Canto XXVII. After listening enraptured to the melody of the heavenly choir chanting "Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," Dante gazes upon the four worthies near him, who glow and shine like torches, while "silence reigns in heaven." Then St. Peter, changing color, holds forth against covetousness, and expounds the doctrine of apostolic succession. Because the early popes died as martyrs, he considers it a disgrace that their successors should be guilty of misgovernment. He adds that the keys bestowed upon him should never figure on banners used in waging unrighteous wars, and that his effigy on the papal seal should never appear on worldly documents.
Then Beatrice affords Dante a glimpse of the earth from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosphorus, and, when this vision ends, wafts him up into the ninth heaven, the Primum Mobile, or spot whence all motion starts, although itself remains immovable.
Here is the goal, whence motion on his race Starts: motionless the centre, and the rest All moved around.
Canto XXVIII. From this point Dante watches the universe spin around him, until "she who doth emparadise my soul" draws aside the veil of mortality, and allows him to perceive nine concentric spheres of multitudinous angels constantly revolving around a dazzling point while singing "Hosanna!" These are the heavenly host, the hierarchy of angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Princedoms, Archangels, and Angels, in charge of the various circles which compose Dante's Paradise.
Canto XXIX. Able to read Dante's thoughts, Beatrice explains some of the things he would fain know, and disperses his doubts, cautioning him, if he would be blessed, to rid himself of every atom of pride, since that caused even angels to fall!
Canto XXX. Once more Dante's eyes are fixed upon Beatrice, whose beauty far transcends his powers of description, and is by her conveyed into the next circle, the Empyrean, or heaven of pure light, into which he is told to plunge as into a river. Eagerly quaffing its ethereal waters to satisfy his ardent thirst for knowledge, Dante beholds the court of Heaven, and descries its myriads of thrones, all occupied by redeemed spirits. These thrones are grouped around a brilliant centre (God) so as to form a dazzling jewelled rose.
Canto XXXI. Robed in snowy white, the redeemed—who form the petals of the Eternal Rose—are visited from time to time by ruby sparks, which are the angels hovering above them, who plunge like bees into the heart of this flower, their glowing faces, golden wings, and white robes adding charms to the scene. After gazing for some time at this sight in speechless wonder, Dante, turning to question Beatrice, discovers she is no longer beside him! At the same time a being robed in glory near him bids him look up at the third row of thrones from the centre, and there behold her in her appointed seat. Eagerly glancing in the direction indicated, Dante perceives Beatrice, who, when he invokes her, smiles radiantly down upon him, ere she again turns her face to the eternal fountain of light.
"So I my suit preferr'd: And she, so distant, as appear'd, look'd down, And smiled; then towards the eternal fountain turn'd."
Meanwhile the spirit informs Dante he has been sent by Beatrice to help him end his journey safely, for he is St. Bernard, who so longed to behold the Virgin's countenance that that boon was vouchsafed him. Knowing Dante would fain see her too, he bids him find, among the most brilliant lights in the Mystic Rose, the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.
Canto XXXII. Because the dazzled Dante cannot immediately locate her, St. Bernard points her out, with Eve, Rachel, Beatrice, Sarah, Judith, Rebecca, and Ruth sitting at her feet, and John the Baptist, St. Augustine, St. Francis, and St. Benedict standing close behind her. He also explains that those who believed in "Christ who was to come" are in one part of the rose, while those who "looked to Christ already come" are in another, but that all here are spirits duly assoiled, and adds that, although occupying different ranks, these spirits are perfectly satisfied with the places awarded to them. Told now to look up at the face most closely resembling Christ's Dante discovers it is that of St. Gabriel, angel of the annunciation, and he descries further on St. Peter, Moses, and St. Anna, as well as Santa Lucia who induced Beatrice to send for him.
Canto XXXIII. This done, St. Bernard fervently prays the Virgin, who not only "gives succor to him who asketh it, but oftentimes forerunneth of its own accord the asking," to allow Dante one glimpse of Divine Majesty. Seeing this prayer is graciously received, St. Bernard bids Dante look up. Thanks to his recently purified vision, our poet has a glimpse of the Triune Divinity,—compounded of love,—which so transcends all human expression that he declares "what he saw was not for words to speak."
He concludes his grand poem, however, by assuring us that, although dazed by what he had seen, his
"will roll'd onward, like a wheel In even motion, by the love impell'd, That moves the sun in heaven and all the stars."
[Footnote 16: All the quotations in Divine Comedy are taken from Cary's translation.]
[Footnote 17: See the author's "Story of the Greeks."]
[Footnote 18: See the author's "Story of the Chosen People," and "Story of the Romans."]
[Footnote 19: See the author's "Legends of the Virgin and Christ."]
Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, hero of the Song of Roland and of an endless succession of metrical romances, was as popular a character in Italian literature as in the French. The Italians felt a proprietary interest in Charlemagne because he had been crowned emperor of the West in Rome in the year 800, and also because he had taken the part of the pope against the Lombards. Even the names of his twelve great peers were household words in Italy, so tales about Roland—who is known there as Orlando—were sure to find ready hearers.
The adventures of Roland, therefore, naturally became the theme of Italian epics, some of which are of considerable length and of great importance, owing principally to their exquisite versification and diction. Pulci and Boiardo both undertook to depict Roland as a prey to the tender passion in epics entitled Orlando Innamorato, while Ariosto, the most accomplished and musical poet of the three, spent more than ten years of his life composing Orlando Furioso (1516), wherein he depicts this famous hero driven insane by his passion for an Oriental princess.
Assuming that his auditors are familiar with the characters of Boiardo's unfinished epic, Ariosto, picking up the thread of the narrative at the point where his predecessor dropped it, continues the story in the same vein. It therefore becomes imperative to know the main trend of Boiardo's epic.
It opens with a lengthy description of a tournament at the court of Charlemagne, whither knights from all parts of the globe hasten to distinguish themselves in the lists. Chief among these foreign guests are Argalio and Angelica, son and daughter of the king of Cathay, with their escort of four huge giants. The prince is, moreover, fortunate possessor of a magic lance, one touch of which suffices to unhorse any opponent, while the princess, by means of an enchanted ring, can detect and frustrate any spell, or become invisible by putting it in her mouth. On arriving at Charlemagne's court, Argalio stipulates that all the knights he defeats shall belong to his sister, whom in return he offers as prize to any knight able to unhorse him.
Such is the transcendent beauty of Angelica that Argalio is instantly challenged by Astolfo, who is defeated, and then by Ferrau, who, although defeated in the first onset, proves victor in the second, simply because he accidentally seizes the magic lance and directs it against its owner! Since the laws of the tournament award him the prize, Angelica, seeing she cannot otherwise escape, rides hastily away and conceals herself in the forest of Arden. She is, however, pursued thither by many knights who have been captivated by her beauty, among whom are Rinaldo (Renaud de Montauban) and Orlando, who were proposing to challenge her brother next. In the precincts of the forest where Angelica takes refuge are two magic fountains, one whose waters instantly transform love into hate, while the other induces any partaker to love the next person seen.
Prowling around this forest, Rinaldo unsuspectingly quaffs the water which turns love to hate, so he immediately ceases his quest and falls asleep. Meantime Angelica, drinking from the other fountain and coming upon the sleeper, falls madly in love with him and watches for his awakening. But, still under the influence of the magic waters he has imbibed, Rinaldo rides away without heeding her timid wooing, and leaves her to mourn until she too falls asleep.
Orlando, coming up by chance, is gazing in admiration upon this sleeping princess, when Ferrau rides up to claim her as his prize. These knights are fighting for her possession when the clash of their weapons awakens Angelica. Terrified she retreats into the thicket, and, thrusting her ring into her mouth, becomes invisible! Meantime the knights continue their duel until a messenger summons Ferrau to hasten to Spain, where war has broken out.
Angelica, unable to forget Rinaldo since she has partaken of the waters of love, now induces the magician Malgigi to entice her beloved to an island over which she reigns, where she vainly tries to win his affections and to detain him by her side. Still under the influence of the waters of hate, Rinaldo escapes, only to land in a gloomy country, where he is plunged into a loathsome den. There a monster is about to devour him, when Angelica comes to his rescue. But, even though she saves his life, he ungratefully refuses to return her affection, and abruptly leaves her to encounter other untoward adventures. Meantime Orlando, still searching for Angelica, encounters a sorceress who gives him a magic draught which causes him to forget the past, and detains him a captive in the island of Dragontine.
Meanwhile the many knights enamoured with Angelica have gone to besiege her father's capital, but while they are thus employed she escapes from the city—thanks to her magic ring—and goes to deliver Orlando. In return, he pledges himself to drive the besiegers away and save her father's capital, and on the way thither encounters Rinaldo, with whom, not knowing who he is, he fights two days, so equally are they matched in strength and skill. The moment comes, however, when Orlando is on the point of slaying Rinaldo, and refrains only because Angelica opportunely reveals his opponent's name.
Still urged by Angelica, Orlando next hastens off to destroy the magic island and free its captives, who hurry back to France while their rescuer journeys to Cathay. There Angelica pretends she has fallen in love with him, and accompanies him when he returns to France under pretext of becoming a Christian. Their way again lies through the forest of Arden, where this time Angelica drinks from the fountain of hatred. All her former love for Rinaldo therefore vanishes, and, as the latter has at the same time partaken of the water of love, their parts are reversed, for it is he who now pursues Angelica whom he previously loathed. His attentions so incense Orlando that he begins a fight, which Charlemagne checks, declaring that Angelica—who is placed in charge of Duke Namus—shall be awarded to the warrior who distinguishes himself most in the coming war.
