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The Life of Saint Katherine: Prologue


1 Lines 5-8: They look to you with all their heart; / Their love, their joy, is so earnestly fixed on you, / Lord, that they cannot stop pursuing and following you

2 For if he fails [to receive his request], it (what he asked for) is not for his profit

3 To seek your life (biography) for eighteen years

4 Thus the [story of] your life was kept locked up (little known)


8 Thou ledyst the daunce. According to the OED,"to lead the dance" is a figurative expression meaning"to take the lead in any course of action" (dance, 6a). However, the rejoicing of the saints in heaven is often represented as a dance. See, for example, The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Lynn Staley (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996), p. 60, line 1150, and p. 62, lines 1199-1200.

16-43 alle the privileges . . . / . . . thi loveris alle. Following Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda aurea, Capgrave presents Katherine as a sort of omnibus saint, who has obtained all the favors God has granted his other saints, including John the Evangelist (Jesus visited his deathbed), Nicholas of Myra (oil flowed from his grave), the Apostle Paul (blood mixed with milk ran from his severed throat), Margaret of Antioch (God promised to honor requests made in her name), and Clement of Alexandria (angels adorned his grave). That Margaret, Clement, Paul, and Nicholas are mentioned is not accidental, for these are the saints with whom Katherine is most frequently paired in medieval iconography. For a translation of Jacobus de Voragine's Katherine legend, which was the most widely known life of that virgin martyr in the late Middle Ages, see The Golden Legend, trans. William Granger Ryan, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 2.334-41.

59 all that scharp whele. An allusion to the emperor Maxentius' attempt to mangle Katherine with a torture instrument consisting of revolving spiked wheels. See 5.1240-1400.

62 Ryth for straungenesse of his derk langage. This story of how Katherine's Life must be transcribed from an illegible source bears a striking resemblance to the story of the genesis of Margery Kempe's Book.

78-112 a revelacyoun / . . . God ofte sythe. The priest's vision is a humorous reenactment of Ezekiel 2:8-3:3, in which a heavenly messenger commands the prophet to eat a scroll. Unlike Capgrave's priest, Ezekiel does as he is told without protest. A nearly identical incident occurs in Revelation 10:8-10; John, like Ezekiel, immediately swallows the scroll.

101 clospe ne hook. The covers of medieval manuscripts were often equipped with clasps and hooks.

119-26 Amylion fytz Amarak . . . / . . . ye schall more clere. Capgrave places Amilion's discovery of the MS in the 1360s, during the reign of Peter I of Cyprus and the papacy of Urban V.

143 all the sevene artes. Defined by Martianus Capella in the fifth century, the Seven Liberal Arts was an educational curriculum consisting of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic) and the quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy). Capgrave details Katherine's pursuit of this curriculum in 1.302-99. For more on the subject, see David L. Wagner, ed., The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983).

150 be is repeated in MS.

163-68 Byschop in Alysaunder . . . / . . . syng and rede. Capgrave is identifying Athanasius with the fourth-century theologian and bishop of Alexandria who, according to longstanding tradition, originally composed Katherine's passion. Mech adversyté (line 165) refers to Athanasius' struggle to discredit the views of the Alexandrian priest Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ. Because Arianism was favored by emperors at the time, Athanasius was repeatedly forced into exile. Apparently eager to anticipate all questions, Capgrave admits he does not know whether Katherine's biographer also wrote the so-called "Athanasian Creed," which was recited during prime, one of the eight liturgical hours that structured communal worship in medieval religious houses.

198 A hundred yere aftyr. Capgrave is attributing Arrek's Latin translation to the late fifth century (somewhat more than a century after Athanasius' death in 373).

