The Transition of the Wandering Jew from a Medieval Allegorical Figure to a Symbol of Attributes of the Mind and Poetic Imagination in Poems Written by Shelley and Coleridge

The Transition of the Wandering Jew from a Medieval Allegorical Figure to a Symbol of Attributes of the Mind and Poetic Imagination in Poems Written by Shelley and Coleridge
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  The Motif of the Wandering Jew in Shelley's Poetry Evocations of the Wandering Jew pervade, one might say haunt  , Romantic poetry, sometimes where explicit references are made to the figure, sometimes where unmistakable allusions are made to it or sometimes where it blends with other motifs arousing notions of a cursed wanderer, as with Cain, with the Flying Dutchman or even with the notion of le poète maudit  . We shall examine Shelley's explicit reference to the Wandering Jew, alias  Ahasuerus, in Queen Mab  and, in the following section, Coleridge's more elusive evocations of the figure. The legend of the Wandering Jew gained or regained prominence at three periods of history: in the thirteenth century: in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries; and in a  period the beginning of which was marked by the publication of Bishop Percy's  Reliques , an anthology of traditional poems and verses which had often exercised a wide appeal to contemporary audiences. This collection included a broadside  (a printed text circulated to the public) dating from 1670 with the title of "The Wandering Jew." This versified account of the fate of the Jewish cobbler doomed to wanderer on the face of the earth as his punishment for taunting Jesus Christ when suffering on the Cross heralded a figure or motif that would exert an immense appeal to the imagination not only of Coleridge and Shelley but also to that of many a writer in the nineteenth century, reaching its highpoint in the Romantic period and enjoy an afterlife that has lasted to the present day. The three phases of development reflect differing historical situations. The legend had its srcins in a period that saw rising hostility to Jews fostered in great part to the decline of Christendom's sway in the Holy Land and the attendant insecurity of the Jews once deprived of their protected status as the servants and financiers of imperial courts. The basic story relating to a figure that would later be called the Wandering Jew was documented in "Flores Historiarum" by Roger of Wendover in 1228. According to this story an Armenian archbishop on a visit to St. Albans in England told the resident monks that once in Armenia he had encountered a man, Cartaphilus by name, who had allegedly  shown contempt for Jesus when carrying the cross by saying "Go on quicker," whereupon Jesus answered "I go, but thou shalt wait till I come." Matthew Paris repeated the story in his history later in the thirteenth century. A similar tale circulated in Italy in the fifteenth century though the living witness of the Crucifixion bore the name of Johannes Buttadeus and was believed to have actually struck Jesus. The legend seems to have gone underground until the end of the sixteenth century when the printed pamphlet or broadside  came into its own as an instrument that served the needs of propaganda and public entertainment in times unsettled by religious and social tensions. The Wandering Jew then acquired the name of Ahasureus for a reason that is not altogether clear as it was the name of the king of Persia as portrayed in the Book of Esther. If any one year pinpoints the return of the Wandering Jew to Europe it was 1602, for it was then that story of Ahasverus appeared in a pamphlet entitled "Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzählung von einem Juden mit Namen Ahasverus" ("Short Description and Account of a Jew named Ahasverus"). The name of its author was given as Christoff Crutzer though we have no other record of such a name. This version of the legend told of a shoemaker whose sin of taunting Jesus on the way to Calvary incurred the punishment of his being an immortal wanderer on the face of the earth until Christ's Second Coming. The legend then spread like wildfire in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. In Germany, Holland and Scandinavia the central figure became known as the eternal Jew  in keeping with the German der ewige Jude , while in France the same figure was known as le juif errant  , which probably underlies the expression the Wandering Jew  in English. What proved to become the most influential English version of the legend was published  between 1670 and 1696 in the form of a pamphlet or broadside  introduced by the words: "The Wandering Jew or Shoomaker of Jerusam, who lived when our Saviour Christ was crucified, and appoynted by him to love untill his comming again," 1  Its power of 1   (Edition Bod630, between 1670 and 1696; Edition Bod656, c 1650) at:  Broadside  Ballads Online from the Bodleian Library.   