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St. George and the Dragon in the South English Legendary (East Midland Revision, c. 1400)


1 The citizens consulted when they thus hard were pressed

2 Two sheep to give him as his food, to relieve his hunger

3 Lines 24-25: It behooved them, out of necessity, to send people to the dragon. / Therefore they all gave orders, by common consent, throughout the town

4 Each day one of the children to send to this foul dragon

5 Neither rich men's nor poor men's children should be spared

6 Neither boy-child nor maiden did they spare, to whom the lots fell

7 By his own ordinance, and by all the townsmen

8 "Let my daughter," he said, "live, since I have only her["]

9 And our children are all destroyed, and you would now have (i.e., keep) yours

10 I looked forward to bringing up (lit., feeding) in my palace the boy-children of your body

11 And saw that woman that was so fair standing weeping out of fear

12 And have no fear, sweet thing, for I shall not leave (i.e., abandon) you

13 "What are yonder folk looking at?" said George. "Why do they stare at you?"

14 And commended himself to Jesus Christ and blessed him with his hand

15 The folk saw this dragon come: they thought all had been destroyed

16 And each was baptized and trusted wholly in God

17 The king ordered built a beautiful church and artfully decorated it


Abbreviations: see Textual Notes, below

7 Gylena. The city name is apparently a scribal corruption or misunderstanding of Silena, in Libya, according to LA (trans. Ryan, 1.238), to which the poet refers here, in story, and at line 127. This too is suspect, however, since in the earliest Latin version and its Greek source, the city is Lasia in Cappadocia (Aufhauser, Das Drachenwunder 182.18-20; see also p. 208).

8 In LA the dragon lives in a lake which is said to be "like the sea," presumably for its size: hence the ME poet's gret water, but his rennand implies a river. Moreover, the poet in the next line gives a different impression of the dragon's lair. Whereas in LA it appears to be in the lake (caput de lacu leuauit, "the dragon reared his head out of the lake" - ed. Maggioni, p. 393; trans Ryan, 1.239), in the poem the lair is said to be a "grevys," (line 9, "cave") or "den" (line 98) on the bank of the lake or river.

25 The second thai is redundant.

46-47 With the people's threat to burn the king and his palace, compare LA: succendemus te et domum tuum, "We will burn you alive with your whole household" (ed. Maggioni, p. 393; trans. Ryan, 1.239). This is not a feature of the oldest Latin version of the story, where the people merely insist that the princess must die as their own children have done (Aufhauser, Das Drachenwunder 184.9-10). The more violent language of the LA version may well be intended to recall, although with some complicated inversions of plot, the biblical story of Daniel, Bel, and the snake (draco), where the angry people make a virtually identical threat to King Cyrus if he does not hand over Daniel to be executed for killing the snake and overthrowing the cult of Bel. See the Vulgate Daniel 14 (especially 14:28, Trade nobis Danielem, alioquin interficiemus te et domum tuam, "Hand Daniel over to us, or we will kill you and your household").

54-55 aghtande. LA (ed. Maggioni, p. 393) here has octo dierum, "eight days" (i.e., "one week"; trans Ryan, 1.239). Medieval scribes often made mistakes copying numbers. The poet's numerals in 54-55 (aghtande, "eighteenth," and aghten, "eighteen") are Northern/Scots forms (compare Old Norse áttjándi and áttjan, and Danish atten). The equivalent Southern or Midland forms are eyghtethe(o)the and eyghtene.