In the course of this campaign these two knights meet with many adventures, and are accompanied by Bradamant—Rinaldo's sister—who manfully fights by their side. Among their opponents the most formidable are Rogero and the pagan Rodomont, whose boastful language has given rise to the term rodomontade. During one of their encounters, Rogero discovers that his antagonist is Bradamant—a woman—and falls desperately in love with her.
It is at this point that Boiardo's poem ends; and Ariosto, adopting his characters, immediately begins weaving three principal strands of narrative,—one relating to the wars of Charlemagne, another to Orlando's madness, and the third to the love of Rogero and Bradamant,—Rogero, an ancestor of the Ferrara family (Ariosto's patrons), being the real hero of his poem.
Not satisfied at being placed under the care of Duke Namus of Bavaria, Angelica escapes from his guardianship, only to be pursued by the unwelcome attentions of Rinaldo and Ferrau. While these two fight for her possession, the lady, who spends her time fleeing from unwelcome suitors, escapes, only to fall into the hands of Sacripant, King of Circassia, another admirer, who bears her off in triumph. They meet a knight in white armor (Bradamant in quest of Rogero), ere they are overtaken by Rinaldo. A new duel now ensues, this time between Rinaldo and Sacripant, during which Angelica runs away and seeks refuge with a hermit-magician, who then informs the combatants Angelica has been carried off to Paris by Orlando. Hearing this, the rivals cease fighting and join forces to rescue the lady, but, when they arrive in Paris, Charlemagne despatches Rinaldo to England and Scotland, where, among other marvellous adventures, is told the lengthy and fantastic yet beautiful story of Ginevra.
It seems that, although loved by the Duke of Albany, this lady prefers the knight Ariolant. She thereby so enrages her noble suitor that he finally bribes her maid to personate her and admit him by night to her chamber by means of a rope ladder. With fiendish cunning he has advised Ariolant to watch Ginevra, so this true lover, witnessing what he considers irrefutable proof of his lady-love's unchastity, departs in despair to commit suicide. His brother, deeming him already dead, denounces Ginevra, who, brought before the judges, is sentenced to die unless some champion will vindicate her honor. Having meantime discovered the truth, Rinaldo clears the lady by winning a brilliant victory, and leaves only after she is safely married to the man she loves, who after all has not taken his life.
The poet now picks up another thread and shows us Bradamant seeking Rogero, and discovering, by means of Angelica's magic ring, that he is captive of a magician. After a narrow escape, and a vision of the feats her descendants will perform, Bradamant helps Rogero to escape. Soon after, this reckless man vaults upon a hippogriff which lands him on an island, where an enchantress changes her visitors into beasts, stones, trees, etc. Instead of becoming one of her permanent victims, Rogero, warned by the myrtle to which he ties his steed, prevails upon her to release her captives, and after many adventures is borne by the same hippogriff to the island of Ebuda, where a maiden is daily sacrificed to a cannibal Orc. When Rogero discovers that the present victim is Angelica, he promptly delivers her and conveys her to Brittany.
Meantime Orlando, mad with love, is vainly seeking Angelica. He too visits Ebuda—but too late to meet her there—and delivers another maiden. Then he returns to France to find Charlemagne so sorely pressed by foes, that he has implored St. Michael to interfere in his behalf. This archangel, cleverly enlisting the services of Silence and Discord, brings back Rinaldo and other knights, who drive away the disintegrating pagan force after sundry bloody encounters. After one of these, Angelica finds a wounded man, whom she nurses back to health, and marries after a romantic courtship in the course of which they carve their names on many a tree.
Still seeking Angelica, Orlando in due time discovers these names, and on learning Angelica is married becomes violently insane. Discarding his armor,—which another knight piously collects and hangs on a tree with an inscription warning no one to venture to touch it,—Orlando roams hither and thither, performing countless feats of valor, and even swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar to seek adventures in Africa since he cannot get enough in Europe. In the course of his wanderings, Orlando (as well as sundry other characters in the poem) is favored by an apparition of Fata Morgana, the water-fairy, who vainly tries to lure him away from his allegiance to his lady-love by offering him untold treasures.
Every once in a while the poem harks back to Rogero, who, having again fallen into a magician's hands, prowls through the labyrinthine rooms of his castle, seeking Bradamant, whom he imagines calling to him for help. Meantime the lady whom he is thus seeking is safe at Marseilles, but, hearing at last of her lover's plight, she too visits the magic castle, and would have been decoyed into its dungeons had not Astolfo appeared with a magic horn, whose first blast makes the castle vanish into thin air! Thus freed, the magician's prisoners gaze around them in wonder, and Rogero and Bradamant embrace with rapture, planning to marry as soon as Rogero has been baptized.
But, on their way to Vallombroso where this sacrament is to take place, the lovers meet with other adventures and are again separated. Under escort of Astolfo, Bradamant sadly returns home, where her mother decrees she shall remain until Rogero can come and get her. Meantime Rogero has again joined the Saracens, just as Discord has succeeded in kindling a quarrel between Rodomont and Mandricar, who both admire the same lady. They are about to fight for her favor, when the umpire of the lists pertinently suggests the lady be allowed to express her preference! She frankly does so, and Rodomont, rejected, departs in high dudgeon. In this unhappy frame of mind he attacks everybody he meets, and after many victories is defeated in a battle with the Christians. During this last encounter Rogero is too grievously wounded to be able to join Bradamant, who, hearing a fair lady is nursing her lover, is consumed by jealousy. She therefore—notwithstanding her mother's decree—sets out in the garb of a knight to challenge her recreant lover and defeat him by means of her magic lance.
After unhorsing on the way all those who venture to tilt with her, Bradamant meets Rogero, who, recognizing her in the midst of their duel, flatly refuses to continue the fight, and implores her to accompany him into a neighboring forest, where he promises to explain all to her satisfaction. They are, however, followed thither by the maiden who has nursed Rogero, who, jealous in her turn, now attacks Bradamant. Rogero, infuriated by Bradamant's imminent peril, is about to slay his nurse remorselessly, when an enchanter's voice proclaims she is his sister, stolen in infancy! All excuse for mutual jealousy being thus removed, the two women agree to join forces and fight in behalf of Charlemagne until Rogero can discharge his obligations to the Saracens, receive baptism, and join the Christian ranks.
Meantime Astolfo has ridden off on the hippogriff to the earthly paradise, where he has interviews with sundry saints and apostles, and whence St. John conveys him up to the moon. In that appropriate region the apostle explains that Orlando's insanity is due to the fact he loves an infidel! He further points out where the hero's stray wits are stored, and directs Astolfo how to catch them in a vial and restore them to their rightful owner. Then, before conveying Astolfo back to earth, St. John vouchsafes him a glimpse of the Fates, wearing the web of Destiny, which they cast into the stream of Oblivion, whence only a few shreds are rescued by poets!
On returning from this eventful trip to the moon, Astolfo joins the Saracens. When they finally capture the mad Orlando, he produces his vial, and, making his friend inhale its contents, restores him to his senses. His mad passion for Angelica being now a thing of the past, Orlando concentrates all his efforts to conquer the Saracens and triumphs in many a fight.
Meantime Rogero, on his way to join Bradamant, has been shipwrecked on an island, where a hermit converts him to the Christian faith. While he is here, Orlando and Rinaldo arrive with their sorely wounded friend, Oliver, whom they entrust to the hermit's care. Not only is Orlando sane once more, but Rinaldo, having drunk the waters of the contrary fountain, no longer loves Angelica, and willingly promises the hand of his sister Bradamant to the new convert. But, when brother and prospective bridegroom reach court, they learn Charlemagne has promised Bradamant to a Greek prince, to whom the lady has signified that ere he wins her he must fight a duel with her. On hearing that the Greek prince is at present besieging Belgrade, Rogero hastens thither, and performs wonders before he falls into the enemy's hands. But the Greek prince has been so impressed by Rogero's prowess that he promises him freedom if he will only personate him in the dreaded duel with Bradamant. Rogero immediately consents to fight in the prince's armor, and defeats Bradamant, whom Charlemagne thereupon awards to the Greek prince.
In despair at having forfeited his beloved, Rogero rides off to die of grief, but the Greek prince, riding after him to thank him, not only discovers the cause of Rogero's sorrow, but generously relinquishes all claim to Bradamant and volunteers to witness her marriage to Rogero. The courage shown by the bridegroom while at Belgrade has meantime so impressed the Bulgarians, that an embassy arrives to beg him to mount their throne. But before Rogero can assume the Bulgarian crown he is forced to conquer and slay the boastful Rodomont, who envies his exalted position.
Many other characters appear in this poem, complicating the plot until it seems hopelessly involved to most modern readers, but, owing to the many romantic situations, to the picturesque verse, and to the unflagging liveliness of style, this epic is still popular in Italy. It has besides given rise to endless imitations, not only in Italian but in many other languages. It forms part of the great Charlemagne Cycle, of which the last epic is Ricciardetto, by Fortiguerra, a priest who wagered he too could compose a string of adventures like those invented by Ariosto. He won his wager by adopting the characters already made famous by Boiardo and Ariosto, and selected as his hero a younger brother of Rinaldo mentioned by his predecessors.
