Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fairy Lore from Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kircher’s Underground Demons

Presented here is another excerpt from Athanasius Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus. Like its companion piece, A Natural History of Dragons, this brief treatise is good example of the kind of learned credulity which the rigors of Cartesian logic was about to abolish forever from Western scientific thought. The text is interesting today primarily for providing documentation of Europe's pre-modern fairy lore, two centuries prior to the work of the great folklorists of the nineteenth century. For that reason, I have provided a link to Thomas Keightley's monumental study The Fairy Mythology (1870), so that the curious reader can compare. Copyright of the translation is owned by the translator, Darius Matthias Klein.

Not only do secular authors unanimously confirm the existence of spirits that live underground, but religious authors do also. Concerning these spirits Delrius [unknown person – tr.] writes: “Since the powers of darkness flee the light as if it were a manifestation of the countenance of the Divine, it is certainly most appropriate for them to live nowhere else than an eternal underground abyss of darkness, as according to the Epistle of Jude, 1:6: ‘In truth the angels who did not observe His rule, but rather abandoned their home, He reserved for the judgment of the Great God, in darkness with eternal chains.’” Thus it is certain that the underground spirits have been endowed with the powers of darkness – and no one could doubt this without throwing away his faith. By the just dispensation of God these spirits appear to humans after they have become phantasms in human form for the purpose of tempting or tormenting those to whom they appear. I have deemed it appropriate to discuss them here lest anything be lacking in this work treating of all things subterranean. Further, whatever the reader finds in this account can be used to resist the wiles of the underground demons.

Historians have related that the underground demons are most commonly observed in three places: in the northern regions where perpetual darkness reigns; in desolate desert wastes; and in mines excavated for metals. These little demons very often appear as dwarves a cubit high, and from this the legend of the pygmies making war with the cranes at the Ryphaean Mountains [located in Scythia, or Central Asia – tr.] seems to have been born. Because of this ascription, Arab geographers claim that the underground demons inhabit the northernmost kingdoms. In particular they are placed in the kingdoms of Gog and Magog, a fact with which all other authors who treat of northern history and geography agree. In his Book of the Embassy to Moscow, Paul Jovius [unknown person – tr.] writes: “Beyond the Lappland, in the region ‘twixt Corum and Aquilo [exact locations unknown – tr.], where heat is forever absent, pygmies can be found – so some witnesses of exceptional trustworthiness have related. These pygmies, even after they grown to the greatest height to which they can attain, do not exceed the height of a lad of ten years of age. They are an uncanny species of human being, using a grunting form of speech, so that they seem to be as closely related to apes in their behavior as they are distant from actual humans in their bodily mass, mentality, and height.” With regards to these pygmies, the reader ought to consult Olaf Magnus, who refers to them as Screlingeri, i.e., “Cubit-Highs”. The most venerable authors – Plutarch, Ctesios, Pliny - have also made mention of monsters of this sort – and likewise assert that they do indeed exist, so that I cannot thus easily deny that they do. But I do not readily conclude that these pygmies are a true species of human being, since no nation can be found, even if one combs the entire earth, with any knowledge of humans of this kind, let alone where such a species flourishes.

My conclusion, therefore, is as follows. It is certain that these pygmies are seen by shepherds and farmers in the most remote corners of the Arctic lands, those lands condemned almost entirely to perpetual darkness. Since shepherds and farmers are, according to Olaf Magnus, disposed to every sort of superstition, and delude themselves easily with regards to the existence of spirits, it ought to seem remarkable to no one that they ordinarily see the demons manifesting under the form of a human pygmy. In this way the demons can both perpetuate the superstition among the minds of the credulous, and to confer benefits upon those to whom they have manifested. If, moreover, such a genus of little human indeed exists in the foggy septentrional regions, why have they remained hidden from the Batavians, that exceedingly curious race, who has done naught else for the past sixty years other than engage in the exploration of the most hidden recesses, not only of the north, but of every corner of the entire world? Why have the Batavians found nothing of pygmies of this sort in any nation? Why have no dwarves of this kind ever been taken from Lappland, Karelia, Cremesia [location unknown, perhaps Estonia or Vepsia – tr.], Finland, or from any of those countries hard by Germany – Suevia [now the province of Schwabenland in Germany – tr.], Denmark, or the Netherlands? Furthermore, monsters from even the most remote regions of the Indies are not ordinarily brought to our country, nor can anyone be found who would dare to claim that they had ever seen a pygmy answering to the description of the Cubit-Highs in any of the aforementioned nations. Thus all the accounts of the ancient Geographers concerning pygmies of this kind, written primarily for an unsophisticated readership, are purely mythical. And as water puts forth water, so does fable beget fable, and we accordingly classify the Stork Battle of the dwarves as a miracle. That is, the cranes imagine themselves to be in perpetual war with an army arrayed against those whom they hate. For a fuller treatment of such matters, the reader ought to consult Jordanes or Olaf Magnus.

I therefore declare that if these pygmies were ever actually seen, they were nothing other than those demons that love the misty regions of the aforementioned sort, which have been described as appearing to a rural populace which lacks any law or religion, for the purpose of perpetually enslaving them. As a result, the fabulous accounts of pygmies have subsequently filtered through to the entire world – and what is even more remarkable, they have found belief even among the wisest of men. These fabled and so-called “pygmies” can thus be numbered among those beings not infrequently encountered by miners, which are called mountain demons. Concerning these, George Agricola writes in his book on underground animals: “A twofold genus of these little demons occurs, the first being fierce and wild, and terrifying to look upon. It is called the Sneberg, because it inflicts tremendous damage on the miners whenever it is angered. There are also certain small demons which some of the Germans and Greeks call Kobalts, for they are believed to imitate humans, laughing as if delighted with happiness. They seem to do many things, but in fact do nothing. Some call them Little Mountain Men, or Bergmen, referring to the height to which many of them attain – that is, about three-quarters of the height of a dwarf. They seem to be aged and dressed in the manner of the miners, wearing both a fillet about the head and a leather hide hanging around the groin area. They do not usually harass the miners, but they do wander around in the pits and the tunnels. Although they do nothing, they seem to be engaged in every kind of labor, as if they were mining lodes, or pouring them into containers after they had been dug, or turning the digging machine. On occasion, however, they do pelt the operators with ice; but they rarely attack them and never actually harm them, unless first provoked by laughter or cursing. They are not dissimilar to those demons which the Germans call Gutels, or Trolls, which can disguise themselves as either sex. Among other nations, especially among the Suevians, it is said that these beings were originally in a state of servitude.” Thus writes Agricola.

