Thursday, April 23, 2009

St. George's Day

It's St. George's Day and also Shakespeare's birthday. And so it seems fitting to offer you these lines from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, l. 31:

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry God for Harry, England and St George!'
And here's something about the legend of St. George that you might like to know:

The familiar version of the story is found in the Legend Aurea of James of Voraigne. The story is as follows:

"For some time a terrible dragon had ravaged all the country round the city of Selena in Libya, making its lair in a swamp. Its breath caused pestilence whenever it approached the town. So the people gave the dragon two sheep every day to satisfy its hunger, but when the sheep were all gone, a human victim was necessary. Lots were drawn to determine the victim and they fell upon the king's daughter. She was led, dressed as a bride, to the edge of the swamp. There St George chanced by and asked the maiden what she was doing alone in such a place. She told him of the dragon and urged him to leave, but he would not. When the monster appeared he made the Sign of the Cross and pierced it with his lance. He asked the maiden for her girdle and binding it round the dragon's neck led it. meek as a lamb, to the maid, who took it to the city. St George told the people to have no fear, but to be baptized, and bidding them to honour the clergy and pity the poor, rode on about God's business."

The first thing to notice about this version of the legend is that St George is not reputed to have slain the dragon. He overcame it and brought it to heel so that in future it served the city it had tormented. There is a clear allegorical meaning. The city is a man, the king is his reason, which ought to rule over the passions, the princess is his soul and the dragon is the instincts and desires of the flesh. If the instincts are not governed by reason they threaten the soul. At first they may be placated with small things, but growing stronger by these concessions they eventually threaten the immortal soul itself. St George on the white horse symbolizes the Grace of God, which if it is accepted enables the soul to master the flesh, the desires and faculties of which are then brought meek and controlled into their proper service of the whole man.

The story is therefore an allegory of man's life and destiny, his fall and his salvation.

All stuff to think about!

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