79 belyfe. MS: be lefe. The phrase means "quickly," "at once," but literally "by life" (see also line 90), "lively," which is neatly appropriate in the context. Whether by design or not, the poem at this point plays a homophonic game with"lefe" (lines 78, 79, 81). The poet also develops this section (lines 75-96) of the narrative by adding some direct speech (including George's rather theatrical aside, line 86), and modifying narrative details (e.g., the couplet about the spectators on the walls, lines 83-84). Compare the LA narrative:
At this moment blessed George happened to be passing by and, seeing the maiden in tears, asked her why she wept. She answered: "Good youth, mount your horse quickly and flee, or you will die as I am to die." George responded: "Lady, fear not; but tell me, what are all these people waiting to see?" The damsel: "I see, good youth, that you have a great heart, but do you want to die with me? Get away speedily!" George: "I will not leave you here until you tell me the reason for this." When she had told him all, he said, "Don't be afraid, child! I am going to help you in the name of Christ!" She spoke: "Brave knight, make haste to save yourself; if not, you will die with me. It is enough that I die alone, for you cannot set me free and you would perish with me" (trans. Ryan, 1.239).
108 In the earliest Latin version, George asks the maiden to unbind her hair so that he can use the ribbon as a leash for the dragon (Aufhauser, Das Drachenwunder 185.25-30). The SEL-reviser follows the LA account (ed. Maggioni, p. 393; trans. Ryan, 1.239) in having George use the maiden's cingulum ("girdle/belt"). LA's author, Jacobus de Voragine, may have altered the story to enhance the parallel with the legend of St. Martha, who subdues a dragon in the Rhône delta region and leashes it with her girdle (trans. Ryan, 2.24).


Abbreviations: G = Görlach, East Midland Revision, pp. 33-35; MS = University of Minnesota MS Z.822. N.81, fols. 215v-216v; P = Parker, "A Northern Fragment of The Life of St. George."

39 sorow. MS: srow. G's emendation.

43 for. MS: fro. G's emendation.

45 now. MS: new.

52 rychly. So P and G, but the MS reading appears to be ryohly, which could be the scribe's mistake for ryally, ("royally"), from ME rial/ryal (from an OF variant of real, roial), as in line 69, below.

67 dyght. MS: digh. P's emendation.

81 I sall note. MS: sall note. G's emendation.

87 persave I nowe. MS: persave nowe. G's emendation.

94 wenge. G reads venge here (where P reads wonge, which makes no sense). But MS appears to read wenge, a well attested Northern/Scots variant spelling of venge. In LA, George says merely, Filia, noli timere quia in Christi nomine te iuuabo,"Don't be afraid, child! I'm going to help you in the name of Christ" (ed. Maggioni, p. 393; trans. Ryan, 1.239). Perhaps the poet's more forceful treatment (substituting"avenge" for"help" and"might" for"name") echoes Luke 18:2-8, the parable of the woman who cried out for justice on her adversary (Vindica me de adversario meo), which Jesus turns into a prediction of God's salvation of His faithful, as an act of vengeance (vindicare) on the adversary. The poet may thus be hinting at the dragon story's underlying simple allegory of salvation through the triumph of good over evil.

97 togydur spake. P's emendation, adopted also by G. MS is defective at this point.

dragon. MS: dragn.

101 betoke. MS: betotoke. G's emendation.


























