Wednesday, May 08, 2019


Punishment for Theft or Robbery

Lantfred of Winchester, Translatio et Miracula S. Swithuni 26, tr. Michael Lapidge, The Cult of St Swithun (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), pp. 310–313 (I've placed the English translation before the Latin original, reversing the order in the book):
At the aforesaid time and at the command of the glorious King Edgar, a law of great severity was promulgated throughout England to serve as a deterrent against all sorts of crime by means of a dreadful punishment: that, if any thief or robber were found anywhere in the country, he would be tortured at length by having his eyes put out, his hands cut off, his ears torn off, his nostrils carved open and his feet removed; and finally, with the skin and hair of his head flayed off, he would be abandoned in the open fields, dead in respect of nearly all his limbs, to be devoured by wild beasts and birds and hounds of the night.

Prenotato denique tempore, glorioso Eadgaro precipiente, ad deterrendos quosque malos horribili poena talis lex est constituta in Anglorum prouincia: ut si quispiam cleptes in tota uel praedo inueniretur patria, caecatis luminibus, truncatis manibus, auulsis auribus, incisis naribus, et subtractis pedibus excruciaretur diutius; et sic demum decoriata pelle capitis cum crinibus, per omnia pene membra mortuus relinqueretur in agris, deuorandus a feris et auibus atque nocturnicanibus.
On nocturnicanibus see Lapidge, p. 305, n. 217:
Lantfred dearly intended this as one word, not two, for elsewhere he declines it in the ablative as nocturnicanibus (c. 26). It does not appear to be attested elsewhere in classical or medieval Latin, according to the databases. Presumably it refers to the sort of supernatural, nocturnal creature referred to in Old English as a hellehund (there is an interesting and near-contemporary occurrence of the OE word in a charter of King Æthelred dated 1001 for 1006 (S 914 = KCD 715), where the curse of the Latin text—'dentibus Cerberi infernalis sine termino cum daemonibus omnibus Stigia palude corrodetur'—is rendered in Old English as 'sy he toren of hellehundes toðum on ðam egeslicum hellewitum, mid eallum deoflum butan ælcum ende'); cf. J. Grimm, Deutsche Mythologie, 4th ed. rev. E.H. Meyer, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1875-8), ii. 832-3, on OHG hellehunt). It could also conceivably mean 'wolves', who often figure in the Anglo-Saxon imagination as creatures of the night.

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