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June 15: Simon, Jude and the Magicians

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I thought I would take a break from the stories about dragons, to commemorate today, May 10, which is the feast day of Saint Simon the Apostle in the Coptic Church. In the Catholic Church, Saint Simon and Saint Jude are celebrated together on October 28. You can read more about Saint Simon the Apostle at wikipedia, in the Catholic Encyclopedia online, at Catholic Forum, and at Catholic Online. In the Legenda Aurea (Golden Legends) by Jacobus of Voragine, there is a long account of the adventures of the apostles Simon and Jude in Persia. (You can read an English translation of the legend online.) While in Persia, Simon and Jude meet up with two magicians named Zaroes and Arphaxat. The magicians are envious of the wonder-working powers of the apostles, and challenge them. In today's story, you will read about how the "lawyers" are used as pawns in a contest of power between the magicians and the apostles. This is #159 in Ryan's English translation, and the Latin text below comes from #155 in Maggioni's edition. At this point in the story, the score is apostles one, and magicians zero, since the apostles were able to predict the outcome of a battle successfully, while the magicians were wrong. Now the magicians are going to challenge the apostles again!


Simon, Jude and the magicians; 14th century

... Zelo invidie magi commoti dixerunt illos [apostolos] malignos esse et contra regnum subtiliter cogitare. Dixit eis dux: "Si audetis, cum eis confligite." Cui magi: "Si vis videre quia, nobis presentibus, loqui non poterunt, veniant huc viri eloquentissimi et si coram nobis loqui ausi fuerint, nos per omnia imperitos probabis."

Cum autem plurimi advocati adducti fuissent, continuo coram magis ita muti facti sunt ut nec nutibus quod loqui non poterant indicarent. Dixeruntque magi ad regem: "Ut scias nos deos esse, permittemus eos loqui, sed ambulare non posse; iterumque reddemus eis gressum, sed faciemus eos apertis oculis nihil videre." Qui cum hec omnia fecissent, dux advocatos illos turpiter confusos ad apostolos duxit.

Quos cum advocati pannosos vidissent, eos in animo contempserunt. Quibus Symon: "Sepe evenit ut intra scrinea aurea et gemmata, vilia queque habeantur inclusa, et intra vilissimas et ligneas capsas sint gemmarum monilia pretiosa composita. Quicumque ergo alicuius rei cupit esse possessor, non magno opere gestatorium sed ipsum quod gestatur expectat. Promittite igitur vos ab ydolorum cultura discedere et solum deum invisibiliem adorare, et nos signum crucis in frontibus vestris faciemus et magos confutare poteritis." Quod cum fecissent et in frontibus consignati essent, ad regem iterum coram magis ingressi sunt et, cum a magis superari non possent, immo ipsis coram omnibus insultarent.

Irati magi multitudinem serpentium advenire fecerunt. Statimque ad iussum regis venientes apostoli pallia sua de serpentibus impleverunt et in magos proiecerunt, dicentes: "In nomine domini non moriemini, sed a serpentibus lacerati dolorum vestrorum mugitum dabitis." Cum ergo serpentes carnes eorum comederent et ipsi tamquam lupi ulularent, rex et ceteri rogabant apostolos ut eos a serpentibus occidi permitterent. Quibus apostoli responderunt: "Nos missi sumus reducere a morte ad vitam, non a vita precipitare in mortem." Et facta oratione iusserunt serpentibus ut omne venenum quod infuderant revocarent et postmodum ad loca sua redirent.

Mariores autem cruciatus magi senserunt cum venena serpentes retraherent quam cum ante carnes comederent. Quibus apostoli dixerunt: "Tribus diebus dolores sentietis, tertia vero die sani eritis ut vel sic a vestra malitia recedatis." Cum ergo tribus diebus sine cibo et potu ac sompno doloribus nimium cruciati mansissent, apostoli ad eos venientes dixerunt: "Non dignatur deus habere coacta servitia. Ideoque surgite sani et abite, habentes liberam facultatem faciendi quod vultis." Illi autem in malitia perdurantes ab eis fugerunt et pene contra eos totam Babiloniam commoverunt.

Predicti autem magi ad quandam civitatem nomine Sumair, ubi erant LXX ydolorum pontifices, venerunt et eos contra apostolos concitaverunt ut cum illuc venissent aut eos sacrificare compellerent aut penitus necarent.

Perlustrata igitur universa provincia, cum apostoli ad predictam civitatem venissent, ecce, predicti pontifices cum universo populo eos capiunt et ad templum solis deducunt. Demones autem per energumenos clamare ceperunt: "Quid nobis et vobis, apostoli dei vivi? Ecce, in ingressu vestro flammis exurimus."

Tunc angelus domini eis apparens dixit: "Unum e duobus eligite, aut horum repentinum interitum aut vestrum martyrium." Cui apostoli: "Oranda est dei misericordia ut et istos convertat et nos ad martyrii palmam perducat."

Facto autem silentio, apostoli dixerunt: "Ut sciatis quod hec ydola demonibus plena sunt, ecce, eis imperamus ut exeant et singuli simulacra sua confringant." Statimque duo ethiopes nigri et nudi cunctis stupentibus de simulacris exierunt et confractis illis cum diris vocibus abscesserunt.

Quod videntes, pontifices in apostolos irruerunt et eos protinus trucidarunt. In ipsa autem hora, cum nimia esset serenitas, tanta fulgura extiterunt ut templum ipsum trifarie scinderetur et illi duo magi in carbones ictu fulminis verterentur. Rex autem corpora apostolorum ad urbem suam transtulit et in eorum honorem ecclesiam mire magnitudinis fabricavit.

Notice that at the end the magicians are not among those who are converted! Instead, they are burned to a crisp.


Simon and Jude martyred; ms. circa 1455

There is something odd in Ryan's English translation which I think I need to point out here. Ryan translates as follows: "two black and naked figures come out of the idols, smashed them, and with wild cries departed." But he has a footnote which appears on the same page, saying: "'Figures' is substituted here for the 'Ethiopians' of the text." Ryan has chosen to alter the text to promote some kind of implied political correctness, when instead he could have provided an educational footnote about the word Ethiopians, explaining the significance of this word in the cultural imagination of medieval Europeans. There are all kinds of references in the Legenda Aurea to black demons, to depraved Jews, lecherous women, etc. - but when that causes discomfort, the solution surely is not just to delete the troublesome word from the text. Instead, we need to analyze and be alert to those old prejudices. To simply prettify the text by deleting a word like this does not seem to me like a good choice at all. Forcing a medieval text to conform to modern notions of decorum prevents us from gaining the complex historical perspective that these medieval texts can provide.

 


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