Saynt George the gude knyght a hayly man was he
Geten and borne in the lande of Capodse full fre.
All fals goddes he forsoke and toke Crystyndome.
He lufede wele Jhesu Cryste, and a hayly man he become.
This hayly man come un a tyme intyll a contré
In the provynce of Lyby, thor was a gret cyté.
Gylena the cyté hyght, als we fynde in story.
A gret water ther was rennand faste therby,
And in the grevys of the banke, ryght nerhand the towne
Thor had wonned many a day a wonder fowle dragone.
He was both uggely and grete and so lothely to se,
Armed men, when thai hym se, away for ferd wald fle.
In that contré wyd abowte he dyde sorow enoghe
And with the wynd of hys mowth many a man he sloghe.
To the walles of the cité ylke a day he wente
And thorow the blaste of hys mowth many a man ther he schente.
The cytesyns toke ther rede when thai thus herd were stede.1
This dragon spared nother beste ne man no day to he wer fede.
Thai ordand emanges tham all ylke a day to take
Two schepe to gyffe hym to hys mete, hys males forto slake.2
So lang thai fede hym with the schepe that thai began to fayle.
The kynge of the cité and all the folke therof toke consayle,
For ther bestes and ther schepe wer nerhand owt spend,
Of the folke bud tham nede unto this dragone send.
Forthi thai all, at ane assent, thai ordand thoru the town3
Of the childer ylke a day one to send to this foule dragon,4
With a schep whyles thai myghte laste, and therto wer thai sworne,
Ryche men childer ne pur, that none suld be forborne,5
Bot ylke a day kavell to caste and whame so it fell tyll,
He and hys schepe sulde be sende forthe, this dragon forto styll.
Knafe ne mayden sparde thai none, to wham the kavell fell,6
Elles had thai all bene forlorne with this dragon off hell.
So lang tyme thai usede thys that dole yt was to se,
That the childer began to faile faste in that cité.
A day as thai kavell caste, for ther was lefte bot foyne,
Apon the kyngs doghter yt fell, and he hade bot hyr one,
And thorw hys awne ordynance, and all men of the towne,7
Hys doghter was forjugeide to this dragone.
Then made the kynge sorow enoghe; to tham he mad hys mone:
"Lettys my doghter," he sayd, "leve, sen I have bot hyr one.8
Halfe my kyngdome I sall yow gyfe with castell and with towre
And als mekyll as yhe wyll take of golde and of tresour."
Thai answerd all with one voce: "Syr kynge, thou spekys for noght.
For thou sall hald the ordynance that thiselfe has wroght,
And owr childer er all spende, and thou walde now hafe thine!9
Bot thou do als we hafe doyne, we sall never fyne
To we hafe byrnte thi palas and thiselfe also."
Than begane the kynge to grone and grete all for wo,
And to hys doghter he sayde, "Allas, my frely fode,
That a fowl dragon sall drynke thi gentyll blode!
What sall I do or say, or what tyme sall I se
That thou to kynge or kynges son sulde rychly spowsed be?"
Unto the folke doylefully with sory herte gan he pray
That he myght hafe hyr un lyfe unto the aghtande day.
Thai graunted hym, for he was kynge, to aghten dayes wer gon.
The dragon to the walles com and sloghe then many one.
When the dayes wer passede owte the folke in full grete tene
Come to the kynge and sayde the folke dyed up clene,
All in defawte of hys doghter that he held so lange,
Forthi hyr bude belyfe unto the dragon gange.
The kynge saghe no nodyr boite, hys handis gon he wrynge
And on hys doghter gerte he do rych qwenes clethynge
And hailsed hyr full sore gretand and sayde petusly:
"I wende hafe norischethe in my hall knyghtes of thi body.10
I wende I sulde with myrth hafe bede to thi weddynge
And calde to thi bridell prince, duke, and kynge,
Thi hall to dyght with clothes of golde and many of ryche ston
And all maner of mynstralsy to her within ther wone.
And thou apon thi hede suld have had full ryall crowne.
Now thou gose sweloghede to be of a fowll dragone."
When he for sorow of hys herte wordes myght speke no mo,
He blyssyd hyr and kyssed hyr ofte and forth he lete hyr go.
To the gete thai hyr lede, and soyne scho was pute owte,
And well toward this dragon in herte scho had gret dowte.
Als Gode walde, then it befell, Sayn George com ther rydande
And saw that woman that was so fayr for ferde stode gretande.11
"Damsell," quod George, "why gretes thou? tell me I the pray."
