Sunday, 20 September 2020

zwei kleiner jägermeister

Today marks the veneration of Saint Eustace (Eustachius) on the occasion of his martyrdom in 118 AD, whose life and legend were limned out and elaborated by medieval troubadours—beginning with a Roman General called Placidus separated in a wood from the rest of his hunting party while pursuing a stag. The deer at first gives chase but then charges back and leaves the hunter awestruck by a vision of the Cross in the antlers of the deer, followed by a booming commandment that Placidus and his family are to be baptised by the bishop of Rome. Placidus complies and takes the name of Eustace (from the Greek for “steadfast”). Soon afterwards, Eustace receives a second message that he and his family—much like Job—will be made to suffer a series of ordeals including loss of property and status.

Eustace contrives a plan to escape this fate and requests to resign his military commission to move out to the provinces—to which his superiors are amenable. Upon arriving at the first ferry crossing, however, they find that they don’t have sufficient fare and the boat’s pilot abducts Eustace’s wife Theopista and abandons Eustace and his four children. They are compelled to continue travelling on foot but have to cross the river at some point. Eustace successfully manages with the two unnamed children and attempts to do so with Agapius and Theopistus but fails and losses them to the swift current. Rather broken and alone, Eustace is employed tending a farmstead and protecting the fields for fifteen years when two envoys of the emperor find Eustace and summon him back to Rome to suppress an uprising, offering him back his former rank and position. The unrest is not started by those upstart Christians as one might suspect and might make for a better narrative but rather a run-of-the-mill skirmish at the frontier. Eustace is dispatched back to the ferry-point and puts down the rebellion and his reunited with his wife—sort of like Penelope and Odysseus, who recognises him after all these years, and with word spreading about the happy coincidence two soldiers come forward who were separated from their father while crossing the river but were rescued and raised respectively by a lion and a wolf and the parents realise it’s their children Agapius and Theopistus. Liking a good reunion story, the whole family is feted once they return to Rome by Emperor Hadrian (presumably the unnamed ones as well—let’s call them Barron and Tiffany) and after their lavish celebratory dinner and asked to make propitation to the pagan gods. Speaking for his whole entire family whom had yet to be consulted on their father’s plan for immortality, Eustace refused and Hadrian had them thrown to the lions, who declined to pounce. Frustrated, Hadian had Eustace and his family put in a brazen bull. They all expired this time but their bodies were uncorrupted by the heat and flames. With several miracles and interventions attributed to him, Eustace is considered the patron saint of firefighters and along with his co-patron Hubertus who had a similar, transformative vision the protector of huntsmen.