It is apparent from Agricola’s account that the little mountain demons are the same as those which he states to have been employed in the capacity of servants in the northernmost regions. It was also related to me that these little mountain demons can be seen in Tyrolean mines, for whom the miners daily set aside small portions of food, always consisting of porridge, little cakes, and cheese. And unless they remember to do so, they are accordingly exposed to danger on that day. The cunning of the demons makes fools of the superstitious miners, so that there are some who consider this kind of extortion a religious obligation, and strive to appease the demons in any way. This is especially true when they hear the blows of a demon wielding a hammer: at that time the lucky miners persuade themselves that this is a signal that they can immediately uncover a gold-bearing vein. Cysatus confirms that this takes place often in his description of that Swiss mountain known as Mount Pilate. We have translated his account from German into Latin:

“Among other marvels there are certain tales concerning the little mountain men, whom the locals call Bergmen, which are endowed with the form and stature of dwarves. They are said to inhabit the mountain’s caverns and tunnels, and to have performed prodigies for the miners. They repay some gifts lovingly with gold, while they attack others in horrible ways. They have even hurled some persons over the rocky cliffs of the mountain when enraged. In all likelihood this was the result not of the actions of the fabled pygmies, but through the devices and various illusions of evil spirits, by the just judgment of God.”

Not long ago, this same learned man Cysatus wrote to me in response to various questions that I had posed. He stated that diabolic phantoms of this sort have appeared to various persons, both farmers and miners, in the form of dwarves. He also stated that one day he himself entered a very long subterranean passage for the purpose of uncovering lodes wherever he might find one [aliquousque = ?]. Next to a certain river he found the footsteps of a three-year-old child in the wet sand, which he curiously examined. Since he could not possibly believe that a boy of this age could have entered this frightful underground channel, he at last understood from the villagers that the footprints were those of one of the little mountain demons. The demons are believed to customarily delude superstitious men as much as possible with such footprints for the purpose of exciting greed among the miners.

When not long ago I inquired of the magistrates and prefects of the Hungarian mines whether the little underground demons – which they called Bergmen, or mountain pygmies - ever appeared there, they replied to me with the following: “Such demons have been seen by the miners in past times. They have even provoked the miners to flight and pushed them out of the mine, sometimes inciting a great uproar and clamor. This most especially happens as a portent or warning when the miners approach a rich lode.”

In a correspondence with me, Herr Schapelmann, Superintendent of Minerals in Herrengrundt [located in modern Slovakia – tr.], related the following: “The illustrious Ferdinand of Erun [location unknown – tr.], Superintendent of the Hungarian mines, thusly concerning the little mountain men, wrote to me: ‘It is most certain that spirits or phantoms can be seen in the mines, not only as if they were performing various labors, of which no actual outcome can be observed; but they also throw pebbles at the miners, savagely vexing many of them so that they are unable to perform their duties. This very thing happened not long ago to a certain miner who is now dead, named George Egger. This man testified that he himself saw phantoms of this sort when he was alone in the mine. However, they are more often heard than seen – and whenever anything of this nature occurs, often it presages some good or evil event. The miners also hold to the superstition that if anyone has seen a spirit of this kind, and at once reveals his vision, he will die shortly thereafter. There are many examples of this, among them the case which occurred in Selmec [located in modern Slovakia – tr.]. Twenty years after the event, a certain Simeon Krauss, when he related similar sights to his companions, suddenly perished. For more confirmation of this, there are many reliable old men who have declared the following statements with clear conscience under oath:

1. Martin Lichy, a metallurgist, states that sixteen years ago, on a certain Sunday evening, in a mine called the Oberpicherstollen Mine, he turned around and saw a little man the height of a boy of six to eight years, wearing a leathern vest, a wide hat, with large flashing eyes. The metallurgist, being alone, was thoroughly terrified by the little man’s appearance. But, since he held a club in his hand, he hurled it at the little man, who then vanished and did not appear again.

2. Paul Wetzstein, a miner at Oberpicherstollen, states that, twenty-five years ago, at a certain mine in Selmec, there was a miner named Mohrer Erbstollen, who heard someone hard at work. Wishing to know who it was, and believing the sound to be made by one of his companions, he went toward that place from which he heard the sound emanating. But, finding no one, he believed that his companions had hidden themselves to play a joke on him. From just past that place where a lantern was shining, he heard someone cry out “Ba-ba”; and for this reason he was quite terrified, knowing that there was nothing right in front of him. He hurriedly left the mine and sought out his companions. When he began to relate to them what had befallen him, they ordered him to be silent. Nevertheless, he presently fell ill, and remained so for the space of three weeks. A kind of rash erupted on his face; and it did not clear up until he regained his health three weeks later.

3. Christian Muller, a miner from the same place, affirms that the same thing happened to him just one week after the aforementioned incident had occurred. A fellow miner left him alone in the mine and ordered him to remain there a little while longer. While still inside the mine he heard someone hard at work above him; and, wishing to know who was working there, he looked around – but saw no one. Terrified, he fled from the mine. When his fellow miner wondered why he had followed him so hurriedly, he began to tell him what had happened. His companion enjoined him to silence: but still a paralysis overcame him for the space of two weeks, during which time he was struck dumb.

These men were able to tell much more besides, how similar phantoms or pygmies perform various acts in the mines, how they throw things up and down, and how such tumults often portend disaster. And, just as if the commotion they made was done in water, no trace is left of their activity, when the source of the disaster is sought.’”

