Dicitur a bello 'BELLUM' locus hic, quia bello...

Cottonshirt

New Member
Hi,

I would like to ask if someone could please have a go at translating an inscription I have come across during my research for a family history project. I am reading about the Battle of Hastings, a famous battle that took place in southern England in 1066 ad. The battle was between the English and the Normans; the Normans won. After the battle, an abbey was built on the site of the battle and an inscription was supposedly fixed on the wall of the abbey. From the context I am interpreting this as a dedication to those who died in the battle. I found the text of this inscription in a book called, "Battle Abbey Roll Vol 1" by the Duchess of Cleveland. The book was published in England in 1889. You can find the book at the internet archive, here:
http://archive.org/details/battleabbeyrollw01battuoft

Before I give the inscription, some (possibly misleading) comments:

1) I fully accept that this may not be in proper latin. I do not speak or read latin and simply have to start somewhere. Given that it was supposedly composed in 1066, and therefore probably written either by a monk or priest or other religious type person I am supposing it is at least mostly latin, but it may also have some Norman and or French influence in it somewhere.

2) I interpret "Calixti" as being Saint Celict, since the legend is that on her feast day each year the roll of honour was supposed to be read out to honour those who had died in the battle.

3) "Sexagenus erat sextus millesimus annus" I think this is the date, 1066

4) "Stella monstrante cometa." I think this refers to Halleys comet, which was visible in England earlier in the year before the battle and may have been interpreted as an omen, good or bad depending on which side you were on.

5) I really appreciate anything anyone has to say, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask.


Inscription follows:

Dicitur a bello 'BELLUM' locus hie, quia bello
Angligenae victi sunt in morte relicti,
Martyris in Christi festo cecidere Calixti.
Sexagenus erat sextus millesimus annus.
Cum pereunt Angli, Stella monstrante cometa.


Thank you very much.
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
Dicitur a bello, bellum locus hic, quia bello
Angligenae victi, sunt hic in morte relicti;
Martyris in Christo festo cecidere Calixti:
Sexagemus erat sextus millesimus annus
Cum pereunt Angli, stella monstrate cometa.

It is said by war, a war in this place, because by war
The English were defeated, left behind here in death
That they fell, martyrs in Christ on the feast of Celict
It was the one thousand and sixty sixth year
when the English perished, while the comet star was informing

Haven't seen Angligenae before...
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Dicitur a bello 'BELLUM' locus hie,
Wouldn't it be "since the war, this place has been called "bellum (war)"? Anyway it can't be "in this place" as locus is nominative. And I don't think it can be "it is said by war" either, as an agent which isn't a person usually isn't preceded by a(b).
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
Yes you are right. I had forgotten that the place was called Battle.

This place has been called Battle since the battle, because in battle...
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
Which would make the third verse
they fell, martyrs in Christ on the feast of Celict
 

Cottonshirt

New Member
Hi,

This has been a very swift response, thank you both very much indeed.

If I follow your conversation correctly, we have the following:

This place has been called Battle since the battle, because in battle
the English were defeated, left behind here in death
they fell, martyrs in Christ on the feast of Celict
It was the one thousand and sixty sixth year
when the English perished, while the comet star was informing


Just one question.
Do we have the right inflection of the verb in the last line?
From the sense of the rest of the inscription this looks like it should say something like, "as the comet star foretold", or possibly, "as the comet star had predicted" or something like that. "was informing" doesn't seem to sit well there. But like I said, I don't speak or read latin so I might just be a horses ass.

Thank you.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Stella monstrante cometa is literally "the comet star informing/showing"... Usually, that kind of construction is used to discribe a circumstance happenning at the same time as the action one's talking about in the rest of the sentence, not before. So yes, Cinefactus's translation is right. Now maybe the author meant what you say and this was kind of a "mistake", I don't know.
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
I think a more anglicised translation would be: Under the auspices of the comet star.

Maybe the first line might be better rearranged:
Since the battle, this place is called Battle, because in battle...

Not quite sure about Angligenae. I wonder if it is supposed to mean English born.

I also wonder when it was written. I would have thought the -is ending in Martyris along with the apocopated perfect are more likely to be Renaissance than Mediaeval.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
dicitur ab = to be named after/take its name from

This place is named 'Battle' after a battle​
or This place takes its name "Battle" from a battle.​

Angligenae literally means "English-born", but it's just a poetic word for "the English".

The third line makes little sense. Martyris can only be genitive, not nominative, and since St. Callistus was a martyr it surely agrees with Calixti. The subject carries over from the previous sentence. The problem is that Christi doesn't seem to go with anything.

