Images de page
PDF
ePub

AMYS AND AMYLION.

117

leprosy, or elephantiasis, says1: "This was the peculiar disease of Egypt; and when it fell upon princes, woe to the people; for, in the bathing chambers, tubs were prepared, with human blood, for the cure of it." Nor was this mode of life-seeking confined to the Egyptians. It is said that the Emperor Constantine was restrained from it only in consequence of a vision from heaven.2

In the early English romance of Amys and Amylion, one of these knightly brothers-in-arms consents, with his wife's full approbation, to yield the lives of his two infant children, in order to supply their blood for a bath, for the curing of his brother friend's leprosy.3 In this instance, the leprosy is cured, and the children's lives are miraculously restored to them; as if in proof of the divine approbation of the loving sacrifice.

It is shown, indeed, that this belief in the life-bringing power of baths of blood to the death-smitten lepers, was continued into the Middle Ages; and that it finally "received a check from an opinion gradually gaining ground, that only the blood of those would be efficacious, who offered themselves freely and voluntarily for a beloved sufferer."4 There is something

1 Hist. Nat. xxvi., 5.

2 See Notes and Queries, for Feb. 28, 1857; with citation from Soane's New Curiosities of Literature, I., 72.

3

Ibid.;

also Mills's History of Chivalry, chap. IV., note.

4 See citation from Soane, in Notes and Queries, supra.

very suggestive in this thought of the truest potency of transferred life through transferred blood! It is this thought which finds expression and illustration in Longfellow's Golden Legend. In the castle of Vautsberg on the Rhine, Prince Henry is sick with a strange and hopeless malady. Lucifer appears to him in the garb of a traveling physician, and tells him of the only possible cure for his disease, as prescribed in a venerable tome:

"The only remedy that remains

Is the blood that flows from a maiden's veins,

Who of her own free will shall die,

And give her life as the price of yours!'

That is the strangest of all cures,

And one, I think, you will never try;

The prescription you may well put by,

As something impossible to find

Before the world itself shall end!"

Elsie, the lovely daughter of a peasant in the Odenwald, learns of the Prince's need, and declares she will give her blood for his cure. In her chamber by night, her self-surrendering prayer goes up:

"If my feeble prayer can reach thee,

O my Saviour, I beseech thee,

Even as thou hast died for me,

More sincerely

Let me follow where thou leadest,

Let me, bleeding as thou bleedest,

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Her father, Gottlieb, consents to her life-surrender,

saying to the Prince :

"As Abraham offered, long ago,

His son unto the Lord, and even
The Everlasting Father in heaven
Gave his, as a lamb unto the slaughter,
So do I offer up my daughter.'"

And Elsie adds:

"My life is little,

Only a cup of water,

But pure and limpid.

Take it, O Prince!

Let it refresh you,

Let it restore you.

It is given willingly

It is given freely;

May God bless the gift!""

The proffered sacrifice is interfered with before its consummation; but its purposed method shows the estimate which was put, from of old, on voluntarily yielded life for life.

There is said to be an Eastern legend somewhat like the story of Amys and Amylion; with a touch of the ancient Egyptian and Mexican legends already cited. "The Arabian chronicler speaks of a king,

who, having lost a faithful servant by his transformation into stone, is told that he can call his friend back to life, if he is willing to behead his two children, and to sprinkle the ossified figure with their blood. He makes up his mind to the sacrifice; but as he approaches the children with his drawn sword, the will is accepted by heaven for the deed, and he suddenly sees the stone restored to animation." 1 This story, in substance, (only with the slaying and the resuscitating of the children, as in the English romance,) appears in Grimm's folk-lore tales, under the title of "Faithful John "; but whether its origin was in the East or in the North, or in both quarters, is not apparent. reappearance East, North, and West, is all the more noteworthy.

Its

In the romances of King Arthur and his knights, there is a story of a maiden daughter of King Pellinore, a sister of Sir Percivale, who befriends the noble Sir Galahad, and then accompanies him and his companions on their way to the castle of Carteloise, and beyond, in their search for the Holy Grail.

"And again they went on to another castle, from which came a band of knights, who told them of the custom of the place, that every maiden who passed by

1 Citation from "Saturday Review," for Feb. 14, 1857, in Notes and Queries, supra. 2 See Grimm's Household Tales, I., 23-30.

ANOTHER ELSIE.

must yield a dish full of her blood.

I2I

That shall she

not do,' said Galahad, 'while I live'; and fierce was the struggle that followed; and the sword of Galahad, which was the sword of King David, smote them down on every side, until those who remained alive craved peace, and bade Galahad and his fellows come into the castle for the night; 'and on the morn,' they said, ‘we dare say ye will be of one accord with us, when ye know the reason for our custom.' So awhile they rested, and the knights told them that in the castle there lay a lady sick to death, who might never gain back her life, until she should be anointed with the blood of a pure maiden who was a king's daughter. Then said Percivale's sister, 'I will yield it, and so shall I get health to my soul, and there shall be no battle on the morn.' And even so was it done; but the blood which she gave was so much that she might not live; and as her strength passed away, she said to Percivale, 'I die, brother, for the healing of this lady.' . . . Thus was the lady of the castle healed; and the gentle maiden, [Percivale's sister,]

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

died."1

In the old Scandinavian legends, there are indications of the traditional belief in the power of transferred life through a bath of blood. Siegfried, or Sigurd, a descendant of Odin, slew Fafner, a dragon-shaped guardian of ill-gotten treasure. In the hot blood of 1 Cox and Jones's Popular Romances of the Middle Ages, pp. 85-87.

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »