Judith

Translated by Mary Savelli

(Approximately 850 lines are missing from the beginning of this poem based on the Book of Judith, one of the Apocrypha. Holofernes, general of the Assyrians, has besieged the town of Bethulia. The town's leaders decide to surrender in five days, unless God saves them with a miracle. Hearing this, a holy widow named Judith chastises them for testing God. She tells them she has a plan and that they should wait for her return. She approaches Holofernes camp, offering to tell him the secrets of the town, so that he might capture it without the lost of men. She explains she is doing this because it is God's will to punish His people and, blinded by her beauty, Holofernes believes her. For four days, Holofernes has wined and dined Judith in his camp. The fragment begins on the last night, the night that Holofernes has decided to send a servant to ask Judith to join him in his bed.)

 

 

. . . None doubted the gifts of the Grand Creator

 

to this great earth, where she had found help from God.

 

When she had the most need of the Mighty Prince,

 

then God protected her from greatest danger.

5

The Guardian of Heaven, granted her request

 

for she had strong faith in the Holy Father.

 

I have heard that the mighty Holofernes

 

eagerly made an invitation to serve

 

wine, wonderful foods. To that feast, the warrior

10

called his chief retainers. They came with great haste;

 

the troop of warriors traveled to that strong prince;

 

leaders of that folk came forth on the fourth day

 

since Judith, that shining lady, first sought him,

 

and the wicked warrior welcomed that wise maid.

15

Then the soldiers went to sit at that grand feast,

 

his ‘partners in crime’, those bold chain-mailed warriors,

 

boastful at beer-drinking. Along the benches,

 

cups were carried frequently; pitchers kept full

 

the deep bowls of hall-sitters. They drank their doom,

20

those brave warriors, though that ruler, wicked man,

 

did not expect it. Then Holofernes was

 

happy in hosting; that hearty friend of men

 

laughed and shouted and clamored the most loudly,

 

so that sons of men might hear his surge afar

25

how the resolute one bellowed and roared out,

 

headstrong and drunk, he exhorted earnestly

 

that his companions should conduct themselves well,

 

so that, over the whole day, that wicked man

 

made his own noblemen drink the sweetest mead;

30

that treasure-giver made his troops over-drunk,

 

’til they lay, dizzy, as if struck down by death,

 

drained of goodness. So that guardian ordered

 

the diners to attend until dark approached

 

the sons of men. Then, corrupt with sin, he said

35

that they should bring the blessed maid to his bed,

 

hasten to fetch her, heaped high with fair garlands

 

and adorned most richly with the brightest rings.

 

Then, the barons did as their bold prince had bid;

 

the retainers quickly went to the guestroom.

40

The men did find there that fairest of maidens,

 

wise Judith; then, the warriors began to lead

 

radiant maid to the tent, where ruler rested,

 

into the tall pavilion where the prince lie

 

each night, as was that chief of champions’ custom.

45

There was a fair fly-net, all of gold, which fell

 

about the chieftain’s bed, so the baleful one,

 

that master of men, might gaze through it upon

 

any son of heroes who might seek him there;

 

he could see when his soldiers did approach him,

50

but not a man could gaze on the general

 

unless that headstrong one ordered his heroes,

 

commanded them closer to that chieftain,

 

nearer to him, champions come for counsel.

 

Then, the barons quickly brought her to his bed,

55

that wise maiden. The stouthearted warriors went

 

to tell their high lord that the holy lady

 

was brought to his pavilion. The famous prince

 

became blissful then; he thought of the bright maid,

 

to defile with impurity and disgrace.

60

The Almighty Lord God would not allow that,

 

and so, the Ruler of Heaven restrained him.

 

Then that fiercest warrior, wanton and fiendish,

 

left to go to lie where he would lose his life,

 

with a crowd of men, where he'd meet his cruel end,

65

an end as he had always striven after,

 

that dire prince of men, while he dwelled in this world

 

’neath roof of clouds. There that ruler fell so drunk

 

onto his mattress, that he might know nothing.

 

His warriors, sated with sweet wine, went from there,

70

out of that tall tent, quickly turning away,

 

the troop of men, who had led the troth-breaker,

 

that hostile persecutor, that earthly prince,

 

to his large bed for the last time. The lady,

 

the strong servant of the Savior, was mindful

75

of how she most easily might make attempt

 

to take old age from that most terrible one,

 

to deprive him, that dark lord, of a long life,

 

ere that wicked man awoke. Then the wise maid,

 

with silken hair, sought a sharp sword from its sheath

80

to hew hard blows, and drew it with her right hand.

 

Then she called on the Creator of Heaven,

 

Savior of all Earth-dwellers, and said these words:

 

"I do pray to you, Lord Prince of Creation,

 

Holy Son of Heaven and Spirit of Hope,

85

for mercy, Mighty Majesty, in my need.

 

Truly, I am greatly troubled with sorrows,

 

my soul is now inflamed and my mind made sad.

 

Great Guardian of the Heavens, give to me

 

triumph and true faith, so I might take this sword

90

and deal death to this dispenser of murder.

 

Grant to me my welfare, Great Father of Men.

 

I never have had more need of your mercy.

 

Avenge me, Almighty Lord, give me anger

 

in my heart, heat in my mind." Then the High Judge

95

filled her completely with courage, as he does

 

for all who look for his loving help with faith.

 

Her heart was unbound, trust in Holy God reborn.

 

Then she grabbed that heathen man hard by his hair,

 

dragged him toward her with her hands, drew him nearer,

100

took him shamefully, and placed that sinful man

 

so she easily had control over him.

 

Then, she struck her enemy with shining sword,

 

swung that sharp blade straight down upon his stiff neck,

 

his trusted weapon falling toward his bare throat,

105

so that she notched halfway through his naked neck;

 

he lie there in a swoon, still breathing softly,

 

drunk and sorely wounded. He was not yet dead,

 

completely lifeless. Then courageous lady

 

earnestly struck that heathen hound one more time

110

so that his head rolled forth to the floor below.

 

The body stayed behind, as his baleful soul

 

wandered under the wide abyss, wrapped with pain.

 

The spirit now roamed elsewhere and it survived

 

and there below was bound tight with base torments,

115

surrounded by serpents, sought out for tortures,

 

damned and detained in hell-fire after death.

 

He need not hope, enveloped in that hot night,

 

that he might go forth from the burning furnace,

 

from that serpents’ hall, but he should stay trapped there,

120

always remain, forever and evermore,

 

in that dreary homestead, with deepest despair.

 

Then Judith, wise maid, did win worldwide renown

 

in battle, as granted by Bountiful God,

 

the Sovereign of Heaven, who gave her success.

125

That holy widow put the dead warrior’s head,

 

so bloody, into the bag in which her maid,

 

a lady with light skin, well-mannered servant,

 

had brought thither some baked bread for them both,

 

tightly wrapped up the trophy inside the pouch;

130

then, Judith gave it, so gory, to the girl,

 

back again to the same young, thoughtful servant

 

to bear it home. Then both ladies hurried forth,

 

went directly from that place, bold and daring,

 

until the triumphant, brave maids traveled

135

away from the army’s camp, so they clearly

 

could see Bethulia’s brightly shining walls.

 

Then, radiant, adorned with rings, they hurried

 

and continued forth on the familiar course

 

away from the sleeping Assyrian force

140

until the rampart gate they joyfully gained.

 

Warriors sat waiting there; wakeful men kept watch

 

in that keep, as she earlier commanded

 

the sorrowful folk of the blessed stronghold,

 

when Judith, wise servant of God, shrewd widow,

145

traveled forth from that tribe of Hebrew people,

 

went on her journey. When Judith, most beloved,

 

returned to her people, then prudent woman

 

ordered one of the men to go out to her,

 

speedily, straight out from the spacious city

150

and with haste, they let him hurry in again

 

through the wall’s wide gate, and then, with these good words,

 

to that triumphant folk, he said, "I tell you

 

a thing deserving thanks; you no longer need

 

mourn in your hearts. The Maker is merciful,

155

that King of Splendor, for it shall be well known

 

through the wide world, that this wonderful future

 

is bright for you, and honor bestowed on you

 

for all the evils which you have long endured."

 

Then the city-dwellers became most cheerful

160

when they heard how the holy one had spoken

 

beyond the high wall; the host became eager.

 

The folk hastened toward the stronghold’s heavy gate,

 

men and women, a multitude and a crowd,

 

a throng and a troop; many thousands of them

160

pressed forward and ran toward the Prince’s fair maid,

 

both the old and the young. Every one of them

 

in the rejoicing city became cheerful

 

after they learned that the lady had returned

 

again to her home and then, most happily,

170

they let her enter with light hearts and good will.

