Bede’s Song of Songs

Oh look what showed up in my mailbox yesterday! I’ve been asking after this translation for years and now it’s here. I wish I had the time now to dive in; I’m sure I won’t be able to resist dipping in a little.

Along with the first modern translation of Bede’s Commentary on the Song of Songs, Arthur Holder has also given us new translations of sections of three of Bede’s homilies and selections from the Ecclesiastical History including selections on  Edwin, Oswald, Hild, Cuthbert and others. He has also re-translated for the Heavenfield episode. :-)

“This place is called in the English tongue Heavenfield, which in Latin can be translated as Caelestis Campus, a name that it certainly received in former time as a portent of things to come, doubtless signifying that a heavenly trophy would be set up there, a heavenly victory begun, and heavenly miracles celebrated there until this day.” (Bede, HE III.2; Holder, p. 289).

Note one significant difference in the translation is “a heavenly victory begun” rather than “a heavenly victory won” in Colgrave’s translation. This shifts the emphasis from the forthcoming battle to Oswald’s Christian mission, even beyond Oswald’s Christian kingdom but to the church that out lasts his reign. This fits with Bede’s emphasis on miracles there up to his day. For Bede, the cross at Heavenfield was still working for that victory.  Holder (p. 32) says that a new translation is justified by “this translation’s more literal approach to Bede’s theological vocabulary and imagery.”

In flipping through the introduction, one surprise is Holder’s dating of Bede’s On the Song of Songs to before 716, suggesting that it could be his first Old Testament work. If On Revelations was his first New Testament work, what an odd pair for his earliest scriptural works. It certainly says something about Bede’s bravery.

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One comment on “Bede’s Song of Songs

  1. Martin says:

    The only thing is:The Song of Sons is full of the most blatant carnal eroticism! Nigra sum, sed pulchra…Hardly Bede’s thing! Maybe it was the climate and all those plagues…

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