GERUSALEMME LIBERATA, OR JERUSALEM DELIVERED
Torquato Tasso, one of the three great Italian poets, was born at Sorrento in 1544, and, after receiving his education in various Italian cities, conceived, while at the University of Padua, the idea of writing an epic poem, using an episode in the First Crusade as his theme. In 1572 Tasso became attached to the court of Ferrara, where the duke and his two sisters delighted in his verses, admired his pastoral Aminta, and urged him to finish his projected epic.
During his sojourn at this court Tasso fell in love with Eleonora, sister of the duke, to whom he read the various parts of his epic as he completed them, and for whose sake he lingered at Ferrara, refusing offers of preferment at Paris and at Florence. Although he completed his epic in 1575, he did not immediately publish it, but sent copies to Rome and Padua for criticism. The learned men to whom he submitted his poem criticised it so freely that the poet's sensitive nature was greatly injured thereby. Almost at the same time the duke discovered the poet's passion for his sister. Furious to think Tasso should have raised his eyes to a princess, yet afraid he should carry his talents elsewhere, the duke, pretending to deem him insane, placed him under close surveillance. While Tasso was thus a prisoner, sundry false accusations were brought against him and his poem was published without his consent.
Although Tasso contrived several times to escape from Ferrara, he invariably came back there, hoping to be reconciled to the duke. It was only in 1586 that he left this place for good and betook himself to Rome and Naples, where he was forced to live on charity. Just as he was about to be publicly crowned in Rome for his epic, he died there, at the age of fifty-two (1595).
The epic "Jerusalem Delivered" contains an account of the Crusade of 1099 and extends over a period of forty days. It is divided into twenty cantos, written in ottava rima, or eight-rhymed stanzas, and, owing to its rhythmic perfection, is still sung by Italian bards to popular audiences.
Canto I. After stating exactly what task he proposes to perform in his poem, the poet describes how the Eternal Father, sitting on His heavenly throne, gazes down upon the plain of Tortosa, where the Crusaders are assembled. Six years have elapsed since they set out from Europe, during which time they have succeeded in taking Nicaea and Antioch, cities now left in charge of influential Crusaders. But Godfrey of Bouillon is pushing on with the bulk of the army, because he is anxious to wrest Jerusalem from the hands of the infidels and restore it to the worship of the true God. While he is camping on this plain, God sends Gabriel to visit him in sleep and inspire him with a desire to assemble a council, where, by a ringing speech, he will rouse the Christians to immediate action.
On awakening from this vision, Godfrey loses no time in convening such an assembly, and there eloquently urges the Christians to fight, declaring their efforts have failed hitherto mainly because they have lacked purpose and unity. Hearing this, Peter the Hermit suggests the Crusaders should select one chief, whose orders they will obey, and thereupon the warriors present unanimously elect Godfrey of Bouillon as leader. Having secured this exalted post, Godfrey reviews his force, thus giving the poet an occasion to enumerate the leaders of the different corps, or armies, and explain from what countries they come. Amongst other resounding names, the poet specially mentions Edward and his fair bride Gildippe, who, unwilling to be parted from her spouse, has donned a man's armor and followed him to the Crusade. Among the bravest fighters there, he also quotes Tancred, who, however, seems listless, and has accomplished no deed of valor since he beheld near a fountain and fell in love with Clorinda, a fair Amazon.
To the same warbling of fresh waters drew, Arm'd, but unmhelm'd and unforeseen, a maid; She was a pagan, and came thither too To quench her thirst beneath the pleasant shade; Her beautiful fair aspect, thus display'd, He sees; admires; and, touch'd to transport, glows With passion rushing to its fountain head, The heart; 'tis strange how quick the feeling grows; Scarce born, its power in him no cool calm medium knows.
Another hero is Rinaldo (the same as the French Renaud de Montauban), who, although but a boy, escaped from his foster mother, Queen Mathilda, to go and fight for the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre. His review completed, Godfrey of Bouillon orders his force to march on toward Jerusalem, whence he wishes to oust the Sultan Aladine (Saladin), who at present is sorely taxing the Christians to obtain funds enough to make war against the advancing Crusaders.
Canto II. Advised by the sorcerer Ismeno, Aladine steals the image of the Virgin from the Christian temple, and sets it up in his mosque, where he resorts to all manner of spells and incantations to destroy her power. During the night, however, the Virgin's image disappears from the mosque and cannot be found, although Aladine offers great rewards for its restoration. Finally, he decrees that, unless the perpetrator of the theft denounces himself, he will slay all the Christians in the town. He is about to execute this cruel threat when Sophronia, a Christian maid, suddenly decides to sacrifice herself to save her co-religionists. She therefore appears before Aladine, declaring she stole the image from the temple, whereupon the sultan in anger orders her bound to the stake and burned alive.
Doom'd in tormenting fire to die, they lay Hands on the maid; her arms with rough cords twining, Rudely her mantle chaste they tear away, And the white veil that o'er her droop'd declining: This she endured in silence unrepining, Yet her firm breast some virgin tremors shook; And her warm cheek, Aurora's late outshining, Waned into whiteness, and a color took, Like that of the pale rose or lily of the brook.
Scarcely has Sophronia been fastened there, and while she is praying for God's aid to endure martyrdom without flinching, Olindo, a young Christian, deeming it impossible to allow a girl to sacrifice her life, rushes forward, declaring he alone committed the crime, but that the maiden, out of love for him, has assumed his guilt to save his life. Only then does he discover that the maiden tied to the stake is the very one he loves, but who hitherto has received his advances coldly! On hearing the youth accuse himself of having stolen the image, Aladine questions the maiden, who denies it, insisting she alone is to blame. Thereupon the sultan decrees both shall perish in the flames, and orders them tied to the stake back to back. It is in this position, and while in imminent peril of death, that the young man deplores the fact he is to die beside the one he hoped to marry and with whom he expected to spend a long and happy life. The executioners are about to set fire to the pyre where these generous young lovers are to end their days, when a young knight steps forward loudly proclaiming none of the Christians are to blame for the disappearance of the image, since Allah himself removed it from the temple because he considered it desecration to have such an image within its walls. This young knight turns out to be the warrior maid Clorinda, who not only convinces Aladine that the young people are guiltless, but bribes him to release them, in exchange for her services in the coming war. Touched by each other's devotion, the young couple marry as soon as released, and, instead of dying, live together as husband and wife.
Restored to life and liberty, how blest, How truly blest was young Olindo's fate! For sweet Sophronia's blushes might attest, That Love at length has touch'd her delicate And generous bosom; from the stake in state They to the altar pass; severely tried, In doom and love already made his mate, She now objects not to become his bride, And grateful live with him who would for her have died.
Meanwhile two ambassadors have come from Egypt to visit Godfrey in his camp, and try first by persuasions and then by threats to dissuade him from his projected attack upon Jerusalem. In spite of all Alethes and Argantes can say, Godfrey insists upon carrying out his purpose, and, after dismissing these ambassadors with a haughty speech, marches on with his host.
"Know, then, that we have borne all this distress By land and sea,—war, want, reverses—all! To the sole end that we might gain access To sacred Salem's venerable wall; That we might free the Faithful from their thrall, And win from God His blessing and reward: From this no threats our spirit can appal, For this no terms will be esteem'd too hard— Life, honors, kingdoms lost, or dignity debarr'd."
Canto III. When they come within sight of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, overjoyed, hail the Holy City with cries of rapture, and, falling on their knees, swear to deliver it from the hands of the infidels. Seeing them advance, the pagans make hasty preparations to oppose them, and Clorinda, at the head of a small force, volunteers to make a sortie and boldly attacks the vanguard of the Crusaders.
From the topmost tier of Jerusalem's ramparts, the Sultan Aladine watches their sortie, having beside him Erminia, daughter of the late king of Antioch, whom the Crusaders have sent on to Jerusalem, because they do not care to detain her a prisoner. During her sojourn in her father's town, Erminia has learned to know by sight all the Crusaders, and during her brief captivity she has fallen in love with Tancred, who was detailed to guard her. She can therefore give the Sultan Aladine all the information he wishes, and acts as cicerone while the battle is going on. From this point of vantage the sultan and princess watch Clorinda and Tancred meet, and behold how, after a lively encounter, Tancred strikes off the helmet of his opponent, whose sex is revealed by the streaming of her long golden hair. At sight of the wonderful maiden with whom he has fallen in love, Tancred refuses to continue the fight, although Clorinda urges him to strike. Undaunted by the fact that she is his foe, Tancred not only refuses to strike, but immediately begins to sue the beautiful maiden, who refuses to listen to him, and is soon swept away by Saracen forces, which intervene between her and Tancred.
A battle now rages, in the course of which various knights perform great deeds, but, although Godfrey proves victor on this occasion, he loses Dudon, chief of his Adventurous Band and one of the bravest warriors in his army. While giving her explanations to Aladine in regard to the fight waged beneath their eyes, Erminia carefully explains she feels deadly hatred for Tancred, although the truth is she loves him dearly and is greatly relieved to see him escape from the fray uninjured.
Many people having died in the course of this action, a truce is agreed upon so that both sides may bury their dead, and so, many funerals are celebrated with all due pomp and ceremony. Next the crusading force decides that siege-engines and towers will be necessary to enable them to scale the high walls of Jerusalem. They therefore send out a force of woodsmen to hew the trees which are to serve for the construction of the required towers.