 

Then the good widow, gold-adorned, commanded

 

her maid to unwrap Holofernes’ bloody head,

 

her wise handmaiden to hold forth the trophy,

 

as a gory sign, which God had given her,

175

to the townsfolk, of how well she triumphed.

 

To that people, the noble lady proclaimed,

 

"Here you, heroic leaders of all this host,

 

may now clearly stare upon this lifeless sign,

 

the most deeply hated heathen warrior’s head,

180

Holofernes’, he who harried our city,

 

more than any man, and made many torments,

 

grievous sorrows, and who would still prolong them,

 

but Glorious God did not grant him old age,

 

that the most hostile man, with hatred toward us,

185

might be loathsome; I deprived him of long life

 

with the Lord of Host’s help. Now I have to ask

 

each of these townsmen, every brave warrior,

 

that you make ready and then marshal yourselves,

 

fight Assyrians, as soon as our Father,

190

Holy Sovereign, shall have sent from the east

 

bright sunlight. Then, bear your shields bravely forward,

 

bucklers to your breasts and your burnished helmets,

 

as you enter the antagonists’ campground.

 

Slay their war-leaders with your sharp shining swords,

195

their doomed commanders. Because, condemned to die,

 

your foes will fall and you will have greatest fame

 

and honor; the Lord has shown this by my hand."

 

Then the troop of people did prepare at once,

 

the men were keen for combat, ready to march.

200

The courageous nobles went forth; fierce comrades

 

and bold warriors bearing their war banners high

 

stepped straight forward to the enemy’s campsite,

 

heroes under helmets, from the holy town,

 

exactly at sunrise. Their shields resounded,

205

made a loud noise. Accordingly, the lean wolf

 

rejoiced in the forest, and the hungry raven,

 

that bloodthirsty bird. Both beasts of battle knew

 

that soon the warriors would go to work for them,

 

fix their fill of food; and flying behind them,

210

an eagle, dewy-feathered, eager for flesh,

 

dark-coated, horny-beaked, did call out lowly

 

a sad war song. There the soldiers did step forth,

 

heroes at battle hidden behind war shields,

 

concave planks, those people who previously

215

endured the reproach of their old enemy,

 

of the pagans’ insult. They repaid all that

 

severely at the spear-play; they did pay back

 

the Assyrians after the Hebrews marched

 

under a battle flag, boldly to their camp.

220

Then the folk let fly forth showers of arrows,

 

bright battle-adders shooting from horn-shaped bows,

 

strong arrows; the grimmest of battle-seekers

 

shouted loudly, sent their spears soaring aloft,

 

flying across the sky, from the Hebrew force

225

into the hardened troops. The native heroes

 

all overflowed with anger; this hostile folk

 

stepped forward with stern minds and stouthearted souls,

 

and bitterly awoke their old enemies;

 

drunk and weary, the warriors drew with their hands

230

from dark stained leather sheaths brightly adorned swords

 

with tried edges. Then the evil-scheming men,

 

Assyrian champions, struck earnestly.

 

Not any of those strong soldiers were spared there,

 

neither the high born nor the mighty heroes

235

among living men whom they might overcome.

 

Thus the faithful folk attacked the foreigners

 

continuously during the cold morning

 

’til the commanders in that camp understood

 

the intense sword-brandishing shown to them there

240

by the Hebrew fighters who fiercely attacked.

 

Soldiers approached the chief attendant and spoke,

 

and awoke all of the warriors fearfully,

 

telling them the news of terrible tidings,

 

drunk with the morning slaughter, dire swordplay.

245

And I have heard it said that those doomed heroes

 

stood and cast off all their sleep, entirely,

 

turned toward their terrible leader’s bright tent,

 

and then, the heavyhearted host did press on

 

toward the tall pavilion of that people’s prince,

250

Holofernes’. At once, they hoped to announce

 

the battle to him, before blows assailed him,

 

before the Hebrews fell on him with fury.

