Friday, 2 April 2010

Langland's Passion, II: Good Friday

Part I here. The story continues with Pilate coming to judge the outcome of the joust between Christ and Death:

Thanne cam Pilatus with muche peple, sedens pro tribunali,
To se how doghtiliche Deeth sholde do, and deme hir botheres right.
The Jewes and the justice ayeins Jesu thei weere,
And al the court on hym cryde " Crucifige!' sharpe.

As in a court, accusers come forward (a 'pelour' is a litigant in a criminal case, as in 'appellant'; a 'cachepol' is a bailiff):

Tho putte hym forth a pelour bifore Pilat and seide,
"This Jesus of oure Jewes temple japed and despised,
To fordoon it on o day, and in thre dayes after
Edifie it eft newe - here he stant that seide it -
And yit maken it as muche in alle manere poyntes
Bothe as long and as large a lofte and by grounde."
"Crucifige!" quod a cachepol, " I warante hym a wicche!"
"Tolle, tolle!" quod another, and took of kene thornes,
And bigan of grene thorn a garland to make,
And sette it sore on his heed and seide in envye,
"Ave, raby," quod that ribaud, and threw reedes at hym.

The scene moves immediately to the place of Crucifixion, without any of the intervening events which the Gospels describe, such as the carrying of the cross; it's a spare, dignified account:

Nailed hym with thre nailes naked on the roode,
And poison on a pole thei putte up to hise lippes,
And beden hym drynken his deeth-yvel - hise dayes were ydone -
And seiden, "If that thow sotil be, help now thiselve;
If thow be Crist and kynges sone, com down of the roode;
Thanne shul we leve that lif thee loveth and wol noght lete thee deye!"

('Then we will believe that Life, i.e. God, loves you and will not let you die')

" Consummatum est,' quod Crist, and comsede for to swoune,
Pitousliche and pale as a prisoner that deieth;
The lord of lif and of light tho leide hise eighen togideres.

The day for drede withdrough and derk bicam the sonne.
The wal waggede and cleef, and al the world quaved.
Dede men for that dene come out of depe graves,
And tolde why that tempeste so longe tyme durede.
"For a bitter bataille," the dede body seide,
"Lif and Deeth in this derknesse, hir oon fordeoth hir oother.
Shal no wight wite witterly who shal have the maistrie
Er Sonday aboute sonne risyng" - and sank with that til erthe.

('No creature will know for certain who shall win the combat between Life and Death until Sunday')

Some seide that he was Goddes sone, that so faire deyde:
Vere filius Dei erat iste.
And some seide he was a wicche: "Good is that we assaye
Wher he be deed or noght deed, doun er he be taken."
Two theves also tholed deeth that tyme
Upon a croos bisides Crist - so was the comune lawe.
A cachepol cam forth and craked bothe hir legges,
And hir armes after of either of tho theves.
Ac was no boy so boold Goddes body to touche;
For he was knyght and kynges sone, Kynde foryaf that throwe
That noon harlot were so hardy to leyen hond upon hym.

Legends about the soldier who pierced Christ's side with a spear abounded in the Middle Ages; he was given the name Longinus, and it was said that his blindness was cured by Christ's blood when he was persuaded to unwittingly pierce Christ's body:

Ac ther cam forth a knyght with a kene spere ygrounde,
Highte Longeus, as the lettre telleth, and longe hadde lore his sight.
Bifore Pilat and oother peple in the place he hoved.
Maugree his manye teeth he was maad that tyme
To justen with Jesus, this blynde Jew Longeus.
For alle thei were unhardy, that hoved on horse or stode,
To touchen hym or to tasten hym or taken hym doun of roode,
But this blynde bacheler, that baar hym thorugh the herte.
The blood sprong doun by the spere and unspered the knyghtes eighen.
Thanne fil the knyght upon knees and cryde Jesu mercy:
"Ayein my wille it was, Lord, to wownde yow so soore!"
He sighed and seide, " Soore it me athynketh!
For the dede that I have doon I do me in youre grace.
Have on me ruthe, rightful Jesu!" - and right with that he wepte.

The figure Faith interprets what has happened (after cursing the Jewish crowd for 'unchivalric' behaviour!):

Thanne gan Feith felly the false Jewes despise,
Callede hem caytyves acorsed for evere:
"For this foule vileynye vengeaunce to yow falle!
To do the blynde bete hym ybounde, it was a boyes counseille.
Cursede caytyves! Knyghthood was it nevere
To mysdo a deed body by daye or by nyghte.
The gree yit hath he geten, for al his grete wounde.
For youre champion chivaler, chief knyght of yow alle,
Yilt hym recreaunt rennyng, right at Jesus wilk.
For be this derknesse ydo, Deeth worth yvenquisshed;
And ye, lurdaynes, han ylost - for Lif shal have the maistrye."

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