This is surely a reference to the Battle of Hastings, one of the most important battles in English history, which undoubtedly occurred on October 14, 1066. The date October 14 also happens to be the feast day of St Callistus. The line would make far more sense if it had Sancti instead of Christi, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

stella monstrante cometa = with a comet portending/while a comet served as portent
 

Cottonshirt

New Member
Pacis Puella dixit:
Usually, that kind of construction is used to describe a circumstance happening at the same time as the action one's talking about...
That's interesting, because the comet was not happening at the same time as the battle. An Irish monk recorded in a chronicle that the comet appeared on the Calends of May and was visible for four nights. The Calends is the first of the month, so that's in the first week of May; the battle was not until October.


Cinefactus dixit:
I also wonder when it was written. I would have thought the -is ending in Martyris along with the apocopated perfect are more likely to be Renaissance than Mediaeval.
This is very interesting indeed. You can't go to Battle Abbey today and see this inscription because it was taken down at the time of king Henry VIII, a period known as the dissolution of the monasteries when he fell out with the church and broke away to eventually form the Church of England. At the dissolution, Battle Abbey was presented to the Kings Master of Horse, Sir Anthony Browne who, in 1538, received a grant of "the house and site of the late Monastery of Battel in Sussex". He started work on building a manor house there, which was completed by his son Viscount Montague. By 1717 the family had transferred their residence to Cowdray, and the sixth Viscount sold the manor at Battle to Sir Godfrey Webster. The relics of William the Conqueror, his sword, his robe and the original Battle roll of honour are believed to have burned in a fire at Cowdray in 1793.

The legend says - there are lots of legends - that an English translation of the inscription was displayed at the Abbey for a further two hundred years or so but is now lost. Your comment makes me wonder whether the words we are reading might be a Renaissance translation from the existing English version back into what they thought the Latin might originally have been. But none of this is certain, the Duchess of Cleveland, author of the book where I found the inscription, gives no sources so I have no idea where she found these words or how legitimate they are.


Imber Ranae dixit:
The problem is that Christi doesn't seem to go with anything
I Googled the expression "martyrs in Christ" and it seems to be normal to say who or what people were being martyred for, so "martyrs in Christ" or, "martyrs for Christ" or, "martyrs of Christ" all seem to be fairly common ways of saying this. At least they are today. So I'm thinking maybe we don't need the comma in the third line; it is not "in death they fell, martyrs in Christ" but "they fell martyrs in Christ..." maybe.


This is all very interesting stuff guys and I really appreciate your input.


Incorporating later suggestions, we now have:

Since the battle, this place is called Battle, because in battle
the English were defeated, left behind here in death
they fell martyrs in Christ on the feast of St Callistus.
It was the one thousand and sixty sixth year
when the English perished, under the auspices of the comet star.


Thank you
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
The third line makes little sense. Martyris can only be genitive, not nominative, and since St. Callistus was a martyr it surely agrees with Calixti. The subject carries over from the previous sentence. The problem is that Christi doesn't seem to go with anything.
The book actually has in Christo, which I think works
They fell on the feast of the Martyr in Christ, Callistus.

Incorporating later suggestions, we now have:

Since the battle, this place is called Battle, because in battle
the English were defeated, left behind here in death
they fell martyrs in Christ on the feast of St Callistus.
It was the one thousand and sixty sixth year
when the English perished, under the auspices of the comet star.
Thank you
You should take into account the corrections by Imber Ranae
This place takes its name "Battle" from a battle, because in battle...
... while a comet served as portent
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
BTW if we take Martyris as genitive singular, it removes most of my query as to the date of the manuscript.
 

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
I Googled the expression "martyrs in Christ" and it seems to be normal to say who or what people were being martyred for, so "martyrs in Christ" or, "martyrs for Christ" or, "martyrs of Christ" all seem to be fairly common ways of saying this. At least they are today. So I'm thinking maybe we don't need the comma in the third line; it is not "in death they fell, martyrs in Christ" but "they fell martyrs in Christ..." maybe.
Googling English expressions isn't going to help you interpret Latin correctly. in Christi can't mean "in/for Christ", and martyris can't mean "martyrs". The line as written is senseless.
Incorporating later suggestions, we now have:

Since the battle, this place is called Battle, because in battle
the English were defeated, left behind here in death
they fell martyrs in Christ on the feast of St Callistus.
It was the one thousand and sixty sixth year
when the English perished, under the auspices of the comet star.
I'm not sure why you ignored my post, but this is wrong.
The book actually has in Christo, which I think works
They fell on the feast of the Martyr in Christ, Callistus.
And now it suddenly all makes sense:
This place takes its name "Battle" from a battle, because in battle​
English-born men were defeated here, left behind in death;​
On the feast day of St Callistus, a martyr in Christ, they fell.​
It was the year one thousand and sixty six​
When the Englishmen perished, a comet-star serving as its portent.​
 

Cottonshirt

New Member
Cinefactus dixit:
The book actually has in Christo, which I think works
I have checked the book in three different locations on the web, including the link provided in my OP, and none of them have "Christo", but "Christi" as I originally posted. Would you please be so kind as to check this.