The duke, when thus his piety had paid The fun'ral rites, and shed his duteous tears, Sent all his skill'd mechanics to invade The forest, guarded by a thousand spears; Veil'd by low hills it stood, the growth of years,— A Syrian shepherd pointed out the vale, And thither brought the camp-artificers To fabricate the engines doom'd to scale The City's sacred towers and turn her people pale.
Canto IV. The scene now changes to the infernal regions, where Satan deems it time to frustrate the Christians' aims, because it would ill-suit diabolical ends to have them recover possession of Jerusalem. Not only does Satan stimulate his hosts by reminding them of their forfeited bliss, but he encourages them to thwart the Christians by reminding them of the great deeds they have already done. His eloquence is not expended in vain, for the fiends all approve of his suggestions, and, when the council is over, flit forth, intent upon fomenting dissension among the leaders of the Crusade, and hindering their attempts in every other way possible.
One demon in particular is to determine a wizard to send his niece Armida to ensnare the Christians. This enchantress, decked out with all the charms beauty and toilet can bestow, soon appears in the Christian camp, where, falling at Godfrey's feet, she proceeds to relate a tale of fictitious wrongs, claiming to be heiress of the city of Damascus, whence she has been ejected, and vowing if she could only secure the aid of a few knights she would soon recover her realm. In return for such aid as she implores from the Christians, she promises to do homage to them for her realm, and even pledges herself to receive baptism. Her artful speeches, the flattery which she lavishes upon Godfrey, and her languishing glances are all calculated to persuade him to grant her request; but the Crusader is so bent upon the capture of Jerusalem that nothing can turn him aside from his purpose.
But, although Godfrey himself is proof against all Armida's blandishments, his knights are not, and among those who succumb to the lady's charms is his own brother Eustace, who begs his permission to take ten knights and accompany the damsel to Damascus. Although Armida professes great gratitude for this help, she entices many other Crusaders to desert the camp, by casting languishing glances at them and making each man whom she looks upon believe she loves him only.
All arts th' enchantress practised to beguile Some new admirer in her well-spread snare; Nor used with all, nor always the same wile, But shaped to every taste her grace and air: Here cloister'd is her eye's dark pupil, there In full voluptuous languishment is roll'd; Now these her kindness, those her anger bear, Spurr'd on or check'd by bearing frank or cold, As she perceived her slave was scrupulous or bold.
Canto V. Not content with beguiling many knights, Armida further foments a quarrel between Rinaldo and Gernando, Prince of Norway, in regard to the command of the Adventurous Band, which is now without a leader. In the course of this quarrel, Rinaldo is so sorely taunted by his opponent that, although the Crusaders are pledged not to fight each other, he challenges and slays Gernando. Then, afraid to be called to trial and sentenced to death for breaking the rules of the camp, Rinaldo flees to Egypt.
On perceiving how greatly his army is weakened by the desertion of so many brave men, Godfrey is dismayed—all the more so because he hears the Egyptian army is coming to attack him, and because the supplies which he expected have been cut off.
Canto VI. The Egyptian army boasts of no braver warrior than Argantes, who sallies forth to challenge the Christians, bidding Clorinda follow him at a short distance, and come to his rescue should it be necessary. Although Argantes has summoned Godfrey to come forth and fight him, it is Tancred who is chosen as champion for the Christians, but as he draws near his opponent a glimpse of the fair Clorinda's face makes him forget everything but her.
He noted not where the Circassian rear'd His frightful face to the affronted skies, But to the hill-top where his Love appear'd, Turn'd, slack'ning his quick pace, his am'rous eyes, Till he stood steadfast as a rock, all ice Without, all glowing heat within;—the sight To him was as the gates of Paradise; And from his mind the mem'ry of the fight Pass'd like a summer cloud, or dream at morning light.
One of the knights in his train, seeing he is not going to fight, spurs forward and meets Argantes, by whom he is defeated. On seeing this knight fall, Tancred, suddenly brought to his senses, starts forward to avenge him, and combats with such fury that Argantes' armor fairly rings with the blows which rain down upon him. Argantes, however, is nearly as brave as Tancred, so the battle rages until nightfall, when the heroes are separated by the heralds, although both vow they will renew the struggle on the morrow. But, when they have ceased fighting and both discover they have serious wounds, their respective armies decree a six-days' truce and pledge themselves to await the result of the duel.
The wounded Argantes has returned to Jerusalem, where Erminia uses her magic balsams to heal his wounds, secretly wishing meanwhile that she might lavish her care upon Tancred, whom she still loves. So ardent is her desire to behold him, that she finally appropriates Clorinda's armor and rides off to the Christian camp, sending a messenger ahead to announce a lady is coming to heal Tancred if he will give her a safe-conduct to his tent. Tancred immediately sends word the lady will be welcome, but meanwhile the Christians, catching a glimpse of the waiting Erminia, and mistaking her for Clorinda owing to her armor, endeavor to capture her.
Canto VII. To escape from her pursuers, Erminia flees into a trackless forest, where, after wandering some time, she meets a shepherd, who gives her an asylum in his hut. There she turns shepherdess, but does not forget Tancred, whose name she carves in many a tree. Meantime the news spreads through the camp that Clorinda has been seen and is even now closely pursued by a troop of Christians. Hearing this Tancred, disregarding his wounds, sets out to find her. While wandering thus in the forest, weakened by loss of blood, he is captured by Armida, the enchantress, who detains him in a dungeon, where he eats his heart out for shame because he will not be able to respond when the trumpets sound for the renewal of his duel with Argantes.
The moment having come for this battle and the Crusaders' champion being absent, old Count Raymond volunteers to meet Argantes, and is about to get the better of him, when an archer from the wall suddenly discharges a shaft at him. Such treachery exasperates the Christians, who, exclaiming the truce has been broken, precipitate themselves upon their foes, and in the general battle which ensues many deeds of valor are performed.
Canto VIII. During this battle a great storm arises, and the Christians, who, notwithstanding their courage, have been worsted, beat a retreat, finding on their return to camp that one of their companions, defeated and mortally wounded, has despatched a messenger to carry his sword to Rinaldo. The Italian force thereupon accuses Godfrey of having done away with Rinaldo, but he not only succeeds in refuting such an accusation, but sentences his chief detractor to death.
Canto IX. Sultan Solyman of Nicae, who has joined Sultan Aladine of Jerusalem, now comes to attack the Christians by night, assisted by many fiends, but the archangel Michael warns the crusaders of what is coming and enables them to get the better of their foes by bringing back the troops which followed Armida to Damascus. In this encounter a Christian knight slays a page of the sultan, who, seeing this child dead, experiences such grief that, after avenging his death, he wishes to withdraw temporarily from the battle.
"Let Godfrey view once more, and smile to view My second exile;—soon shall he again See me in arms return'd, to vex anew His haunted peace and never stable reign: Yield I do not; eternal my disdain Shall be as are my wrongs; though fires consume My dust, immortal shall my hate remain; And aye my naked ghost fresh wrath assume, Through life a foe most fierce, but fiercer from the tomb!"
Canto X. The sultan, after journeying part way back to Egypt, pauses to rest, and is visited by a wizard, who spirits him over the battle-field and back to Jerusalem in a magic chariot. This pauses at a hidden cave, the entrance to an underground passage, by which they secretly enter the sultan's council chamber.
Ismeno shot the lock; and to the right They climb'd a staircase, long untrod, to which A feeble, glimm'ring, and malignant light Stream'd from the ceiling through a window'd niche; At length by corridors of loftier pitch They sallied into day, and access had To an illumined hall, large, round, and rich; Where, sceptred, crown'd, and in dark purple clad, Sad sat the pensive king amid his nobles sad.
Solyman, overhearing as he enters some of the nobles propose a disgraceful peace and the surrender of Jerusalem, hotly opposes such a measure, and thus infuses new courage into their breasts.
Canto XI. Meantime Godfrey of Bouillon, having buried his dead, questions the knights who were lured away by Armida, and they relate that, on arriving near the Dead Sea, they were entertained at a sumptuous banquet, where they were given a magic draught, which transformed them for a time into sportive fishes. Armida, having thus demonstrated her power over them, threatened to use it to keep them prisoners forever unless they would promise to abjure their faith. One alone yielded, but the rest, delivered as prisoners to an emissary from Egypt, were met and freed from their bonds by the brave Rinaldo, who, instead of accompanying them back to camp, rode off toward Antioch.
The Christians now prepare for their final assault, and, advised by Peter the Hermit, walk in solemn procession to the Mount of Olives, where, after singing hymns, all devoutly receive Communion. Thus prepared for anything that may betide, they set out on the morrow to scale the city walls, rolling ahead of them their mighty engines of war, by means of which they hope to seize the city.
Most of the Crusaders have laid aside their heavy armor and assumed the light gear of foot-soldiers the better to scale the walls, upon which Clorinda is posted, and whence she shoots arrow after arrow at the assailants. Wounded by one of the missiles flung from the wall, Godfrey seeks his tent, where, the physician failing to extract the barb, an angel brings a remedy from heaven which instantly cures the wound.
Canto XII. After awhile, seeing she does not do as much execution as she would like, Clorinda proposes to Argantes that they steal out of the city by night, and by chemical means set fire to the engines with which the Christians are threatening to capture the city. Willingly Argantes promises to accompany her in this perilous venture, but her slave, hoping to dissuade her, now reveals to her for the first time, the story of her birth, and informs her she is the daughter of a Christian. He adds her dying mother besought him to have her child baptized, a duty he had failed to perform, although repeatedly warned by visions to repair his neglect. But, although similar visions have frequently haunted the dreams of Clorinda herself, she persists in her undertaking to set fire to the war machines.
