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Second Book of Maccabees 6 and 9: Explanatory Notes


ABBREVIATIONSCA: Gower, Confessio AmantisCMCursor mundiCT: Chau­cer, Canterbury TalesDBTELA Dic­tionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, ed. Jeffrey; HS: Peter Comes­tor, Historia Scholastica, cited by book and chapter, followed by Patrologia Latina column in paren­theses; K: Kalén-Ohlander edition; MEDMiddle English DictionaryNOABNew Oxford Annotated BibleOEDOxford English DictionaryOFPOld French Paraphrase, British Library, MS Egerton 2710, cited by folio and column; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Pro­verbial PhrasesYorkYork Plays, ed. Beadle. For other abbreviations, see Textual Notes.

The Paraphrase-poet’s presentation of the story of Eleazar after the story of the more famed Maccabean martyrs stands against that of Comestor, who passes on his information in bib­lical order. The alteration is put to good use here, however; it allows the poet to provide a brief recapitu­lation of Antiochus’ wickedness, in the form of additional martyrological exempla, before he concludes the whole of his work with an illustration of God’s ultimate, if perhaps be­lated, justice.

18303–04 Jerusalem, whore the Jewys con dwell, / wyll he dystroy ever ylke stone. The Bible men­tions Antiochus’ intention to desconstruct the city itself only in passing during discussion of his deathbed sorrows (2 Maccabees 9:14). An oath to un­make Jerusalem would perhaps be familiar to the poet’s audience, how­ever, in the form of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under the command of future emperors Titus and Vespasian in the year 70. In the Middle English Siege of Jerusalem, for instance, Vespasian swears not to leave the Holy Land until “no ston in the stede [is] stondande alofte, / Bot alle overtourned and tilt, Temple and other” (ed. Livingston, lines 1019–20).

18305–08 Antiochus’ interest in the wealth of Jerusalem’s treasury has no source in the Bible or HS (though 2 Maccabees 9:16 reports that on his deathbed he regrets having previously plundered the Temple). It may be transposed from an identical interest in the riches of Persepolis’ temples: according to 2 Maccabees 9:1–4, it was his rage at being defeated in that pursuit that put him in mind to take his anger out on the Jews and to make Jerusalem their burial ground. It is also worth observation, however, that the pil­laging of the Temple’s treasures stands as one of the acts of Jerusalem’s Roman conquerors in the final stanza of Siege of Jeru­salem (ed. Livingston, lines 1337–40); perhaps imperial (or ecclesiastical?) Rome, too, has been guilty of over-weaning pride.

18313–16 Thei geydder sone grett cumpany . . . to wend in were. 2 Maccabees 9 says nothing of an army on either side: in his rage Antiochus spurs his chari­oteer to take him to Jerusalem as quickly as possible, the lack of an accom­panying force to help him destroy the Jews yet one more outward sign of his inner arro­gance in thinking himself of equal power to God. The siege of Jeru­salem quickly sketched here, however, would be a familiar one from the many legends surrounding the historical siege in 70. Antiochus’ “chare” (line 18318) might thus remind readers of the “chayre” in which Caiaphas sits during one of the first battles in the Middle English Siege of Jerusalem (ed. Livingston, line 471).

18325–32 On the worm-infected body of the diseased Antiochus, whose stench of rotting flesh was so great that none, even his fast friends, dared approach him, compare Chaucer’s Monk’s Tale (CT VII[B2]2615–20).

18369–72 Pray we to God forthi, / with the moyder and hyr suns sevyn, / That we may be worthy / to wun with them in Hevyn. The Paraphrase-poet completes his Old Testa­ment paraphrase by using prayer to fuse his account of 2 Maccabees 9 to 2 Maccabees 7. The poet, underscoring his conclusion that the mar­tyred mother and her seven sons are saved (see explanatory note to lines 17761– 62, above), thus leaves the reader with an understanding that the whole of the Old Testament serves as a proto-Christian text.


ABBREVIATIONS: L: MS Longleat 257; H: Heuser edition (partial); K: Kalén-Ohlander edition; O: Ohlander’s corrigenda to K; : Peck edition (partial); S: MS Selden Supra 52 (base text for this edition).

18253, 55 Lines indented to leave space for an initial capital; first letter of line 18253 writ­ten in the middle of the space.

18258 not. So L, K. S omits.

18267 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 167v): Anthiocus.

18279 thei. So L. S, K: þe.

18286 had. So L, K. S omits.

18291 cummand. So L, K. S: cumnand.

18297 thyng. S: s thyng.

18312 hys. S: yl his hys.

18320 spylt. So L, K. S: spyll.

18323 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 168r): no heading.

18326 led. So L, K. S: layd.

18328 bred. So L, K. S: breyd.

18337 in. So L, K. S omits.

18347 so. So L, K. S omits.

18349 allways. So L, K. S: all.

18352 graydly. So L, K. S: gayly.

18361 be. S: inserted above the line.

18368 to. So K. S omits. L alters line.