Imber Ranae dixit:
Googling English expressions isn't going to help you interpret Latin correctly
I didn't for one second believe it would. I simply misunderstood the grounds for your statement that, "The third line makes little sense." I thought you meant the English translation of it made no sense, and I was therefore providing some context for understanding the translation. I now realise that you meant it was the Latin original that made no sense, which is of course something altogether different. Apologies for the confusion.


Imber Ranae dixit:
And now it suddenly all makes sense
Except, of course, that it doesn't, because Cinefactus statement is in error. Would you mind attempting to explain why the distinction between Christo and Christi makes so much difference to the translation?



Thank you
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Except, of course, that it doesn't, because Cinefactus statement is in error. Would you mind attempting to explain why the distinction between Christo and Christi makes so much difference to the translation?
Because words decline in Latin, that is they have different endings depending on their grammatical function. If it is Christi, it can't go with in, because in must be followed by the ablative - which is Christo. Christi is the genitive, it actually means "of Christ".
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
I have checked the book in three different locations on the web, including the link provided in my OP, and none of them have "Christo", but "Christi" as I originally posted. Would you please be so kind as to check this.
On checking it, you are right. I must have written what I expected to see.

Would you mind attempting to explain why the distinction between Christo and Christi makes so much difference to the translation?
Because in takes the ablative case, not the genitive.

If it is Christi then I would say:
They fell on the feast of Callistus martyr of Christ.
 

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
I didn't for one second believe it would. I simply misunderstood the grounds for your statement that, "The third line makes little sense." I thought you meant the English translation of it made no sense, and I was therefore providing some context for understanding the translation. I now realise that you meant it was the Latin original that made no sense, which is of course something altogether different. Apologies for the confusion.
OK, though I thought it would have been obvious that I meant the Latin since I immediately afterward explained how the Latin made no sense.
Except, of course, that it doesn't, because Cinefactus statement is in error.
There's this, which has Christo, and since it has the Mediaeval (mis)spelling martiris rather than the corrected martyris it may perhaps be more likely to be original. I can't be certain, of course, and would need to see the original manuscript(s) of the Battle Abbey scroll to be so.
Would you mind attempting to explain why the distinction between Christo and Christi makes so much difference to the translation?
Do you know any Latin, Mr Cottonshirt? The change of a little letter at the end of a word makes a big difference in Latin. Christi is genitive, Christo is ablative (or dative).

On checking it, you are right. I must have written what I expected to see.


Because in takes the ablative case, not the genitive.

If it is Christi then I would say:
They fell on the feast of Callistus martyr of Christ.
Given the word order, it's more like "on the feast of the Christ, St. Callistus the martyr", which is of course nonsense. If a genitive comes between a preposition and its object, it really can't be modifying anything but that object.

Bare ablative festo also makes more sense than in [Christi] festo, since an ablative of time-when usually doesn't take a preposition in Latin. Then again this is Mediaeval, so who knows?
 

Cottonshirt

New Member
Imber Ranae dixit:
Do you know any Latin, Mr Cottonshirt?
I have no Latin directly, but I have some linguistics and understand how grammar functions, inflection, declension, noun cases and so on are not weird science fiction concepts to me but I speak, read, and write no language other than English.


Imber Ranae dixit:
If a genitive comes between a preposition and its object, it really can't be modifying anything but that object.
This answers my question. Thank you. I was vaguely aware that word order is more important in English than in Latin, so was a little confused as to why the version offered by Cinefactus, "They fell on the feast of Callistus martyr of Christ" was not correct. The word order preposition-genitive-object explains it to me, even though we don't use genitives in English I understand what you are saying. Thank you.


Imber Ranae dixit:
I can't be certain, of course, and would need to see the original manuscript(s) of the Battle Abbey scroll to be so.
If any such thing ever actually existed, it burned in a fire at Cowdray Park in 1793. All we have are the alleged copies from Leland, Holinshead, Stow, Duchesne and others. Some of them do not mention the inscription but just list the names, some mention it but do not give it and some just romantically paraphrase what they think it would have or should have said. The only document I am aware of that claims internally to have been written directly from the original is a thing called the Chronicle of Battel Abbey (correct spelling), which is known to be at least in part a forgery, or a fraud, written by the monks at the abbey to substantiate their claim to income from lands that were disputed with the crown in the 15th century. I have a 19th century translation by Lower of the Chronicle and that says, "martyris in festo Christi" (interestingly different word order) but annoyingly in a translation of two hundred pages of Latin the one thing he doesn't translate is the inscription.