She has no sooner done so, however, than the Christians, aroused, set out in pursuit of her and of her companions. Bravely covering their retreat so they can re-enter the city safely, Clorinda delays her own until the gates closed. But with great presence of mind, the warrior-maid, who is wearing black armor, mingles in the darkness with the Crusaders. None of these suspects she does not belong to their ranks, save Tancred, who follows her to a remote place beneath the walls, where he challenges her to a deadly fight, little divining who she is. The battle proves fierce, and both combatants strike until Tancred runs his sword through his opponent. Dying, Clorinda reveals her name and faintly begs Tancred to baptize her before life leaves her body.
"Friend! thou hast won; I pardon thee, and O Forgive thou me! I fear not for this clay, But my dark soul—pray for it, and bestow The sacred rite that laves all stains away:" Like dying hymns heard far at close of day, Sounding I know not what in the sooth'd ear Of sweetest sadness, the faint words make way To his fierce heart, and, touch'd with grief sincere, Streams from his pitying eye th' involuntary tear.
Such a request cannot be disregarded, so, although Tancred is frantic with grief at the thought of having slain his beloved, he hurries to a neighboring stream, draws water in his helmet, and, after baptizing his dying sweetheart, swoons over her body. His companions, finding him there, convey him and Clorinda's body to his tent, where they vainly try to rouse him, but he is so overcome with melancholy that he thinks of nothing but joining Clorinda in her tomb.
Canto XIII. Meantime the foe, having heard of Clorinda's death, vow to avenge her, while the Crusaders seek materials to reconstruct their towers. Hastening to a forest near by, they discover a wizard has cast such a spell upon it that all who try to enter are frightened away. Finally Tancred enters this place, and, although he is met by earthquakes and other portents, he disregards them all, and starts to cut down a tree. But, when blood gushes from its stem, and when Clorinda's voice informs him he has wounded her again, he flees without having accomplished his purpose. Heat and drought now cause further desertions and discourage the Crusaders, until Godfrey, full of faith in the justice of their cause, prays so fervently that rain is vouchsafed them.
Canto XIV. In a dream Godfrey is now admonished to proceed, and told, if he can only persuade Rinaldo to return, Jerusalem will soon fall into the hands of the Christians. Because no one knows where Rinaldo has gone, Godfrey despatches two knights in quest of him. After some difficulty they interview a wizard, who, after exhibiting to them his magic palace, tells them Armida, to punish Rinaldo for rescuing his companions from her clutches, has captured him by magic means and borne him off to her wonderful garden in the Fortunate Isles. The hermit then bestows upon them a golden wand which will defeat all enchantments, and bids them hasten to the Fortunate Isles.
Canto XV. Hastening off to the sea-shore armed with this golden wand, these two knights find a magic vessel, wherein they sail with fabulous speed over the sea, and through the Strait of Gibraltar, out into the western ocean, the nymph at the helm meanwhile informing them that this is the road Columbus is destined to travel. Sailing thus they reach the Fortunate Isles, where, notwithstanding many enchantments and temptations brought to bear to check their advance, they, thanks to the golden wand, force their way into Armida's wonderful garden.
These windings pass'd, the garden-gates unfold, And the fair Eden meets their glad survey,— Still waters, moving crystals, sands of gold, Herbs, thousand flowers, rare shrubs, and mosses gray; Sunshiny hillocks, shady vales; woods gay, And grottoes gloomy, in one view combined, Presented were; and what increased their play Of pleasure at the prospect, was, to find Nowhere the happy Art that had the whole design'd.
So natural seem'd each ornament and site, So well was neatness mingled with neglect, As though boon Nature for her own delight Her mocker mock'd, till fancy's self was check'd; The air, if nothing else there, is th' effect Of magic, to the sound of whose soft flute The blooms are born with which the trees are deck'd; By flowers eternal lives th' eternal fruit, This running richly ripe, while those but greenly shoot.
Then, peeping cautiously through the trees, they behold Rinaldo reclining amid the flowers, his head resting in the enchantress' lap. Biding their time they watch Armida leave the enamoured knight, then step forward and bid him gaze into the magic mirror they have brought. On beholding in its surface a reflection of himself as he really is, Rinaldo, horrified, is brought to such a sense of his depraved idleness, that he springs to his feet and proposes to leave immediately with his companions. They are about to depart without bidding farewell to the fair enchantress, when she pursues them, and, after vainly pleading with Rinaldo to stay with her, proposes to join him in any quality. When he abruptly rejects her advances and sails away, Armida, disappointed and infuriated because she has been scorned, hastens off to the Egyptian camp.
Canto XVII. There she joins the Christians' enemies, declaring she dreams of naught save slaying Rinaldo, and takes an important part in the review which the poet describes minutely. To compass her ends the artful Armida, whose charms have so lavishly been displayed that they have fired every breast, promises to belong to the warrior who will bring her Rinaldo's head. Meanwhile this hero has returned to Palestine, and is met by the wizard, who, after reproving him for his dalliance, gives him wonderful armor, and exhibits on the shield the great deeds of ancestors of the Duke of Ferrara.
Canto XVIII. Newly armed, Rinaldo now returns to the crusaders' camp, apologizes to Godfrey for breaking the rules of the crusade, relates his adventures, and, after humbly confessing his sins, starts forth to brave the spells of the magic forest. Not only does he penetrate within its precincts, but, undeterred by all Armida's enchantments, cuts down a tree, although, in hopes of staying his hand, her voice accuses him of cruelly wounding her! No sooner has this tree fallen than the spell is broken; so other trees are cut down without difficulty, engines built, and all is prepared for a new assault on Jerusalem.
Godfrey is particularly eager to make this new attempt immediately, because a carrier-pigeon has been caught bearing a message from the Egyptians to the Sultan of Jerusalem, apprising him that within five days they will come to his aid. During this assault of Jerusalem, a sorcerer on the walls, working against the Christians, is slain by a rock.
Soon after, thanks to the efforts of the Crusaders, the banner with the Cross floats over the walls of Jerusalem!
Then raised the Christians all their long loud shout Of Victory, joyful, resonant, and high; Their words the towers and temples lengthen out; To the glad sound the mountains make reply:
* * * * *
Then the whole host pours in, not o'er the walls Alone, but through the gates, which soon unclose, Batter'd or burnt; and in wide ruin falls Each strong defence that might their march oppose. Rages the sword; and Death, the slaught'rer, goes 'Twixt Wo and Horror with gigantic tread, From street to street; the blood in torrents flows, And settles in lagoons, on all sides fed, And swell'd with heaps on heaps of dying and of dead.
Canto XIX. Tancred, scaling a fortress, meets and slays Argantes, receiving at the same time so grievous a wound that he swoons on the battle-field. Meantime Godfrey has sent a spy to the Egyptian camp to find out whether the army is really coming on to Jerusalem. This spy, meeting Erminia there, induces her not only to reveal all the Egyptians' plans (including a plot to slay Godfrey), but to go back with him. While they journey along together to rejoin the Christian forces, Erminia relates her adventures, saying that while she was playing shepherdess, some freebooters seized her and carried her to the Egyptian camp, where she was placed under Armida's protection. Her story is just finished when they perceive what appears to be a lifeless warrior. By the red cross on his armor the spy recognizes a Christian, and further investigation enables him to identify Tancred. Erminia—who has owned she loves him—now takes possession of him, binds up his wounds with her hair (!), and vows she will nurse him back to health.
Canto XX. Warned by his spy that the Egyptians mean to send sundry of their number to mix, during the battle, with his body-guard and kill him, Godfrey changes the ensigns of his men, and thus discovers the conspirators, who are promptly put to death. Seeing the Egyptian army advance, Godfrey, in a stirring speech, urges his men to do their best for the Holy Sepulchre, and thereby stimulates them to fight so bravely that many of them lose their lives. Among the slain are Gildippe and her husband, who, having fought together side by side throughout the campaign, die together and are buried in the same tomb. The other party, however, is far more unfortunate, for the Saracens lose the sultans Aladine and Solyman, the former slain by Godfrey and the latter by Rinaldo.
Meantime Armida, wavering between love and hate, tries to shoot Rinaldo, then flees, but, a little later, seeing him slay Solyman, she tries to kill herself. It is at this moment that Rinaldo approaches her, and offers to marry her provided she will be converted. Not only does she now promise conversion and marriage, but accompanies Rinaldo back to the camp.
The Crusaders having completely defeated their foes and secured possession of Jerusalem, march, with solemn hymns of praise to the Holy Sepulchre, where all kneel, thanking God for permitting them to deliver it from the hands of the heathen. It is with these thanks that the poem ends.
Thus conquer'd Godfrey; and as yet there glow'd A flush of glory in the fulgent West, To the freed City, the once loved abode Of Christ, the pious chief and armies press'd: Arm'd as he was, and in his sanguine vest, With all his knights in solemn cavalcade, He reach'd the Temple; there, supremely bless'd, Hung up his arms, his banner'd spoils display'd, And at the sacred Tomb his vow'd devotions paid.
EPICS OF THE BRITISH ISLES
Although the name Celt was given by the early Greeks to all the people living West of their country, the Romans included under that name only the tribes occupying the countries now known as France, Western Switzerland, Germany west of the Rhine, Belgium, and the British Isles. Blocked together under a generic name, the Celtic nation was, however, composed of many tribes, with separate dialects and customs. It has been surmised that two of these tribes, the British and Irish, early took possession of England and Ireland, where they flourished and subdivided until disturbed by invasions of various kinds.
