.e., the king) did
hid; take; from there; (t-note)
thank; very much
year of dearth (scarcity); monastery; (see note)
do not have
before this time tomorrow, enough
granary; next day; took in
went; friends; often before
as soon as
heard tell of this
ordered it to be buried
was amazed; saw
would not receive; for
When; quite weak; foresaw
foretold; the seventh; (t-note)
In the 580th year; (see note)
Along that way; did lead
let us travel that road
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