Wednesday 9 January 2013

Hostis Herodes impie: 'Thou cruel Herod, thou mortal enemy'

Two years ago I posted a medieval English translation of the Epiphany hymn 'Hostis Herodes impie' by the Franciscan friar William Herebert, and today I have another one to share. This is anonymous, and from the fifteenth century; it appears in British Library, MS. Additional 34193, the manuscript of English hymn translations from which I posted back in Advent.  You can read the text of the hymn and a useful list of later translations here.  This version is a bit more wordy than Herebert's translation, but the first verse is wonderfully dramatic.  I particularly like the lines 'The water clere that erst was cristallyne / As ruby red is changed in to wyne' - crystalline being one of those new-fangled Latinate words which fifteenth-century English poets loved so very much. And there's some interesting enjambment too, especially in the first and third verses.

Thow cruell herode, thow mortall enemye,
Of criste whi art þow ferd? whi dost thow drede
That he wyll put the frome thi regallye?
The hevynly kynge to thyng terrene no nede
May have; he yevyth hevinly mede;
He settyth not be þi mortall Empyre;
What eylyth the ayenst þis lord Conspire?

The kinges iii out of þo orient
In theyr iorney to gydyn and conveye
A ster aperyd, Ryght in the firmament;
Non soo bryght a for that tyme was seye,
So lyght by lyght deyvowtly sekyn they,
And madyn knolege in theyr offerynge
To mortall man, prest and heyvyne kynge.

The lawly lambe of hvmbyll innocence
To be baptized in the Streme fontall,
And purgen vs frome gylt & greet offence
Inclynyd hym; to no synne was he thralle;
Bot vs to wasshe and vs to clensyne all,
That with synne ne schuld be supprisyde,
Of Jon Baptyste in iordan was baptizede.

A novelty gestys for to glade
By power and mervelows myghte diuine
Of verry water verry wynne was made
The water clere that erst was cristallyne
As ruby reed is changed in to wyne;
Thys kyng of myght may byd hys creature
Aftyr hys wyll to changene hys natur.

To the lord that þis day apere,
Be yeuen lawde wyth praysyng and glorie,
In tymes reuolute frome yere to yere;
Thys solempe fest, thys blessyd Epyphany,
Off thyne aperance makyng memory;
We wyrshyp the fadyr of myghtes most,
Criste hys sone and eke the holy gost. Amen.

More readable:

Thou cruel Herod, thou mortal enemy,
Why art thou afraid of Christ? why dost thou dread
That he will put thee from thy royalty? [i.e. royal place]
The heavenly king for earthly thing no need
May have; he giveth heavenly mede; [reward]
He careth not for thy mortal empire;
Why trouble thee against this lord to conspire?

The kings three out of the orient
In their journey to guide and to convey
A star appeared, right in the firmament;
None so bright a path at any time saw they!
So light by light devoutly seek they,
And made acknowledgement in their offering
To mortal man, priest and heavenly king.

The lowly lamb of humble innocence
To be baptised in the stream fontal,
And purge us from guilt & great offence
Inclined himself; to no sin was he thrall;
But us to wash and us to cleanse all,
That we with sin should never be supprisyde, [overcome]
By John Baptist in Jordan he was baptised.

A new deed to inspire a tale,
By power and marvellous might divine
Of true water true wine was made:
The water clear which first was crystalline,
Now ruby red is changed into wine;
This king of power can bid his creature
According to his will to change its nature.

To the lord who this day doth appear,
Be given laud with praise and glory,
In proper time, from year to year;
This solemn feast, this blessed Epiphany,
Of thine appearance making memory; [i.e. recalling]
We worship the Father of mights most, [greatest in power]
Christ his son, and eke the Holy Ghost. Amen.


Lady of Wyrale said...

The feast of Epiphany featured as the last celebration of Christmas during my Roman Catholic upbringing. For we children, there was a poignancy at its end - for then the Christmas tree, decorations and crib were disassembled. I used to love gently wrapping up Baby Jesus in tissue paper, even though I was sad the festivities were done. However, I knew, as I tucked him into his little box, that I would in a twelvemonth unwrap him again and wonder anew at his tiny hand held up in blessing and once more trace his halo with the tips of my fingers.
I'm sure with many another, I deeply regret that, with the secularisation of Christmas, our sense of timing has gone awry. Cards and wrapping paper appear randomly from September on and this year, while visiting our local tip between Christmas and New Year, I was grieved to see several Christmas trees already discarded, unloved, in the garden waste bin. The centuries of tradition had clearly been lost on those who had opened their car boot and unceremoniously thrown them out.

"At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows."
Shakespeare - Love's Labour's Lost - Christmas 1597.

Clerk of Oxford said...

I absolutely agree! I like to think of the season of Epiphany (which traditionally ran all the way through January, and still does in the Anglican church) as softening that transition between Christmas and everyday life. Epiphany is such a rich feast, it seems a shame to give only a day to it and turn the season off like a tap.

Anonymous said...

In Rome, I learned, they still leave many nativity sets on view in churches through until the Presentation in February.
These nativity sets are very elaborately created and each very original- sometimes with villages, covering large areas of the churches.

At the Vatican square of St. Peter's, where the main giant tree is brought from some more naturally wooded area from the North, the nativity is unveiled only at Christmas Eve, and left all through January until Candelmas. In this way everyone can contemplate the Nativity for the length of time that it would have been in Bethlehem- as the flight into Egypt and leaving the Bethlehem manger is not supposed to occur until the Presentation in the Temple.

Also I get very sad when I see the beautiful Christmas trees thrown out so soon(especially if they are real trees that were sacrificed for the occasion) discarded a day or few days after Christmas while still fully green and fresh.

Anonymous said...

Also, it is very intriguing and wonderful to see these different versions of English translations from the fifth century Latin hymn. It is a very striking hymn which seems to contain all of the mysteries and riches of this season so well. It is beautiful the way that these were written in the earlier English forms and to see the expressions that were then in use and how the hymns and rhymes were formed. And your explanations and translations are very helpful. Also I wish you a happy Epiphany as it still goes on!

Clerk of Oxford said...

Happy Epiphany to you too! These translations, though little read even by scholars, can be very interesting - it's fascinating to see translators working out how to express the ideas of these ancient hymns in their own language.

I was at Worcester Cathedral today and was pleased to see they still have their Christmas tree up, and the crib with the Magi - a welcome sight!