An episode from the Martyrdom of Barbara   1 comment

Today (Old Style, Dec. 4) is the commemoration of Saint Barbara (and her companion Juliana). Greek, Armenian, and Syriac texts are listed at BHG 213-218 and BHO 132-134. In addition, there are truncated notices of the synaxarion in Arabic (ed. Basset, PO 3: 403-404) and Gǝʕǝz (ed. Grébaut, PO 15: 651-654, with the sälam on 674-675). This Georgian icon of the saint has the following inscription at the bottom in asomt’avruli: წმიდაო ქალწულ-მოწამეო ბ(არ)ბ(ა)რე ევ(ედრ)ე ღ(მერ)თსა ჩუენთჳს (“O holy virgin-martyr Babara, plead with God for us!”).

From here.

From here.

Well known is the metamorphosis (Verwandlung) of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa “zu einem ungeheuren Ungeziefer”, but in this hagiographic episode we have another metamorphosis, a change into beetles thanks the curse of a saint! Prior to the part of the narrative I want to focus on, mainly for its fantastic elements, Barbara’s father, who is not a Christian, has hired some craftsmen to make a bath — balani in Syriac, but a tall tower (πύργος ὑψηλός) in Greek — in her name with two windows, but his daughter, who is beautiful, of course, and a Christian, in her father’s absence orders the builders to add an extra window, so that when he returns he finds three windows, an obvious index to the Trinity. Below I give part of the next part of the story in English, translated from Syriac; the corresponding Greek text is in Joseph Viteau, Passions des saints Écaterine et Pierre d’Alexandrie, Barbara et Anysia, publiées d’après les manuscrits grecs de Paris et de Rome, avec un choix de variantes et une traduction latine (Paris, 1897), pp. 91, 93; the book is now at here. The Syriac text is available in two places. In 1900, Agnes Smith Lewis, in her still significant volumes on females saints in Syriac, gave it along with an English translation: Select Narratives of Holy Women, vol. 1 (Syr.) 104-105, vol. 2 (ET) 79-80. Unfortunately, her manuscript was illegible at a crucial part, and thus her translation is missing some words, but Bedjan’s previously published text (AMS III 348-349, which appeared in 1892) has it, and it is on the basis of his text that I give the translation below.

In lieu of typing out the Syriac text from Bedjan, here are the necessary images.

bedjan_ams_III_348 bedjan_ams_III_349

Here is my translation:

When the building was finished and the bath made, her evil father, Dioscorus, returned from his journey. He entered the bath to see it, and saw three windows there. He asked and said to the craftsmen, “You’ve installed three windows?” The craftsmen said to him, “It was your daughter that commanded us to do so.” So he turned to his daughter and said, “Did you command the craftsmen to open [sic!] three windows?” She answered and said to him, “Yes, father, well have I commanded, because there are three windows that give light to everyone who comes into the world, and just two are dark.” So her father took her and went down to the bath, and she said to him, “How much more splendidly these three windows give light than two!” Again the maidservant of Christ, Barbara, said to him, “Observe now, father, and see: here is the Father, here is the Son, and here is the Holy Spirit.”

[p. 349]

When her father heard these things, he was filled with anger and great wrath, and he drew the sword that was hanging on him in order to kill her. But Saint Barbara prayed, and the crag that was near her opened up and received her within it and immediately put her out on the mountain that was there to receive her. Two shepherds, who were shepherding on that mountain, saw her fleeing, and when her father approached them, he questioned them whether they had seen his daughter. One of them, because he wanted her to be rescued, swore that he had not seen her, but the other one pointed his finger and showed her to her father. When the saint saw what he had done, she cursed him and immediately he and his sheep became beetles [ḥabšušyātā]: to this day these beetles congregate on the saint’s grave. As her father was going up the mountain after her, he found her and pulled her bitterly: he grabbed her by the hair of her head, drug her, brought her down from the mountain, brought her in and imprisoned her in a nasty room [ḥabšāh b-baytā ḥad šiṭā]. He closed and sealed [the door] in front of her with his ring, and he set guards over her, so that no one would be able to go in with her, until he went and informed Marcianus the governer about her, that he might eliminate her.

The whole text of the martyrdom has other happenings of interest, including some that have verbal echoes with parts of the text given above, but for now, in this part of the tale, we see a saint teleporting through rock, and a shepherd and his flock transmogrified into beetles. In the Greek version, the sheep do indeed become beetles, as here, but the informer shepherd himself becomes a stone instead: καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένοντο τὰ πρόβατα αὐτοῦ κανθαρίδες καὶ προσμένουσιν τῷ τιμίῳ αὐτῆς λειψάνῳ, αὐτὸς δὲ ἐγένετο λίθος, καὶ ἔστιν ἕως τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας. Notably, the synaxarion texts in Arabic and Gǝʕǝz lack the part about the shepherds, and thus the beetles! But since we’re here, I’ll append the sälam from Gǝʕǝz:

ሰላም ፡ ለበርባራ ፡ ዘአግሀደት ፡ ሃይማኖታ።
እንዘ ፡ ታርኢ ፡ ሥላሴ ፡ በውስተ ፡ መስኮተ ፡ ቤታ።
ኢያፍርሃ ፡ መጥባሕት ፡ ወሞሰርተ ፡ ሐፂን ፡ ኢያሕመመታ።
ሰላም ፡ ሰላም ፡ ለዩልያና ፡ ካልእታ።
እንተ ፡ ሰቀልዋ ፡ በ፪ኤ ፡ አጥባታ፨

Greetings to Barbara, who publicly announced her faith,
Showing the Trinity in the window of her house.
The sword does not frighten her, the iron saw does not harm her.
Greetings, greetings to Juliana, her companion,
Whom they hung up by her breasts.

One response to “An episode from the Martyrdom of Barbara

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  1. Pingback: Stones, beetles, or both? The transmogrification of the shepherd that Barbara cursed | hmmlorientalia

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