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The Pistil of Swete Susan


1 Were one to search throughout that city, one would find no finer example / Of plants and flowers so splendidly prepared / In that day

2 In every manner of womanly feature gracious and lovely

3 The commandments of Moses they taught to that maiden

4 The Trinity bestowed a pair of tablets / Upon Moses on Mount Sinai that imparted the message / To be read

5 For he was regal and powerful through income he always raised

6 Truly, there lurked about their house - oh gracious listeners, pay heed - / Two judges of the law, who were feared [by all] in that day

7 Praised as equal to priests and governors

8 And thus these lecherous scoundrels in their chamber chose her with lascivious countenances

9 Then those wretches thought to beguile that excellent woman in her own dwelling place

10 Their utterly wayward wits become increasingly hostile

11 Where linden and laurel trees hung over the path

12 Thus brilliant birds in the woods show their plumage

13 The Breton apples and white apples bow down the branches

14 The little cabbage, the chervil that sways at night

15 The parsley, the parsnip, scallions of the best

16 That was her husband's and her own, [a garden] that [they] maintained with diligence

17 Now that people are departing from us, we need not remain together

18 Now were these judges sneakily withdrawn in secret

19 In order to hail that gracious woman they hastened full eagerly

20 You need not hesitate for [fear of] any one who might hinder our desires

21 Before I besmirch that worthy [God-husband] who created all this world (garden), /It would be better that I departed from this wide world spotless

22 Our cloaks were cumbersome and hindered our vigilance

23 It would take someone more mighty than we to overpower him

24 Now she is condemned on the dais; they overwhelm (deve=deafen) her with grief

25 Who cause me cruelly to be slain and deprived of the light of day

26 Yet he was fully a year short of fourteen (i.e., he has just finished his twelfth year)

27 Among the people of Israel there are a good many fools

28 To smash your belly at a blow into more than three pieces

29 Now the judge is removed, without intimidation from him, / And put into prison; then, when young Daniel gave the order, / The other judge is brought forth to the same place, / Before the people and the youth with the honest face.

30 They blow trumpets before these traitors and drag them on rails / Throughout the city by common assent of the people.

31 Whoever believes in the Lord, needs not suffer perdition, / Thus God's servant will be saved, who otherwise would have been destroyed / On the spot.


1-26 The Vulgate reads: "Now there was a man that dwelt in Babylon, and his name was Joakim; / And he took a wife whose name was Susanna, the daughter of Helcias, a very beautiful woman, and one that feared God. / For her parents, being just, had instructed their daughter according to the law of Moses" (Dan. 13:1-3 [Douay translation]).

2 Joachim. MS: Joachin.

4 riches . . . arayed. MS: riche . . . arayes.

5 a dep dich. The Vulgate simply gives Joachim a garden (pomarium) near his house. The medieval poet imagines a moated estate, with orchard, halls, and many rooms for lodging, some in upper stories. Subsequently the poet greatly expands upon the splendor of the orchard.

8 Miskimin emends erbes and of erberi to "arbres & herbes," which she glosses as "fruit orchards and herb gardens," which may be the sense, though her emendation is without textual authority. Amours observes that erberi is uncommon in M.E., but notes its use in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, lines 3244-45.

10 sercle of sees. I.e., "on earth." Compare Troilus and Criseyde V. 1815-16: "This litel spot of erthe that with the se / Embraced is."

16 lilie whit. A sign of purity. In the fourteenth century a phrase often associated with the Virgin Mary.

17 alle fason of foode. Turville-Petre glosses foode as "young person," to create the sense "every manner of womanly feature" (p. 123). Amours glosses foode as "food for the mind, nurture, upbringing, education," to suggest that the line means "Noble and fair with all kind of nurture" (p. 365). But see also line 283 and note.

18-22 That Susan is lettered and can read Scripture may have been to a fourteenth-century audience an important feature of the narrative, lending "biblical" authority to the practice of teaching women to read, at least in the vernacular, so that they might better understand, at least in translation, biblical materials such as the Psalter. The Vulgate does not, in fact, indicate that she could read, only that her parents, "being just, had instructed her according to the law of Moses" (Daniel 13.3). The Middle English poet expands the half verse to a stanza emphasizing her literacy.

19-22 MSS diverge widely on these lines. So do emendations in modern editions. I have stuck with Vernon, which makes as much sense as any. Much of the confusion hinges on the last word in 19: may, in Vernon and Simeon. PM 818 reads mayre (i.e., leader), the reading preferred by Turville-Petre. That reading turns the clause into a commentary on Moses rather than Susan, which makes the compounded clauses of lines 20-23 easier to fit syntactically into the complex sentence. Amours likes the sense of may, but notes that the rhyme is bad; he wonders if a word like the adjective maere used as a substantive = "noble one" (i.e., Susan) might have been the word the author intended. HM 114 reads lair, the sense there apparently being that Susan's parents marked (i.e., "chose") the commandments of Moses "for the teaching" of Susan.

27-39 Vulgate (Douay): "Now Joakim was very rich, and had an orchard near his house: and the Jews resorted to him, because he was the most honourable of them all. / And there were two of the ancients of the people appointed judges that year, of whom the Lord said: Iniquity came out from Babylon from the ancient judges, that seemed to govern the people. / These men frequented [frequentabunt] the house of Joakim, and all that had any matters of judgment came to them" (Dan. 13:4-6). The Wycliffite Bible translates frequentabunt as hauntiden, as does the Susan-poet, line 31.

29 was . . . ever rere. MS omits was and reads euer there. The emendation follows PM 818 in adding "was" and in reading "rere" for "there."

31 hende, "gracious." Here used, according to Turville-Petre, as an address to the audience - "gracious listeners" - without plural inflection, since the word is formally an adjective (p. 124n).

32 Two domes. Other editors emend the phrase to Two domesmen. But the sense is clear enough without emendation, and the phrase occurs in both Vernon and Simeon.

40-52 Vulgate (Douay): "And when the people departed away at noon, Susanna went in, and walked in her husband's orchard" (Dan. 13:7).

40 dredful demers. The later MSS read derf domysmen (HM 114) and domesmen ful derf (PM 818), readings favored by Turville-Petre and Miskimin; but the sense of dredful demers is clear and the alliterative figures of the line in Vernon are good, which, it seems to me, take priority, especially in the pointed repetition of the figure of dread from line 32, which so chillingly defines these wicked judges.

