Humourous Hagiography: The Seven Sleepers

Another AElfrician sermon, and a very long one this time. I’ve never translated it myself, so this very abridged version will be based exclusively on the Gunning/Wilkinson translation (ed. Skeat, attrib. to Gunning/Wilkinson only in the preface.)

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a Roman Emperor named Decius decided he wanted to go down in hagiography as a really spectacular persecutor of Christians. So he got his army together and went down to Ephesus, where he set up idols in the churches and demand that the people make sacrifices with him. Those who would not make sacrifices with him he and his soldiers gathered together and tore to peices; they pulled off all their limbs and made the streets run with their blood; and then they hung the headless corpses from the city walls and stuck their heads on spikes outside the town, as they did with theives. Carrion birds proceeded to come down and pick apart the flesh and gouge out the eyes.

The whole scene, AElfric tells us, was so horrible that all the idols cried out in one voice, telling everyone how much they wanted to leave that place, because of the suffering of the martyrs there. Furthermore, the paving stones on the street cried out in horror, and the walls shook with grief as the martryrs were cut up ‘like stuck swine’.

Meanwhile, seven of the Emperor’s best mates were fretting and worrying over the fate of the Christians (and possibly over their own hides). They spent their days in prayer and grew grey and old with grief (and probably some fear too), and they conveniently arranged to be absent whenever Decius was insisting that more sacrifices by made. However, sooner or later someone noticed their mysterious absence and decided to follow them, and found them praying in a hidden room. The someone trotted back to Decius and said ‘O Emperor, did you know that Maximianus and his six friends are hiding from you and praying funny prayers in a dinky little room instead of making sacrifices?’

‘Now, now, this won’t do,’ said Decius. ‘O Maximianus, why are you so anti-social? Why aren’t you down at the church butchering some animals before the idols, with the rest of us?’ And Maximianus and his six mates came before the Emperor weeping and dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and answered his question with a short speech on trinitarian doctrine and Christian sacrificial practices.

Decius had heard all this before, and was perhaps rather bored with it, because he couldn’t be bothered torturing them all seperately, and instead bound them all together and left them there, unbeheaded and more or less whole.

And since it’s one AM and I have to work tomorrow, I’m going to leave them there until sometime later in the week… Have a nice few days, internets!

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2 Responses to “Humourous Hagiography: The Seven Sleepers”

  1. kishnevi Says:

    Now, are you going to tell this tale as well as Mark Twain did? (It’s in Innocents Abroad.)

  2. highlyeccentric Says:

    probably not, no!

    Fortunately for me, I’ve never read any Twain 😉


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