So writes the Selmecian. George Schultz [unknown person – tr.] adds: “A long time ago, a pygmy or little mountain man (not called ‘little’ without reason) was seen. That he was very small was apparent from one of his footprints which he left in the muddy, adhesive ground – it was similar in size to that of a boy of two or three years. The lamp which he was accustomed to carry in his hand shone brilliantly, and if he preceded the miners in entering the mine, he gave them a good hope of finding a rich lode.” He then goes on: “The little mountain men, or pygmies, are found only in wealthier mines, and in the copper mines when they are prosperous.”

P. Andreas Schaffer [unknown person - tr.] has related similar things to me. And since he had great familiarity with the Hungarian mines, he also diligently sought the meaning of these phantasms. As his reports are already entirely in agreement with what I have already reported here, there is no need to repeat them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Friendships Poems from the Carolingian Renaissance


The following two poems were written during the 9th century. Drepanius Florus was the deacon at Lyons ca. 850 CE, and participated in the attacks on the brilliantly heterodox works of Johannes Scotus Eriugena. Little is otherwise known of his life. The life and career of Hrabanus Maurus (c. 780 - 4 February 856 CE), author of the second poem is better documented. Maurus was the archbishop of Mainz (in Germany) and one of the most prominent writers and theologians of his age. His work has been regarded by posterity as erudite rather than original.

Both of the poems were composed in the ambience of the cloister - not surprisingly, they have homoerotic overtones (particularly Drepanius Florus' piece) which make them charming to the modern reader. Copyright is owned by Darius Matthias Klein.

Drepanius Florus “From Drepanius to his Friend: an expression of gratitude for his defense

How sweet is the fragrance emanating from the inner court of your heart, my brother in Christ, you who are powerful in love. The senses are caressed, my entire being is delighted, while your heavenly power gives pleasure to every mind. Not thusly does the vine burn with love under the springtime sky, even as it sends forth its shoots, bright with renown; nor does the fresh grace of the fields in like manner give off so sweet an aroma, as they pour forth their white lilies and pink roses all at once. By you also are the flower-bearing gifts of the forests conquered. All of the scents of the offspring of the fruit-bearing trees are surpassed. You love equally, whether present or absent; nor does your pure mind ever know such self-serving deception that you would treat you foes differently from your dearest companions. Your heart caresses us, your tongue sings of us. To your friends you bring what pleases, while to those inimical you use reason to make refutations. One love shines with diverse arms, and because True Love, the conqueress, always prevails, it shall bear its glorious victories into eternity. Darksome ruin inevitably comes in a headlong whirlwind to hatred and malignant words and deeds. But sincere love, which it light eternal, shines; nor does it yield to darkness. Rather, darkness flees from it. Why? Is it because you never neglect to speak pious and restorative words, ladening them with many gifts, both here and in your home? This is true love, this is pure affection, which throughout the world is the holy reward given by both the Father and Christ. The Spirit which flows in the heavenly realms diffuses such gifts in the minds of the pure. Now the words of the ancient man [? = reference unclear], who, having been taken by the light and being of serene mind, gives us pleasure as they declare: Thus now is my child as redolent as the renowned countryside, which makes manifest the blessed rewards of the Divine One. May the Almighty give you the health-restoring dew of Heaven and sufficiently generous rewards for your fertile fields, the illustrious treasures of one who shall be a brother for all time. With the utmost delight do I dispense both oil and the finest of wines, rendering them unto you, dear advocate, as goodly promises of perpetual gratitude. For it is befitting to sing of divine gifts with divine words, so that like is returned directly with like in a beautiful exchange. May you be blessed, retaining a love begun in the world and taken by Heaven into eternity, friend of God.


Hrabanus Maurus “Poem written to a Friend

Greetings, faithful love and blessed delight: greetings, and remain blessed in the world, you who are our counselor, the mere mention of whose name brings good fortune. The verses I compose about you are better than those of Vergil, better than those of the heavenly Ovid, superior even to the odes of Horace: better than he who was more copious of words than Homer, whom Cordova engendered and Africa held [Lucan?]. For indeed had these poets, rightly suffering from the bites of envy, produced falsities with the bombastic Camoeans [? = reference unclear]. Knowing cordial hearts, you peacefully declaim devoted chains woven from pious words and make loving hearts known. I ask you this: what does our love do? I ask with verses, I beseech, that ardent passion go always with our writings. Let noble speech make celebration, let words reflect the rule [i.e., the monastic rule] – and let words certainty, joined by art, go forth in these verses. Let your stylus be embellished with worthy song, and the poet be praised by means of goodly law. May Christ Who is God in His citadel, pious Ruler of the World, give unto you the utterance borne of the Father, using the highest power of speech. And may His Spirit render hearts to be well disposed toward you, that you please the Lord in thought and word. For He directly compelled me to write these words to you in haste, wise wayfarer. May you always prosper.



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Vision of Louis of France

"The Vision of Louis of France" is an anonymously written medieval ecstatic journey. The narrator, a soldier named Louis, visits the same purgatory which was visited by Saint Patrick, and which was well-known in medieval Europe. The time of composition, according to the text, was 1378 CE. The Latin is barbarous, to say the least: but then, its crudity of style and idiosyncratic spellings make it somewhat fascinating to read. Translated from the text in Beitr├Ąge zur geschichte der visionenliteratur im mittelalter I-II, by Max Voigt. Copyright for the translation is owned by Darius Matthias Klein

The Vision of Louis of France
In the name of Christ, Amen.

If faith in the deeds of our forefathers is held to such an extent that through it our powers of reason wax most strongly, and if these deeds can be proven to have occurred by the trustworthiness of past accounts, we nevertheless owe a higher regard to that speculation, reinforced by reason, which encourages a greater power to believe. This greater regard comes about when we are compelled to believe with assurance in those matters which in our own times have been demonstrated to be consistent with both reason and worthy authority. Indeed, we have already read and heard about such things, even of matters which shall yet come to pass. For although such things concerning which I had heard and read seemed impossible to me, I nevertheless began to believe them capable of being real – not because of reason, which is ultimately irrelevant, but because I had heard of similar deeds from worthy authorities.

