Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Rebounding Axes

I'm indebted to Eric Thomson for what follows.

Further to rebounding axes, the topos occurs in a 12th century version of the Invention of the Cross legend, Arthur S. Napier, History of the Holy Rood-Tree, Early English Texts Society 103 (London, 1894) [repr. 1973], pp. 24-7.
Hit ilamp hwilon þæt ðerto eoden hundtentige iudeiscrsæ monnæ & þæt treow nimæn wolden & hit to þæs sacerdes botle beron wolden. Ðæs nome wæs cericius he wæs on þam time miclæn abisgod embe his botlungæ & imynt hæfde þæt he þæt ylce treow ðerto don wolde. ða ne mihte heora nan hit of þam styde awecgæn. þa yrsode he wið heom & cwæð. þæt hit heoræ leasung were. & wende þa himsylf ðerto & het him mid bringæn swa fela æxæ swa mon bigeten mihte & he sylf ðerto feng & heo hit wolden ut of þam temple hæbben. þa ne mihte heoræ nan hit awecgan Ða het he heom mid heoræ æxum to gan & hit on ðreo toceorfæn. Ða wearð hit swa heard swylce hit stælen wære & þare æxene swengæs gewendon on ðare ansyne þe hit ceorfæn sceolden. Ða feringæ heom ealle on hawigende asprong þær fyr on ðreo healfe ðaes treowæs ant forbernde sixtig monnæ of þam monnum þe hit forceorfæn wolden & þone preost forð mid.

It happened on a time that a hundred Jewish men went thither [Solomon's Temple], and wished to take the tree and to bear it to the priest's house, whose name was Cericius. He was at that time much occupied with his building, and had resolved to use that same tree for it. But none of them could move it from the spot; then he grew angry with them, and said that it was their lying, and himself went thither and bade them bring with him as many axes as they could get, and he himself took hold of it [the tree], and they tried to lift it out of the temple. But none of them could move it. Then he bade them go to it with their axes, and cut it into three pieces. Then it became as hard as though it were of steel, and the strokes of the axes turned against the faces of those who were to cut it. Then suddenly, whilst they were all looking on, fire started out on three sides of the tree, and burnt sixty of the men who were trying to cut it, and the priest with them, who was their leader.
No sign of a rebounding axe in the related Latin prose version (Cambridge text, appendix I, p.51):
Multaque per illam arborem facta sunt miracula, de quibus nunc pandere libet aliqua. Erat autem quidam sacerdos nomine Ciritius, illam arborem habere desiderans; misitque .c. uiros, ut illam tollerent et ad se deferrent. Cumque illi centum non possent illam mouere, cepit ipse sacerdos illuc uenire cum innumerabili plebis multitudine. Sed dum illi omnes non possent adhuc illam mouere, conati sunt illam in tres partes succidere; sed mox magnus exortus est ignis in circumitu sancte trabis, et exiliens ipsum combussit sacerdotem et cum eo sexaginta hominum ex eis qui uoluerunt illam sanctam succidere arborem...

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