42 his, i.e., Joachim's. The point is that in attempting to violate Susan, the judges violate Joachim as well, and, even worse, the "maundement of Moises," which should bind them all together, a truth that "demers," of all people, should well know.

44 whon thei seigh. In the Vulgate the two elders see Susanna independently, are "inflamed with lust toward her," but dare not acknowledge their lechery to each other until, one day when they both return to the garden to look upon her and catch each other out (Daniel 13.10-14). Thereafter they agree upon a strategy for entrapping her. In the Middle English poem the "two domesmen," these "perlous prestes," conspire against her from the outset.

48 With chere, "with lascivious countenances; or with delight." The continuance of the alliterative figure from the previous line into the short line occurs in eight other places in the poem. PM 818 reads To fere, i.e., "together, or as a companion," the latter reading preferred by Turville-Petre and Dobson (p. 112). The Vulgate dwells extensively on the lecherous judges turning their eyes and thoughts from heaven to feast on Susan, both when they are in the garden and in their chamber thinking about her (Dan. 13:8-14). The Middle English poet focuses on the oneness of their thoughts in their chamber in line 47. Whether with chere or in fere is the better reading, the poet emphasizes both the old men's lasciviousness and their togetherness in the adjacent lines.

53-65 Vulgate (Douay): "And the old men saw her going in every day, and walking: and they were inflamed with lust towards her: / And they perverted their own mind and turned away their eyes that they might not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments" (Dan. 13:8-9).

54 Turville-Petre glosses worly in wone, "lady esteemed in the world." He cites J. A. Burrow's Essays on Medieval Literature (Oxford, 1984: 74-78) on the form and associations of worly, and reads in wone as a tag meaning "in the homes of men," hence "in society" or even "on earth," comparing it to such phrases as truest in town, or bright in bower (p. 125n).

56 teeld. Pp. of tight, "to appoint, ordain, set, prepare."

66 ff. The Vulgate expands at this point upon the feelings of the old men: "So they were both wounded with the love of her, yet they did not make known their grief one to the other: / For they were ashamed to declare to one another their lust, being desirous to have to do with her. / And they watched carefully every day to see her. And one said to the other: / Let us now go home, for it is dinner time. So going out they departed one from another. / And turning back again, they came both to the same place: and asking one another the cause, they acknowledged their lust; and then they agreed upon a time, when they might find her alone" (Dan. 13:10-14). The Susan-poet excludes these details to concentrate upon the garden. See the following note.

66-72 Turville-Petre's comments here are indispensable: "The Vulgate says only that Susan 'walked in her husband's orchard' (Dan. xiii.7). The poet's long description of the enclosed garden depends in general terms on three seminal texts: the Book of Genesis, the Song of Songs and the Roman de la Rose, on the influence of which see D. Pearsall and E. Salter, Landscapes and Seasons of the Medieval World (London, 1973: esp. 76-118). By association with the Song of Songs and its medieval interpretations, Susan in the garden is an emblem of a love that is pure and holy; she is the Virgin set against a millefiore background of lilies, roses, apples, figs, parrots and turtledoves. And yet the serpent lurks in the garden of paradise. By association with the Roman de la Rose, the garden is a place of romantic love, and hence, in the minds of old men, inspires thoughts of lust. The locus classicus is Chaucer's Merchant's Tale, where old January constructs a private, walled garden for his sex-games with May. See A. L. Kellogg, 'Susannah and the Merchant's Tale,' Speculum, 35 (1960: 275-9)" (126n).

72 richest on rone. PM 818 reads in rane, the preferred reading according to Dobson (p. 113), who argues that OF raim, rain, "branch," is unknown in English and that the word is simply "rain," the sense being "richest (most fragrant) in rain." Turville-Petre follows PM 818 here, but glosses rane as "thicket," noting similar uses of the word in Alliterative Morte Arthure line 923: "in ranes and in rosers," and as rone (the form in Vernon) in SGGK line 1466 and later Scottish texts.

73 the thorn. PM 818 reads thethorn, "hawthorn," the reading preferred by Turville-Petre.

82 joyken, from OF jouquier, "to rest, lie in wait, lurk." The two earliest manuscripts, Vernon and Simeon, adhere to this reading, the sense being that the birds are at peace as they roost or lurk among the pears and pinecones. PM 818 reads pyken, thus preserving the alliteration. Turville-Petre follows the latter reading, whereby pees, with pyken, now means "to pieces," and observes, "This reading is supported by the sense of the whole passage (lines 82-87) describing the birds eating the fruit on the trees" (p. 127n). One chooses between ingestion and tranquility. I have chosen the latter on grounds that the exemplar upon which Vernon and Simeon are based probably said joyken, relying on the fourth stress, pees, to satisfy the ear's desire for alliteration.

86 fees. Vernon and Simeon read seetes, "perches," which makes better sense than fees, but breaks the rhyme. PM 818 reads fees; thus the emendation.

91 say. MS: say?.

92 fodemed. From fodmen, "to nourish, grow, produce fruit" (MED). Compare Alliterative Morte Arthure line 3246: "All fruites foddemed was that flourished in erthe."

96 in cuththes. Dobson derives the word from OE cyþþ(o) 'kith,' and translates the half-line "'they (the fruit-trees) proceed in families', i.e., are arranged by species" (p. 113).

97 thei. MS: the. Simeon, PM 818, HM 114: thei.

99 wardons winlich. A wardon is a hard, brown, quince-like pear, good for baking.

100 waled. From ON val n. "the action or act of choosing," and verb forms meaning to choose, select, pick out, sort. See SGGK line 1276, where Gawain tells the lady, "Ye haf waled [chosen] wel better."

105 chibolle. Fr. ciboule, the allium fistulosum; the cheve: "the chief," i.e., "the best."

106 chouwet. Apparently a diminutive of Fr. chou, thus, "little cabbage." cheverol (chervil) is tall, and thus would schaggen on niht, that is, "waggle in the breeze at night."

115 averoyne. Artemisia abrotanum, commonly called southernwood; served with honey as medicine for head ailments.

118-20 Vulgate (Douay): "And it fell out, as they watched a fit day, she went in on a time, as yesterday and the day before, with two maids only, and was desirous to wash herself in the orchard: for it was hot weather. / And there was nobody there, but the two old men that had hid themselves and were beholding her" (Dan. 13:15-16).

