Solomon & Saturn I – a translation

Lo, I have tasted the books of all the islands,
with cunning scripts unlocked the learning of the Libyans and the Greeks
and the history of the Indian realm.
Commentators pointed me to tales in the great library,
from Moses’ hands[1], such as I could never find, truly collected,
in all the ancient writings. Constantly I tried to discover
what might be the palm-branched [2] Paternoster
of intellect, strength, valour, power or nobility.
I will give you all I have, son of David, Lord of Israel,
thirty pounds of beaten gold and my twelve sons,
if you make the words of the Song, Christ’s sequence, spur me
if you reconcile me with truth so I can journey on, made whole,
willingly returning on the water’s back,
across the Chebar’s flood home to Chaldea.

Wretched in this world, his life pointless,
barren of wisdom, wandering like cattle,
beasts of the field devoid of wit, is he who cannot
through the words of the Song praise Christ.
He roams, full of wind, and come doomsday,
devils, terrible dragons, will shoot him shamefully
with iron apples hurled from a black catapault
and all will be washed by the crests of the scourging waves.
Then will it be dearer to him
than all this gleaming new creation
Moulded of gold and silver from the ground up,
filled to its four corners with valuable treasure,
if he ever knew any part of the holy Instrument.
For at that time he will be merely a wicked man
wandering, estranged from almighty God,
alone without affinity to the angels.

Who of all creation may open most easily in succession
the gleaming holy doors of the kingdom of heaven?

The palm-branched [2] Paternoster
opens the heavens,
gladdens the saints
makes the Lord merciful,
overthrows murder,
quenches the devil’s fire
while stoking the Lord’s.
So you could use the glowing prayer
to heat your blood dry of the devil [3], cause its drops to rise,
whisked by the heat, by the prayer’s seven Petitions,
more fearsome than the bronze cauldron which will boil greedily
for twelve generations in hellfire’s grip.
Because the Song is the most glorious of all of Christ’s books:
it teaches the scriptures, guides with its voice and,
wielding weapons, holds its position for the kingdom of heaven.

But how should the holy Instrument be used mentally by one desirous
that his spirit should be melted against misdeeds,
purified of sorrow, separated from sin?
Truly the Creator gave it wondrous beauty.
My worldly curiosity constantly queries this,
moves quickly, stirs my mind.
No man, no hero under heaven, knows
How my thoughts labour, busy after books.
Often a burning rises in me,
my spirit near the heart, and my bloodstream [4] boils.

Golden is the word God spoke, gemstudded,
it has silver leaves, and each one individually may,
through the gift of the spirit, declare the gospel.
It is wisdom to the heart,
honey to the soul,
milk to the mind,
the most fortunate of glories.
It may rescue the soul from perpetual night under the earth
no matter how deep the fiend fastens it with fetters.
Though he clamp it with fifty clasps, it will crack them
disintegrate the strength of those devices.
It destroys hunger,
harrows hell,
overthrows the boiling pit
and builds the foundations of glory.
It is braver than all the world
stronger in its position,
than the grip of any stone
It is leech to the lame,
light to those in the darkness,
the door of the deaf,
the tongue of the dumb,
the shield of the sinner.
It is the blessing of the creator,
who controls the tides,
saviour of the people,
owner of the waves,
the pools of lowly fish and worms,
the woods of the wild deer,
guardian in the wasteland,
the sanctuary of honour.
And whoever is keen to sing the words of God truly
and always cherish them without sin
he may set the harmful spirit, the militant enemy to flight.