The Celts all practised what is termed the Druidic cult, their priests being poets, bards, or gleemen, who could compose or recite in verse, ritual, laws, and heroic ballads. During the four hundred years of Roman occupation, the Celts in England became somewhat Romanized, but the Irish, and their near relatives the Scots, were less influenced by Latin civilization. It is therefore in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales that the oldest traces of Celtic literature are found, for the bards there retained their authority and acted as judges after Christianity had been introduced, and as late as the sixth century. Although St. Patrick is reported to have forbidden these Irish bards to continue their pagan incantations, they continued to exert some authority, and it is said Irish priests adopted the tonsure which was their distinctive badge. The bards, who could recite and compose poems and stories, accompanying themselves on a rudimentary harp, were considered of much higher rank than those who merely recited incantations. They transmitted poems, incantations, and laws, orally only, and no proof exists that the pagan Irish, for instance, committed any works to writing previous to the introduction of Christianity in their midst.
The heroic tales of Ireland from a large and well-marked epic cycle, the central tale of the series being the anonymous "Cattle of Cooly," wherein is related the war waged by the Irish Queen Mab against her husband for the possession of a mystic brown bull. In the course of this war the chief hero, Cuchulaind, makes himself famous by defending the country of Ulster single-handed! The still extant tales of this epic cycle number about thirty, and give in detail the lives of hero and heroine from birth to death, besides introducing many legends from Celtic mythology. The oldest MS. version of these tales, in mingled prose and verse, dates back to the twelfth century, and is hence about as venerable as the Edda.
The Fennian or Oisianic poems and tales form another famous Irish cycle, Finn, or Fingal, their hero, having acted as commander for a body of mercenaries in the third century. His poet son, Oisin (the Ossian of later Romance), is said to have composed at least one of the poems in the famous Book of Leinster. Between the twelfth century and the middle of the fifteenth, this Fennian epos took on new life, and it continued to grow until the eighteenth century, when a new tale was added to the cycle.
The names of a few of the early Irish poets have been preserved in Irish annals, where we note, for instance, Bishop Fiance, author of a still extant metrical life of St. Patrick, and Dallan Frogaell, one of whose poems is in the "Book of the Dun Cow," compiled before 1106. Up to the thirteenth century most of the poets and harpers used to include Scotland in their circuit, and one of them, Muiredhach, is said to have received the surname of "the Scotchman," because he tarried so long in that country.
When, after the fifteenth century, Irish literature began to decline, Irish poems were recast in the native Scotch dialect, thus giving rise to what is known as Gaelic literature, which continued to flourish until the Reformation. Samples of this old Gaelic or Erse poetry were discovered by James Macpherson in the Highlands, taken down from recitation, and used for the English compilation known as the Poems of Ossian. Lacking sufficient talent and learning to remodel these fragments so as to produce a real masterpiece, Macpherson—who erroneously termed his work a translation—not only incurred the sharpest criticism, but was branded as a plagiarist.
The Welsh, a poetic race too, boast of four great poets,—Taliessin, Aneurin, Llywarch Hen, and Myrden (Merlin). These composed poems possessing epic qualities, wherein mention is made of some of the characters of the Arthurian Cycle. One of the five Welsh MSS., which seem of sufficient antiquity and importance to deserve attention, is the Book of Taliessin, written probably during the fourteenth century. The Welsh also possess tales in verse, either historical or romantic, which probably antedated the extant prose versions of the same tales. Eleven of these were translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, and entitled Mabinogion (Tales for Children), although only four out of the eleven deserve that name. But some of these tales are connected with the great Arthurian cycle, as Arthur is the hero par excellence of Southern Wales, where many places are identified with him or his court.
Although almost as little is known of the historical Arthur as of the historical Roland, both are heroes of important epic cycles. Leader probably of a small band of warriors, Arthur gradually became, in the epics, first general-in-chief, then king, and finally emperor of all Britain. It is conjectured that the Arthurian legends must have passed from South Wales into Cornwall, and thence into Armorica, "where it is probable the Round Table was invented." Enriched by new accretions from time to time, the Arthurian cycle finally included the legend of the Holy Grail, which must have originated in Provence and have been carried into Brittany by jongleurs or travelling minstrels.
It has been ascertained that the legend of Arthur was familiar among the Normans before Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his books, and it certainly had an incalculable formative influence on European literature, much of which can be "traced back directly or indirectly to these legends." It was also a vehicle for that element which we call chivalry, which the church infused into it to fashion and mould the rude soldiers of feudal times into Christian knights, and, as it "expanded the imagination and incited the minds of men to inquiry beyond the conventional notions of things," it materially assisted in creating modern society.
After thus tracing the Celtic germs and influence in English literature, it becomes necessary to hark back to the time of the Teutonic invasions, since English thought and speech, manners and customs are all of Teutonic origin. The invaders brought with them an already formed language and literature, both of which were imposed upon the people. The only complete extant northern epic of Danish-English origin is Beowulf, of which a synopsis follows, and which was evidently sung by gleemen in the homes of the great chiefs. Apart from Beowulf, some remains of national epic poetry have come down to us in the fine fragments of Finnsburgh and Waldhere, another version of Walter of Aquitaine.
There are also the Legends of Havelock the Dane, of King Horn, of Beves of Hamdoun, and of Guy of Warwick, all four of which were later turned into popular prose romances. Intense patriotic feeling also gave birth to the Battle of Maldon, or Bryhtnoth's Death, an ancient poem, fortunately printed before it was destroyed by fire. This epic relates how the Viking Anlaf came to England with 93 ships, and, after harrying the coast, was defeated and slain in battle.
The earliest Christian poet in England, Caedmon, instead of singing of love or fighting, paraphrased the Scriptures, and depicted the creation in such eloquent lines that he is said to have inspired some of the passages in Milton's Paradise Lost. Chief among the religious poems ascribed to Caedmon, are Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel, but, although in general he strictly conforms with the Bible narrative, he prefixed to Genesis an account of the fall of the angels, and thus supplied Milton with the most picturesque feature of his theme.
Next come the epic poems of Cynewulf, Crist, Juliana, Elene, and Andreas, also written in alliterative verse. In Elene the poet gives us the legend of finding of the cross by the empress Helena, dividing his poem into fourteen cantos or fitts.
It is in Gildas and Nennius' Historia Britonum that we find the first mention of the legendary colonization of Britain and Ireland by refugees from Troy, and of the exploits of Arthur and the prophesies of Merlin. This work, therefore, contains some of the "germs of fables which expanded into Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of Britain, which was written in Latin some time before 1147," although this historian claims to derive his information from an ancient British book of which no trace can be found.
There is, besides, a very curious yet important legend cycle, in regard to a letter sent from Heaven to teach the proper observation of Sunday. The text of this letter can be found in old English in Wulfstan's homilies. Besides sacred legends, others exist of a worldly nature, such as the supposed letter from Alexander to Aristotle, the Wonders of the East, and the Story of Apollonius of Tyre. The first two, of course, formed part of the great Alexander cycle, while the latter supplied the theme for Pericles of Tyre.
With the Norman Conquest, French became the literary language of England, and modern romance was born. Romance cycles on "the matter of France" or Legends of Charlemagne, and on "the matter of Britain" or Legends of Arthur, became popular, and Geoffrey of Monmouth freely made use of his imagination to fill up the early history of Britain, for his so-called history is in reality a prose romance, whence later writers drew themes for many a tale.
Walter Map, born on the border of Wales in 1137, is credited with the no longer extant Latin prose romance of Lancelot du Lac, which included the Quest of the Holy Grail and the Death of Arthur. Besides Wace's Brut, we have that of Layamon, and both poets not only explain how Britain's name is derived from Brut,—a member of Priam's family and refugee from Troy,—but go on to give the history of other early kings of Britain, including Arthur. They often touch the true epic note,—as in the wrestling match between Corineus and the giant,—use similes drawn from every-day life, and supply us with legends of King Lear and of Cymbeline.
It was toward the end of the twelfth century that Arthur reached the height of his renown as romantic hero, the "matter of Britain" having become international property, and having been greatly enriched by poets of many climes. By this time Arthur had ceased to be a king of Britain, to become king of a fairy-land and chief exponent of chivalric ideals and aims.
To name all the poets who had a share in developing the Arthurian Legend would prove an impossible task, but Nennius, Gildas, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Layamon, Benoit de St. Maur, Chrestien de Troyes, Marie de France, Hartmann von der Aue, and Wolfram von Eschenbach have, in English, French, and German, helped to develop the "matter of Britain," and have managed to connect it with "the matter of France."
During the age of metrical romances (1200 to 1500), all the already extant cycles were remodelled and extended. Besides, not only were Greek and Latin epics translated so as to be within reach of all, but one country freely borrowed from another. Thus, the French romances of Huon de Bordeaux and of the Four Sons of Aymon found many admirers in England, where the former later supplied Shakespeare with some of the characters for a Midsummer Night's Dream. It was to offset the very popular romance of Alexander, that some patriotic poet evolved the romance of Richard Coeur de Lion, explaining how this king earned his well-known nickname by wrenching the heart out of a lion!