118 Amours notes the missing alliterative letter in the first stress position and emends thing to ying, "young person." Turville-Petre follows Cotton Caligula A ii to read: Als this yonge yepply yede in hir yerde, "this young woman nimbly went into her garden."

119 that holden with hende. Amours suggests with is a slip for were, the reading in Simeon, but makes no emendation in his text. Turville-Petre, following Simeon and HM 114, emends the phrase to that holden were hende, meaning "who were highly regarded."

120 thar us not be ferde. Susan is addressing her servants. Perhaps the sense is "there is no need for us to be afraid"; but that suggests a worldly confidence that is not in keeping with Susan's character. Ferde can mean "a group of people," as in Parlement of the Thre Ages: "Men of mekyll myghte, / And other fele of that ferde, folke of the best"; whereby the sense here in Pistel of Swete Susan could be "there is no reason for us to remain together."

121-30 Vulgate (Douay): "So she said to the maids: Bring me oil, and washing balls, and shut the doors of the orchard, that I may wash me. / And they did as she bade them: and they shut the doors of the orchard, and went out by a back door to fetch what she had commanded them, and they knew not that the elders were hid within" (Dan. 13:17-18). Several manuscripts of the Wycliffite translation gloss smigmata (washing balls, in Douay) as "sope, or oynement," which could be the source for the Susan-poet's "oynement" (line 121).

124-30 The Vulgate does not describe her undressing under the laurel tree at noon to relax. Here the situation is akin to that in Sir Orfeo, when Herodis sleeps under the ympe-tree at undren and is marvelously seized by the King of Faerie. The Susan-poet creates a similar faery mood as he speaks of the "feole ferlys" - the many marvels - that will befall her by midday, reiterating the location under the laurel tree where the strange event takes place (line 143). Susan is taken by elders, rather than the king of the underworld, but they are about equally shady.

131-43 Vulgate (Douay): "Now when the maids were gone forth, the two elders arose and ran to her, and said: / Behold the doors of the orchard are shut, and nobody seeth us; and we are in love with thee: wherefore consent to us, and lie with us. / But if thou wilt not, we will bear witness against thee, that a young man was with thee, and therefore thou didst send away thy maids from thee" (Dan. 13.19-21).

134-35 The puns on worshipe and lay accentuate the perversity of these men of religion who subvert the worship of God and the law (lay) of Moses through their sexual aggression.

144-56 Vulgate (Douay): "Susanna sighed, and said: I am straitened on every side: for if I do this thing, it is death to me: and if I do it not, I shall not escape your hands. / But it is better for me to fall into your hands without doing it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord. / With that Susanna cried out with a loud voice: and the elders also cried out against her" (Dan. 13:22-24).

157-82 Vulgate (Douay): "And one of them ran to the door of the orchard and opened it. / So when the servants of the house heard the cry in the orchard, they rushed in by the back door to see what was the matter. / But after the old men had spoken, the servants were greatly ashamed: for never had there been any such word said of Susanna. And on the next day, / When the people were come to Joakim her husband, the two elders also came full of wicked device against Susanna, to put her to death" (Dan. 13:25-28).

173 Al wyes . . . were. MS reads Onwyse . . . wore, meaning "entirely ignorant," as Amours puts it, "not knowing at all what to think." The emendation "al wyes" is based on Pierpont Morgan M 818. Turville-Petre notes that wyse, "men," is rarely found outside alliterative verse and may have confused the scribes (p. 131).

175 clare. Either from OF clairier, "to make clear, explain, elucidate," or a shortened form of declaren, "to make known, to set forth."

183-95 Vulgate (Douay): "And they said before the people: Send to Susanna daughter of Helcias the wife of Joakim. And presently they sent. / And she came with her parents, and children, and all her kindred. / Now Susanna was exceeding delicate, and beautiful to behold" (Dan. 13:29-31).

183-88 These lines raise questions of how many justices are present and who they are. In the Vulgate the wicked judges issue the summons and conduct the trial (Dan. 13:24-41). Amours suggests that according to English law the accuser cannot be the judge; thus other justices are introduced to offer an impartial trial (p. 377). Turville-Petre endorses Amours' suggestion (p. 131n). Miskimin notes: "There are a number of possible combinations of speakers for these lines, given the two evil (accusing) judges, one or two (I or we) sympathetic judges, and Joachim himself; the tone may range from tender sincerity to heavy sarcasm, depending on the speaker invoked" (p. 145).

195 bureliche was bare. Turville-Petre notes that "was is probably a northern pl. form," suggesting the meaning that Susan's shoulders "were beautifully bare," or, alternatively, "that excellent lady was bare (to the shoulders)" (p. 132n). The Vulgate does not comment on her nakedness but simply says, "Now Susanna was exceedingly delicate, and beautiful to behold" (Dan. 13:31). Perhaps bare (line 195) is a past participle, rather than an adjective, and refers to her carriage rather than her nakedness, the sense being that the woman with shapely and lovely shoulders (line 194) bore (in a northern form) herself "bureliche," that is in a noble manner. Line 197 suggests that her beautiful shoulders are covered with "a selken schert." Perhaps we are to understand that they clothe her for the trial; or perhaps she had the shirt on before and simply presented herself regally.

196-208 Vulgate (Douay): "But those wicked men commanded that her face should be uncovered (for she was covered), that so at least they might be satisfied with her beauty. / Therefore her friends and all her acquaintances wept. / But the two elders rising up in the midst of the people, laid their hands upon her head. / And she weeping looked up to heaven, for her heart had confidence in the Lord" (Dan. 13:32-35).

200 In the Vulgate the wicked men command that her face be uncovered so that "they might be satisfied with her beauty" (Dan. 13:32). In Pistel they simply use the occasion to fondle her. Homliche could mean "familiarly," or it could mean "roughly." Turville-Petre suggests "impudently" (p. 236).

