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The Martyrdom of St. George in the South English Legendary (c. 1270-80)


1 Dacian, who was the wicked prince at that time (Dacian the wicked, who was prince at that time)

2 And glowered with [an] evil expression

3 "[My] fine fellow, what [sort of man] are you, to be so foolish and audacious?["] (see explanatory note)

4 Lines 19-20: [In] that you shame not only us, as we all see, / But also our gods, when you say they are devils["]

5 Who dare to say to us, and [to] our gods, so boldly such disgraceful (blasphemous) [things]

6 or it (your mind) will have to go another [way]

7 for you speak about nothing (i.e., in vain)

8 ["]You shall at once be subject to a different kind of mockery today"

9 They beat him with tough whips and made [fresh] wounds on top of the others

10 To have his living flesh salted and rubbed with a haircloth

11 I.e., to add to his other woes, of which he had plenty

12 And gave orders to take this holy man and put him up on top [of it]

13 Exactly according to the strategy he had devised, he ordered [them] to make a fire [that was] fierce enough

14 And leaned against the [cauldron] lip

15 They drew their weapons forth and sharpened them keenly to bite

16 That there should be no fear [in that house] of great sickness or of a severe famine.


Abbreviations: A = Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 43 (SC 6924), fols. 59r-60v; C = Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 145, fols. 59r-60r [base text]; L = Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 108 (SC 1486), fols. 130r-131r.

2 The C scribe's bigute (biƷute,"begotten") does not rhyme with write ("written"), but in the original SEL the rhyme would be bigite/write (as in the earliest manuscript, L), since write(n) is not subject to dialectal variation in the same way as bigite(n). The scribe's u in bigute is the typical Southwestern reflex of late West Saxon i/y, whereas the i form implies the poet's dialect was influenced rather by Midland speech.

13 develes chikene. Despite its humorous plausibility in the context, this reading, along with those in many other manuscripts (e.g., London, British Library MSS Harley 2277, deueles cunne; and Cotton Julius D. ix, deuelischildren; Oxford, Bodleian Library MSS Bodley 779 [SC 2567], deuelis hynen; and Addit. C. 38 [SC 30236], feendes chikyns), is undoubtedly a corruption. The closest Latin sources have Omnes dii gentium daemonia,"All the gods of the Gentiles are devils," which is a quotation from Vulgate Psalm 95:5 (Septuagint), and a common hagiographic topos. The correct SEL reading is preserved in A, deuelschine; and L, deuelschine, deriving from OE deofolscin,"demonic illusion/phantom" (DM 3.46-47).

13-14 Here SEL reads very close to the Sarum Breviary:"Cum videret apud impium Dacianum populos multos Christum Dominum blasphemantes et dæmones adorantes: crucis vexillo armatus, Sanctoque Spiritu repletus, in vocem hujusmodi prorupit, Omnes dii gentium dæmonia : Dominus autem cælos fecit." (Procter and Wordsworth, eds., Breviarum ad Usum Insignis Ecclesiae Sarum, 3.257-58) ("When [George] saw lots of people in the presence of the wicked Dacian blaspheming Christ the Lord and worshiping demons, he armed himself with the banner of the Cross and, filled with the Holy Spirit, he suddenly shouted out as follows: All the gods of the Gentiles are demons, and the Lord made the heavens"). The phrases omnis [sic] dii gentium demonia and Dominus autem celos fecit are here written in the margin of C (DM 1.156).

15-16 Dacian's rage in the Latin passio is rendered less vividly or visually than in SEL: Datianus imperator vehementer exarsit, et intra semet ipsum fremere cepit,"the emperor Datian grew hot with intense anger, and began to rage within himself" (Matzke,"Contributions," p. 530). There may be echoes here of the Vulgate version of Psalm 2:1 and 13 (Septuagint).

17 The French epithet, Bel amy, used here and at line 25, was a common expression of derision in early Middle English (compare CT VI[C]318, The Introduction to The Pardoner's Tale), but it is possible that the SEL-poet is echoing the language of one of his Latin source texts, in which Dacian appears to express regret that George's beauty (pulchritudinem) is to suffer such violence under torture (see Matzke,"Contributions," p. 526, where the reading doles is probably an error for doleo).

19 as. C: ac. DM's emendation.

27 Be. So C. DM emend to Beo. Similar emendations by DM are to be found at lines 37-38, 44, 71-72, 87-88, and 92.

30 Dacian means that George's statements against the gods amount to obscene mockery, ribaudie ("ribaldry") but that he is now about to become an object of gross humor himself, as a victim of public torture.