Some of these romances, such as Flores and Blancheflour, have "the voluptuous qualities of the East," make great use of magic of all kinds, and show the idyllic side of love. The tragedy of love is depicted in the romance of Tristram and Iseult, where a love-potion plays a prominent part. But, although knightly love and valor are the stock topics, we occasionally come across a theme of Christian humility, like Sir Isumbras, or of democracy, as in the Squire of Low Degree and in the Ballads of Robin Hood.
With the advent of Chaucer a new poet, a new language, and new themes appear. Many of his Canterbury tales are miniature epics, borrowed in general from other writers, but retold with a charm all his own. The Knight's Tale, or story of the rivalry in love of Palamon and Arcite, the tale of Gamelyn, and that of Troilus and Cressida, all contain admirable epic passages.
Spenser, our next epic poet, left us the unfinished Faerie Queene, an allegorical epic which shows the influence of Ariosto and other Italian poets, and contains exquisitely beautiful passages descriptive of nature, etc. His allegorical plot affords every facility for the display of his graceful verse, and is outlined in another chapter.
There are two curious but little-known English epics, William Warner's chronicle epic entitled "Albion's England" (1586), and Samuel Daniel's "Civil Wars." The first, beginning with the flood, carries the reader through Greek mythology to the Trojan War, and hence by means of Brut to the beginnings of English history, which is then continued to the execution of Mary Stuart. The second (1595) is an epic, in eight books, on the Wars of the Roses. Drayton also wrote, on the theme of the Civil Wars, an epic entitled "The Barons' Wars," and undertook a descriptive and patriotic epic in "Polyolbion," wherein he makes a tour of England relating innumerable local legends.
Abraham Cowley composed an epic entitled "Davideis," or the troubles of David. He begins this work in four books with a description of two councils held in Heaven and hell in regard to the life of this worthy.
Dryden was not only a translator of the classic epics, but projected an epic of his own about Arthur. Almost at the same time Pope was planning to write one on Brut, but he too failed to carry out his intentions, and is best known as the translator of the Iliad, although some authorities claim the "Rape of the Lock" is a unique sample of the epopee galante.
The poet Keats, whose life was so short, left us a complete mythological epic in "Endymion," a fragment of one in "Hyperion," and a reproduction of one of the old romances in "Isabella, or a Pot of Basil."
Shelley, Keats' contemporary, wrote poems abounding in epic passages,—"Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude," "The Revolt of Islam," "Adonais," and "Prometheus Unbound"; while Byron's epical poems are "Manfred," "The Corsair," and "Don Juan"; and Scott's, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," "Marmion," "The Lady of the Lake," and "The Bridal of Triermain."
The greatest of Coleridge's poems, "The Ancient Mariner," is sometimes called a visionary epic, while his "Christabel" conforms more closely to the old roman d'adventure.
As the translator of the epical romances of "Amadis de Gaule" and "Palmerin," Southey won considerable renown; he also wrote the oriental epics "Thalaba" and "The Curse of Kehama," as well as epical poems on "Madoc," "Joan of Arc," and "Roderick, the Last of the Goths."
Moore, although preeminently a lyric poet, has left us the eastern epic "Lalla Rookh," and Lockhart some "Spanish Ballads" which paraphrase the Cid.
Among Macaulay's writings the "Lays of Ancient Rome" have epic qualities, which are also found in Leigh Hunt's "Story of Rimini."
The plot of Tristram has been utilized both by Matthew Arnold and by Swinburne, while William and Lewis Morris have rewritten some of the old classic stories in "The Earthly Paradise," the "Life and Death of Jason," the "Defense of Guinevere," and the "Epic of Hades."
It was, however, the Victorian poet-laureate Tennyson who gave the Arthurian Legend its latest and most artistic touches in "Idylls of the King." Some critics also claim as an example of the domestic epic his "Enoch Arden."
Among recent writers, sundry novelists have been hailed as authors of prose epics. Thomas Westwood has composed in excellent verse the "Quest of the Sangreall," Mrs. Trask "Under King Constantine," a notable addition to the Arthurian cycle, and Stephen Philips has sung of Ulysses and of King Alfred.
[Footnote 20: See the author's "Legends of the Virgin and Christ."]
Introduction. The only Anglo-Saxon epic which has been preserved entire was probably composed in Sweden before the eighth century, and taken thence to England, where this pagan poem was worked over and Christianized by some Northumbrian bard. Although some authorities declare it dates back as far as the fifth century, most affirm it must have been composed in the seventh. The present manuscript, now preserved in the British Museum, dates back to the tenth century. It contains some 3182 lines, and is written in alliterative verse (that is to say, that all the lines are written in pairs and that each perfect pair contains two similar sounds in the first line and one in the second). Although the author of Beowulf is unknown, the poem affords priceless hints in regard to the armor, ships, and mode of life of our early Saxon fore-fathers. Many translations of the poem have been made, some in prose and others in verse, and the epic as it stands, consisting of an introduction and forty-two "Fits," is the main text for the study of the Anglo-Saxon language.
The Epic. Hrothgar, King of Denmark, traces his origin to Skiold, son of Odin, who as an infant drifted to Denmark's shores. This child lay on a sheaf of ripe wheat, surrounded by priceless weapons, jewels, and a wonderful suit of armor, which proved he must be the scion of some princely race. The childless King and Queen of Denmark therefore gladly adopted him, and in due time he succeeded them and ruled over the whole country. When he died, his subjects, placing his body in the vessel in which he had come, set him adrift.
Men are not able Soothly to tell us, they in halls who reside, Heroes under heaven, to what haven he hied.
Hrothgar, his descendant, constructed a magnificent hall, called Heorot, wherein to feast his retainers and entertain them with the songs of the northern skalds.
It burned in his spirit To urge his folk to found a great building, A mead-hall grander than men of the era Ever had heard of, and in it to share With young and old all of the blessings The Lord had allowed him, save life and retainers.
The night of the inauguration of this building, the royal body-guard lay down in the hall to sleep; and, when the servants entered the place on the morrow, they were horrified to find floor and walls spattered with blood, but no other trace of the thirty knights who had rested there the night before. Their cry of horror aroused Hrothgar, who, on investigating, discovered gigantic footsteps leading straight from the hall to the sluggish waters of a mountain tarn, above which a phosphorescent light always hovered. These footsteps were those of Grendel, a descendant of Cain, who dwelt in the marsh, and who had evidently slain and devoured all the king's men.
Too old to wield a sword in person, Hrothgar offered a princely reward to whoever would rid his country of this terrible scourge. But, although many warriors gladly undertook the task, the monster proved too strong for all, and none save a minstrel—who hid in one corner of the hall—ever succeeded in escaping from his clutches. This minstrel, after seeing Grendel feed upon his companions, was so impressed by the sight, that he composed a song about it, which he sang wherever he went, and once repeated for the entertainment of King Higelac and his nephew Beowulf. In answer to their eager questions, the bard averred the monster still existed and invariably invaded the hall when a feast was held there. This was enough to arouse in Beowulf a burning desire to visit Denmark and rid the world of this scourge. Knowing his nephew was very brave and having had proof of his endurance (for the young man had once in the course of a swimming match, stayed in the water five whole days and nights, killing many sea monsters who came to attack him), Higelac gladly allowed him to depart with fourteen chosen companions. Thus Beowulf set out "over the Swan-Road" for Denmark, to offer his services to the king.
The foamy-necked floater fanned by the breeze, Likest a bird, glided the waters, Till twenty and four hours thereafter The twist-stemmed vessel had travelled such distance That the sailing-men saw the sloping embankments, The sea-cliffs gleaming, precipitous mountains, Nesses enormous: they were nearing the limits At the end of the ocean.
On seeing a vessel with armed men approach their shores, the Danish coast guards challenged the new-comers, who rejoined their intentions were purely friendly, and begged to be led to the king. There Beowulf and his attendants—after paying their respects to Hrothgar—offered their services to rid him of the terrible scourge which had preyed so long upon his people. On hearing this, the king immediately ordered a feast prepared, and at its close allowed Beowulf, at his request, to remain alone in the hall with his men. Aware that no weapon could pierce the armed hide of the uncanny monster, Beowulf—who had the strength of thirty men—laid aside his armor and prepared to grapple with Grendel by main strength when he appeared.
Then the brave-mooded hero bent to his slumber, The pillow received the cheek of the noble; And many a martial mere-thane attending Sank to his slumber.
Just as the chill of morning invades the hall, Beowulf hears stealthy steps approaching and the great door bursts open, admitting a monster, all enveloped in clammy mist, which—pouncing upon one of the men—crunches his bones and greedily drinks his blood. Beowulf, intently watching the fiend, seeing him stretch out a horny hand for another victim, suddenly grasps it with such force and determination that the monster, notwithstanding frantic efforts, cannot free himself. A terrible struggle now takes place, in the course of which Beowulf and Grendel, wrestling madly, overturn tables and couches, shaking the hall to its very foundations. Nevertheless, Beowulf clings so fast to the hand and arm he had grasped, that the monster, trying to free himself by a mighty jerk, tears his arm out of its socket and disappears, uttering a blood-curdling cry, and leaving this trophy in his foe's grasp. Mortally wounded, Grendel hastens back to his marsh, leaving a trail of blood behind him, while Beowulf, exhausted but triumphant, proudly exhibits the huge hand and limb which he has wrenched from the monster, declaring it will henceforth serve to adorn Heorot.
