Friday, December 22, 2017

The Perfection of the Southern Woman

It was very much a part of older Southern life to read about and imitate the lives of virtuous men and women.  Plutarch’s Parallel Lives was an especial favorite.  The deep Protestantism of the South, however, kept her from a better source of lives:  the lives of the Orthodox saints.  Other than the Holy Scriptures, one will not find a better handbook for obtaining Christian perfection. 

Since we have just written of the decline of the Southern woman, this is how she can begin her ascent once again to the surpassing heights attained by her foremothers in Africa and Western Europe - Sts Mary of Egypt, Audrey of Ely, Brigid of Kildare, and many, many others - by imitating the saints.  For today let us consider the life of one of the greatest martyrs of Spain, St Eulalia (10 Dec., +304).  Though a girl of only 12 or 13, her virtues far surpassed most women of mature age.  The poet Prudentius wrote this poem in honor of her martyrdom:

Noble of parentage Eulalia,
More noble still in the style of her death;
Holy young maiden her own Merida,
Town from whose fruitfulness she was brought forth,
Crowns with her bones and protects with her love. (5)

Far away off in the West is the place
Which this illustrious honour has won,
Great as a city, in populace rich;
Yet greater still by her martyrdom's blood
And by the tombstone inscribed for the maid. (10)

Three and nine cycles of suns going by,
Three times four winters the girl had attained
When, by the crackle of pyre undismayed,
She made alarmed executioners quake,
Counting her torture a boon to herself. (15)

Already she had provided a sign
That she was set for the Father's high throne
And that her limbs were not destined for love:
She had rejected her rattles herself,
Stranger to play as a dear little girl. (20)

Amber she spurned, had but scorn for the rose,
Gold-yellow necklaces held in contempt.
Facially grave, self-possessed in her gait,
Even while showing the traits of a child
She played the part of old age's grey hairs. (25)

But when the scourge in an access of rage
Flared up against the Lord's servants, and all
Lusting for blood, bade the foll'wers of Christ
Burn up their incense, their livers of beasts,
Offered to gods who were dealers in death, (30)

Loud did Eulalia's spirit complain,
Holy and mettlesome in its intent,
Ready to shatter the upset of war.
And, youthful heart simply panting for God,
Challenged as woman the weapons of men. (35)

But the fond care of a mother contrived
That the high-spirited maid stay at home,
Kept in the country and far from the town,
Lest the girl, wild for the outlay of blood,
Rush to her doom in a passion for death. (40)

Hating to bear a resort to repose
By hanging back in a cowardly way,
Furtive she opened the door in the night,
Made her escape through the yard where enclosed.
Thence seized her way across land without tracks. (45)

Onward she sallied with hurt to her feet
Through places rough with their squalor and briers,
With choir of angels accompanying her;
And though the night was all silent and grim,
Yet she had light as a guide on her way. (50)

Thus did the high-minded patriarch band
Have a bright beam in the pillar of light
Which, in its power to cut through the dark,
Offered a way in the night with its flame,
So that the darkness all perished away. (55)

So was the dutiful maid in the night
Worthy of daylight as she went her way;
And wasn't cloaked in enveloping dark
As she escaped from the realms of the Nile
And won a way to the starry abodes. (60)

Speedily plying her steps through the night,
Many a mile had she covered, before
Zone of the East made a door in the sky;
Morning's light saw her, come proud to the court,
Take up her stand among symbols of power (65)

Raising her voice: 'Pray, what madness is this
Sending your souls to destruction hell-bent,
And laying hearts so expensive of selves
Down, to do worship before polished stones,
While you deny God, the Father of all? (70)

Are you in search, O you miserable band,
Of the Christ-following folk?  Here am I,
Foe to the rites that the devil receives;
Idols I trample in scorn underfoot,
I confess God with my heart and my lips. (75)

Isis, Apollo, and Venus are naught,
Maximianus himself naught as well:
They naught, because they are fashioned by hand,
He, because he worships men's handiwork;
Vanities both of them, both of them naught. (80)

Maximianus, the lord of all might,
And yet himself a dependent of stones,
Though he displays and devotes to his own
Godheads his own very life by himself,
Why is he harassing high-minded hearts? (85)

Chieftain so goodly, so excellent a judge,
He sates his hunger on innocent blood;
Gaping his mouth for the bodies of saints
He's bent on tearing their virtuous flesh,
And takes delight in tormenting the Faith. (90)

Come on then, torturer, kindle and slash,
Cut up my limbs put together of clay.
Breaking so frail a thing's easy indeed:
But there will not be a deep reaching-in
Right to my soul by the torment and pain'. (95)

Roused to a fury by words of the kind,
Praetor exclaimed: 'Take her quickly away,
Lictor, and torture on torture apply.
See that she knows that our sires' gods exist,
And that the emperor's command isn't slight. (100)