Your link to Duckett and Duckett was interesting, I had not come across that before. Thank you.

I think it probably relevant to bear in mind that people make mistakes. Not just you and me but the original scribe, any of the transcribers, copyists, editors and so on involved in the process of bringing an eleventh century text to our computer screens could have made a mistake. It might actually have been written Christi festo, even though that's technically incorrect. I read a book just yesterday where the author repeatedly used bought when he meant brought. People make mistakes. Life goes on.

I think the point here is that we have arrived at a very good idea what the inscription meant, even if we cannot be completely certain what it actually said. Thank you, not just you personally, but everyone on the forum who contributed, thank you all very much for your help.

What makes you think it's "Mr" Cottonshirt?
 

Imber Ranae

Ranunculus Iracundus
This answers my question. Thank you. I was vaguely aware that word order is more important in English than in Latin, so was a little confused as to why the version offered by Cinefactus, "They fell on the feast of Callistus martyr of Christ" was not correct. The word order preposition-genitive-object explains it to me, even though we don't use genitives in English I understand what you are saying. Thank you.
Word order is remarkably free in Latin (even more so in poetry, which is what this is). I suppose Cinefactus's interpretation might well have been the intended meaning, but if so the author made a right mess of it. The gist of the line is obvious enough anyway; it's just that the Latin grammar got rather garbled somehow.

We can say that martyris definitely modifies Calixti since (1) it is genitive singular (not nominative plural), (2) we know St Callistus was a martyr, and (3) Christ isn't typically called a martyr in Christianity, as the word literally means "witness". Likewise we can say that festo was meant to be modified by the genitives martyris...Calixti, and not by the genitive Christi, since the battle of Hastings definitely occurred on October 14, which is the feast day of St Callistus. That said, the line technically still could mean "they fell on the feast of Christ, martyr of Callistus", and given the placement of Christi that would indeed have been the more natural interpretation if it weren't so utterly absurd.

As I mentioned above, this is actually a poem written in hexameters*, so the poet (perhaps that's too generous of a term) had to obey the strictures of Latin poetic meter. That may, in part, explain some of the weirdness. For example, he also uses the wrong kind of numeral for "sixtieth" sexagenus: it should rightly be sexagesimus, but that wouldn't have fit the meter, so he changed it to what is in effect the equivalent of saying "in the year one thousand and sixtieth six" in English. The name of the saint is also more correctly Callixtus, but he apparently thought it permissible to drop one l in order to shoehorn the word into the poem.
If any such thing ever actually existed, it burned in a fire at Cowdray Park in 1793. All we have are the alleged copies from Leland, Holinshead, Stow, Duchesne and others. Some of them do not mention the inscription but just list the names, some mention it but do not give it and some just romantically paraphrase what they think it would have or should have said. The only document I am aware of that claims internally to have been written directly from the original is a thing called the Chronicle of Battel Abbey (correct spelling), which is known to be at least in part a forgery, or a fraud, written by the monks at the abbey to substantiate their claim to income from lands that were disputed with the crown in the 15th century. I have a 19th century translation by Lower of the Chronicle and that says, "martyris in festo Christi" (interestingly different word order) but annoyingly in a translation of two hundred pages of Latin the one thing he doesn't translate is the inscription.
That order actually does fit the meter and works much better for "on the feast day of Callistus, a martyr of Christ", though it's still a little awkward. The author could have just used sancti "saint" instead of Christi and avoided the troublesome double genitives entirely.
Your link to Duckett and Duckett was interesting, I had not come across that before. Thank you.

I think it probably relevant to bear in mind that people make mistakes. Not just you and me but the original scribe, any of the transcribers, copyists, editors and so on involved in the process of bringing an eleventh century text to our computer screens could have made a mistake. It might actually have been written Christi festo, even though that's technically incorrect. I read a book just yesterday where the author repeatedly used bought when he meant brought. People make mistakes. Life goes on.

I think the point here is that we have arrived at a very good idea what the inscription meant, even if we cannot be completely certain what it actually said. Thank you, not just you personally, but everyone on the forum who contributed, thank you all very much for your help.
Yes, a transcription error might well have sneaked in at some point, or else it was just poorly written in the first place.
What makes you think it's "Mr" Cottonshirt?
Blind assumption. My apologies if it was incorrect.


*for this reason the inclusion of hic after sunt is necessary in the second line.
 
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