 

All thought their leader and the lady still lay

 

together, under fly-net, in that fair tent,

255

slept soundly that morning upon the soft bed,

 

the lovely Judith and the licentious man,

 

strong and fierce. There was not a soldier standing

 

who dared to wake up that terrible warrior

 

or investigate how they had gotten on,

260

Holofernes with that most holy maiden,

 

the Creator’s servant. The soldiers crept near;

 

the Hebrew folk continued to fight fiercely

 

with their hardened battle-weapons. They brought down

 

their swords upon their long-standing enemy,

265

repaid old insults. The Assyrians’ fame

 

dwindled with that day’s work; pride depreciated.

 

Soldiers stood around their sovereign’s pavilion,

 

grim and angered, sad and gloomy in their minds.

 

Then, together, they cried out, began to call

270

and to shout loudly, lacking all courtesy,

 

desperately gnashing their teeth in despair.

 

Their glory was at its end, honor and good deeds.

 

The fighters wanted to wake their friendly lord,

 

but nothing availed them, no word seemed to help.

275

Finally and at last, one of the fighters

 

became bold enough, so that he bravely dared

 

into that pavilion, as need pushed him forth.

 

Then he found lying pale on the fair pillows

 

his gold-giver, the grim remains of a man

280

deprived of his life. Then at once, he fell down,

 

mournfully to the ground; he grabbed at his hair

 

and at his tunic, also, troubled at heart,

 

and these words he spoke to the many warriors

 

who were sitting outside the sad soldier’s tent.

285

"Here is demonstrated our own destruction,

 

an approaching token that the time is near,

 

with grief gained, when we should become greatly lost,

 

together at strife, perish. Here, hewed with sword,

 

lies our dead sovereign." Then they, sorrowful,

290

quickly departed in flight, with darkened hearts

 

cast down their swords. Then the mighty company

 

followed in pursuit, until the greatest part

 

of that host lay hewed down by the Hebrew folk

 

on that field of woes, felled by sharpest weapons

295

as a delight for wolves, and as a dinner

 

for bloodthirsty ravens. Then the remnant fled;

 

the troop, carrying shields, traveled in pursuit,

 

the Hebrew warriors, most worthy of honor,

 

praised with new found fame. The Almighty Father,

300

the Highest Judge, justly assisted them there.

 

Then, with decorated swords, daring soldiers,

 

stouthearted heroes carved out a straight pathway

 

through that hostile enemy, hewed their bucklers,

 

sheared their shield-wall. Brave archers and strong warriors

305

became enraged by fighting; the Hebrew folk,

 

mighty retainers, were most ready to meet

 

desperate spear-play. There fell into the dust

 

the best part of the biggest number of men

 

of the Assyrians, that hostile army.

310

Few from that host came home alive to their kin.

 

The nobility turned from the native troops,

 

warriors retreating into the wide wasteland

 

among the carnage, the reeking of corpses.

 

Hebrews, unrestricted, from that hostile host,

315

from lifeless bodies, took much bloody plunder,

 

bright armor, shining shields, broadswords and chain-mail,

 

burnished helmets and hoards of precious treasures.

 

They had gloriously gained a great victory,

 

overcame their foe on that broad battlefield;

320

the home guard slew their old enemies with swords.

 

They trounced upon them and killed them in their tracks,

 

that host who when alive, was the most hostile

 

kind of living thing. Then all of the Lord’s folk,

 

this special people, for the space of one month,

325

proud men with curly locks, carried and bore back

 

to the brightest city of Bethulia

 

steel helmets, heavy chain-mail and sharp short swords,

 

the grim war-shirts of men, gold-decorated,

 

and treasures of more intricate workmanship

330

than any of those men who saw it might say;

 

all of that those fighters had gained by their force,

 

brave under fair banners on the battlefield

 

through Judith’s keen advice, that courageous maid.

 

Those men, brave in battle, brought her a reward

335

from her adventure with cruel Holofernes,

 

his sword and his helmet, soaked with his own blood,

 

likewise his ample mail-coat, adorned with gold,

 

and all that the wicked chief of warriors owned

 

of princely goods or private inheritance,

340

necklaces and jewelry, they gave Judith,

 

ready-witted. The radiant lady said

 

the glory was God’s; the Lord gave her honor,

 

and renown as reward in this earthly realm,

 

and glory above; she believed this of God,

345

of the Dearest Lord. Truly, she had no doubt

 

of the gift for which she yearned. This was glory,

 

by the Almighty, who made the wind and air,

 

the heavens and world, likewise also wide streams

 

and the joys of heaven, through his own justice.

Top of Page

Winlandes Scir Home-page