202-04 hou thou ever paied. Turville-Petre glosses paied as "rewarded," hence "punished"; O sake he interprets as "Of the accusation," the sense being "And we shall fully recount the truth of the accusation, just as we have seen it" (p. 132n). This is a good reading. But paied may also mean "pleased," the sense being "no matter how it might please you." Or the lines could be accusing her of the "covetise" the accusors feel, and O sake could be an apostrophe on her alleged wickedness, the sense being, "We shall present the charge, how you eagerly sought pleasure, / And we shall solemnly tell the truth, just as we have seen it, / You wicked (forsaken) creature." I prefer the latter reading because it dramatizes the false judges' malicious deceit.

209-34 Vulgate (Douay): "And the elders said: As we walked in the orchard alone, this woman came in with two maids, and shut the doors of the orchard, and sent away the maids from her. / Then a young man that was there hid came to her, and lay with her. / But we that were in a corner of the orchard, seeing this wickedness, ran up to them, and we saw them lie together. / And him indeed we could not take, because he was stronger than us, and opening the doors he leaped out: / But having taken this woman, we asked who the young man was, but she would not tell us: of this thing we are witnesses" (Dan. 13:36-40).

223 sert. A shortened form of desert, "merit." Amours notes that the use of the shortened form as a substantive is rare, though it does appear in the Alliterative Morte Arthure, line 2926.

225 trinet a trot, "went at a smart pace." Amours notes that trinen, a Norse verb, is a favorite in contemporary alliterative poems (p. 379). E.g., Alliterative Morte Arthure lines 3592, 3901, 4055, 4189.

231 Heo ne schunte for no schame. Compare Alliterative Morte Arthure, "He ne schownttes for no schame" (line 3715).

235-60 Vulgate (Douay): "The multitude believed them as being the elders and the judges of the people, and they condemned her to death" (Dan. 13:41).

235 Miskimin follows Cotton Caligula A ii and emends the line to read: with dyn they hyr deiue: "with a roar, the crowd condemns Susannah to death," the point being that "Susannah is not stupefied with grief; she bravely declares her innocence to the end" (p. 157). The Vulgate reads: Creditit eis multitudo quasi senibus populi et iudicidus; et condemnaverunt eam ad mortem ("The multitude believed them as being the elders and the judges of the people, and they condemned her to death" - Dan. 13:41). Miskimin suggests that the poet might have confused creditit and crepitit ("roared, rumbled"), to suggest the deafening "dyn."

240 sakeles of syn. Compare Alliterative Morte Arthure (line 3992): sakles of sin.

242 don out of dawen. Compare Alliterative Morte Arthure (line 2056): done of dawes.

247 According to Turville-Petre, the idiomatic equivalent to "I don't care a fig" (p. 134). One wonders, though, if Susan would be so brassy.

248 fand. MS reads fond. The emendation saves the rhyme.

252 Heo kevered up on hir kneos. Amours glosses the phrase "she recovered (herself), she rose on her knees," deriving kevered from OF (re)couvrer; he notes similar usage in Alliterative Morte Arthure (line 956): "Coverde up on hir kneesse."

253 disparage, "sully." "Since the original sense is 'to marry a social inferior', the word implies that the disgraced Susan will no longer claim equality with her husband. The touching symbolism of this scene is completed in the 'wheel', where Joachim kisses Susan and simply affirms his faith in her innocence in the sight of God. The Vulgate makes no mention of Joachim's reaction to the trial and condemnation" (Turville-Petre, p. 134n).

261-86 Vulgate (Douay): "Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said: O eternal God, who knowest hidden things, who knowest all things before they come to pass, / Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me: and behold I must die, whereas I have done none of these things, which these men have maliciously forged against me. / And the Lord heard her voice. / And when she was led to be put to death, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young boy, whose name was Daniel. / And he cried out with a loud voice: I am clear from the blood of this woman" (Dan. 13:42-46).

264 sette uppon sevene. Compare Alliterative Morte Arthure (line 2131): settes on seuene.

276 gyftes. MS: gultes. Amours' emendation, following PM 818 (p. 382).

281 MS: Yit failed hit of fourteniht ful of the yere. The emendation, proposed by J. T. T. Brown, Athenaeum, 1902, Pt. 2, p. 254, is followed by Turville-Petre, who notes that according to patristic tradition Daniel was fully twelve years old (i.e., at the age of the boy Christ in the Temple) when he first appeared in public with feats of wisdom. On biblical types of the puer senex, see Christian Gnilka, Aetas Spiritalis (Bonn, 1972), pp. 223-44, and J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man (Oxford, 1986), pp. 95-142. See also Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (New York, 1953), 98-101, on classical sources of the puer senex.

283 freoly foode, "noble youth." "Fode, offspring, child, person, means literally one fed, brought up," and occurs frequently in alliterative verse (Amours, p. 382). See note to line 17.

285 thei. MS: the.

287-99 Vulgate (Douay): "Then all the people, turning themselves towards him, said: What meaneth this word that thou hast spoken? / But he standing in the midst of them, said: Are ye so foolish, ye children of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth, you have condemned a daughter of Israel? / Return to judgment, for they have borne false witness against her. / So all the people turned again in haste, and the old men said to him: Come, and sit thou down among us, and shew it us: seeing God hath given thee the honour of old age. / And Daniel said to the people: Separate these two far from one another, and I will examine them" (Dan. 13:47-51).

287 seith. MS: seis, ignoring the rhyme. Even so the grammar of thou seith seems irregular. Turville-Petre notes that 2 sg. endings in -th are occasionally found in Northern texts and quotes Amours' amusing note: "'A Northern poet, accustomed to the forms thou sayes, he sayes, with the same ending, may have believed that in the South thou sayth was as correct as he sayth, and have used the word for the sake of the rime. This is not a wild guess of my own: I have read such an explanation of a similar licence; unfortunately I have lost the reference'(p. 383)" (p. 136n).

289 frape. Amours notes the frequent occurrence of the word to designate a group in the Alliterative Morte Arthure - lines 2091, 2163, 2804, 3548, 3740. He derives the term from OF frapper, "to throw oneself, to rush," observing that there is no evidence of the word being used as a noun in France except in diminutive forms - frapaille, "rabble, army followers," and frapin, "multitude, populace" (pp. 383-84). Chaucer uses the word in T&C III.411.

293 Turville-Petre notes that "the primary sense of ungreith is 'unprepared', and this is not impossible here; the judges are to be caught off guard by Daniel's questions" (p. 136). I follow his interpretation of the line in my gloss.

