« ZurückWeiter »
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.” I In the visions mentioned by St. Boniface, Ŝ 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 cælum ac terra ibidem visa sunt, nam cuncta erant incorporea.” § S. Bonifacii Epistole.
Vide Amari, Storia del Vespro Siciliano. VOL. LXIV. - No. 134.
fearful. The descent into hell of a woman named Frothilda is recorded. She there foresaw the exile of Louis d'Outremer, and the consequent disturbances which were to spread grief and sorrow throughout the kingdom. Berthold visits the abode of the damned, and there sees Charles the Bald, an archbishop, and several priests, punished for their crimes.t Andrade is present at the council of God, and hears him ask the angels what is the cause of all the wickedness which exists on earth ; he is told that it is the fault of the bad kings who reign in the world. " But who are these kings ? for 1 know them not.” The emperor Louis and his son Lotharius then appear, and God tells them that they must obey the church, if they wish to preserve their crowns. I One of the most celebrated French legends is that of the vision of Charles the Bald. One night, he saw before him a figure dressed in white, which placed in his hand the end of a thread that seemed to be all of fire, and ordered him to follow it. He thus enters the infernal labyrinth, where he witnesses the punishment of bishops who had misused the authority given to them by their clerical character ; passing through the midst of molten lead, he hears dreadful lamentations, and distinguishes these words :-"The punishment of the great is great." In purgatory, he sees his father, Louis, plunged in a caldron of boiling water. At last, the heavens open, and his grandfather Lothaire appears, and predicts to him the fall of his race and his own abdication. In these legends we are particularly struck by the courage with which the vices and crimes of the great were attacked by their contemporaries ; they formed the morality of history. But this opposition to the encroachments or abuse of power not only existed in the legends of France ; it passed into the church, and mass was said against tyrants, missa contra tyrannos.
In England and Ireland, we find two very celebrated legends, the Purgatory of St. Patrick, and the Vision of St. Tundale. The first mentioned was one of the most popular legends of the Middle Ages. It was well known in France, and was translated both into Italian and Spanish. An
Ampère, Histoire Littéraire de France, Tom. III., p. 283. | Ibid., Tom. III., # Ibid., Tom. III., p. 119. § Ibid., Tom. III, p. 120. If Calderon adapted this legend to the stage, and as late as 1764 we find
English knight is the hero of this legend. He undertakes to visit purgatory, and for this purpose enters a cavern in an island of lake Dungal, which had formerly been opened to St. Patrick Hence the legend is called the Purgatory of St. Patrick. The terrible threats of the demons who strive to prevent him from entering do not intimidate him ; he continues to advance, and sees the condemned suffering the most horrible punishments. Some of them are crucified, or devoured by serpents; others, quite naked, are exposed to the cold winds of winter. Among those thus tortured he recognizes many of his friends and companions. At last, he comes to a narrow bridge thrown over the abyss; as he approaches, it grows wider, and he is enabled to pass. He then enters the garden of Eden, peopled by those who are not sufficiently pure to enter the kingdom of God, and lastly he sees the glory of the Lord in all its effulgence. Then he returns to the world, where he lives a better life than he had previously done.
The vision of St. Tundale, and that of the Northumbrian, Drithelm, are very similar to that of St. Patrick, and we shall therefore not attempt to analyze them.* The legend of St. Brendan deserves, however, to be noticed. It is one of the most curious of all the legends of the Middle Ages. St. Brendan had left the island of Erin in search of the land promised to those who should lead a holy life. After having seen the island called the Paradise of Birds, the abode of those half-fallen angels who neither took part with Satan nor resisted his audacious undertaking, — he discovers hell, whose volcanic summit rises above the ocean. He here sees Judas, who betrayed the Lord, and to whom in his infinite mercy Christ has granted one day of respite from his sufferings. At last, he discovers the terrestrial paradise that he was looking for, and then returns to his country. Dante was unquestionably acquainted with this legend, for among all the poetic effusions of the Middle Ages not one was better known. It was popular as late as the sixteenth century, for at the time of Luther many rich men
the ballad of La Cuera de San Patricio published at Madrid. There is on this subject a learned essay in English by Mr. Wright.
