The Life of St. Catherine

Author unknown
Genre Epic, Poem
Keywords 14th century, Christianity, legend, St. Catherine of Alexandria
Title (in Czech) Život svaté Kateřiny
Title (in English translation) The Life of St. Catherine
Editor Andrea Svobodová – Štěpán Šimek
Translator Walter Schamschula
Edited source Brno, Moravský zemský archiv, fond G 10, inv. č. 507 (formerly inv. č. 555), ff. 1r–68v
Introduction Walter Schamschula – Andrea Svobodová
TEI P5 XML Encoding Anna Michalcová – Michal Mocňák – Ondřej Tichý
Summary of content A verse legend about the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which in the first part describes Catherine's conversion and in the second her struggle with the pagan emperor Maxentius, her victory over pagan scholars and her martyrdom.
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Introduction to the Text

In Old Czech literature, there are two legends of Catherine, the saint who, according to sources, suffered martyrdom in 301 or 307 in Alexandria and was held in high esteem by Charles IV (he attributed the victory near San Felice in Italy in 1332 to the help of the saint). One version from the middle of the 14th century is known as the Umučení svaté Kateřiny (‘Martyrdom of Saint Catherine’), in older literature also referred to as the Brněnská legenda (‘Brno Legend’) or Menší legenda (‘Minor Legend’); the other version from the second half of the 14th century is named Život svaté Kateřiny (‘Life of Saint Catherine’), or the Stockholmská legenda (‘Stockholm Legend’). Since the manuscripts have been transferred (the former Stockholm Legend is now located in Brno, the former Brno legend in Prague, see the section Introduction to the Sources), it is advisable to use the names which refer to the contents. Unlike the Umučení, which was composed by a certain slepec Jakub (‘James the Blind’) in the mid-14th century and which tells in 477 verses (fragmentarily) the story of Catherine’s martyrdom, 3,520 verses of the Život are concerned with her entire life. In a rather free and independent adaptation of Latin sources of Italian origin, Fuit in insula Cypri rex quidam, nomine Costus (‘There was in the island of Cyprus a certain king by the name of Costus’) and Tradunt annales historiae (‘The annals of history relate’), he tells the story of Catherine’s first mystical encounter with Christ in a dream, her conversion to Christianity and betrothal to Christ, her disputations with pagan scholars, her argument with the emperor Maxentius, and finally her martyrdom.

Introduction to the Sources

The Umučení survived in two copies, one complete from the third quarter of the 14th century (Praha, Knihovna Národního muzea, 1 A c 60, pp. 1-18, not available online), and one fragmentary from the end of the 14th century (Sankt Petěrburg, Rosijskaja nacionaľnaja biblioteka, Lat. Q I 39, reverse side of the back cover, not available online). The Život survived in a single copy dating around 1400 (Brno, Moravský zemský archiv, collection G 10, inv. no. 507, ff. 1r–68v, not available online).

About this Edition

The edition brings together two excerpts from the Život: in total there are 409 verses numbered continuously, in the numbering of the whole legend (3520 verses altogether, cf. Vážný 1959) verses 1-244 are verses no. 856-1099 (ff. 16v-21v) and verses 245-409 are verses no. 2234-2398 (ff. 43v-47r). The given transcription was made according to the manuscript, taking into account the edition of Walter Schamschula, which selectively includes different readings of previous editions (cf. Schamschula 1991, see Existing editions below). The transcription has retained all the dialectical features of the record (see Cummins 1975, pp. 60-69).

The present translation has been taken, with the permission of Walter Schamschula, from the text of his edition. No textual changes have been made to the text, and only obvious typographical errors have been removed (cf. Schamschula 1991, see Existing editions below). The introductory information, based on Schamschula´s edition, has been supplemented from new contributions on the topic.

Existing Editions

Život

Život svaté Kateřiny, Josef Pečírka – Karel Jaromír Erben (eds.), Praha 1860 [semi-diplomatic transcription, standardized transcription].

