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E06670: The Greek Martyrdom of *Viktor and Stephanis/Corona (martyrs of Damascus, S01630) recounts the torture and execution of the soldier Viktor and the young Christian woman Stephanis. Probably written c. 400-650 somewhere in the East, possibly in Damascus.

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posted on 02.10.2018, 00:00 by Nikolaos
Martyrdom of Viktor and Stephanis (BHG 1864)

Summary:

§ 1: Under the pagan emperor Antoninos and the dux Sebastianos, there is a persecution of Christians. Sebastianos tells Viktor, a pious Christian soldier from Italy, that the emperor has sent letters commanding all Christians to sacrifice or suffer torture. Viktor replies that he is a soldier of Christ and obeys the immortal God rather than the mortal emperor. Sebastianos reminds him of his duty to the emperor, but Viktor explains that even when he served under the emperor he worshipped Christ in secret.

§ 2: Sebastianos tries to persuade Viktor with flattery and exhortations to wisdom, but Viktor remains adamant and willing to suffer for Christ. Sebastianos asks whether Viktor is a Christian priest since he displays such wisdom, but Viktor explains he is unworthy of such honour and that it is the grace of Christ which provides the righteous with wisdom.

§ 3: Sebastianos asks if Viktor prefers death over life, and Viktor explains that it is this kind of death which grants life eternal. After confirming the martyr's persistence, the dux orders the joints of his fingers to be broken so that the bones protrude from below the skin, but the saint merely gives thanks to God. When he refuses again to partake of the sacrificial offerings, the dux has him cast in a burning furnace and kept there for three days. When the pagans come to remove his bones, they find Viktor alive and well. The dux then has a sorcerer give him lethal poisons mixed with meat; Viktor explains it was not permissible for him to eat of the meat, but now in order to disprove the magic, he will consume meat; and upon eating, he suffers no ill. Humiliated, the sorcerer gives him even more potent poisons, promising to convert to Christianity if they fail to harm the saint. When Viktor remains unharmed, the sorcerer proclaims his victory and, burning his spell-books and renouncing all his belongings, becomes a Christian.

§ 4: The dux tries once more to persuade Viktor to renounce Christianity, calling it folly, and Viktor explains God chose the foolish things in the world to humble the wise. Answering the questions of the dux, he tells him about St Paul the Apostle and his accomplishments and teaching. When Sebastianos refuses to acknowledge the wisdom of the saint's words, Viktor denounces the dux as being foolish and a servant of the Devil.

§ 5: Angered, the dux orders all of Viktor's tendons to be severed, but Viktor tells him that due to the grace of Christ he can feel no pain. Sebastianos is enraged even further and commands heated oil to be poured on the martyr's 'hidden parts'. Viktor confesses the boiling oil is to him as water to a man who has passed through intense heat and slakes with it his thirst. The dux, completely incensed, has him strung up on a wooden frame (?) and burned with lamps, but Viktor remains impassive. Finally, Sebastianos again urges him to sacrifice, but the martyr refuses again.

§ 6: Sebastianos has lime [κονία; the word can mean simply 'dust', but the obvious utility of a corrosive substance for purposes of torture, as well as it being interpreted as such in Bede's version (calcis), make the meaning 'lime' more likely] mixed with vinegar injected into the martyr's respiratory system, but Viktor says they are as honey and wax to him due to Christ. Unable to bear the saint's recalcitrance, the dux orders his eyes to be put out, but Viktor tells him he will simply see that much clearer with his inner sight. Sebastianos threatens him with more torture and Viktor expresses his conviction that God will help him bear everything the persecutor can throw at him.

§ 7: The dux now has the saint hung upside down, a position in which he is left for three days. When the soldiers return, believing they will find the saint dead, they discover he is alive and well, and are moreover they are immediately struck blind. Viktor has pity on them and prays for them to recover their sight in the name of Christ. The soldiers report this back to the dux, who is enraged at the news and orders the saint to be flayed alive. Then the wife of one of the local soldiers, Stephanis, sixteen years of age, calls Viktor beatified, and in a lengthy speech compares him, in terms of virtue and feats, to various Old Testament figures spanning the length of the OT (from Abel to Daniel). She professes to have witnessed two crowns descending from the heavens, a larger brought to Viktor by twelve angels and a smaller one being sent to herself. She confesses to struggling herself to achieve entry to the kingdom of heaven.

