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St Columba's reliquary, or Brechbennoch. Repaired.

Saint Columba

Epistle to Hunald


Was this Hunald possibly the son of Odo the Great ? Since Columba lived from 521 - 597, it's unlikely that he wrote an epistle to that particular Hunald, who was Duke of Aquitaine, and Count of Toulouse, and who died circa 748 AD. On the other hand, it's in any case unlikely that this epistle, originally in Latin verse, was written by Columba in the first place. Hunald, the Duke of Aquitaine, retreated to a monastery in 744, so he may have received an epistle from some other pious person, intending to comfort him.

My epistle information is from John Smith's "Life of St Columba", first published in Glasgow, 1798, as per introduction, below. Columbanus, the other suggestion, lived 543 - 615. Perhaps it was written by someone else.

The Canisius mentioned here seems to be Saint Peter Canisius, S.J., 1521-1597. Presumably he had preserved the verse, and made the ascription, some eight or nine hundred years after it had been written. Query ? Well, the matter of who wrote it, who it was sent to, and how it was preserved, and by whom, is unimportant at this moment, since it is the text which interests me.

One point of interest is the date of composition. Shall we say circa 700-850 ? Give or take two hundred years ? No, scrub that: 750-800 AD would be fine.

The more important point is not the attack on avarice, but the nature and terminology of the homiletics employed by the author. They sound distinctly familiar to me, and I shall dwell on them, below.

John Smith's conversion of the Latin original into 72 rhyming lines of late C18th, thumpingly decasyllabic, verse includes the following sentiments and platitudes.

The author advises that "the end for which this life is given/ Is to prepare the soul for God and heaven." The reader, or listener, is encouraged to "Think of the time when trembling age shall come,/ And the last messenger to call thee home." And also to think on "the ills which age brings in its train,/ Disease and weakness" and so on. He should reflect that "Time on eagle-wing,/ Flies past, and preys on every earthly thing." But his "treasure is secure beyond the skies,/ And there he finds it on the day he dies." Naked we leave this world, and return to earth. One is reminded that sceatas in this context means "earth". A final passage reads "Time flies away; and on its rapid wing/ We fly along, with every earthly thing./ Yet Time returns, and crowns the Spring with flowers,/ Renews the seasons, and repeats the hours./ But life returns not with revolving years,/ And man, once gone, on earth no more appears."

Can it be denied that these thoughts, commonplace truisms though they be, are reminiscent of those presented in the second half of The Seafarer ? I agree wholeheartedly with Anderson/Arngart, 1937 and 1979, in his judiciously considered opinion that The Seafarer must be the work of one single author, with no interpolations. He also said, however, that the final third of the composition might give an impression of being more influenced by Christianity than the first sections. Anderson/Arngart was Swedish, and therefore, like me, understood the mentality and lexis of the seafarer author rather better than the German and Anglo-American investigators; Smithers excepted.

Check The Origins of the British, by Stephen Oppenheimer. Also, eg, here.

It may have dawned on anybody who has read this far that this page has exceedingly little to do with St Columba. Its title is seriously misleading. What I want to say is this:

When the seafarer poet, no fisherman, but a learned, multilingual man, starts to reminisce about the vicissitudes of his life, he realises he is constructing an exemplum, from which a moral might be drawn. He remembers reading the Epistle to Hunald, and repeats its conclusions about the purpose and meaning of life. He even reflects on the rotation of the seasons, and that their yearly return will one day not include him.

You, Andrew Marvell

Discussion of whether anfloga means the cuckoo, or the seafarer's own imagination, is absurd.
Neither the cuckoo nor the imagination can be described as "yelling, eagerly and greedily".
Or "longingly, voraciously, ravenously, avidly, or ungratified, unsated, gluttonous".
Ravenous cuckoo ? Gluttonous imagination ?

Almost every word conveniently mistranslated. But "eager and greedy" are rendered correctly.
The inanity of the "Solitary Flier" is stressed by the capital letters.
From Folklore, Vol 88 No 1, 1977

The anfloga makes what a genuine germanista would call its Angriff, or onslaught.
What anfloga does NOT mean is "one-flier"


A streak of blue-green
Is all that is seen
Of the kingfisher's flight
As he drops from the height
Of a waterside tree
When he happens to see
A fish unwary.

[premonition in 1953]

"A" is the same as the letter "A"
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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© Charles Harrison-Wallace 2016