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of these opinions is true.” The king of Death replied, “On this subject the gods themselves are in doubt; it is a subtile matter which escapes the powers of the intelligence.” Tadjkita said, “0 King ! this is my great desire, and I have no other desire stronger than this." The king of Death replied, - “ Ask me to grant you a great number of children, and that they may live a long time, each one living to the age of a hundred years ; ask me to give you the world and all its riches; ask me to grant you a long life, or any thing else you like ; only do not ask me to answer that one question, What happens after death? For none of those who are dead ever return to the world to tell this to the living.” Tadjkita rejoined, -“ You say, Ask me to grant you a long life. But if in the end I must die, what shall I gain by living many
? Keep therefore for yourself the world and its riches, and a long life. I have but one wish ; that is, that you should instruct me. I ask this because I live in the world, and because I fear death and old age. I ask you to teach me something which shall prevent my fearing either old age or death.” The king, touched by the earnestness of his request, informs him of the state of the soul after death, and sends him back to the world with the certainty of a future existence. *
Similar scenes are to be found in some of the songs of the Edda. In the Vafthrudnis-mal, the giant Vafthrudnir informs Odin of what he has seen in the Valhalla, and in the darker regions of death.f. In the Vegtams-quida, Odin mounts his horse, Sleipner, and descends into the infernal regions, there to consult the spirit of a prophetess respecting the fate of Balder, the youngest and the fairest of the human race. Thus we find analogous ideas on the subject of a future state in the literature of all nations, even of those the most remotely connected. This is not surprising, when we reflect that the earliest application which was made of poetry was to religious subjects. Quintilian tells us, that poetry was destined to preserve sacred doctrines, to express the decrees of the oracles, and to animate devotion. Thus the common origin
* Oupnek 'hat. Vol. II. 37.
+ For an analysis of this part of the Vafthrudnis-mal, see Wheaton's His. tory of the Northmen, p. 68.
See a translation in verse of this Saga, in Spenser's Miscellaneous Poe. try, Vol. I., p. 50.
of all poetry explains the singular resemblances we find between the Hindoo and Scandinavian literatures, resemblances which would otherwise be inexplicable.
We have seen how far the ancients succeeded in penetrating the mysteries of our spiritual nature and future destiny. We have witnessed the isolated attempts of poets and philosophers, and the combined efforts of whole nations, to explain what is to be the state of the soul after death. How vague and unsatisfactory are the results of these undertakings ! But life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel, and what had been the subject of the doubtful meditations of men of science since the beginning of the world was made evident to the followers of the new religion. Still, as a society of men cannot exist without some kind of poetry to gratify their imaginations, the New Testament soon became the source of poetic inspiration. All the narratives, which in the sacred books had been designedly left unfinished, were soon completed, according to the taste of the early ages of our era. We need mention but one example of this, that of the legends relative to the Virgin Mary. The mother of the Saviour is mentioned but once in the New Testament after the death of her son, because at the foot of his cross all the interest she inspired vanishes ; her sacred character disappears, she is no
; longer superior to any other woman. The legendary spirit, however, which at so early a period sprung out of the new faith, did not respect the silence of Scripture on this subject. A narrative of the life and death of the Virgin was invented; the popular belief penetrated into the church ; and even at the present day, all Roman Catholics celebrate the 15th of August as the day of the ascension of the Virgin. The multitude had free access to the sanctuary ; consequently the sanctuary was not always respected. The mysteries of another life had been laid open to all men ; they no longer feared to gaze upon those secret regions where retribution awaits those who have left this life. Our Saviour and his apostles had never attempted to give any description of heaven or of hell; the poetic and zealous spirit of the new Christians did not hesitate to supply this omission. Hence the vast number of legends and visions which pervade the literature of the Middle Ages, and which were not destined to receive a definitive and permanent form until Dante combined them in his immortal work, and gave to them the sanction of genius. We
shall endeavour to show how much influence they exercised on Dante's invention, to give a general idea of the nature of these legends, and to analyze as rapidly as possible some of those which may prove the most illustrative of our subject.
Among the legends of the Middle Ages, it is necessary to distinguish those which belonged in common to all nations from ihose which seem to have been the property of some particular race. In the collection of poetic traditions entitled Legenda Aurea, published during the thirteenth century, by Giacopo de Varaggio, we find many legends that were popular throughout all Europe. Such are the narratives of the visions of St. Carpus and St. Christina, which were in circulation during the first centuries of our era. We are struck by the mildness of spirit which pervades these early legends. But if it is remembered, that, when these legends were composed, Origen was teaching that all the sufferings of hell are but expiatory, and inculcating the doctrine of the final redemption of mankind, we shall not be surprised at this.
