Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saints Sergius and Bacchus - a same-sex wedding hymn from the Ninth Century

This remarkable hymn can be found in the series Momumenta Germaniae Historica volume 12, pp. 418-9. It was spuriously attributed to the famous Carolingian poet and hagiographer Walahfrid Strabo. The saints Sergius and Bacchus have been made famous in recent years by the work of Gay historian John Boswell, who noted that Sergius and Bacchus, on the basis of their Greek hagiograph, were used as models of same-sex love by Christians in Ancient and Medieval times (the hymn to Sergius and Bacchus found in Boswell's Same-sex Unions in Premodern Europe is not the same as the hymn translated here).

Not surprisingly, given the generally negative official attitude of the Church toward same-sex love and eroticism, the hymn which we have here points to a same-sex union through connotation rather than direct statement. The double entendres have been rendered more blatant by the translation in order to get the meaning across to the reader who has no facility with Latin. The opening verb, "Pangite", from "pangere", has the general meaning of "to affix" or "to hang up", and in the context of a hymnal is usually translated as "sing" (i.e., sing in such a way as to render a permanent record, or commemorate); "pangere" also has the idiomatic meaning of "strike up a marriage contract", which I have deemed appropriate to use here in order to convey the concealed meaning. In the final stanza, the poet wishes that his listeners may have a "compar": a word which has multiple meanings, including best friend, military buddy, lover, and consort. The word denotes an egalitarian relationship which the standard Classical vocabulary for both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships (i.e., erastes/eromenos, amator/delictus, maritus/uxor, vir/femina) did not. Here "compar" has been translated as "consort." However, that is not necessarily the meaning that the original audience members would have heard: only those who were "in the know" would have perceived a homosexual connotation; it would have gone over the heads of those who were not. The copyright of the present translation is owned by Darius Matthias Klein, the translator.

Hymn of SS. Sergius and Bacchus – spuriously attributed to Walahfrid Strabo (c. 808 – 849 CE)

I. O ye heavens, draw up the marriage contract as our voices resound with odes
And let us make manifest the gracious rewards of the Lord.
We who are below shall celebrate the saints with an illustrious hymn
From our very hearts.

II. Holy martyrs shining by virtue of your merits, Sergius and Bacchus,
As partners you wear God's crown, you have transcended
Together the enclosure of the flesh; and now you are
Above the stars.

III. Blessed champions of the supernal Lord
You have conquered death, overcoming the savage weaponry
Of the ancient enemy, lord of this world,
In agony of the flesh.

IV. Now you are the glory of God's power, crowned
By the garlands of the blessing of faith; you have deserved
To come to be the children of the Heavenly Lamb,
By being washed in His blood.

V. For it is He Who is the equitable God, Redeemer of the world
Radiant martyr and soldier of the Master
Waxing strong in the rosy dew of His deliverance
By donning the outward form of a slave.

VI. The sky, the sea, and the earth all call to Him with their prayers
The chorus' of angels all praise Him together;
Heavenly descendent of the supernal Solomon
Harmoniously resounding!

VII. The horrid vortex of Hell fears Him
The rebellious prince of the demons likewise trembles -
The loathsome Archfiend himself, inventor of sin,
And author of death.

VIII. And now we on earth zealously seek you out with prayer;
Show favor to us with your kindness
That no affliction can do harm unto these citizens
Who are yours.

IX. This place of yours is called The White City
Adorned with holy treasures
Which your consecrated ashes now embellish -
Ashes which now are sacred bodies.

X. You are healing for the sick, the cure for those who are ill;
And by You is mercy borne from the heavens to those of us
Who have been overlooked; all fear and terror
Are banished.

XI. The hymn-bearing chorus sings a psalm, and its harps
Harmonize in concert with lilting tones.
And we can be seen composing a melody
With the chants of Saint Trophimus.

XII. Beseech ye, then, the partners of the cross of Christ
Who are the companions of the Lamb of God the Father
That we may deserve to enter into the seven gates
Of the city of the heavens.

XIII. Let there be glory and power unto the Father, unto Christ His Son
And unto the Holy Spirit; and may there be unto you [sing.]
A consort by the will of the threefold God Who is One
For all time to come. Amen.





Oliver A. Eikermann said...

Thanks a lot for translating that passage. Since I myself am a gay seminarian, it´s really great to have this text!

Darius Matthias Klein said...

Thank you for visiting my blog, Oliver. You might also appreciate the entry "Two Friendship Poems from the Carolingian Renaissance", which I posted in February of this year. God bless, Darius.

Aaron Loughrey said...

Hey where can I find the original latin text? I am studying composition at master's level and would like to use some of this text for a hymn I am writing. I would prefer to use the latin over the english.

Darius Matthias Klein said...

Thanks for paying a visit to my blog, Aaron. I found the original Latin in the Monumenta Historiae Germanica series, Poetae Latini Medii Aevi, Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. It was listed under the spuria of the poet Walafrid Strabo (i.e., he didn't actually write it but it was attributed to him). Unfortunately, I'm having trouble tracking down which volume of the series it was - I'm going to have to go through piles of papers to find it, but I'll try to get back to you with that asap. However, the librarian at your institution should be able to locate Monumenta Germaniae Historica, with the subheading Poetae Latini Medii Aevi, with the sub-subheading Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini, opera of Walafrid Strabo. I apologize for not being able to provide you with my own copy of the text - unfortunately, it perished along with my last hard-drive.

Bill S. said...

I see no evidence that you were ever able to come up with the full reference to the Latin text, so here it is: Ernst Duemmler, ed. Poetae Latini Aevi Carolingi, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Poetarum Latinorum Medii Aevi, 2 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1884), 2, pp. 418-419.

Hope this is of some use.

Bill Schipper, St. John's, Newfoundland