§ 8: Upon hearing this, the dux is greatly angered and summons the woman. Interrogated, Stephanis confesses to being Christian, fifteen years and eight months of age, married for a year and four months. She confesses her preference for Christ, the heavenly groom, over the earthly one, and refuses Sebastianos' command to sacrifice to the heathen gods. Her name is Stephanis because a crown [Gr. στέφανος] awaits her in the heavens.

§ 9: The dux Sebastianos has Stephanis tied to two palm trees, bent downwards so that their tops could be tied together and then released suddenly, tearing the saint in two. Thus she fulfils her martyrdom and receives her crown. The dux then orders Viktor to be beheaded. Upon learning of the verdict, the saint praises God for the victory granted to him. Before the execution, Viktor reveals to the torturers that the orators/lawyers [Gr. ῥήτορες; it is unclear to whom this refers] will die after seven days have passed, and the torturers themselves after twelve days, and after twenty-four days the dux will be captured by foes; and after three years, his folk [Gr. ἡμέτεροι, lit. my/our people, perhaps simply meaning 'Christians'] will arrive to collect his body. He asks not to be placed in a coffin not his own, for he has one, prepared for him for some time already. He also asks that the translation of his relic not be obstructed, so that it may be taken to his homeland/his own place (εἰς τὰ ἴδια) in peace. After saying these things, Viktor is struck by the sword, and blood and milk gush forth, to the amazement of the onlookers. Many pagans, having witnessed his patience and faith, convert to Christianity. All of Viktor's prophecies are fulfilled in time, and as a result many come to believe in Christ. Saint Viktor was martyred together with saint Stephanis on 11 November in the city of Damascus in Italy, in the reign of emperor Antoninos, under Sebastianos the dux, to the glory of Christ.

Text: Patrologia Graeca 115, 257-268.
Summary: N. Kälviäinen.

History

Evidence ID

E06670

Saint Name

Victor and Stephania/Corona, martyrs of Damaskos or Antioch : S01630

Saint Name in Source

Βίκτωρ, Στεφανίς

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

400

Evidence not after

700

Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Damascus

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Damascus Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future) Saint aiding or preventing the translation of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Pagans Soldiers Officials Torturers/Executioners Angels

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body

Source

The Martyrdom of Viktor and Stephanis is preserved in two recensions, BHG 1864 (which is summarised here) and BHG 1865, which has so far not been edited as far as we are aware. BHG 1864 is contained in two 11th-century manuscripts, whereas BHG 1865 is known from two earlier manuscripts, of the 8th to 10th centuries. However, the linguistic and literary form of BHG 1864 is typical of late antique martyrdom accounts, and, according to Halkin, BHG 1865 does not differ from BHG 1864 as to its ending; therefore, despite being preserved in later manuscripts than BHG 1865, the text examined here, BHG 1864, is also clearly much older than the middle Byzantine manuscripts it is found in, and thus worth summarising here. For the manuscript tradition, see: http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/18176/ (BHG 1864) http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr/notices/oeuvre/18177/ (BHG 1865) For the edition, see Bibliography.

Discussion

Although it is difficult to say to what extent the details and language of the present text of the Martyrdom may have been altered in the course of its transmission, the inclusion of the legend in Bede's Martyrology, containing all the essential elements known from the Greek version examined here, provides a certain terminus ante quem of c. 700 for its composition. Bede's version also locates the events in Syria instead of Italy (which must be correct, since the name of the city, Damascus, clearly refers to the former), and in it Victor is said to hail from Cilicia and Sebastianus to be the dux of Alexandria (which does not necessarily explain his supposed presence in Syria, but cf. E06781). It is difficult to extract much information from the Martyrdom, or say with certainty where it was written. Victor's prophetic speech preceding his execution suggests there may, by the time of the composition of the text, have been in existence a cult site containing relics (especially since it is emphasised in the text that his prophecies have since come true). The phrase εἰς τὰ ἴδια seems somewhat puzzling; should we understand that the relics of Victor, who is not a native of Damascus (see above), were to be found elsewhere? If so, the word ἡμέτεροι 'my/our people' could be understood as referring to his countrymen. Nevertheless, the emphasis on Damascus as the site of the martyrdom, and the lack of an explicit mention of any other city, suggest, in all probability and in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, Damascus as both the location of the cult site and the place of composition of our text.

Bibliography

Text: Migne, J.P., Patrologia Graeca 115 (Paris, 1899), 257-268. (BHG 1864)

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