236-38 that hevynly reyne / That Apollo bare abowte . . . / . . . mannes soule. Apollos was a learned Alexandrian convert (Acts 18:24-28) whom Paul commends for "watering," or nourishing, the newly sown Christian community at Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
Jesu Cryst, crowne of maydenes alle,
A mayde bare Thee, a mayde gave Thee soke;
Amongis the lilies that may not fade ne falle
Thou ledyst these folk, ryth so seyth oure boke.
With all her hert evyr on Thee thei loke;
Her love, her plesauns, so sore is on Thee sette
To sewe Thee, Lord, and folow thei can nott lette.
Ryth thus be ordyr we wene Thou ledyst the daunce; 1
Thi modir folowyth Thee next, as reson is,
And aftir othir, thei goo rith as her chaunce
Is schap to hem of joye that may not mys.
But next that Lady above alle othir in blys
Folowyth this mayde weche we clepe Kateryne.
Thus wene we, Lord, because that Thou and Thyne
Have gove to hir of grace so grete plenté
That alle the privileges weche be in othir found
Ar sett in hir as in sovereyne hye degré,
For in alle these rychely doth she habound.
Loke alle these seyntis that on this world so round
Levyd here sumtyme, and in sum spyce or kynde,
Her vertues shal we in this same mayde fynde:
Thou gave to Jon, Lord, the grete evangelyst,
Thin owne presens whan he hens shuld wende;
That same presens, rithe evene as Thou lyste,
Thou gave this mayde at hir lyvys ende.
A welle of oyle eke Thou wold hir sende
Out of hir grave, as had Seynt Nycholas;
And for hir clennesse Thou graunted hir that gras
Weche Seynt Poule had - mylke ryth at his throte
Ran out with bloode, men sey, in tokenyngis
That martyrdam and maydenhod ryth in o cote
Were medelede togydyr. Thou, doutir onto the kyngis,
So had thou fully as these holy thingis.
To araye thi grave His aungellys eke Godd sent,
Ryth as He dyd sumtyme for Seynt Clement.
And as Seynt Margarete had hir petycyoun
At hir last ende graunted of Godd allmyth -
What maner man or woman that with devocyoun
Askyth a bone of hir, he hath it ryth
As he wyl have, if he ask but ryth,
For ellis fayleth he, it is not to his behove - 2
The same grace hast thow of Godd, thi love,
Purchasyd, lady, onto thi loveris alle.
Therfor wyl I thee serve so as I can
And make thi lyffe, that more openly it schalle
Be know abowte of woman and of man.
Ther was a preste, of flesch he was ful wan,
For grete labour he had in his lyve
To seke thi liffe yerys thyrtene and fyve. 3
Yet at the last he found it, to his gret joye,
Fer up in Grece i-beryed in the grownde.
Was nevyr no knyth in Rome ne eke in Troye
Mor glad of swerde or basnett bryght and rownde
Than was this preeste whan he had it fownde:
He blyssed thee ofte, and seyd all his laboure
Was turned to solace, to joye and socowr.
He mad thi lyff in Englysch tunge ful well,
But yet he deyed or he had fully doo.
Thy passyon, lady, and all that scharp whele
He left behynd-it is yet for to doo;
And that he mad it is ful hard ther-too,
Ryth for straungenesse of his derk langage.
He is now ded, thu hast gove him his wage.
Now wyl I, lady, more openly make thi lyffe
Oute of his werk, if thu wylt help ther-too;
It schall be know of man, mayde, and of wyffe,
What thu hast suffrede and eke what thu hast doo.
Pray Godd, oure Lorde, He wyll the dore on-doo,
Enspire oure wyttys with His pryvy grace
To preyse Him and thee that we may have space.
Thys preeste of whom I spake not longe ere
In his prologe telleth all his desyre,
How that he travayled many a londe to lere
The byrth, the cuntré, the langage, of this martyre,
Who was hir modyr and eke who was hir syre;
Aboute this mater he laboured yerys eytene
With prayere, fastyng, cold and mekyll tene.
So at the last had he a revelacyoun
All mysty and derk, hyd all undyr clowde.
He thowte he sey thoo in his avysyoun
A persone honest, clothed in precyous schrowde,
Whech evyr cryed upon the preest ful lowde:
"Beholde," he seyth, "thu man, what that I am,
What thyng I schew, and eke why I cam."
For in his hand he held a boke ful elde,
With bredys rotyn, levys dusty and rent;
And evyr he cryed upon the preest, "Behelde!
Here is thi labour, here is all thin entente.
I wote ful welle what thu hast sowte and ment;
Ope thi mouth, this book muste thu ete;
But if thu doo, thi wyll schall thu not gete."
"A, mercy, lorde!" seyd this preeste to him.
"Spare me now! Who schulde I this book ete?
The roten bredys, these levys derk and dyme,
I may in noo wyse into my mouth hem gete:
My mouth is small and eke thei be so grete,
Thei wyll brek my chaules and my throte -
This mete to me is lykly to do noo note."
"Yys," seyd he, "thu mote nede ete this book -
Thu schalt ellys repente. Ope thi mowth wyde,
Receyve it boldly - it hath no clospe ne hook.
Let it goo down and in thi wombe it hyde;
It schal not greve thee neyther in bak ne syde;
In thi mowth bytter, in thi wombe it wyll be swete,
So was it sumetyme to Ezechyell the prophete."
The preeste tho toke it into his mowth anon;
It semed swete, ryth as it hony were.
The other man is passed and i-gon;
The preest is stoyned as thow he turned were.
New joye, new thowte, had he than there.
He awoke and was ful glad and blythe;
Of this dreme he blyssyd God ofte sythe.
Aftyr this not long, depe in a felde,
I-clad wyth flowres and herbys grete and smale,
He dalf and fond this boke whych he behelde
Before in slepe, ryght as I told my tale.
There had he salve to all his byttyr bale.
It was leyd there be a knyte that men calle
Amylion fytz Amarak, of Cristen knytes alle
