Saint Christopher the Dogheaded (Syriac)   5 comments

It being Hallowe’en, I thought it appropriate to do something hagiographic, and since misshapen and monstrous prodigies may surround the day, what better saint to consider than one with a doghead, Christopher (aka Reprebus; BHO 190-192, BHG 309-311). I’ve chosen only two episodes near the beginning of the saint’s story to give in a draft translation here, episodes that touch on his character as a sanctus informis. I’m using the Syriac text (translated from Greek), an edition of which Johann Popescu prepared based on three manuscripts (from Berlin, Cambridge, and the BL) for his Inaugural-Dissertation at Strassburg in 1903: Die Erzählung oder das Martyrium des Barbaren Christophorus und seiner Genossen.

These two parts of the story are from 2.4-3.14 and 5.6-6.13 in Popescu’s edition. There are several printer’s errors in the text. Here are the corrections (with only the consonantal form given for the mistakes):

  • 2.5 read ḥzātā (not ḥʔtʔ)
  • 5.9 read gabbāw(hy) (not gbwh)
  • 5.13 read mezdayyaḥ (not mʔdyḥ)
  • 5.16 read bnaynāšā (not bnnšʔ)
  • 6.7 add space to get lā yādʕā
  • 6.8 add syāmē to r(h)omāyē

2.4-3.14

This man was quite a sage. He was of the barbarian stock of cannibals, and he had an ugly appearance: his head was like that of a dog (which in Greek is translated κυνοκέφαλος), so that everyone knows [p. 3] that God helps not only the Christians, but he is the rewarder even of those from foreign nations who turn to the true faith, and he sets them up as select and skillful with his knowledge. This man was faithful in the knowledge [of God], and he meditated with God’s words in praise of him, for he was unable to use our language. When he saw the distress that the Christians were enduring, he was very sad and grieved. So he went outside the city and he cast himself before God in prayer and said, “Lord, God almighty, look upon my humility and show the abundance of your mercy with me. Renew my tongue with the language of this people, that I might go and rebuke this rebel.” Right then a man in multi-colored aspect [?] appeared to him and said, “Reprebus, your prayer has been heard before God. Get on your feet.” Then he approached his lips and breathed on them, and just then he was given the language as he had asked.

5.6-6.13

The blessed Reprebus went to the gate of the church, stuck his staff in the ground, and sat down  with his head bent between his knees, and the hair of his head hung down from both sides. He prayed and spoke thus: “Lord, God almighty, who heard the three youths from within the furnace of fire, whose habitation is in heaven, praised by the heavenly creatures, exalted and worshipped by the saints on earth, who is celebrated by the cherubim, and at whose appearance the angels are terrified: hear the sound of my prayer, incline your ear to my petition, and perform a favorable sign for me, and your grace upon me will be known to everyone, because I was dumb to the language of the[se] people, and you have granted me to speak. And now, cause [p. 6] this wood[en staff] in my hands to sprout by your power, that thus even I might approach and be made worthy of your praise.” Just then the staff sprouted and strengthened the man.

While he had been praying, a woman came into the garden to pick a rose. When she saw him sitting and weeping, she turned around in fear and went and told the people, “Today I saw something at the church [hayklā] and I think it was a dragon [tanninā], thanks to the ugly mark it has, but I don’t know the reason it was crying so much.” While she was speaking, the Romans looking for him arrived there, and when they heard the woman’s words, they asked her and said, “What is he like, and where did you see him?” She showed them, and because of the report of his frightful appearance, they did not dare approach him, but rather went up to a high spot across from him, that they might look at him.

That’s all for now! Be on the lookout today for κυνοκέφαλοι, saintly or otherwise!

5 responses to “Saint Christopher the Dogheaded (Syriac)

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  1. A sculptural κυνοκέφαλοι sighting in Dixon, New Mexico: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7330486/StChristopher.jpg

  2. About the κυνοκέφαλοι, one can read (in french) “Les Cynocéphales. Étude d’une tradition tératologique de l’Antiquité au XIIe s. In: Cahiers de civilisation médiévale”, that can be found on Persée : http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/ccmed_0007-9731_1981_num_24_94_2171
    The passage you translated, with the woman entering a garden to pick a rose and seeing the κυνοκέφαλος crying made me think about the story of “Beauty and the Beast”… maybe a common archetype ?
    Last point, though St Christopher is sometimes κυνοκέφαλος in the greek world, he is “the one who carries the maker of the world” in the latin world. But both can be seen on this macedonian fresco : http://lereprouve.blogspot.fr/2013/07/st-christophe-cynocephale-photographie.html

  3. Much more stranger, St Christopher, the Dogheaded can often be seen with a “head of lamb” in Romania ; according to VESSELINA VACHKOVA , in her “LUPUS IN FABULIS ET IN TEMPLO : Les métamorphoses étranges du St. Christophe dans l’Eglise orthodoxe ” p 14-15 (sorry, also in french) http://gtbyzance.com/articles/2012-03-02/lupus.pdf

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