A Demilitarized Saint: Ælfric’s Life of St. Sebastian
Ælfric's Life of St. Sebastian is in many ways typical of the saints' lives in his whole collection concerning a male, secular, military saint. Saints such as these were likely appealing models of behavior for Ælfric's secular, military patrons for the Lives of Saints collection. Nevertheless, a close comparison of the source for this particular saint's life and the life that Ælfric produced reveals a disjunction between the concerns of the anonymous early Christian writer and that of the Anglo-Saxon monk especially in regards to Sebastian's military role and attendant imagery. The Latin Passio rhetorically highlights the contradictions of Sebastian's life: that he is a soldier and Christian; that he fights the arrows of the devil but is famed for being shot full of arrows at his martyrdom; and the fact that he hides his religion and participates in the machinery of Roman persecution. Ælfric shifts the rhetorical focus away from these themes in his translation and goes out of his way to minimize and even neutralize those very aspects the Latin author exalts. The result is a life which seems to be about a soldier, but most trappings of his soldiery have been removed.
English Language and Literature
Damian Fleming (2009).
A Demilitarized Saint: Ælfric’s Life of St. Sebastian. Anglia.127 (1), 1-21.