Most devoute as onto this mayde.
He fond it among old tresoure in Cipire-londe.
In Kyng Petris tyme, as the cronycle sayde,
Of that same Cipre where he this boke fond
And in Pope Urban tyme, as I undyrstond,
The fyfte of Rome, fell all this matere
Wheche ye have herd and yet ye schall more clere.
There was a clerk with this same Kateryne
Whos name we clepe in Latyne Athanas;
He tawte hir the reules, as he cowde dyvyne,
Of God of hevyn, of joye, and of grace,
And sche him also, for be hir he was
I-turnyd onto Crist and to oure feythe;
He was hir leder, as the story seythe.
He wrote the lyfe eke of this same mayde;
He was with hir at hir last ende,
He say hir martyryd, as himselve sayde.
He mote nede have hir lyfe in mynde -
He was a servaunt onto hir ryth kynde.
What schuld I lenger in his preysyng tary?
He was hir chauncelere and hir secretary.
He gate hir maisterys thorowowte the partes
Of all grete Grece, hir fadyres empyre,
To lerne hir be rowe all the sevene artes;
This same man payd hem all her hire,
He was as in that courte fully lord and syre.
He knew hir kynne and hir counsell also,
Hir fadyr, hir modyr, and all the line therto;
Hir holy life he knew, hir conversacioun,
All hir holy customys wyll sche levyd here.
He stode be hir in hir grete passioun.
He say the aungelis, how thei hir body bere
Fer up into Synay and leyde it down there;
He saw the venjauns, eke, how it was take
On many a thousand eke for hir deth sake;
He sey eke Maxense, how he was slayn,
Dropped from a bregge down in a revere,
Deyd so ful sodeynly in ful byttyr payne,
Forthe was he draw into hell-feere -
Aungellys bare hir, the develys bare hys beere.
Behold the sundry reward of vertu and of syne:
On is in hevene, the other is hell withinne.
Long aftyr the deth of this Maxencyus,
Byschop in Alysaunder, Katerynes cité,
Was this sam man, this Athanasius,
In whech he suffred ful mech adversyté.
I wot not veryly yef it were he
That made the psalme whech we clepe the crede,
Whech we at pryme oft-tyme syng and rede.
He deyd evyn there an holy confessoure,
And aftyr his deth myth unneth be knowe
The lyvyng, the lernyng, of this swete flowre
And martyr Kateryne, of hy ne of lowe
Tyl on Arrek dyd it new i-sowe,
For owt of Grew he hath it fyrst runge,
This holy lyff, into Latyne tunge.
This clerk herd speke oft-tyme of this mayde,
Bothe of hir lyffe and also of hir heende,
How sche for lofe hir lyffe hath thus layde
Of oure Lorde Cryste, oure gostly spouse kende.
This made him sekere into that londe to wende,
To know of this bothe the spryng and the welle,
If any man coude it any pleynere telle.
Twelve yere in that londe he dwelt and more,
To know her langage, what it myght mene,
Tyl he of her usages had fully the lore
With ful mech stody, tary, and tene.
Ful longe it was or he myght it sene,
The lyff that Athanas made of this mayde;
But at the last he cam, as it is sayde,
Ther as he fonde it from mynde all i-ded,
For heretykys that were thoo in that londe
Had brent the bokys, bothe the leffe and the brede,
As many as thei soute and that tyme fonde;
But, blyssyd be Godd of His hye sonde,
This boke founde thei not in no manere wyse -
Godd wolde not that the nobyll servyse
Of His owne mayde schulde be thus forgete.
A hundred yere aftyr it was and more
That this Arrek this new werk had gete
Fro the tyme of Athanas, for so mech before
Was he hens pased, i-ded and forlore
As from every tunge, bothe his boke and he,
Of every man and woman in that cuntré.
And be this preste was it onto Englischmen
I-soute and founde and broute unto londe,
Hyd in all counseyll among nyne or ten.
It cam but seldom onto any mannes honde;
Eke whan it cam it was noght undyrstonde
Because, as I seyd, ryght for the derk langage.
Thus was thi lyffe, lady, kept all in cage. 4
Nevyrthelasse he dyd mych thyng ther-too,
This noble preste, this very good man:
He hath led us the wey and the doore on-doo,
That mech the bettyr we may and we can
Folow his steppes. For thow he sore rane
We may him ovyrtake, with help and with grace
Whech that this lady schall us purchass.
He is now ded, this goodeman, this preste;
He deyd at Lynne many yere agoo;
He is ny from mynde with more and with leeste;
Yet in his deying and in his grett woo
This lady, as thei sey, appered him unto:
Sche bad him be gladde in most goodely wyse;
Sche wolde reward him, sche sayd, his servyse.
Of the west cuntré it semeth that he was
Be his maner spech and be his style;
He was sumtyme parsone of Sent Pancras
In the cité of London a full grete whyle.
He is now above us ful many a myle;
He be a mene to Kateryne for us,
And sche for us alle onto oure Lorde Jhesus.
Aftyr him nexte I take upon me
To translate this story and set it more pleyne,
Trostyng on other men that her charyté
Schall help me in this caas to wryght and to seyne.
Godd send me part of that hevynly reyne
That Apollo bare abowte, and eke Sent Poule;
It maketh vertu to growe in mannes soule.
If ye wyll wete what that I am,
My cuntré is Northfolke, of the town of Lynne;
Owt of the world to my profyte I cam
Onto the brotherhode whech I am inne.
Godd geve me grace nevyr for to blynne
To folow the steppes of my faderes before,
Whech to the rewle of Austen were swore.
Thus endyth the prologe of this holy mayde.
Ye that rede it pray for hem alle
That to this werk eythere travayled or payde,
That from her synnes with grace thei may falle
To be redy to Godd whan He wyll calle
With Him in hevyn to drynke and to dyne,
Thorow the prayere of this mayde Kateryne.