Thus, in our own times – that is, in the year of Our Lord 1360, early in the morning on the first day of January, I first heard of a certain valiant soldier known as Sir Louis, a Frenchman of the city of Auxerre, a man manifestly not given to many words, abstinent from all sins, disdainful of the world, one who subdues the flesh with prayers, fasts, vigils, pilgrimages, and many other acts of penitence. At that time Sir Louis lived at Rome; and he affirmed to me the truth of his experiences after I, having read what many had written in Ireland concerning his descent into the purgatory or dungeon of St. Patrick, summoned him to me by way of Brother Thaddeus of Gualanda (a brother of a lesser order), who was the lector at St. Mary of Arcelli. Sir Louis graciously recounted to me his adventures in exact detail, thus confirming my faith in what I had read and heard concerning this purgatory. And thus he related the following. [

I had been engaged militarily for some time – longer than could be thought possible. And for this reason I could often be found in contests and field-tourneys, whether in France, Germany, or Italy. Since I was always going about among the various nations, shedding copious quantities of Christian blood and engaged in a multitude of other sins, I began to think a little to myself, not only of how sinful it was to be enslaved to the errors of the flesh, but how I could wash myself clean of the crimes I had perpetrated in the Purgatory of St. Patrick, of which I had heard various accounts. Thus applying action to the idea, I undertook a journey to Avignon, where I obtained an audience with the most holy father and lord Pope Innocent VI and explained my idea to him. The pious father mercifully bestowed the grace of absolution from sin and punishment, and further gave his blessings that I might humbly travel to Ireland after I had bidden him farewell.

Once I had arrived, I applied at once to the abbot and the other monks at the Monastery of St. Patrick, presenting myself in honor of that same saint. Both the abbot and the monks attempted to dissuade me from my stated purpose. But, perceiving that I was steadfast in my resolve, they imposed a great penance upon me before I could actually enter. Thus I was compelled to fast for fifteen consecutive days. At that time I took no nourishment except a half-cup of milk; otherwise, I drank pure water, slept on the ground, and daily gave confession and took the holy sacrament of the Eucharist. When this penance had been completely fulfilled, twelve monks from the monastery led me to a certain body of water, which lay at a distance of two-and-a-half miles from the monastery. In the middle of this lake was a small island. We crossed the water in a [cinba=?; a coracle?] and went ashore; in the evening, the monks celebrated Mass. Once the rite had been concluded and there had been a nocturnal procession across the island, a blessing was given to me, and I was led to an iron gate which was held fast by two spikes. The monks opened it for me and bade me enter. Thus in the year of our Lord 1358, on September 17, I entered there. The monks closed the gate with the two spikes and returned to the monastery. Proceeding alone under the opening, the first thing that I found was a three-cornered [titeritinam=?] vault, which I estimated to be seven feet in length, two feet in width, and four feet in breadth, according to my measurements. There, blocking my way in the middle of the opening, was a shadow sufficiently similar in shape to a man, wearing an alb. He seized my arm and clutched it tightly: and in the following manner he addressed me:

“That you might see what you wish, rise quickly and step forward.”

Thus I arose and followed the shadow. I saw at once before me a splendor of tremendous brilliance. The shadow led me downward, and we descended a very beautiful stairwell the length of a hundred feet, at the end of which was a narrow road. As we walked over it, we were surrounded on all sides by the splendor; and having descended the entire stairwell I entered a very beautiful courtyard, in the middle of which was situated a dais; and on the dais, located to the side, next to the wall of the courtyard, was a throne. By the order of the one leading me I sat upon it.

As I sat there I saw thirteen white monks, one of whom was wearing the pontifical miter on his head, a very venerable man, who came forth from among the other white monks and spoke to me:

“Foolish presumption had led you to this place, since you cannot return without your principle means of escape. To go further shall be even more perilous for you, for demons will immediately approach you. First they will assume the form of extraordinarily beautiful women in order to seduce you, then they will take on the appearance of hideous dragons, so that your fear and terror of them will leave you bereft of hope. Still there is one form of assistance which will assure your well-being: namely, that you always keep the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ in your mind, and that of all his martyrs as well. And when you encounter the fiends, you shall say to them ‘The word was made flesh and it dwelt in us,’ then, ‘May God and the Holy Trinity be with me always.’ Remember to make the sign of the Holy Cross three times, for this will have the power to confer such great strength that you will prevail over the enemy and the temptations of all the demons.

“But behold! The demons come, and I can stand with you no longer”

And making the sign of the Holy Cross over me, he departed.

Then some women came toward me, whose beauty was amazing. They beckoned and called: “Put on these royal robes.” They placed on my head a golden crown decorated with the most precious gems, of astounding beauty, with the colors of milk-white and red mixed together. Hanging from the heads of these women were frills of gold-thread, timpora[?] slightly raised, their foreheads were whiter than polished snow, jeweled eyebrows of the purest black, having the very beautiful and far-seeing [vaghi?] eyes of an eagle, the whites of their cheeks more limpid than congealed milk, a very thin and straight nose going all the way down to the lips, lips as red as coral, burnished teeth like rows of soldiers arrayed for battle [aties?], a mens [meaning unclear] suspended like the most precious stone, being countrywomen with lovely fleshiness; they had, moreover, necklaces about their throats, and at their breasts they held two small apples, very beautiful indeed; they seemed a little older than sixteen or seventeen years of age. Thus they came toward me gracefully and pleasingly. One of them, who seemed to hold authority over the others, then began to address me in a submissive voice, saying:

“Noble soldier, do not doubt that we are not demons, but immortal gods having great power and riches, just as anyone who has passed before us would relate to you concerning their safety, which we ensured to the utmost [ut qui nos preverit ad te demum salvatissimus reservabit = as he who came before us, being in the greatest safety, will relate to you?]. Thus for your safety’s sake you must acquiesce to my instructions, accept our consolations, receive our amorous and fickle embraces of love, enter into the confines of desire, as desire is our chief concern. And if you do so, it will come about that not only do you experience pleasure, but there will be utility in the experience as well. For indeed we have power over the greatest treasures, anything of which can return with you if you wish. As you see, I have the keys to the gate through which you entered, that I might be able to fulfill your wishes. But if you decline to do that which I have enjoined you to do for your own safety – may it not be so! – behold, demons will presently come to devour you.”