* See the Vision of St. Tundale, published by Mr. Turnbull, Edinburgh, 1843; and that of Drithelm, in Bede, Hist. Eccles., Lib. V., c. 13.
ruined by the immense sums of money they expended in order to discover the unknown country of St. Brendan. This apocryphal land also figures in a diplomatic negotiation between Spain and Portugal ; and in 1721, we find a ship sailing from Spain in the direction of the Canary Islands, in search of this fabulous island. *
There are but few religious legends to be found in the annals of Spain. The romantic and chivalric ballads so popular in that country excluded all other poetry. The Cid had too much to do on earth to be able to visit the mysteries of another world ; and it is worthy of remark, that, instead of transporting him to heaven, as other poets have done with their heroes, Sepulveda, in one of his ballads, represents St. Peter visiting him thirty days before his death, in order to prepare him for his end.
In the cursory view we have taken of the different legends of European nations on the subject of another world, we have now reached the country of Dante, and, as might be supposed, we find traditions which must have exercised a still greater influence on his poem. He was acquainted with the poetic legends of other nations from the books which he read, or from the narratives of travellers who had visited the different countries of Europe. He found those of his native land at every step. During the Middle Ages, Italy may be said to have been itself a legend. If he opened a book which was in every one's hand, the Fioretti di San Francesco, he must have seen some of those touching stories which were related of the holy man ; he must have become acquainted with that charming legend of three thieves who came one day to the monastery of Monte Casale. The porter had refused
the gate to them ; St. Francis ordered him to go and look after them, and when he should have found them to ask their pardon, and to offer them bread and wine, at the same time recommending them to reform and to lead in future a more holy life. The porter obeyed, and the thieves were so much touched, that they began to reflect on the sinful life they had hitherto led, and went immediately to ask pardon of St. Francis. He received them, and shortly after they took orders. Two of them soon died, and their souls went to heaven; the third survived, and, after doing penance for fifteen years, he one night had a vision. He fancied that he was transported to the top of a high mountain, to the brink of a precipice which filled his soul with terror. The angel who led the way threw him into the abyss, and, following him, ordered him to rise and to come with him. They traversed a long valley, filled with sharp-pointed stones, at the end of which a troop of horrible demons seized upon him, and threw him into a blazing furnace. When he had got out of the furnace, he came to a narrow and slippery bridge, under which was rolling a torrent full of scorpions and serpents. In the middle of the bridge, the angel rose in the air and alighted on a mountain. The good thief, on finding himself thus alone, was filled with terror, and, not knowing what to do, he recommended himself to God; he presently began to feel wings growing on his shoulders, and, without waiting for them to have attained their full growth, he sought to fly. Twice he fell, but at the third attempt he succeeded in rejoining his companion. At this moment, St. Francis, who had died a short time previous, appeared to him, and introduced him into a magnificent palace situated on the mountain, where, having shown him all the treasures it contained, he ordered him to return for seven days to earth. The good thief then awoke ; seven days after this vision, he died. *
* M. Labitte supposes that this legend may have indirectly inspired Columbus, and that in the unknown land of St. Brendan, whilst Dante
ght for his invisible world, Columbus looked for the New World.
When Dante visited the convent of Benedictine monks at Florence, he must have found in their library the celebrated vision of Alberic, who, having passed through purgatory, finds himself before the dread tribunal where the human race is finally judged. A sinner was awaiting his sentence ; his crimes were inscribed in a book by the angel of vengeance. But in the latter days of his life, the sinner had shed one tear of repentance ; it had been gathered up by the angel of mercy, who lets it fall on the book, and it effaces all trace of what was written there.
But it was not only in the legendary and poetic traditions of his country that Dante found those doubts and elevated
* Fioretti di San Francesco, cap. 25.
+ This legend was written by the monks of Monte Casale, and published for the first time by Mr. Cancellieri, at Rome, in 1818. It reminds one of the beautiful passage of Sterne, where the recording angel washes out the oath of Uncle Toby with a tear.