bore; suckled you
i.e., the saints
lead; exactly; book
Exactly; by; know; dance; (see note)
their share
given; them; fail
i.e., the Virgin Mary
given; her
(see note)
Consider; saints
Lived; formerly; manner
presence; go
just; wished
oil also
purity; grace
identical (in one person)
mixed; daughter
favor; truly
very pale
knight; nor also
helmet bright
you often
very well
died before; finished
(see note)
what he wrote is very hard to read
obscure language; (see note)
given; reward
more clearly write
undo the door
Inspire; special
praise; capacity
traveled [through]; learn
country; martyr
eighteen years
great hardship
(see note)
thought; saw; then; vision
respectable; fine vestments
covers; pages; torn
know; sought and intended
covers; pages
way; them
food; good
(see note)
harm; back
As; formerly
then; at once
as if it were honey
astonished; though; demented
often since (many times)
laid; knight
son of; (see note)
i.e., Urban V; happened
call; Athanasius
as he could understand them
by her
must certainly
true nature
spend more time praising him
got; teachers
teach her in order; (see note)
them; their salaries
family; advisers
by; (see note)
saw; how
Far; Mount Sinai
vengeance, also
bridge; river
bore; bier
Alexandria; city; (see note)
know; if
right there
might hardly
i.e., of any class
Until a certain man Arrek sowed it anew
Greek; i.e., translated
i.e., the priest
end (death)
our dear heavenly spouse
determined; travel
fully understood
much; time; hardship
before; might see
i.e., out of circulation
heretics; then
burned; pages and covers
through His high decree
(see note)
Athanasius; so long ago
dead and forgotten
Known only by nine or ten people
accomplished much
though he ran hard
nearly forgotten by everyone
as he was dying
i.e., Katherine
manner of speech
write it more clearly
(see note)
Apollo bore
wish to know who
Augustinian Rule
either worked on or paid for

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