Yet how I'd like, just the same, ere you die,
If it may be, to revoke all of your
Naughty behaviour, you stern-faced girleen.
Just think how great are the joys you mow down,
Which your estate as a bride has in store. (105)

Your household tearfully reels at the blow,
Searching for you; and the anguish of your
Family so noble has caused it to mourn
That in the bloom of your youth you now die
Ripe for a dowry and ripe to be wed. (110)

Doesn't the rich pomp of marriage move you,
Nor your respect for the love of the old
Whom in your rashness you're so casting down?
See here the instruments fully prepared,
Things of unbearable torture and death: (115)

Either your head will be lopped by a sword,
Or will your limbs be dismembered by beasts,
Or, given over to smoke-reeking brands,
Object for weeping and wailing of kin,
You'll be destroyed and reduced into ash. (120)

What, pray, the toil to escape from all this?
If a small portion of salt, my dear maid,
And tiny grain of the incense with your
Fingertips you'd be so kind as to touch,
Penalties grievous would be far away'. (125)

Nothing said martyr to this; but in fact
Bellowed with rage and in potentate's eye
Spittle she flung, then the images she
Scattered; the meal that was there to comprise
Thuribles full, she upset with her foot. (130)

Straight away then, executioners twain
Tore at the flesh of her rush-slender breasts.
Then did the claw at her maidenly flanks
Strike on both sides as it cut to the bone.
Meanwhile Eulalia counted the marks. (135)

'See how your name's written on me, O Lord.
How it delights me these letters to read,
Which are the mark of your victories, O Christ!
And to speak your holy name for itself
Here is the red of my blood that's been drawn'. (140)

These words, with never a tear or a groan,
Joyful and all unafraid did she sing;
Torment so dreadful did not reach her soul.
Coloured by fresh flow of blood too, her limbs
Bathed her fair skin in its warm-running stream. (145)

Final refinement of torture came now.
No longer wounds for the tearing of flesh,
Nor skin that's ploughed to the depth of the ribs,
But there is flame from the lampstands all round
Raging against her at stomach and flanks. (150)

Sweet-smelling tresses all over her neck
Fell to her shoulders as light as a veil,
So that her modesty, bashful and shy,
Might be concealed with her maidenhood's grace
Under the cover of screen from her poll. (155)

Flame with a roar made a rush for her face
And, brought to life by her hair, to her head
Transferred its hold, rearing over its top.
Maid, in her wish for a swift end to life,
Swallowed and drank from the fire with her mouth. (160)

Thereupon suddenly flashed forth a dove
Whiter than snow, from the martyred girl's mouth
Seen to depart and to make for for the stars:
This was the spirit of Eulalia,
Milky-white swift-darting, quite without sin. (165)

Drooped was her neck as her soul sped away;
Down died the fiery blaze of the pyre.
Peace was imparted to those lifeless limbs,
While in the sky flapped triumphant applause
Soul, as it winged to the regions on high. (170)

Even the minion himself saw the bird
Openly pass from the mouth of the girl;
Thoroughly stunned and amazed at the sight,
He leaped and fled from the deeds he had done.
Even the lictor fled off in alarm. (175)

She how the icy-cold winter poured snow
Down on the forum and covered it all;
Covered as well poor Eulalia's limbs
Lying exposed to the cold of the sky,
Taking the place of a small linen cloak. (180)

Let yield the love of the men shedding tears
Who are accustomed to practise last rites,
And let their office of mourning yield too:
Nature's own elements at God's command
Render the obsequies, maiden, for you. (185)

Merida now is the site for her tomb,
Town of Vettonia, well known to fame,
Past which the notable Ana's stream still
Passes and, as its green waters rush by,
Washes the beautiful walls in its flood. (190)

Here, where with marble reflecting the light
Lustre illumines the motherly church
(Both foreign lustre and native as well),
Relics and holy remains of the saint
Reverent earth has preserved in its breast. (195)

Glittering roof overhead flashes light
Down from its panels all covered in gold;
Mosaic stonework has coloured the floor
So that you'd think that, all rosy with flowers,
Here blushed a meadow of manifold hues. (200)

Gather ye all of the violets blue,
Harvest the blood-coloured crocus as well.
Genial winter has no lack of these;
Cold at the thaw is releasing the fields
So as to pile up our baskets with flowers. (205)

Offerings of yours from the tendrils and leaves
Give as a gift, every maiden and boy.
I, in the midst of your company's song,
Garlands in dactylic measure will bring,
Worthless and wilted, but joyous no less. (210)

So does it please us to honour her bones,
Also the altar above the bones raised:
She from her place at the feet of her God
Looks on these doings; and on her own folk
Sheds gracious favour, appeased by our song. (215)

Source:, Electronic Antiquity journal, Robert Baker, trans., opened 22 Dec. 2017

Holy Martyr Eulalia, pray for us sinners!


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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