I mentioned a while back that for my Latin (at ''Intermediate'' level, whatever that means), I was reading St Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. I remember when I first went into Waterstones, years ago, to enquire about the book, the poor girl at the till had never heard of him! I also remember, wrongly, saying that he was inordinately dull. St Bede may be rather tedious in places (but that is, of course, subjective), but in other places, he rises to great heights of religious and Catholic prose. Below is my translation of a very famous and moving moment in the History (with the Latin original):
Cuius suasioni verbisque prudentibus alius optimatum regis tribuens assensum, continuo subdidit: ‘Talis,’ inquiens, ‘mihi videtur, rex, vita hominum praesens in terris, ad conparationem eius, quod nobis incertum est. Temporis, quale cum te residente ad cenam cum ducibus ac ministris tuis tempore brumali, accenso quidem foco in medio, et calido effecto caenaculo, furentibus autem foris per omnia turbinibus hiemalium pluviarum vel nivium, adveniens unus passeium domum citissime pervolaverit; qui cum per unum ostium ingrediens, mox per aliud exierit. Ipso quidem tempore, quo intus est, hiemis tempestate non tangitur, sed tamen parvissimo spatio serenitatis ad momentum excurso, mox de hieme in hiemem regrediens, tuis oculis elabitur. Ita haec vita hominum ad modicum apparet; quid autem sequatur, quidue praecesserit, prorsus ignoramus. Unde si haec nova doctrina certius aliquid attulit, merito esse sequenda videtur.’ His similia et ceteri maiores natu ac regis consiliarii divinitus admoniti prosequebantur.
Another of the king's chief men, offering counsel with his recommendation and with prudent words added immediately: ''Such,'' he said, ''seems to me, O King, [to be] the present life of men on earth, in comparison to that time which is unknown to us. It is like when you are sitting at meat with your ealdormen and thegns in wintertide, with the hearth burning in the middle and the dining room [caenaculo] has been made warm, but outside the storms of wintry rain or snow are raging through all, and a sparrow flies quickly through the hall, who when entering through one door, soon goes out through another. At that time, when it is inside, it is not touched by the storm of winter, but however when a very small space of calm has run out in a moment, soon returning from winter unto winter, it escapes from your eyes. So this life of men appears moderately [modicum, restrained, moderate]; but what follows, or what goes before, we know not at all. Consequently, if this new doctrine brings us more certainty, it seems meritorious to be followed.'' Other elders and counsellors of the king continued after the same manner, being divinely prompted to do so.
Isn't it marvellous? It brings the ideas to life, of how the darkness of paganism (cast into new shadows by the literal darkness of winter, the tempests and the cold snow and rain) was lifted by the evangelisation of the early monks and missionaries to these Isles. The above image (which I have used before in relation to the sunless world of Beleriand in ancient days) has nothing whatsoever to do with St Bede or the conversion of the Northumbrians, but I can't help thinking about it. It seems to elucidate the darkness more than words.