The most striking of the legends given by Giacopo de Varaggio is that referring to the descent of Christ into hell. This legend was taken from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. The narrative commences on the day of the resurrection of the Lord. While the Jewish priests are in deliberation, two men, Lucius and Carinus, risen from the dead, are introduced into the synagogue. They relate, that, as they were in darkness with the patriarchs, a brilliant light suddenly appeared, and the father of all men, Adam, was filled with joy, and exclaimed, - " This is the light of the Author of all things, who promised to send us his light.' And Isaiah said, -- " This light is that of the Son of God, of which I prophesied that the people which was walking in darkness should see the splendor.” And Satan, the Prince of death, said to Hell, – “Be prepared to receive Jesus, who prided himself on being the Son of God, and who is but a man who fears to die ; for he said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.' I have tempted him, I have excited the people against him, and prepared his cross ; the moment is at hand when I shall bring him prisoner to this place.” And Hell answered and said, -r Is it the same Jesus who ordered Lazarus to rise from the dead ?”
" It is he," replied Satan. “Then,” cried Hell, “I beseech thee, by iny power and thy own, not to bring him here ; for when I
that of Wettin, monk of the monastery of Reichenau.* Two days before his death, Wettin was transported in spirit, and conducted by his guardian angel through the three abodes of immortal life. He there saw the condemned given up to the most dreadful punishments, rolled in torrents of fire, buried in coffins of lead, and surrounded by clouds of smoke. Among those who were condemned to suffer he recognized many priests and monks. He ascended the mountain of purgatory, where bishops who had been remiss in the discharge of their duties, and rapacious noblemen and princes, were condemned to expiate their sins. Among the latter, he saw Charlemagne punished for incontinence. At last, he entered heaven, and, having passed through the midst of the holy martyrs and virgins, he arrived at the throne of God, who promised him eternal life on condition that he should return to the world to relate what he had seen. In the vision of St. Anscharius, we find, in the description of paradise, much of the spirituality which pervades the narrative of Dante. "He saw neither sun nor moon, nor the heavens nor earth, for every thing there was incorporeal." In the visions mentioned by St. Boniface, § the founder of the church in Germany, one is struck by the gentleness of spirit which seems to have dictated them; still, the principal aim of the legends of Germany, as already said, was to strike terror into the heart of the believer.
The same gloomy and severe character is stamped upon many of the French legends. The French, who had derived many of their manners and customs from their neighbours the Germans, preserved them down to a very late period. We find a manifesto of the thirteenth century, in which the Sicilians complain of the barbarism of the French, because, instead of taking their instruction from Italy, they sought on the other side of the Rhine for their laws and customs. At the period of the decline of the Carlovingians, the French legends were particularly
* Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti, IV., pars 2, p. 268.
+ Compare these punishments with those described by Dante in his Inferno, Canto XI.
Vita S. Anscharii, auctore Remberto. "Sol vero nec luna necquaquam lucebant ibi, nec cœlum ac terra ibidem visa sunt, nam cuncta erant incorporea."
§ S. Bonifacii Epistole.
Vide Amari, Storia del Vespro Siciliano.
seven centuries had elapsed since they had left it.* This legend, says M. Labitte, shows something of the stories of the Golden Age, mingled with the splendors of the Arabian Nights, and the aspirations of an ascetic life.” These two fictions are among the most important of those in general circulation. We have now to consider those which differ from each other according to the peculiar genius, or the degree of civilization, of the people among whom they had their origin. Each of the great nations of Europe had its own cyclus of legends, as it had its own laws, and its peculiar manners and customs.
In Germany, religious visions are found in greater number than in any other region ; and they bear a character of severity and terror which seldom belongs, at least in the same degree, to the legendary poetry of other nations. It was natural that it should be so in the land where the Catholic faith had encountered the greatest difficulty in taking root. was deemed necessary to use terror as a means of conviction with a barbarous people, who lived in an open state of polygamy as late as the eleventh century, and whose emperors made the most corrupt use of ecclesiastical patronage.
The monk Oihlo mentions no less than seven visions of the punishments reserved for the wicked. He also relates the curious adventure of a knight named Vollark. As he was going to a nuptial festivity with some of his friends, he lost his way in a forest. Presently a knight dressed in black accosted him, and offered him shelter for the night. Vollark accepted the invitation, and entered the castle of his bost. The tables were covered with gold, silver, and precious stones, and around them were seated the most hideous figures. This sight filled Vollark with astonishment and fear. " All these riches,” said his host, “are those taken by men from their churches; they work for me.” The poor knight then remembered that his host had called himself Nithard, that is to say, the Evil One ; but as Vollark lived in the fear of God, Nithard had no power over him, and he was enabled to return to his companions.
One of the most remarkable among the German visions is
* Manuscript in the Royal Library of Paris, fifteenth century, No. 7762.
+ Othlonis monachi Ratisbonensis Liber Visionum tum suarum tum aliarum.