[Second Version: And right away I saw at a short distance a lady, and many other ladies encouraging her to go to me. And she said: “May such a soldier fare well, whom we have been firmly enjoined to obey, seeing that you visit us while you are still alive, while other soldiers are compelled to visit us only after they have died. I desire that you be with us for this one time only, and that you take as much of our gold as you wish. Look above you, and behold the keys to the gates through which you entered; because if you do this, you will return to your home with a great treasure.” I saw behind her many ferocious beasts, and savage and horrid reptiles spitting forth fire, the flames of which appeared to reach the sky.]

And immediately dragons appeared behind the women in a great multitude. Swiftly they came charging toward me, hisses coming from their gaping mouths, emitting fiery clouds from their nostrils, ears, and eyes. With them there were many other animals – indeed they drew an entire fiery mob behind them, whose appearance was even more terrible, having diverse forms and manifestations. The flames which came out of them appeared to reach the very heavens.

“Come,” the woman said, “behold the dreadful aspect of the beasts and preserve yourself, as I said, with my counsel for your safety.”

The soldier responded to them not at all, being perplexed [the text here illogically uses the third person] because the women were continually drawing and shooting fiery arrows of desire into my very heart, and were but increasing my desire. And even as they did so, they were preparing for me to be devoured, should I not comply with the warnings of the one speaking to me. But I recalled those words which I had heard spoken to me beforehand, and presently the women disappeared. I found myself bound about my hands and feet, and thrown into the midst of those extremely ferocious wild beasts. As I began to feel myself burned with fire, I recalled those words that I was instructed to say in my heart. “The word was made flesh and it dwelt within us; may God and the Holy Trinity be with me always.” I made the sign of the Holy Cross over myself three times, and I was immediately freed from such horrid torments.

And I suddenly found myself in the middle of a green meadow, where I came upon women whose beautifications made them even more comely than the previous women. One of them commenced to speak to me:

“How lovely that so strong and noble a soldier has come to us, one whom we have desired for so long a time. Take whichever of us pleases you; indeed, it is incumbent upon you to thoroughly enjoy undreamt-of pleasures with her. Afterwards, she will bestow upon you a treasure, of such quantity as never there was in the entire world. If you disdain to assent to this request, behold! These serpents that you see holding men to the ground will immediately exercise a similar authority over you.”

And turning around and seeing those various beasts and serpents of temptation behind me, I easily resorted to the aforementioned remedies for such assaults. The women fled away at once, and the serpents confined me by holding me to the ground; I said the prayers in my heart and signed myself. Just as in the first case, I was freed from this second attack. Once again I found myself in a pleasant meadow, where there was a poor old woman with two girls whose beauty exceeded that of all the women previously described.

And as I was marveling at such lovely beauty, the old woman sweetly addressed me with the following words: “May there be joy and pleasure for you, handsome soldier, for indeed I have awaited you for a very long time. I wish to give whichever of these girls you find pleasing to you. You will always find pleasure and most delightfully enjoy her – and what’s more, you shall always be wealthy also. But beware, lest you prohibit yourself from doing what I advise. If you could ever evade or complete the penalties which would be imposed upon you, you could never escape those that I myself would devise. Behold, soldier, serpents, dragons, and other wild beasts more savage than the last, evilly thrusting men and women into the earth.” I turned around and saw beasts so horrid and cruel that those previously seen seemed kindly in comparison. Aroused by so great a lust for those girls, and struck by terror of the horrible beasts, that I fell to the ground in torment [excriatus?], unmindful of the prayers and approbations I had been taught. At last, as if supported by divine assistance, I remembered the prayers. The women departed, and at once I was held captive, affixed by four spikes the length of two palms. I imagined myself standing upright in the ground, as others were coming into being [ut fiebant alii = meaning unclear; perhaps the narrator finds himself being crucified on a cross while the savage beasts proliferate around him]. I made the sign of the Cross at once, I said the prayers, and thus I escaped the punishment.

And then I found myself on a very wide plateau, in which there was a monastery of very beautiful ladies. They came forth from the monastery, and, approaching me, addressed me with the following words:

“How great a pleasure your arrival has given us, most noble soldier – certainly there are no words which can express it. Come with us, and may it please your nobleness […] to the world’s […] in this place there is no monastery more beautiful, and you shall have whatever of our hospitality you desire. You shall rejoice in our domicile, where you can obtain whatever delights you expect. You must likewise take care for your own safety: behold the dragons and other wild beasts – see how ferocious they are! See how they stand upon both men and women, and how they would do the same to you if you should not heed our warnings. Look above, and see in the heavens a darksome cauldron filled with boiling water – it rises even as it seethes.”

And I saw above what appeared to be an infinite number of serpents drawing chariots with their tails, from which the horrid creatures were throwing men and women whom they held chained headlong into the cauldron. The woman spoke:

“Here is why you would wish to enter the safety of our cloister.”

At once I was seized, the women of the cloister departed, and I was submerged in the cauldron. There my captors attempted to push me down all the way to the bottom. But I said the prayers and signed myself, whose (f.) … I departed unharmed from the cauldron.

I then found myself in a very wide field, in the middle of which a most beautiful spring was welling up. Next to the spring was a girl sitting by herself, whose beauty was more pleasing to me than that of all the other girls who had preceded her. She held a sack of gold and silver in her hand, and she wept most bitterly to herself. When she saw me, more tears were shed upon her rosy cheeks, and she commenced to make a speech amidst her crying and sobbing:

“Turn around and behold a very sad sight.”