300-12 Vulgate (Douay): "So when they were put asunder one from the other, he called one of them, and said to him: O thou that art grown old in evil days, now are thy sins come out, which thou hast committed before: / In judging unjust judgments, oppressing the innocent, and letting the guilty to go free, whereas the Lord saith: The innocent and the just thou shalt not kill" (Dan. 13:52-53).

301 a seneke. MS: askede.

305 Doting on one's toes is a sign of senility. The dismale (Lat. dies mali) equates with evil days. The idiom is ancient, going back to Egyptian astrology and biblical allusions to the plagues against Pharaoh. Medieval calendars designate "Egipcian daies," or evil days, as times of bad luck, depression, gloom, and disaster. See Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, where the Black Knight, referring to the death of the good fair White, says, "I trowe hyt was in the dismal, / That was the ten woundes of Egipte" (lines 1206-07).

313-25 Vulgate (Douay): "Now then, if thou sawest her, tell me under what tree thou sawest them conversing together. He said: Under a mastic tree [sub scino]. / And Daniel said: Well hast thou lied against thy own head: for behold the angel of God having received the sentence of him, shall cut thee in two" (Dan. 13:54-55).

316 Under a cyne. Miskimin's note is worth quoting in full: "The two trees named in the judges' conflicting answers to Daniel's cross-examination have been subjects of debate since the third century A.D., when Origen and Africanus argued over the original language (and hence authenticity) of the parts of Daniel accepted in Origen's Hexapla Old Testament but rejected by the Masoretic text of the Jews. Africanus contended that a pun on the tree names proved that the original 'Susannah' could not have been written in Hebrew but must have been Greek; the editors of the 1965 Oxford Apocrypha explain the wordplay by paraphrasing in English, 'under a clove tree . . . the angel will cleave you,' 'under a yew tree . . . the angel will hew you.' No two biblical versions of the story name the same two trees in the crucial answers: Theodotion's Greek in the Septuagint is usually translated 'a mastick tree . . . a holm tree'; Wycliffe's first translation (c. 1382) reads 'vndur an haw . . . vndur a blak thorn.' The Oxford Apocrypha reads 'mastick . . . evergreen oak.' Cyne is evidently a transliteration of the Vulgate's sub schino" (pp. 178-79).

318 nere. So in Vernon and Simeon, ignoring the rhyme. Cotton Caligula reads ful ne, the reading preferred by Turville-Petre, thus maintaining the rhyme.

320 To marke thi middel, "to pierce through the middle of the body." Amours notes the phrase twice in the Alliterative Morte Arthure - lines 2207, 4168.

326-51 Vulgate (Douay): "And having put him aside, he commanded that the other should come, and he said to him: O thou seed of Chanaan, and not of Juda, beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thy heart: / Thus did you do to the daughters of Israel, and they for fear conversed with you: but a daughter of Juda would not abide your wickedness. / Now therefore tell me, under what tree didst thou take them conversing together. And he answered: Under a holm tree [sub prino]. And Daniel said to him: Well hast thou also lied against thy own head: for the angel of the Lord waiteth with a sword to cut thee in two, and to destroy you" (Dan. 13:56-59).

329 faunt, short for "infant," or "youth."

330 thou Canaan sede! MS reads: thou Canaan he sede. Turville-Petre emends the phrase to of Canaan sede! "of the seed of Chanaan," as in the Vulgate (Dan. 13:56). That is clearly the sense of the passage, though I prefer the Vernon manuscript's repetition of "thou."

333 Of thi wit . . . biwiled. Turville-Petre notes a suggestion of "the anti-feminist commonplace of men duped by women, as in SGGK 2425-6" (p. 138). The suggestion is hinted at in the Vulgate, but less strongly, as Daniel observes: "O thou seed of Chanaan, and not of Juda, beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thy heart" (Dan. 13:56).

342 prine. This is apparently a unique occurrence in Middle English of this word. In the Vulgate the elder says he saw her sub prino (Dan. 13:59), which must be the source of the word. The Wycliffite Bible translates the phrase "Vndir a plum tree," which, given the orchard setting, makes good sense as a gloss on prine, though scholars usually gloss the Latin prino as "holm-oak." On the complexity of exactly what trees are meant in the Vulgate, see the note to line 316.

352-64 Vulgate (Douay): "With that all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and they blessed God, who saveth them that trust in him. / And they rose up against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth, and they did to them as they had maliciously dealt against their neighbour, / To fulfill the law of Moses: and they put them to death, and innocent blood was saved in that day. / But Helcias and his wife praised God, for their daughter Susanna, with Joakim her husband, and all her kindred, because there was no dishonesty found in her. / And Daniel became great in the sight of the people from that day, and thenceforward" (Dan. 13:60-64).