"Lefe yonge man," scho sayd, "haste the fast away
Or elles thou mon belyfe here with me be dede."
"Tell me fyrste," quod George, "whame thou bydes in this stede,
And have no dred, thou swete thynge, for I sall note lefe thee12
To wyte all thi myschefe, yfe any helpe may be."
The folke apon the walles stod full thyke about the town
To se how this maydyn suld be swalughed with the dragon.
"Whareftyr lokes yonde folke?" quod Gorge. "Why wonder thai one thee?"13
("To wytte what this bemenes with her sall I be.")
"Certes, sir," quod scho then, "ful wele persave I nowe
That thou erte a worthy mane and herdy herte has thou.
Bot lefe yong man, why covetes thou to dee her with me?
Take thi hors belyfe," scho sayd, "and faste hythen thou fle."
He sayd, "Be hym that ys my lorde, hythen sall I noght go
To thou hafe me told the cause of all thi wo."
This maydyn tolde hym then hyr car ylke a dele.
"Drede noght," quod Gorge, "I sall thee wenge full wele
Thorw myght of Jhesu Cryste." "Nay syr," scho sayd, "I rede
Bettyr it ys that thou fle then we boythe be dede."
Als thei thus togyder spake, this fowll dragon then
Begane to lyfte up hys hede and ryse up of hys den.
The maydyn whoke for ferde and bade that George suld fle,
Bot George umstrode hys hors: agayn this beste rode he,
And hym betoke to Jhesu Cryste and blyssyde hym wit hys hande.14
Agayne the dragon with herdy herte faste he come rydande,
And a sper to hym sete and hytte hym full ryghte,
And to the erth he bar hym down als a hardy knyght.
He gafe hym many a depe wonde and refte hym all hys myght.
The folke that on the walles lay, thai saghe this wonder syghte.
George to that maydyn sayde, when he had doyn this dede,
"Knyte thi gyrdyll abowte hys neke, and luke thou have na drede."
When yt was doyn abowte hys neke then rose this full dragon
And als a meke honde he folued hyr furth into the towne.
George and this maydyn als into the cyté wente;
The folke saghe this dragon come: thai wend all hade bene schent15
And fled aboute as mad men and sayde: "Allas this day!
We er dede ylke a man! We may noght skape away!"
Sayne George apon tham cryde and bade tham hafe no drede:
"No maner of herme he may do yow to: to fle yt ys no nede,
For why my lorde Jhesus send me to this towne
To delyver yow iwys of this fowll dragone.
Turnes yow all therfor to Cryste and baptisede that ye be
And then sall I this dragon sla, that ye all may se."
The kynge and all hys folke forsoke ther maumentry
And crystend wer ilkon and trowede in Gode haly,16
And then George this nobyll knyght hys gude swerde out drogh,
And ther befor all the folke this foull dragon he sloghe.
Acht oxen thai knyte to hym and drew hym oute of towne
Fer intyll a mekyll felde and ther thai cast hym downe.
Twenti thusant men that day wer crystynde, als we in story rede,
Withouten wemen and chylder, thoru this haly dede.
The kynge garte rayse a fair kyrke and craftyly yt dyghte17
Yn the honour of owr swete Lorde and Sayn George the knyght.
(ends fragmentarily)
Begotten; Cappodocia
received Christian baptism

came one time into
Libya, [where] there
was called, as; (see note)
close; (see note)
cave (hollow); nearby
There; dwelled



on any day until
ordained amongst

be used up

Because; completely spent

(see note)

lots; to whomsoever it fell

destroyed by
they followed this [practice]; sad
become scarce
One; only [a] few

forejudged (i.e., sentenced to death)
made his lament; (t-note)

as much as you
in vain; (t-note)

Unless you do; done; stop; (see note)
noble child (lit., sustenance)


on life (i.e., alive); eighteenth; (see note)
until eighteen

were dying utterly
in (i.e., because of) the absence of
So it behooved her at once; to go
no other remedy
he had [them] put
embraced; weeping; pitifully

bidden (i.e., invited)
bridal feast
adorn; (t-note)
in their place

gate; soon

must quickly; (see note)
whom you await
To experience all your misfortune


perceive; (t-note)

desirest; die here
quickly; hence

each part (i.e., all) of her care
avenge; (t-note)


quaked; should
mounted; towards

aimed at him
bore; like
deprived him [of]

Tie; look (be sure); (see note)
done (i.e., tied); foul
meek hound

and be baptized

Far; great

Not counting; holy


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