31-46 In the margin of C: Prima tormenta ("first torment"). In the Latin Z-text, the apparatus is an eculeum, or rack for stretching the limbs. The SEL-poet freely adapts and expands the following passage (our translation from the Z-text, ed. Matzke,"Contributions," p. 533) so as to render it even more visual and emotive:
Dacian . . . ordered Saint George to be lifted up on a rack and his body stretched out and lacerated to bits (membratim) with flesh hooks (ungulis). Then he commanded that his (George's) flanks be torched, so that the insides of his bowels became visible. And when the martyr had endured these pains for Christ, [Dacian] ordered him taken down and thrust outside the city, and there hung up to be whipped and bloodied with all kinds of stripes, and salt was cast into the wounds made by the stripes, and the stripe-wounds were rubbed with a haircloth (cilicio . . . fricari).
36 In the margin of C: Secunda pena ("second torment").

38 him. C: hi.

47 In the margin of C: Tercia pena ("third torment").

53 In the margin of C: iiija pena ("fourth torment").

64 In the margin of C: va pena ("fifth torment").

74 Medieval vernacular writers routinely used the name of the Islamic Mohammed as a pagan god of any era. The SEL-poet appears to have invented this outburst of Dacian's, which has no equivalent in any of the sources, although towards the end of the Y version, after George has resuscitated a corpse, Dacian bursts his girdle in frustration, falls from his throne, and sadly bemoans the loss of his kingdom.

77 Here SEL omits another episode found in the Latin texts in which George seems to yield to Dacian's attempt to cajole him into sacrificing to the idols, but in the temple the next day George secures the destruction of idols, priests, temple, and much of the crowd.