356-57 Turville-Petre notes that "for particularly heinous crimes the victim was tied to a 'hurdle' and dragged behind a cart around the city before execution" (p. 139n).
Ther was in Babiloine a bern in that borw riche
That was a Jeuw jentil, and Joachim he hiht.
He was so lele in his lawe ther lived non him liche.
Of alle riches that renke arayed he was riht.
His innes and his orchardes were with a dep dich,
Halles and herbergages heigh uppon heiht:
To seche thoru that cité ther nas non sich
Of erbes and of erberi so avenauntliche i-diht
     That day,1
   Withinne the sercle of sees,
   Of erberi and alees,
   Of alle maner of trees,
     Sothely to say.
He hed a wif hight Susan, was sotil and sage;
Heo was Elches doughter, eldest and eyre,
Lovelich and lilie whit, on of that lynage,
Of alle fason of foode frelich and feire.2
Thei lerned hire lettrure of that langage:
The maundement of Moises they marked to that may,3
To the mount of Synai that went in message
That the Trinité bitok of tables a peire
     To rede.4
   Thus thei lerne hire the lawe
   Cleer clergye to knawe;
   To God stod hire gret awe,
      That wlonkest in weede.
He hedde an orchard newe that neighed wel nere
That Jewes with Joachim priveliche gon playe;
For he [was] real and riche of rentes ever rere,5
Honest and avenaunt and honorablest aye.
Iwis, ther haunted til her hous, hende, ye may here,
Two domes of that lawe that dredde were that day,6
Preostes and presidens preised als peere;7
Of whom ur soverein Lord sawes gan say,
     And tolde
   How heor wikkednes comes
   Of the wrongwys domes
   That thei have gyve to gomes,
     This juges of olde.
Thus this dredful demers on daies thider drewe,
Al for gentrise and joye of that Juwesse,
To go in his gardeyn that gayliche grewe
To fonge floures and fruit thought thei no fresse;
And whon thei seigh Susan, semelich of hewe,
Thei weor so set uppon hire, might thei not sese.
Thei wolde enchaunte that child - hou schold heo eschewe?
And thus this cherles unchaste in chaumbre hir chese
     With chere.8
   With two maidenes al on,
   Semelyche Suson,
   On dayes in the merion
     Of murthes wol here.
Whon theos perlous prestes perceyved hire play,
Tho thoughte the wrecches to bewile that worly in wone;9
Heore wittes wel waiwordes thei wrethen awai10
And turned fro His teching that teeld is in trone;
For siht of here soverayn, sothli to say,
Heore hor hevedes fro hevene thei hid apon one.
Thei caught for heor covetyse the cursyng of Kai,
For rightwys jugement recordet thei none,
      They two.
   Every day bi day
   In the pomeri thei play.
   Whiles thei mihte Susan assay
      To worchen hire wo.
In the seson of somere, with Sibell and Jone,
Heo greithed hire til hire gardin, that growed so grene,
Ther lyndes and lorers were lent upon lone,11
The savyne and sypres, selcouth to sene,
The palme and the poplere, the pirie, the plone,
The junipere jentel, jonyng bitwene,
The rose ragged on rys, richest on rone,
I-theuwed with the thorn trinaunt to sene,
      So tiht;
   Ther weore popejayes prest,
   Nihtyngales uppon nest,
   Blithest briddes o the best,
      In blossoms so briht.
The briddes in blossoms thei beeren wel loude,
On olyves and amylliers and al kynde of trees,
The popejayes perken and pruynen for proude,
On peren and pynappel thei joyken in pees,
On croppes of canel keneliche thei croude,
On grapes the goldfinch thei gladen and glees;
Thus schene briddes in schawe schewen heore schroude,12
On firres and fygers thei fongen heore fees,
      In fay.
   Ther weore growyng so grene
   The date with the damesene
   Turtils troned on trene
      By sixti I say.
The fyge and the filbert were fodemed so fayre,
The chirie and the chestein that chosen is of hewe,
Apples and almaundes that honest are of ayre,
Grapes and garnettes gayliche thei grewe;
The costardes comeliche in cuththes thei cayre,
The britouns, the blaunderers, braunches thei bewe,13
Fele floures and fruit, frelich of flayre,
With wardons winlich and walshenotes newe,
      Thei waled.
   Over heor hedes gon hyng
   The wince and the wederlyng,
   Spyces speden to spryng
      In erbers enhaled.
The chyve and the chollet, the chibolle, the cheve,
The chouwet, the cheverol that schaggen on niht,14
The persel, the passenep, poretes to preve,15
The pyon, the peere, wel proudliche ipiht;
The lilye, the lovache, launsyng with leve,
The sauge, the sorsecle so semeliche to siht,
Columbyne and charuwé clottes thei creve,
With ruwe and rubarbe ragget ariht -
      No lees.
   Daysye and ditoyne,
   Ysope and averoyne,
   Peletre and plauntoyne
      Proudest in pres.
Als this schaply thing yede in hire yarde,
That was hir hosbondes and hire, that holden with hende,16
"Nou folk be faren from us, thar us not be ferde;17
Aftur myn oynement warliche ye weende.
Aspieth nou specialy the gates ben sperde,
For we wol wassche us, iwis, bi this welle strende."
Forthi the wyf werp of hir wedes unwerde,
Under a lorere ful lowe that ladi gan leende,
      So sone.
   By a wynliche welle
   Susan caste of hir kelle;
   Bote feole ferlys hire bifelle
      Bi midday or none.
Nou were this domesmen derf drawen in derne18
Whiles thei seo that ladi was laft al hire one,
Forte heilse that hende thei highed ful yerne,19
With wordes thei worshipe that worliche in wone:
"Wolt thu, ladi, for love on ure lay lerne,
And under this lorere ben ur lemmone?
Ye ne tharf wonde for no wight ur willes to werne,20
For alle gomes that scholde greve of gardin ar gone
      In feere.
   Yif thou this neodes deny,
   We schal telle trewely
   We toke the with avoutri
      Under this lorere."
Then Susan was serwful and seide in hire thought:
"I am with serwe biset on everiche syde.
Yif I assent to this sin that this segges have sought,
I be bretenet and brent in baret to byde;
And yif I nikke hem with nai hit helpeth me nought -
Such toret and teone taketh me this tyde!
Are I that worthlich wrech, that al this world wrought,
Betere is wemles weende of this world wyde."21
      With this
   Tho cast heo a careful cri,
   This loveliche ladi;
   Hir servauns hedde selli;
      No wonder, iwis!
Whon kene men of hir court comen til hir cri,
Heo hedde cast of hir calle and hir kevercheve;
In at a privé posterne thei passen in hi
And findes this prestes wel prest her poyntes to preve.
Tho seide the loselle aloude to the ladi:
"Thou hast gon with a gome, thi God to greve,
And ligge with thi lemon in avoutri,
Bi the Lord and the Lawe that we onne leeve!"