influence was held back for almost a century - until "The Wandering Jew" appeared in Bishop Percy's  Reliques . By the eighteenth century the term Wandering Jew  had lost its edge as a piece of anti-Semitic invective and come to symbolize psychological conditions and attitudes, chief among them, suppressed and gnawing fears and psychological anguish. The rise of the Gothic novel augmented the association of the Wandering Jew with nightmarish monsters thrown up by the as yet barely understood subconscious layers of the mind. The figure of the Wandering Jew played a part in The Monk: A Romance,  a Gothic novel written by Matthew Gregory Lewis and published in 1796. S. T. Coleridge read the novel and absorbed its contents regarding the Wandering Jew. The novel's treatment of this motif impressed Coleridge sufficiently to leave traces of its influence in The Rime of the  Ancient Mariner  . Furthermore, the notion of an immortal man was current in the latter half of the eighteenth century as shown by the rumour that a suave French nobleman by the name of the Count de Saint Germain was an immortal who had acquired a vast amount of learning from his being an eyewitness of historical events from the year dot. To boot, the idea that the Wandering Jew had a lot to say about major events was not lost on an English versifier in the seventeenth century who made the Wandering Jew the speaker who tells of all the coronations he has personally witnessed since 1066. 2 As the solid narrative core of the medieval legend fell apart, its constituent elements fragmented in accordance with its various associations with concepts such as isolation, rejection, dogged persistence and aching despair, the ruling ideas that played on the minds of the Romantic poets, most notably of Byron and Shelley and Coleridge. 2  See in electronic archive of the Bodleian Library, Oxford: The wandring Jew[s] chronicle or, [the old his]torian his brief declaration maid [sic] in a mad fashion of each coronation that pass'd in this nation [s]ince William's invasion for no great occasion but meer recreation to put off vexation. To the tune of, our prince is welcome out of Spain. 1674  The image of the Wandering Jew merged with similar figures condemned to unrelenting suffering or to await the day of divine judgment, Cain, the Flying Dutchman, Faust and Don Juan to coalesce in composite transfigurations such as the monster of Frankenstein and the Ancient Mariner, the sinister figures in Baudelaire's "Les Sept Veillards" and Dorian Gray. The import of the Wandering Jew was not entirely negative, to Goethe's mind at least, as his unfinished work  Der Ewige Jude  reveals, for the figure is turned into an allegory supporting the Christian belief in redemption and becomes identified with Jesus Christ. In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner   elements derived from the legend of the Wandering Jew coalesce with those that bring to mind the positive aspects of wandering associated with the Prodigal Son, penitents and pilgrims. Thus the Mariner  became a composite figure that embodies the tensions and polarities within the mind and the poetic imagination Ahasuerus in Shelley's Queen Mab   The Fairy waved her wand Ahasuerus fled Fast as the shapes of mingled shade and mist, That lurk in the glens of a twilight grove, Flee from the morning beam: The matter of which dreams are made  Not more endowed with actual life Than this phantasmal portraiture Of wandering human thought. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab , VII, 267-275. As we noted earlier, Geoffrey H. Hartman saw in the Ancient Mariner a transfiguration of the Wandering Jew. According to this critic's analysis the Mariner or Wandering Jew epitomizes the modern poet in the process of striving to make the transition from self-consciousness to the imagination. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner   does not contain the word wanderer   but it does contain a word associated with the legend of the Wandering  Jew, namely "cross," which draws attention to itself as a word with deep symbolic significances through repetition in a manner noted by J. Tynjanov. 3  As we are still in a section of this book that is based on a logocentric survey of works in which the verb to wander is found, I leave a discussion of The Rime  to the end of the Third Study and address works in which the verb to wander   is present. In Queen Mab  the association of "cross" and "wander" is evident in lines recalling the incident to which the curse placed on Ahasuerus is attributed in the early legend. An examination of these lines within the context of Queen Mab  in its entirety demonstrates what J. Tynjanov termed "lexical coloration," i.e. when a number of different meanings of a word become apparent simultaneously,. In Queen Mab  the association of the Crucifixion and "wander" is evident in these lines recalling the curse placed on Ahasuerus in the early legend. But thou shalt wander o'er the unquiet earth. (VII, 182). The next time the word "wander" occurs in Queen Mab  (see the lines VII, 267-275 quoted at the top of this section) the immediately apparent sense of the word conforms to current usage, as in the case of one saying "my mind was wandering." To this extent the  previous association "wandering Jew" is supplanted or - in Tynjanov's terms "displaced" -  by a sense associating Ahasuerus with a mental phenomenon, a state of mind akin to that expressed in the works of an entire generation of poets that included Goethe and the Romantics in that process Harold Bloom has identified as the "internalization of the quest romance." Wanderers, particularly wanderers of biblical or religious srcin (Cain, the Pilgrim, the Prodigal Son), came to exemplify what we would now call psychological 3  Jurij Tynjanov, ''The Meaning of the Word in Verse,''  Readings in Russian ,  Poetics  Formalist and Structuralist Views  (ed. Ladislav Mateijka and Krystina Pomorska). Michigan Slavic Publications: Ann Arbor. 1978. Original Russian Title: ''Znacenie slova v. stixe,''  Problema stixotvornogo jazyke , 1924.
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