All October, in the lead-up to Halloween, I will be presenting a ‘Creepy History’ series. At the end of the 7th Century, an abbot of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona, named Adomnán, wrote Life of Columba, which contains the first ever mention of the Loch Ness Monster, albeit in the River Ness rather than the Loch. Early copies of his manuscripts survive in the British Library, beautifully written in Latin. As always, Latin tends to be translated in a terribly stilted manner, with priority given to providing an exact and accurate translation of every individual word, rather than providing something that is readable in modern English. So, as with my previous Latin topic (Snippets 16), I offer my own version of the translation – the sort of translation that lost me lots of marks in my Latin exams, but hopefully has resulted in something that you can read without nodding off.
When the saint was staying for some days in the province of the Picts he found it necessary to cross the river Ness. When he came to the bank of the river, he saw some of the locals burying a poor unfortunate little fellow. Those who were burying him said that a water monster had snatched at him as he was swimming, and bitten with a most savage bite. Some men who came in a boat to help, though too late, caught hold of his corpse by putting out hooks. The saint however, on hearing this, asked one of his companions to swim out and bring to him the boat that was on the other bank, sailing it across.
On hearing this direction of the holy and famous man, Lugne Mocumin, obeying without delay, stripped off all his clothes except his under-crackers, and cast himself into the water.
The monster, which was not satiated but was eager for prey, was lying hidden at the bottom of the river; but noticing that the water above was disturbed by the man who was crossing, suddenly emerged, and, swimming to the man as he was crossing in the middle of the stream, rushed up with a great roar and open mouth.
Then the saint looked on, while all who were there, heathen and brethren, were stricken with great terror; and, with his holy hand raised on high, he formed the saving sign of the cross in the empty air, invoked the Name of God, and commanded the fierce monster, saying, “Do not think about going any further, and do not touch that man. Quick! Go back!”
Then the beast, hearing the voice of the saint, was terrified and fled backwards more rapidly than he came, as if dragged by ropes, although it had already come so near to Lugne as he swam, that there was not more than the length of one punt-pole between the man and the beast. Then the brethren, seeing that the beast had gone, and that their comrade Lugne was returned to them safe and sound in the boat, glorified God in the blessed man, greatly marvelling.