The Anonymous Old English Legend of the Seven Sleepers and its Latin Source

The Anonymous Old English Legend of the Seven Sleepers and its Latin Source

By Hugh Magennis

Leeds Studies in English, N.S. 22, (1991)


Introduction: The earliest extended treatment of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus in a western vernacular language is the anonymous Old English prose version preserved in British Library MS Cotton Julius E vii, the principal manuscript of Elfric’s Lives of Saints, and (in highly fragmentary form) in British Library MS Cotton Otho B x. 1 As was established by P. M. Huber in his wide-ranging study of the legend, published in 1910, the source of the Old English text is the Latin Passio Septem Dormientium {BHL 2316). Huber refers to this Latin version as ‘L^ and he compares it to a number of other Latin versions of the legend.

Writing before the publication of Huber’s researches, J. H. Ott had been unable to provide a satisfactory source for the Old English version, although he had noted that the text of the ‘MS Ultrajectinum’ referred to in the section on the Seven Sleepers in ASS (July, VI, 396-97), and from which quotations had been given there, seemed to correspond more closely to the Old English than did any of the Latin versions then available in print. The text of this ‘MS Ultrajectinum’ represents a variant of the Latin version, designated BHL 2317 by the Bollandists.

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