83 In the margin of C: vja pena ("sixth torment").




















Sein Gorge the holy man, as we vindeth iwrite,
In the lond of Capadose ybore was and bigute.
The false godes he forsok and tok to Cristendom
And lovede wel Jesu Crist and holyman bicom.
Dacian the luther prince that was thulke stounde1
Alle Cristene men that he vond he let bring to gronde.
As he honurede a day his false godes, and other manion,
Sein Gorge come and sai it al as he com thervorth gon.
The signe he made of the Crois and blessede him al about,
And armede him thoru the Holi Gost withinne and eke withoute,
And wende him forth wel baldeliche and loude he gan to grede
To Dacian and alle his, and theos wordes sede:
"Alle false godes beoth develes chikene iwis,
For oure Loverd Hevene made and in the Sauter iwrite is."
Tho Dacian hurde this he grennede and femede vaste,
And lourede with luther semlant,2 and theos wordes out caste:
"Bel amy, wat ertou that so fol ert and bold, 3
That in oure poer and in oure godes such wordes hast itold,
That ne destou us noght one ssame, as we alle iseoth,
Ac oure godes ek, wanne thou seist that hi develen beoth?4
Tel me sone wanne thou ert and wat is thi name,
That derst us segge, and oure godes, so baldeliche such ssame."5
"Gorge ich hatte," quath this other, "Cristen man ich am
And of the lond of Capadose hider to you ich cam."
"Bel amy," quath Dacian, "turn thi thoght anon
And honure here oure godes other it ssel another gon."6
"Be stille thou fol," quath Sein Gorge, "for thou spext embe noght.7
For ich habbe in Jesu Crist byset al mi thoght."
"A, traitor," quath this Dacian, "woltou take on so?
Thou sselt in other ribaudie sone dayes beo ido."8
He let him honge up anhei in a maner rode,
And therto him binde faste naked mid ropes stronge and gode.
With kene oules there binethe tormentors ther stode
And al todrowe his holy limes that hi ronne ablode.
Al hi todrowe his tendre vleiss, the peces folle to gronde.
Bernynge eoly suththe hy nome and caste in his wonde.
Tho hi hadde him thus todrawe longe that ruthe it was to se,
Hy bithoghte him of more ssame and nome him doun of the tre.
With harde scorges leide him on and wonde up other made. 9
To the bare bon the scorges come as the oules hadde er iwade.
The wonden hi nome and sulte suththe and that salt thicke caste,
And suththe with a clout of here hi rodde it wel vaste.
A, Loverd, muche was the pine that ech up other was there.
Ruthe it was such pine to se wo so of ruthe were;
And evere lai this holy man, as him nothing nere
To sulte so that quike vleiss and robby with an here.10
Tho Dacian isey that he ne mighte overcome him so,
He let binde this holyman and in strong prison do.
Ther he lay al longe night to other wowe inowe.11
The tormentors amorwe tovore Dacian him drowe.
Hi fondede tho in eche manere yif hi mighte turne his thoght,
Ac hi seie tho wel echone that it was al for noght.
Dacian let make a weol of bras so strong so he mighte,
And ssarpe swerdes thicke aboute theron faste he pighte,
And let nyme this holyman and there above him do,12
That the swerdes ssolde his body rente and todrawe ato.
Anon so hi this holiman aboute this weol broghte,
That weol tobrak, as God it wolde, and tobrusede it al to noghte
So that this holyman harmles therof was.
Wel wroth was Dacian so he sei this cas.
A forneis he let nyme of bras and fulde it fol of led.
A strang fur he let makie inou, as he nom sone his red.13
Tho this was al ymult and boiled wel vaste,
He let nyme this holyman and amidde caste.
Sein Gorge nom up his hand and the Crois bivore him made,
And in wellinde led wel baldeliche gan wade.
Theron he sat wel softe adoun as him nothing nere,
And lenede him to the brerde14 stille as he aslepe were,
And lay as he in reste were, forte that led attelaste
Was al into the cold iturnd that boillede er so vaste.
Loverd, much was Thi mighte, as me mighte ther ise,
That eny man in welde led so mighte harmles be.
Tho Dacian this isei, his wit him was nei bynome.
"Mahon," he sede, "hou geth this? war is thi mighte bicome
Wanne I ne may this foule theof overcome in none wise?
Ich ssel bynime him sone his lif ne ssel he nevere arise."
His dome he gan to give anon that hi Sein Gorge nome
And drou him out thoru al the toun forte hi withoute come
And that hi smite of, withoute toun, his heved attelaste,
And his body there in some voul place to wilde bestes caste.
Tho this dome was thus igive, it nas noght ilete.
Hi lete drawe this holy man wel villiche thoru the strete
Forte hi come withoute toun ther hi wolde is heved of smite.
Hore arme hi drowe vorth and wette it kene to bite.15
"Leve bretheren," quath Sein Gorge, "an stonde abideth yute.
Forte ich habbe to Jesu Crist my preiere ido a lite."
His honden he huld up anhei, adoun he sat akné.
"Loverd," he sede, "Jesu Crist that al thing mighte ise,
Grante me, yif it is Thi wille, that wo so in faire manere
Halt wel mi day in Averil, for mi love an eorthe here,
That ther ne valle in thulke hous no qualm in al the yere,
Ne gret siknesse ne honger strang that therof ne be no fere.16
And wo in peril of the se to me bit his bone,
Other in other stude perilous help him therof sone."
Tho hurde hy a vois of hevene that to him sede iwis,
"Come vorth to me my blessed child. Thi bone ihurd is."
Tho his heved was of ysmite, as al that folk ysey,
Angels nome his holy soul and bar up to hevene an hey,
Ther he is in grete Joye that last withoute ende.
Nou God for Sein Gorges love us lete al thuder wende.
find written
Cappadocia; born; begotten; (see note)


saw; as he was passing by

companions; these
[the] devil's offspring (lit., chickens); (see note)
in the Psalter it is written; (see note)
When; grimaced; foamed fast; (see note)

Fair friend (Fine fellow); (see note)
power; gods' [power]
(see note)

immediately whence

am called

(see note)
firmly placed
(see note)
on high; a kind of cross; (see note)

sharp flesh-hooks
tore to pieces
oil; (see note)
When; pitiful
(see note)

where; gone before
haircloth; rubbed; very hard
pain; each upon other
for anyone possessed of pity
as if it were nothing to him

saw; might not; (see note)

next morning before

wheel; (see note)
he firmly thrust therein

rend and tear apart
as soon as they; near to
shattered itself

cauldron; filled it full

melted; vigorously
in the middle [of the cauldron]; (see note)

boiling lead
as if to him it were nothing


great was Your power; men
boiling hot
he was nearly deprived of his wits
Mohammed; (see note)
sentence; should take; (see note)
given; not at all delayed
most vilely
(see note)

abide one moment yet
said for a little while

fall; pestilence/illness

whoever; sea; offers his prayer
Or in another perilous place


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