LEGENDS – the mistiness; the hard facts

My grandmother Lenie, born in the 19th-century, told me that we had an ancestor who throttled a young attacking lion with his own hands.  Is there a pinch of Hercules here?  My grandmother Miemie, born in the 19th-century, related how, at Vegkop, where the Trekkers were put to the spear of impis, a black woman servant fled with a white baby.  That baby was our forebear.

Legends are the mist around their heroes who stride over struggling facts of history.  Such a figure is St Honorat.

If we look at the year of his birth, 350 years after Christ, we see the changing Gallic-Roman world of Belgium.  He and his brother converted to the new, strange belief of the Christians.  Twenty years before Constantine had converted and a mere century before that Christians had still been torn apart by lions for the entertainment of spectators.

After adventures and travels over Europe, Honorat and his followers landed on the islands near modern-day Cannes, Iles de Lerins.  Here he established one of the first cloister-monasteries in Europe, which had great influence.  I was privileged to stay at this cloister for three days, a place of rich history and legends.  I came across one of these legends in the Dictionnaire d’Antibes:

 “The devil had gone, but serpents were still there.  Honorat fell down, begging God to destroy them.  Immediately they were dead, to the last.  But they were so numerous that the remains began to stink, but the holy one did not choke.

“He ascended a palm tree and prayed passionately.  Then the sea whelmed, flooding the surface of the island and washing away the repulsive carcasses of the serpents.”

Legends persist.  For us moderns there is something – the throttling of the lion; Vegkop; the serpents.  Do we always take the serpents literally? Were the people of the dark ages, finding the words for the history of a well-loved figure, not attempting to picture an inner struggle that Honorat was having?  Certainly Greek myths are a rich field for psychologists.

And what value there is for all South Africans in our family legend from Vegkop.

© Will van der Walt


Les Semboules, Antibes

June, 2017



Dictionnaire D’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins. Pierre Tosan (ed.)  HEPT – Antibes. 1998

Miemie van der Walt (1881 – 1973)

Lenie Rousseau (1883 – 1963)


My drawings






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