If you first lead against him the anger
of the prime prologue [5] whose name is
P [6] This warrior has a long staff, a gilded goad
   with which he ever bravely slashes the grim fiend.
   In his path follows the mighty
A who will beat him too.
T will plague him and pierce his tongue,
   wring his neck and slash his cheek
E will do him ill, just as he always does
   steadfastly resisting every foe. Then
R leader of letters attacks in a rage
   straightway grabs the fiend by the hair,
   dashes the demon’s shank on a rock.
   But the devil, ignoring the pain in his joints,
   for no doctor can cure him, retreats behind clouds,
   seeks a safer arena under cover of darkness.
   But there is woe in his heart as, dragging his leg,
   he wishes for hell, the hardest of homelands.
   Then the twins [7] of the church overcome [8] him
N and
O together bring slashes from their scythes,
   causing pain to the alien bodies,
   caring nought for his life. Then
S captain of angels, glory’s sign,
   seizes the raging foe by the foot
   makes him fall flat on his face
   on the hard stone, strewing his teeth
   around the hellish band. Each hides in the gloomy shadows.
   The fiend is troubled, Satan’s servant silenced. So too
Q and
U the great leaders of legions humble the foe with torments.
   They advance against him, they have gleaming spears, long shafts.
   Resolutely they slash, sparing not their strokes
   their brave blows. They loathe the devil!
I and L surround him in battle. The knight errant
C [9] lagging behind
L with his crooked rod, wields bitter terror.
   Straightway they force hell’s inmate into retreat. Then
F and
M surround and sorely press the guilty wretch
   with their sharp spears. With grim showers of arrows
   they set fire to the fiend’s hair
   they strew bitter terror with their shafts.
   fiercely they shall repay the criminals with rage
   making them often break their battle boasts.
   Rushing to be the next to trouble him is
D with the strength of five, followed by the broadshouldered
G whom God sends to help his friends, while further on hiding
B eside [10] the street is a third warrior, standing perfectly still.
H hastens, equipped by an angel, Christ’s champion,
   wearing the living form of a young novice.
Then the brothers of life [11] from aloft mightily rage
against the devil under the legions of stars
with the points of branches, silver scourges,
until his bones show, his veins bleed
they pour a rage of spears on the greedy devil.

God’s word may ever put to flight the world’s enemies,
issuing from man’s mouth, hard press the evil black troop
regardless of what strange forms they change into.
After they have worn the plumage of birds
sometimes they will seize a sea creature,
sometimes they change into the body of a serpent,
strong and scaley, to bite cattle
devastating the animals in the fields.
Sometimes in water a devil will bring down a steed [12]
hewing it with his horns until its heart’s blood,
foamy streaming bath, falls to earth.
Sometimes he puts shackles on the hands of a doomed man
weighs them down, when he must fight for his life
in battle against a hostile force.
He carves on the man’s weapon a cluster of fatal marks
lethal letters, a script against the sword and the blade’s virtue.
To prevent this no man should draw his well-wrought weapon
too often, though its beauty please him.
He should always sing the Paternoster when drawing his sword
and say a joyful prayer to the palmtree of life [13]
that it give him both life and a strong hand, when his foe comes.

[1] There is a gap of 10-12 spaces in Ms. B, followed by ‘M ces heardum’. Ms. A, which is almost illegible for the first 30 lines, has ‘…ses h.nd..’ . The Ms. has bec, ‘book’, which is nearly always fem, so doesn’t fit with the preceding modifiers ðam micelan, which are masc. or neut. Most likely bec is the start of a compound word with masc. or neut. gender. The word for library is bochord, which is masc. There are cases of compound doublets with boc- and bec-, so perhaps this is bechord. I read ðam micelan bechorde of Moises handum.
[2] In the Blickling Homily XIII, an angel gives Mary a ‘scinende palmtwig’, a shining palm-branch, prior to her assumption. Other sources for the same Assumption story say this is from the ‘Tree of Life’. A palm-branch is also a symbol of victory. So palmtwigode, palm-branched, means either blessed or victorious and is part of an extended metaphor of the Lord’s Prayer as the Tree of Life.
[3] See my piece on this passage here
[4] See my piece on this passage here
[5] ‘prologa prima’ a meaningless invented term in the original
[6] The letters are shown here down the left hand side. Each letter appears only the first time it is mentioned in the Lord’s Prayer. The full prayer, with the first occurences in capitals is as follows (NB: v = u)
PATER NOSter, QUI es in CaeLis,
sanctiFicetur noMen tuum.
aDveniat reGnum tuum.
fiat voluntas tua,
sicut in caelo, et in terra.
panem nostrum cotidianum da noBis Hodie,
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
sed libera nos a malo.
[7] twins because N and O are the only letters which appear in alphabetical order.
[8] forcinnað, which means ‘disown’ is meaningless. I read with Grein forcymað, ‘destroy’.
[9] C appears out of sequence before L. It is called yrra, which means both ‘angry’ and ‘wandering’.
[10] B is not shown as a letter, because it is hiding!
[11] the original has lifgetwinnan, ‘life-twins’. I take this passage to refer to all the letters together. As the palm-branches are from the Tree of Life in the Assumption story, and the prayer is a palm-tree, the letters of the prayer are brothers from the tree of life, or life-brothers.
[12] the imagery suggests a horse crossing a river brought down by sea-monsters.
[13] As the palm-branches are from the Tree of Life in the Assumption story, and the letters wield the branches, so the entire prayer is a palm-tree


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