Turning around, I saw a torture wheel of such great height, that it seemed to reach from the summit of the heavens all the way to the very depths of the underworld. It was fiery all over, and from its monstrous roundness hung harmful beasts whose intent was to inflict torture, and thus they were … whose great terror … that in its/his [?] … I was unable to imagine the face. Among them (f.) was one who was so especially frightened that I almost fell dead to the ground just looking upon her. Each of these women had a large and terrible mouth affixing itself to her by its teeth, the length of which I estimated at three palms, biting into them like javelins. Both men and women were entering in turn, and were chained with fiery iron chains. An exceedingly horrible beast with teeth as were just described was ripping, eating, and vomiting them up, again and again: after lacerating them, it would eat them and then vomit them again, in an interminable round without end. Other beasts were pushing other men and women onto the wheel, tearing them with hooks and burning them, so that they were moved most speedily in accordance with the great speed of the wheel from the top to the bottom without ceasing. The sounds of the screams of woe being emitted by those who were being so miserably tormented reached all the way to the heavens. And again the girl spoke:

“I had a man whom I loved more than myself. One of the noxious beasts separated him from my embraces and threw him onto that wheel. For this reason I pray for your piety, since, soldier, your manner quite obviously indicates a strong clemency, by which it would please both yourself and me to free you from danger. Let us, you and I, fly from here, lest the beasts otherwise attack and torment us, just as you see them doing to the others.”

I did not forget the prayers – and just as I recalled them, the girl fled. At once I was bound and thrown onto the wheel to be tortured. I said the prayers, signed myself with the sign of the Holy Cross, and thus escaped with God’s help.

I then suddenly found myself in a large plain, where there was a very beautiful tree, under whose shade three very lovely women were sitting playing skhakhos [?]. One of them addressed me:

“O soldier of great strength and bravery, I greatly feel a singular and unalterable joy at your arrival, for I delight in courageous men of eternal fame, for which reason it ought to please your nobility not to disdain my loving embraces – even though you have been accustomed to be so warlike – and to approach me with the intent of making love to me straightaway. But look – and may you despise those punishments behind you now, for you can avoid them without assistance.”

Thus looking behind me I saw a castle, at the top of which was a burning torch whose flames reached all the way to heaven. I saw that there were also present very horrible burning animals and a fire. Then I beheld a bridge of marvelous height and length (which was to later give me much grief!); that is, it was of a length of ten miles … wide as a razor. And standing there were diversely marked serpents and dragons, and many other wild beasts, on all sides emitting fire all the way up the very heavens. Also present was a morass of rapidly-seething pitch, filled with men and women who were letting out ear-piercing wails and expostulations. Under the bridge ran a very swift-moving boiling river, in which flowed the most savage of beasts, seizing those who attempted to approach the bridge and submerging them in the water.

Thus spoke the lady:

“What do you say, dear soldier – would you rather decline to perish and choose to live instead, with me in eternal delight? Believe me, you ought to strive to do that which I counsel, in order to avoid these torments: because, even if you have managed to craftily escape one torment, you will be presently overwhelmed by yet another.”

At once I recalled the words of the priest and the lady ceased to be manifest. The dragons seized me and cast me into the furnace, where I burned. Then I said the prayers in my heart and signed myself as I had become accustomed to do.

And presently I found myself at the peak of a small mountain, where the aforementioned lady stood with two servants.

“Since you have escaped,” she said, “you may now cross the bridge, if you can. Indeed, it is not possible to return whence you came without undergoing all of the punishments that you witnessed; nor will you wish to perish by falling into so terrible a river.”

I recalled the words of the monk; and as soon as I put my greatly trembling foot upon the bridge, the woman vanished. I commenced to sign myself with the sign of the Holy Cross, and at once I was taken up and transported to the middle of the bridge. There I encountered a very dreadful man offering counsel as he rode a red horse, who spoke in a threatening voice:

“Turn back, lest you be submerged in the water.”

I was about to turn back, overcome by terror and tremendous cowardice, fearful of both the horse and the rider. This was the result of becoming forgetful and taking no recollection the assistance which had been rendered unto me. And looking into the river I saw so great a murkiness and depth that my very heart grew faint from terror. The rider was so exceedingly horrific, that before I could look at him a second time I chose instead to project myself into the river headfirst. At that point I, who had been forgetful of the prayers of the Holy Father, said in my heart:

“Woe is me, how I suffer, what more can I possibly say? I cannot go back, nor can I withstand the countenance of the horseman who blocks my way.”

Behold, at once I was submerged in the river, which roiled and flowed downward with great intensity, like a swiftly-shooting arrow. It was so awful that there are no words that can describe it. At last I began to recall the admonitions of the holy father. Thus I reclaimed my powers and comforted myself by saying:

“The word was made flesh and it dwelt within us; may God and the Holy Trinity be with me always.”

I spoke without delay and signed myself with the sign of the Cross: and at once I found myself beyond the bridge. Now that I had crossed the bridge I humbly gave thanks to God, because it had pleased Him to liberate me from such great dangers. A venerable antichus [ancient=antiquus?] with a white beard and white hair appeared before me. He greeted me by bowing his head and spoke in joyful tones:

“The blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [Who?] has conferred such great grace upon you, that you have been able to evade the terrible torments of false deceivers of the demons.”

And then he cried: “Take hold of this thread which I have brought for you; come and follow me past this place.”

I took hold of the thread and began to follow him. He led me through a large green valley, through which a most beautiful stream was flowing, and in which there was a multitude of men and women. Some were upside down, while others had their limbs spread apart. Speaking aloud for the first time since I had entered the crypt, I began to address my guide with the following words:

“What sort of people do I see here, lying in the water?”

He replied: “These are men and women whose sins are light, so that here they are exposed for their crimes, of which they are being purged.”

We withdrew from that place and entered a very beautiful castle. In one of the inner courts I saw a very lovely bier and throne situated next to one of the walls. The throne was covered by an exceedingly beautiful drape. My venerable guide then said to me:

“Does the bier not seem beautiful to you?”

I replied: “Yes.”

To which he replied: “It is full of fiery coals beneath it golden covering, and likewise in the throne is there fire beneath the drape.”