When Hrothgar beholds it on the morrow and hears an account of the night's adventures, he warmly congratulates Beowulf, upon whom he bestows rich gifts, and in whose honor he decrees a grand feast shall be held in this hall. While they are drinking there and listening to the music of the skalds (who sing of Sigmund the dragon-slayer and of a fight at Finnsburgh), Wealtheow, Queen of Denmark, appears in their midst, and bestows upon Beowulf a wonderful necklace and a ring of the finest gold, bidding him wear them in memory of his triumph.
The feast over, Hrothgar escorts his guest to the palace, where he is to rest that night, leaving his own men to guard Heorot, for all feel confident Grendel has been too sorely wounded ever to appear again. But, while the warriors sleep peacefully, the giant's mother—an equally hideous monster—comes into the hall, secures her son's gory arm which hangs there as a trophy, and bears away Aeschere, one of the king's friends.
On learning of this loss on the morrow, Hrothgar is overcome with grief, and Beowulf, hearing his lamentations, suddenly appears to inquire what has occurred. On learning the ghastly news, he volunteers to complete his work and avenge Aeschere by attacking Grendel's mother in her own retreat. But, knowing the perils he is facing, he makes his arrangements in case he should never return, before following the bloody traces left by the monsters. Then he hastens to the pool, where he finds Aeschere's head set aloft as a trophy! Gazing down into the depths, Beowulf now perceives the waters are darkly tinged with the monster's blood, but nevertheless plunges boldly into their depths, where he swims about a whole day seeking Grendel's retreat. Guided at last by a phosphorescent gleam, our hero finally reaches a cave, after slaying on the way a number of monsters sent to check his advance. On nearing the giants' den, a strong eddy suddenly sweeps him within reach of Grendel's mother, who, clutching him fast, flings him on the floor, and is trying to find a joint in his armor, so as to kill him with her knife, when Beowulf, snatching a sword hanging from a rocky projection, deals her so fierce a blow that he severs her head from its trunk.
Then he saw amid the war-gems a weapon of victory, An ancient giant-sword, of edges a-doughty, Glory of warriors: of weapons 'twas choicest, Only 'twas larger than any man else was Able to bear in the battle-encounter, The good and splendid work of the giants. He grasped then the sword-hilt, knight of Seyldings, Bold and battle-grim, brandished his ring-sword, Hopeless of living hotly he smote her, That the fiend-woman's neck firmly it grappled, Broke through her bone-joints, the bill fully pierced her Fate-cursed body, she fell to the ground then: The hand sword was bloody, the hero exulted. The brand was brilliant, brightly it glimmered, Just as from heaven gem-like shineth The torch of the firmament.
The blood from this monster, pouring out of the cave, mingles with the waters without, which begin to seethe and bubble in so ominous a way that Hrothgar and his men, exclaiming Beowulf is dead, sadly depart. The hero's attendants, however, mindful of orders received, linger at the side of the mere, although they cherish small hope of ever beholding their master again.
Having disposed of Grendel's mother, Beowulf rushes to the rear of the cave, where, finding Grendel dead, he cuts off his head, and with this trophy makes his way up through the tainted waters, which melt his sword, so that he has nothing but the hilt left on reaching the shore.
The sword-blade began then, The blood having touched it, contracting and shrivelling With battle-icicles; 'twas a wonderful marvel That it melted entirely, likest to ice when The Father unbindeth the bond of the frost and Unwindeth the wave-bands, He who wieldeth dominion Of times and of tides: a truth-firm Creator.
It is just as his followers are about to depart that Beowulf emerges from the waters, and, when they behold his trophy and hear his tale, they escort him back in triumph to Heorot, where the grateful Danes again load him with presents.
His task accomplished, Beowulf returns home, where he bestows the necklace he has won upon the Queen of the Geats, and continues faithfully to serve the royal couple, even placing their infant son upon the throne after their death, and defending his rights as long as he lives. Then the people elect Beowulf king, and during a reign of fifty years he rules them wisely and well. Old age has robbed Beowulf of part of his fabulous strength, when his subjects are suddenly dismayed by the ravages of a fire-breathing dragon, which has taken up its abode in some neighboring mountains, where he gloats over a hoard of glittering gold. A fugitive slave having made his way into the monster's den during one of its absences and abstracted a small portion of its treasure, the incensed firedrake, in revenge, flies all over the land, vomiting fire and smoke in every direction, and filling all hearts with such terror that the people implore Beowulf to deliver them from this monster too.
Although Beowulf realizes he no longer enjoys youthful vigor, he, nevertheless, sets out bravely with eleven men to attack the monster. On reaching the mountain gorge, he bids his small troop stand still, and, advancing alone, challenges the dragon to come forth. A moment later the mountain shakes as a fire-breathing dragon rushes out to attack Beowulf, who feels his fiery breath even through shield and armor. With deadly fury the dragon attacks the warrior, coiling his scaly folds around and around Beowulf, who vainly slashes at him with his sword, for scales made him invulnerable.
Seeing his master about to be crushed to death, Wiglaf—one of Beowulf's followers—now springs forward to aid him, thus causing sufficient diversion to enable Beowulf to creep beneath the dragon, and drive his sword deep into its undefended breast! Although the monster's coils now drop limply away from his body, poor Beowulf has been so sorely burned by its breath that he feels his end is near. Turning to his faithful follower, he thanks, him for his aid, bidding him hasten into the cave and bring forth the treasure he has won for his people, so he can feast his eyes upon it before he dies.
"Fare thou with haste now To behold the hoard 'neath the hoar-grayish stone, Well-loved Wiglaf, now the worm is a-lying, Sore-wounded sleepeth, disseized of his treasure Go thou in haste that treasures of old I Gold-wealth may gaze on, together see lying The ether-bright jewels, be easier able, Having the heap of hoard-gems, to yield my Life and the land-folk whom long I have governed."
Sure that the monster can no longer molest them, the rest of the warriors press forward in their turn, and receive the farewells of their dying chief, who, after rehearsing the great deeds he has done, declares he is about to close honorably an eventful career. When he has breathed his last, his followers push the corpse of the dragon off a cliff into the sea, and erect on the headland a funeral barrow for Beowulf's ashes, placing within it part of the treasure he won, and erecting above it a memorial, or bauta stone, on which they carve the name and deeds of the great hero who saved them from Grendel and from the fiery dragon.
So lamented mourning the men of the Geats, Fond-loving vassals the fall of their lord, Said he was kindest of kings under heaven, Gentlest of men, most winning of manner, Friendliest to folk-troops and fondest of honor.
[Footnote 21: See also the author's "Legends of the Middle Ages."]
[Footnote 22: All the quotations in this chapter are taken from Hall's translation of "Beowulf."]
THE ARTHURIAN CYCLE
The Arthurian cycle consists in a number of epics or romances about King Arthur, the knights of his Round Table, or the ladies of his court. The Anglo-Norman trouveres arranged these tales in graduated circles around their nucleus, the legend of the Holy Grail. Next in importance to this sacred theme, and forming the first circle, were the stories of Galahad and Percival who achieved the Holy Grail, of Launcelot and Elaine who were favored with partial glimpses of it, and of Bors who accompanied Galahad and Percival in their journey to Sarras. The second circle included the stories of Arthur and Guinevere, of Geraint and Enid, of Tristan and Isolde, of Pelleas and Ettarre, of Gareth and Lynette, of Gawain, and of Bedevere. The third and last circle dealt with the epics of Merlin and Vivien, Uther and Igerne, Gorlois, and Vortigern.
To give a complete outline of the adventures which befell all these knights and ladies in the course of seventeen epics and romances,—of which many versions exist, and to which each new poet added some episode,—would require far more space than any one volume would afford. A general outline will therefore be given of the two principal themes, the Quest of the Holy Grail and King Arthur and his Round Table, mentioning only the main features of the other epics as they impinge upon these two great centres.
Some of the greatest writers of the Arthurian cycle have been Gildas, Nennius, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, Robert de Borron, Marie de France, Layamon, Chrestien de Troyes, Benoit de St. Maur, Gaucher, Manessier, Gerbert, Knot de Provence, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Gottfried von Strassburg, Hartmann von der Aue, Malory, Tennyson, Swinburne, Howard Pyle, Matthew Arnold, and Wagner. Still, almost every writer of note has had something to say on the subject, and thus the Arthuriana has become almost as voluminous as the Shakespeariana. The legend of Arthur, almost unknown before the twelfth century, so rapidly became popular all over Europe, that it was translated into every language and recited with endless variations at countless firesides.
Robert de Borron is said to be mainly responsible for the tale of Merlin, the real poet of that name having been a bard at the court, first of Ambrosius Aurelianus and then of King Arthur. The Merlin of the romances is reported to have owed his birth to the commerce of a fiend with an unconscious nun. A priest, convinced of the woman's purity of intention, baptized her child as soon as born, thus defeating the plots of Satan, who had hoped the son of a fiend would be able to outwit the plans of the Son of Man for human redemption. In early infancy, already, this Merlin showed his miraculous powers, for he testified in his mother's behalf when she was accused of incontinency.
Meantime Constance, King of England, had left three sons, the eldest of whom, Constantine, had entered a monastery, while the two others were too young to reign. Drawn from his retirement to wear a crown, Constantine proved incapable to maintain order, so his general, Vortigern, with the aid of the Saxon leaders Hengist and Horsa, usurped his throne. Some time after, wishing to construct an impregnable fortress on Salisbury Plain, Vortigern sent for a host of masons, who were dismayed to see the work they had done during the day destroyed every night.