Category:Virgil in the basket

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In the earliest and most common form of the narrative, Virgil was represented as enamored of the emperor's daughter (the supposed name & identity of the lady varies, in different versions of the tale). She did not sympathize with his ardent expressions of love. Feigning, however, to accede to his wishes, that she might the more severely punish him for his presumption, she proposed to introduce him secretly into her chamber, by drawing him up in a basket to the window of the tower where she lived. Virgil eagerly agreed to this plan, and at the hour designated promptly bestowed himself in the basket, which he found swinging at the foot of the tower according to the lady's promise. All went well enough until he had been drawn half way up to the window. There the princess and her women left him, taunting him and mocking his prayers for release. He swung in mid air until daybreak. The people of the city, who were all familiar with the figure of so renowned a man, were first startled, then amused by the predicament in which they found him. This incident did not end with the laughter and gibes of the populace ; for the emperor having been informed of the matter released Virgil from his unique prison, with the inten- tion of ordering him to be beheaded. Virgil, as soon as he placed his feet on solid ground, found means of escape by the use of his magical arts. The insult that had been put upon him rankled in his mind, however, and in order to prepare the way for vengeance, the magician caused all the fires in Rome to go out, and made it impossible to light them again, except by the public shame and exposure of the emperor's daughter (i.e.; the citizens were gathered together, and each, separately, had to relight their fires from a magical force emitted around her; sometimes specifically from her vulva). The legend, as thus made up, is manifestly composed of two parts which are ill-fitted to be together. The first part belongs with those inventions of mediaeval humor in which Adam, David, Samson, Hercules, Hippocrates, Aristotle and other men of renown were the victims of a ridiculous trick originating in the subtle craftiness and instinctive malice of womankind. For example, the grave Aristotle, according to Adam de la Halle and many other writers, got down on all-fours in order that a woman might bridle, saddle and ride him as though he were a horse. These inventions are a commonplace of satiric poetry in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The second part was among the stories common in Europe long before it was connected with the name of Virgil. In an ancient account of St. Leo Thaumaturge it was told of Heliodorus, a reputed magician, who lived in Sicily in the eighth century. As this account was written first in Greek and as many of the incidents in the career of the extremely wicked Heliodorus were said to have taken place at Constanti- nople, there is little room to doubt that the particular story in question belongs to Grecian antiquity, from which it descended to both the oriental and the European literature of later times. It is said to be part of a Persian tale concerning a Khan of Turkestan, which has been translated into French by Defremery. The two parts of the legend may have been associated with Virgil's name separately in the first place — for the trick played by the woman hardly seems artful enough to have deceived a magician such as Virgil is afterward shown to be. They appeared together for the first time so far as known in a Latin work of the twelfth century. Jans Enenkel, in his Welibuch, narrated them, and they were subsequently repeated in the French poem Renars Contrefait, and in numer- ous writings of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, French and German most frequently, but also in Spanish, Italian and English. The legend was made a part, not only of those works that professed to treat of the Virgilian legends, but also of narratives in prose and verse, where one had little reason to expect it. As a rule Virgil was represented to have been unsuccessful in his suit, but Ticknor in J. History of Spanish Literature cites a ballad in which punishment was said to have been visited upon him for his success. Sometimes the story was told merely as a joke ; sometimes as an example to enforce exhortations against the sin of carnality. The Spanish poet Juan Ruiz de Hita, writing about 1313, recalled the legend in a discourse upon this theme which seems to have been as fruitful in disquisitions as it was in offences. With the highly useful attachment of a moral so plain that innocence itself could not misinterpret the fable, it was told and retold to weariness in literature ; presented over and over again in church pictures, and was made the subject of elaborate works by masters in art. A more pleasing form of the second part of the legend was a tale in which Virgil was represented as having gone about Rome in disguise that he might test the hospitality of the people. He was kindly treated by one family only, the members of which were miserably poor. In order to punish the uncharitable multitude, he extinguished all the fires in the city save the one on the hospitable hearth The poor family sold live coals to their neighbors and were by this means raised from penury to affluence. -- adapted from: MASTER VIRGIL, THE AUTHOR OF THE AENEID AS HE SEEMED IN THE MIDDLE AGES, A Series ok Studies, by J. S. TUNISON (Magicas invitam aeeingier artis, SECOND EDITION, CINCINNATI, ROBERT CLARKE & CO, 1890)


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