      They swere.
   Alle hire servauns thei shont
   And stelen awey in a stont;
   Of hire weore thei never wont
      Such wordes to here.
Hir kinrede, hir cosyns and al that hire knewe
Wrong handes, iwis, and wepten wel sare,
Sykeden for Susan, so semeliche of hewe,
Al wyes of that wyf wondred thei were.
Thei dede hire in a dungon ther never day dewe,
While domesmen were dempt this dede to clare,
Marred in manicles that made wer newe,
Meteles whiles the morwen to middai and mare,
      In drede.
   Ther com hir fader so fre
   With al his affinité,
   The prestes sauns pité
      And ful of falshede.
Tho seide the justises on bench to Joachim the Jewe
That was of Jacobes kynde gentil of dedes:
"Let senden after Susan, so semelych of hewe,
That thou hast weddet to wif, wlankest in wedes.
Heo was in trouthe, as we trowe, tristi and trewe,
Hir herte holliche on Him that the hevene hedes."
Thus thei brought hire to the barre, hir bales to brewe;
Nouther dom ne deth that day heo ne dredes
      Als yare.
   Hir hed was yolow as wyre
   Of gold fyned with fyre,
   Hire scholdres schaply and schire,
      That bureliche was bare.
Nou is Susan in sale sengeliche arayed
In a selken schert, with scholdres wel schene.
Tho ros up with rancour the renkes reneyed,
This comelich accused with wordes wel kene.
Homliche on hir heved heor hondes thei leyed,
And heo wepte for wo, no wonder I wene.
"We schul presenten this pleint, hou thou ever be paied,
And sei sadliche the soth, right as we have sene,
      O sake."
   Thus with cauteles waynt
   Preostes presented this playnt;
   Yit schal trouthe hem ataynt,
      I dar undertake.
"Thorwout the pomeri we passed us to play,
Of preiere and of penaunce was ure purpose.
Heo com with two maidens al richeli that day,
In riche robes arayed, red as the rose.
Wylyliche heo wyled hir wenches away
And comaunded hem kenely the gates to close.
Heo eode to a yong mon in a valay;
The semblaunt of Susan wolde non suppose,
      For soth!
   Be this cause that we say,
   Heo wyled hir wenches away;
   This word we witnesse for ay,
      With tonge and with toth.
"Whon we that semblaunt seigh we siked wel sare,
For sert of hir sovereyn and for hir owen sake.
Ur copes weore cumberous and cundelet us care,22
But yit we trinet a trot that traytur take.
He was borlich and bigge, bold as a bare,
More mighti mon then we his maistris to make.23
To the gate yaply thei yeoden wel yare,
And he lift up the lach and leop over the lake,
      That youthe.
   Heo ne schunte for no schame
   But bouwed aftur for blame;
   Heo nolde cuththe us his name
      For craft that we couthe."
Nou heo is dampned on deis; with deol thaugh hir deve,24
And hir domesmen unduwe do hir be withdrawen.
Loueliche heo louted and lacched hir leve
At kynred and cosyn that heo hed evere iknawen.
Heo asked merci with mouth in this mischeve:
"I am sakeles of syn," heo seide in hir sawen,
"Grete God of His grace yor gultus forgive
That doth me derfliche be ded and don out of dawen25
      With dere.
   Wolde God that I miht
   Speke with Joachim a niht.
   And sithen to deth me be diht
      I charge hit not a pere."
Heo fel doun flat in the flore, hir feere whon heo fand,
Carped to him kyndeli as heo ful wel couthe:
"Iwis, I wraththed the nevere, at my witand,
Neither in word ne in werk, in elde ne in youthe."
Heo kevered up on hir kneos and cussed his hand:
"For I am dampned, I ne dar disparage thi mouth."
Was never more serwful segge bi se nor bi sande,
Ne never a soriore siht bi north ne bi south;
      Tho thare
   Thei toke the feteres of hire feete,
   And evere he cussed that swete.
   "In other world schul we mete."
      Seide he no mare.
Then Susan the serwfol seide uppon hight,
Heef hir hondes on high, biheld heo to hevene:
"Thou Maker of Middelert that most art of miht,
Bothe the sonne and the see Thou sette uppon sevene.
Alle my werkes Thou wost, the wrong and the riht;
Hit is nedful nou Thi names to nempne.
Seththe I am deolfolich dampned and to deth diht,
Lord hertelich tak hede and herkne my stevene
      So fre.
   Seththe thou maight not be sene
   With no fleschliche eyene,
   Thou wost wel that I am clene.
      Have merci nou on me."
Nou thei dresse hire to deth withouten eny drede,
And lede forth that ladi, lovesum of lere;
Grete God of His grace, of gyftes ungnede,
Help with the Holi Gost and herde hir preyere.
He directed this dom and this delful dede
To Danyel the prophete, of dedes so dere;
Such giftes God him gaf in his youthehede,
Yit failed him of fourten fullich a yere,26
      Nouht layne.
   Tho criede that freoly foode:
   "Whi spille ye innocens blode?"
   And alle thei stoteyd and stode
      This ferlys to frayne.
"What signefyes, gode sone, these sawes that thou seith?"
Thus these maisterful men with mouthes gan mele.
"Thei be fendes, al the frape, I sei hit in feith,
And in folk of Irael be foles wel fele.27
Umbiloke you, lordes, such lawes ben leith,
Me thinketh yor dedes unduwe such domes to dele.
Agein to the gildhalle the gomes ungreith!
I schal be proces apert disprove this apele
      For nede.
   Lat twinne hem in two,
   For now wakneth heor wo;
   Thei schal graunte ar thei go
      At heore falshede."
Thei disevered hem sone and sette hem sere
And sodeynly a seneke thei brought into the sale.
Bifore this yonge prophete this preost gon apere,
And he him apeched sone with chekes wel pale.
"Thu hast i-be presedent, the peple to steere;
Thu dotest nou on thin olde tos in the dismale.
Nou schal thi conscience be knowen, that ever was unclere;
Thu hast in Babiloygne on benche brewed muche bale,
      Wel bolde.
   Nou schal yor synnes be seene
   Of fals domes bideene,
   For theose in Babiloyne han bene
      Jugget of olde.
"Thu seidest tho seghe Susanne sinned in thi siht;
Tel nou me trewly, under what tre?"
"Mon, bi the muche God that most is of miht,
Under a cyne, sothli, myselven I hir se."
"Nou thou lyest in thin hed, bi heven uppon hiht,
An Angel with a naked swerd the neighes wel nere.
He hath brandist his brond brennynde so bright
To marke thi middel at a mase in more then in thre,28
      No lese.
   Thou brak Godes comaundement
   To sle such an innocent
   With eny fals juggement
      Unduweliche on dese."
Nou is this domesmon withdrawen, withouten eni drede,
And put into prison. Ageyn in to place
Thei broughten the tother forth whon the barn bede,
Tofore the folk and the faunt freli of face.29
"Cum forth, thou corsed caytif, thou Canaan sede!