Die altčechische Katharinenlegende der Stockholm-Brünner Handschrift, Franz Spina (ed.), Praha 1913 [semi-diplomatic transcription].

Legenda o svaté Kateřině, Jan Vilikovský (ed.), Praha 1946 [standardized transcription].

Umučení svaté Kateřiny, in: Výbor z české literatury od počátků po dobu Husovu, Bohuslav Havránek a kol. (eds.), Praha 1957, pp. 377-382 [excerpts: verses 856-1099, 2234-2398; standardized transcription].

Život svaté Kateřiny, Václav Vážný (ed.), in: Dvě legendy z doby Karlovy, Praha 1959, pp. 91-287 [standardized transcription].

Legenda o sv. Kateřině/The Legend of St. Catherine, translated by Alfred French, in: Anthology of Czech Poetry, Alfred French (ed.), Ann Arbor 1973, pp. 8-17 [excerpt: verses 311-390, standardized transcription].

Život svaté Kateřiny/ The life of St. Catherine, in: An Anthology of Czech Literature. 1st Period: from the Beginnings until 1410, Walter Schamschula (ed.), Frankfurt am Main – Bern – New York – Paris 1991, pp. 103–116 [excerpts: verses 856-1099, 2234-2398; standardized transcription].

Život svaté Kateřiny, Eduard Petrů – Vendula Rejzlová Zajíčková (eds.), Jiří Pelán (transl.), Praha 2016 [standardized transcription, translation into New Czech].

Umučení

Zbytky staročeských rýmovaných legend o sv. Kateřině a sv. Margaretě, Adolf Patera (ed.), Časopis Musea Království českého 61, 1887, pp. 204-241 [ms. 1 A c 60; semi-diplomatic transcription].

Böhmische Studien, Aleksander Brückner (ed.), Archiv für slavische Philologie 14, 1892, pp. 2-5 [ms. Lat. Q I 39; semi-diplomatic transcription].

Existing translations

Život

Legenda o sv. Kateřině/The Legend of St. Catherine, translated by Alfred French, in: Anthology of Czech Poetry, Alfred French (ed.), Ann Arbor 1973, pp. 8-17 [excerpt: verses 311-390, translated by Alfred French].

Život svaté Kateřiny/ The life of St. Catherine, in: An Anthology of Czech Literature. 1st Period: from the Beginnings until 1410, Walter Schamschula (ed.), Frankfurt am Main – Bern – New York – Paris 1991, pp. 103–116 [excerpts: verses 856-1099, 2234-2398].

The Old Czech Life of St Catherine of Alexandria, translated by Alfred Thomas, in: Medieval Hagiography: An Anthology, Thomas F. Head (ed.), Routledge 2000, pp. 763-780 [excerpts: verses 1-425, 472-526, 639-739, 946-1097, 2235-2341, 3294-3484, the content of the untranslated verses is summarized in brackets between the excerpts].

 

Further Reading

Cummins, George M.: The Language of the Old Czech Legenda o svaté Kateřině, München 1975.

Lehár, Jan: Život svaté Kateřiny, in: Lexikon české literatury 4/II (U-Ž), Praha 2008, pp. 1857-1859 [encyclopedic entry listing editions and literature up to 2008]. Available at: https://service.ucl.cas.cz/edicee/lexikon/lexikon/249-lexikon-ceske-literatury-osobnosti-dila-instituce-4-ii-u-z-dodatky-a-r

Alfred Thomas, Anne’s Bohemia: Czech Literature and Society, 1310-1420, Minneapolis 1998, pp. 88-109.

Edition


MECZ [online], The Life of St. Catherine, ed. unknown, trans. Walter Schamschula. KREAS Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Retrieved 07.12.2022, from https://mecz.kreas.ff.cuni.cz/publication/the-life-of-st-catherine/ Bibtex citation

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