He then revealed that which he had described, concerning which it is not permissible for me to tell here. And proceeding further along our journey we arrived at a vault, where a certain king, well-known to me, sat rejoicing – very greatly, it seemed to me – on his royal golden throne. Both men and women approached him in a great multitude, bringing roxas [?], pleasant things, and other gifts, and setting them down with reverence. I asked my leader:

“What people are these?”

And he replied: “They are pilgrims receiving a blessing from seeing the king, as they have crossed through his kingdom, just as they went to the Rome [to visit the shrines] of the apostles Peter and Paul, and other saints, of whom … they rest, and various other parts of the world to visit the shrines of St. James, the Holy Angel, the tomb of the Lord, and Saint Catherine. At the end of this pilgrimage is the throne of the king whom you now see. Upon this throne the king burns in torment throughout the hours of the day, and for three hours out of every night he lies on the burning bier. This is because, while he still lived in the flesh, whence you come, he was entirely given to luxuriousness, desire, and amorous pursuits – so much so that he would be tormented by the most atrocious punishments on the other side of the bridge, were it not for these poor pilgrims of Christ praying for him. But you, when you have returned to the world, will relate to your kinsfolk what you have seen, so that they will be freed from so many torments; thus will you bestow divine mercy upon them.”

And presently he led me into another vaulted chamber, where there was a queen, complaining so loudly over the punishments that she bore, that her cries seemed to reach to the very heavens. Above her head were two large black ravens, very horrible, which were tearing at her head. Indeed, she was immersing herself most miserably in boiling pitch all the way to her mouth because of her too-great fear of the ravens. Desirous to know what this meant, I said as much to my guide, who said to me:

“She was the wife of the king.”

I said: “I knew her, but I no longer recognize her because she has been so completely disfigured by her punishments.”

And my august guide said: “This adulteress did not keep the king’s faith because of her covetousness. Likewise, besides the punishments that you already see, she sits on the fiery royal throne for three hours a day, and then lies on the bier at night. Because the king loved her with good faith, the Lord did not hand her over to the torments beyond the bridge. Good faith was therefore strong for her.”

Going further, we entered a broad expanse where I beheld a multitude of men and women standing in thistles. One of the women was holding one arm, another two, another man his legs: thus they stood there in this manner of diverse postures. For this reason I asked my guide:

“Who are these people?”

“These are various persons,” he replied, “who are afflicted each according to the kind of his or her sin.”

Departing thence, we walked a long way in very beautiful gardens filled with rivers of fire. The journey, so it seemed to me, was one of twenty miles.

Along the way I asked my guide: “Merciful father, may it please you to reveal to me what these various torments of such horror are, which I have seen beyond the bridge.”

And he said: “We have passed seven individual punishments, which I shall explain to you in order. The first group of individuals were being afflicted and tortured miserably for murder and usury without redemption; and they constantly emit the sounds of their inner fire exteriorly, thus as you heard. The second group of individuals – those were bound down and shut into the earth with nails who length exceeded that of two palms – were of that sort of person who is a false witness, cruel, and blasphemous of God and the saints, throwing all reverence to the wind [postergata?]. The third group, those who were nailed down with spikes of the same length, are those who were adulterers and fornicators, living in pursuit of pleasure and deflowering virgins [ut suppremi fatie versus cellum = the sight of which I concealed from myself, looking toward the heavens?]. The fourth of them are those you saw boiling in the cauldron, that are taken [asantur?] and put on an iron plate over a fire, are heretics, pagans, and the perversely unfaithful. For such, being avaricious of silver and gold, it is accordingly given to them in liquid form, poured down their throats; and just as they took the time to gratify their desires, they are boiled in a cauldron filled with pitch. The fifth group consists of those found on the wheel, whose height is in the heavens, and whose bottom descends into the abyss. These are the tyrants and other lords who ruled unjustly in whatever way they could, as well as judges and lawyers of any type who judged and advocated unjustly, and even clerics exercising the perquisite of passing unjust ecclesiastical laws, spending their time in duties both profitable and not. Such, I say, as you have seen, are cast forth upon the wheel, where they are raised up the heavens just as rapidly as they are submerged endlessly in the depths, to be prepared afterwards as edibles for the insatiable and malignant Lucifer. The sixth group consists of those who are scorched most greatly in the lowest furnace: these are the envious and the slanderers. The seventh punishment is for those who are in the river under the bridge, those most of all those mentioned who were bereft of the divine mercy.”

And when he had finished speaking, he led me to a certain very illustrious city, whose walls of great height seemed to be made of silver. He said:

“Stand here”; and he left me at once – nor did I see him again, as he remained invisible.

Here I remained alone for one half of an hour with the thread which my guide had given to me at the outset, when he had first seen me. At the end of this thirty minutes, two very venerable bishops came to me in habit, wishing to celebrate mass. One of them signed me with the blessing of the Crucifix, and I prostrated myself to the ground at once in order to receive it. His countenance shone and his speech was angelic as he addressed me:

“Blessed soldier, I give thanks always to the almighty Jesus Christ for his blessed [felio=?] in the world, Who freed you from so many torments, so that you could arrive at such blessedness.”

And as I stood among them, they took hold of my thread which I was carrying in my hand, so that they had hold of one end while I had hold of the other; and in this manner they led me into the city. Proceeding forward we came to a palace the length of ten miles, decorated most gorgeously with the best lapis lazuli [auro azuro=blue gold?], where diverse kinds of musical instruments and organs most sweetly resounded, and where there was such great beauty and an exceedingly great delightfulness of eternal light. I was not permitted to remain there more than one hour (which could be said to be a year); but compared to this hour, a lifetime of the production and acquisition of goodly delights in the world was but contemptible.