Bicause of thi covetise thou art in this case.
Thu hast disceyvet thiself with thin oune dede;
Of thi wit for a wyf biwiled thou wase
     In wede.
   Thou sey nou, so mote thou the,
   Under what kynde of tre
   Semeli Susan thou se
      Do that derne dede.
"Thu gome of gret elde, thin hed is greihored,
Tel hit me treweli, are thou thi lyf tyne."
Tho that rethly cherl ruydely rored
And seide bifore the prophet: "Thei pleied bi a prine."
"Nou thou liest loude, so helpe me ur Lord!
For fulthe of thi falshed thou schalt ha evel pine,
Thu and thi cursed cumpere, ye mou not acorde.
Ye schul be drawen to the deth this dai ar we dine,
      So rathe.
   An Angel is neih honde
   Takes the domes of yor honde
   With a brennynge bronde
      To byte you bathe."
Then the folk of Israel felle uppon knes
And lowed that loveli Lord that hire the lyf lent.
All the gomes that hire god wolde gladen and glees;
This prophete so pertli proves his entent.
Thei trompe bifore this traiters and traylen hem on tres
Thorwout the cité bi comuyn assent.30
Hose leeveth on that Lord, thar him not lees,
That thus his servaunt saved that schold ha be schent
      In sete.31
   This ferlys bifel
   In the days of Danyel,
   The pistel witnesseth wel
      Of that profete.
Jhesu Crist, with mylde stevene,
Graunt us alle the blisse of Hevene.
young man; town; (see note)
Jew; was called; (see note)
loyal; like
knight; correctly; (see note)
within; moat; (see note)
cottages high; hill
seek throughout; such
plants; flowers; splendidly; (see note)
circle of the seas (i.e., on earth); (see note)
shubbery; garden paths
To tell the truth
had; called; wise
She; [his] heir
one; lineage; (see note)
(see note)
taught; letters in their; (see note)
(see note)
To know pure theology
She stood in great awe of God
most noble; dress
had; lay near by; (see note)
played in private
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
About whom our; sayings did say
From perverse judgments
given; people
These [two]
judges; (see note)
nobility; delight; Jewess
(see note)
gather; danger
when; saw; (see note)
were; cease
delude; avoid it
(see note)
all alone
at noon
reckless; (see note)
(see note)
[God's]; is seated; throne; (see note)
To avoid the sight of their
gray heads
Joan; (see note)
situated herself
red cedar; cypress; marvelous
pear; sycamore (plane tree)
thorny branched; thicket; (see note)
Cultivated; flourishing; (see note)
lively parrots
Most happy birds
birds; sing out
almond trees
perch; preen proudly
pears; pinecones; roost; (see note)
upper branches; cinnamon
rejoice and make merry
fir; figtrees; take; rewards; (see note)
Turtle-doves enthroned in trees
At least; saw; (see note)
grown (flourishing); (see note)
cherry; chestnut
smell delicious
apples; clumps are found; (see note)
(see note)
Many; lovely of scent
lovely pears; fresh walnuts; (see note)
chose; (see note)
did hang
quince; codling apple
hasten to grow
chive; shallot; allium; best; (see note)
(see note)
peony; pear; displayed
lovage, sprouting promiscuously
sage; marigold
caraway flourishing in clumps
rue; rhubarb; ragged in the right way
hyssop; artemisia; (see note)
wild thyme; plantain
Finest of all
shapely young woman went; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
ointment quietly you may leave; (see note)
See to it; locked
removed her clothes unguardedly; (see note)
laurel; relax
took off; headdress (cawl)
many marvels
before noon
(see note)
Until they saw; left
person worthy in abundance; (see note)
in our law be instructed
laurel; our consort
people; might disturb us
All together
If you feel compelled to deny this request
caught you in adultery
sorrowful; (see note)
these men
torn apart; burnt; anguish
say no to them
torment; pain; time
Then she heaved; mournful
servants were amazed
When valiant; to; (see note)
had removed her cawl; veil
secret gate; haste
well-prepared their
Then; scoundrels
man; aggrieve
lie; lover; adultery
believe in
servants were ashamed
Wrung; sorely
All people; (see note)
put; day never dawned
judges; ordered; elucidate; (see note)
Without food; more
(see note)
finest lady; raiment
believe; trustworthy
wholly; governs
ruin to plot
condemnation; fears
As greatly
hair; yellow
stately were carried; (see note)
hall singly dressed; (see note)
silken garb; beautiful
perfidious men
comely one
Familiarly; head their; (see note)
woe; think
sought pleasure; (see note)
tell solemnly; truth
O you wicked one
cunning (quaint) lies
convict them
orchard; (see note)
Deviously; misled
went; hiding place
deceitfulness; suspect
ruse saw; sighed sorely
For the sake of her husband; (see note)
went at; overtake; (see note)
massive; huge; boar
quickly; went full swiftly
She didn't hold back; (see note)
followed after shamelessly
would not make known to us
Despite our skillful questioning
(see note)
unjust judges order her to
Modestly; bowed; took
Of [all] kinsmen; had
guiltless; remarks; (see note)
your guilt
(see note)
Then for death let; prepared
I know it is fruitless; (see note)
husband; found; (see note)
Spoke; knew how
angered you; knowledge
got up; knees; kissed; (see note)
Because; condemned; sully; (see note)
sorrowful person; sea
more sorrowful sight
Then there
sorrowful; out loud; (see note)
Middle Earth
created in seven days; (see note)
Since; dolefully; sentenced
soulfully; heed; voice
for death; any doubt
lovely; countenance
unsparing; (see note)
judgment; doleful deed
works; excellent
(see note)
Not to hide the truth
noble youth; (see note)
they all hesitated and stopped; (see note)
weirdness; question
words; (see note)
fiends; mob; (see note)
Look about you; hateful
behavior unfitting
Back to; [with] the wicked men; (see note)
openly; accusation
awakens their woe
acknowledge before
separated; apart; (see note)
elder; hall; (see note)
toes; evil times; (see note)
concocted; evil
judgments immediately
saw; (see note)
hawthorn (see note)
head; high
is close upon you; (see note)
sword burning
waist; blow; (see note)
Unfittingly; dais
take away; any; (see note)
to the [same] place
the other [elder]; youth
youth honest of face; (see note)
(see note)
lechery; situation
desire; beguiled; (see note)
Say now, so may you thrive
unspeakable deed
man; grayhaired
before; lose
fierce churl
holm-oak; (see note)
lie loudly
filth; have; torment
companion; may
before (ere)
near at hand
office of judgment from your hand
punish; both
knees; (see note)
people wished her well
(see note)

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