Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
The Wandering Jew
Moncure Daniel Conway (1832–1907)
Wandering Jew, The, by Moncure D. Conway (1881), traces through all its forms and changes, to its sources as far as can be perceived, the marvelous legend which won such general belief during the Middle Ages. The first appearance of the story written out as narrative occurs in the works of Matthew Paris, published 1259, wherein is described the visit to England, thirty years before, of an Armenian bishop. The prelate was asked whether he knew aught of the Wandering Jew. He replied that he had had him to dinner in Armenia shortly before; that he was a Roman, named Cartaphilus, door-keeper for Pilate. This ruffianly bigot struck Jesus as he came from the hall of judgment, saying, “Go on faster; why dost thou linger?”  1
  Jesus answered, “I will go; but thou shalt remain waiting till I come.”  2
  Therefore Cartaphilus has lived on ever since; never smiling, but often weeping and longing for death, which will not come. In the sixteenth century there are accounts of the appearance of the Wandering Jew in German towns. His name is now Ahasuerus; his original occupation that of a shoemaker. In the seventeenth century he is heard of again and again,—in France, Spain, the Low Countries, Italy and Germany. Many solemn and learned treatises were written in Latin on the subject of this man and his miraculous punishment. The various stories of him quoted are so graphically related that it is a surprise to follow Mr. Conway into his next chapter, in which he sets down the myth of the Wandering Jew with that of King Arthur, who sleeps at Avalon, and Barbarossa of Germany, who slumbers under the Raven’s Hill, both ready to awake at the appointed hour. Every country has myths of sleepers or of wanderers who never grow old. The Jews had more than one: Cain, who was a fugitive and a vagabond on earth, with a mark fixed on him that none might slay him; Esau, whose death is unchronicled; Elias and Enoch who never died, in the ordinary way. Barbarossa, Arthur, Merlin, Siegfried, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin,—the Seven Sleepers, the Flying Dutchman,—all these are variants of one theme. Judas has had the same fate in legend. So has Pilate; so has Malchus, the servant of Caiaphas. Mr. Conway presents the theory that all these tales have their root in the primitive myths of savage peoples, perhaps in sun-myths; but he does not pursue this rather futile speculation, devoting himself rather to the story in its special form of the Wandering Jew, and tracing its development, and its expression in folk-lore, poetry, and fiction. The book is a fascinating study of the curious and unusual, scholarly in substance but popular in treatment.  3

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