Innumerable kings – more in number than the rays of the sun – sat on thrones in royal dignity, surrounding the walls in the most upright and devout order. Each wore upon his head a golden crown adorned with glittering stones, their robes were of purple mixed with gold, over which each one wore a white stole, whose splendor exceeded that of the sun itself. Each bore in one hand a royal scepter and a book in the other. In this manner were all there with the greatest royal dignity. All sang with a smooth and harmonious voice, uttering the most sweetly angelic notes, diverse and almost inaudible, like fragrances; so much so that my soul entirely melted in the face of such joyousness. Upon beholding this great glory of such kings, I lost the recollection of the torments inflicted on me. And there was in that palace one seat higher than the remainder, and more lovely, in which no one was sitting. In the air above the palace, moreover, there were images of men, all of whom were gazing at me, even as I was unable to look upon countenances of such marvelous splendor, and they were speaking among themselves in turn. I would have remained there in the greatest delight, but the bishops were leading me away, unwilling as I was, with great haste.

After this we entered another palace of similar length, identical in all ways to the first, where queens of surpassing beauty sat on thrones befitting them. All were beautiful, graceful, and adorned with the greatest pleasantness, blessedness, and felicity, singing smoothly and melodiously – so much so that it cannot be described in either human or angelic language. Not wishing to linger here, the bishops led me (who was once again unwilling) away very quickly. Thus leaving the palaces, we entered extremely beautiful and most delightful gardens, where there grew the most brilliant trees – like those of Castille, huge and most pleasing – and fragrant flowers of surpassing sweetness: the whitest of lilies and the reddest of roses, and other flowers which I could not possibly enumerate. There were trees with the greenest leaves, whose fruit savored of such honey-sweetness that I could not possibly describe it. No one, moreover, could possibly render in words the sight of such a splendid assortment of birds, brighter than the sun, of an infinite variety with variously-colored feathers and wings. Here came all together the kings and queens whom I had previously seen in other places to drink in the divine consolation. Here I raised into intense grace, and sensed myself to be so very blessed in such a way that I cannot recall being possible at all in this world. Then I asked the bishops:

“Most reverend lords, may it please your beneficences that I remain here in such blessedness.”

And they said: “Not now, my son, but come with us further, and you shall see even more.”

And we set out beyond that city, walking through gardens more pleasing than the first, of a length of twenty miles. We came at last to a city whose walls were of the purest gold and whose gates were of jasper, sapphire, and an infinite number of other precious stones, with which the walls also were adorned. The splendor was such that it would have made the sun look dark in comparison [?].

As we entered the city I saw that all of the avenues were of gold and other precious stones. Two palaces were there, whose beauty was infinitely greater than that of the palaces of silver which I had previously seen. In them I saw all of the kings whom I had seen in the silver city. The blessedness, I say, of both the city and its citizens was such that the previous city seemed miserable in comparison. Then I asked my guides:

“I beseech you by the blood of Jesus Christ that I may be able to remain in this city forever.”

They did not respond, but instead led me most swiftly outside the city. We came to a fountain decorated with the purest gold and with precious stones. And in the same place sat the kings and queens. We stepped forth and entered a garden of such beauty, and such delightfulness, sweetness, and pleasantness, that the first seemed to be filthy in comparison. In the middle of the garden was a very high tower made of the best gold. The bishops guided me to the top of the tower and said:


And looking I saw a castle of such splendor that the golden city seemed to be darkness in comparison. In it, it seemed that I saw God, for indeed I saw three heads. Now, struck with great awe, I fell as if dead; similarly, I perceived such blessedness, as I could not possibly describe. Then I said to the bishops:

“Might we be able to approach that castle, that we might see who each one of them is?”

And they answered: “No, not as long as you are merely an interloper here.”

For the splendor of the castle was similarly radiant … [to the?] city … descending past the fountain, where various organs and instruments were resounding most sweetly. The bishops led me back through the golden city, then through the gardens of twenty-miles’ length, all the way to the silver city.

“If you wish,” they said, “to arrive at the castle of such great beauty, do not shirk from any punishment or martyrdom in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ when you return to the world whence you have come to us.”

And after entering the silver city they revealed to me certain very arcane matters, enjoined to me under a vow of silence, which are not permitted for me to reveal unto the end of my life; nor did they predict for me the manner of my death. After they had put an end to speaking, they suddenly vanished – whither I know not, although the golden thread remained with me. At once there appeared before me the man who wore white vestments, of venerable hoariness, who had first appeared to me on the opposite side of the bridge, bringing me the golden thread. He greeted me warmly and led me outside the silver city. He then said:

“Son, you must entirely take heed of the admonitions of the bishops, if you wish to evade or escape the torments through which you have come.”

And he related to me certain secrets, of which it is not permissible for me to speak. Then he disappeared, taking the thread with him. I remained there alone, struck with great fear and terror by his words. I began to weep most bitterly, because I had lost such blessedness and felicity, so that I was overcome by sobbing.

“O woe is me, alas! I am wretched – how shall I be able to withstand those torments when I cross the bridge, when beforehand I did not do so alone? And how shall I cross that bridge without falling and being drowned in the river?”

Thus I wailed most bitterly to myself; and while I did so I heard a voice speaking to me, saying:

“Is there any who wears the alb?” [?]

To which I said, rejoicing greatly and believing that I would return the great glory of the city whence I had come:

“Here I am, O Lord!”

As soon as I had spoken, the iron gate of the crypt, through which I had initially entered, was opened by the monks of the monastery of Saint Patrick. They dragged me away half-dead and thus conducted me back to the world. I lay prostrate on the ground, and opening my eyes I saw Lord Malatesta Ungae of Arimene [Armenia?] and also the monks, who in a procession led me completely debilitated, brutalized, bruised, and whipped back to the monastery. There I ate alone, took water, and slept alone for three days. All that had taken place from the time that I first entered the crypt to the end, when I had gone out over the bridge, had lasted twenty-four hours, not a moment more or less – so the monks informed me. I said to my lord the abbot and to the other monks:

“These things, my father, which you have asked, I have narrated to you as they occurred. And let there be perpetual damnation for me if it be not understood exactly as I have related, or misconstrued for something else.”

Thus, by the invocation of the True God, because truly God knows the truth, I spoke most truly for the forgiveness of mine own and the sins of all others, and to increase the glory of life eternal, to which may blessed God lead us through, Who lives and reigns forever. Amen.