The Name of the Cell
and Other Legends of Confinement
© Mats Kristiansson 2001-2019
Written in Swedish 2001
Translated to English by the author 2019
The work consists of seven legends: "The lion who wanted to be a worm", "The virgin and the unicorn", "The girl and the angel", "The infernally good poor fallen", "True happiness", "The suffering conqueror" and "The name of the cell". Sofar, "The virgin and the unicorn" and "The girl and the angel" are published. The rest of the legends will be published later.
The virgin and the unicorn
|Young woman with unicorn by Raphael (after 1506).|
THE VIRGIN: Beautiful as my dress, your mane was moving when you approached me a moment ago.
THE UNICORN: White as the horn I carry, you are.
THE VIRGIN: Hidden from the world, we can be here in the thicket as long as we like. Then, I will leave you and return to the world where I am visible.
THE UNICORN: And I to where I am invisible. Yes, it is so that no one has ever seen me before, as no one has ever seen Jhvh. (Yes, I dare use his proper name without trembling as feeble mortals and say my lord, for I am, after all, in some ways his equal.)
THE VIRGIN: Powerful as he you are, but your body is, however, soft. My virginity I dare leave in the care of your strong hand. (I mean hand on a symbolic level, as you, after all, have no hands.)
THE UNICORN: Let us rest here a moment before the hunters come. (Yes, do not think that I do not know how insidious they are, that they have cajoled you to detain me until they have surrounded us with their sharp spears, that you, perhaps, did not want to obey because you somehow had realized that what they are about to do is wrong, that you, perhaps, was not fully aware of what you had realized but acted instinctively, that they, finally, persuaded you, that you have been resting by my side for a while and, perhaps, begun to understand ...)
THE VIRGIN: Yes, I understand. Dear friend, you cannot imagine how well. If only I had known when ... I could not imagine ...
THE UNICORN: Do not cry. It is not your fault. Now, we will just wait here. Wait and rest. Yes, I know that the hunters are coming. Already, there is a rustle from the thickets, and the hounds' tongues and teeth are glistening red and white in the sun. Yes, so audaciously they dare approach. They are relying on you, my dear, dear friend.
THE VIRGIN: Quiet, quiet, my dear, dear, dear friend. Do not talk like that. Still, there is time to escape. Still, we can avoid our fate.
THE UNICORN: One's fate no one can avoide – not even I. No, not even you. I, who almost do not exist (in the physical world, I mean). It is, after all, actually somewhat strange that you can sit here and talk to me. But as it, however, is so that we together can fight our mutual fear of what will come, surely we must, after all, both have a fate.
THE VIRGIN: The future ... Yes, your future I want to save. When you, however, finally no longer exist merely in the futility but here amongst us sublunar creatures, you must, of course, be saved: what would otherwise our ancient rules of guest-friendship be worth.
THE UNICORN: What are you doing?
THE VIRGIN: Doing? Only nothing; we are one.
THE UNICORN: Your soft, soft body.
THE VIRGIN: Your hard, hard ...
THE UNICORN: Now, I am saved. Now, they can no longer catch me.
THE VIRGIN: I can clearly see that you are lying. You are shivering as if your horn is already pierced by their grisly spears and you soon forced to dance with the boniest of partners.
THE UNICORN: Is it that obvious? Yes, I can, of course, not lie to you anymore. Not now, when ...
THE VIRGIN: When ...
THE UNICORN: However, I told the truth when I said that I am saved. They can no longer kill me unless they also kill you. But you they would never ...
THE VIRGIN: Do not talk like that; I will, of course, die with you.
THE UNICORN: No, my dear, dear, dear, dear friend. If you died, my horn would burst. You must persevere. And you must not with a single word reveal what has happened. (That, you can, of course, not avoid doing in another way, but once you do ... No, no one would suspect that I ...)
THE VIRGIN: Yes, my dear, dear, dear, dear, dear friend, I promise to be strong. For the sake of your love, I will proudly carry your horn until it has grown strong enough to escape the fallen ones.
THE UNICORN: Now, I am ready.
THE VIRGIN: Yes, ready are, indeed, we to proudly brave what must happen.
THE UNICORN: Yes, such is fate.
THE VIRGIN: One's fate no one can avoid.
THE UNICORN: Mine is cold as iron.
THE VIRGIN: And mine to drown in futility.
THE UNICORN: Hold me!
THE VIRGIN: In my arms you will rest until we no longer exist.
THE UNICORN: My dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, d...
THE VIRGIN: My dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear friend ...
And the name of the cell was unknown.
The girl and the angel
|Courtly love on medieval British shield with the inscription "Vous ou la mort" (You or death).|
In the darkness of the confined cell, there is so little heat that everything that is not cold as a scythe a starving landless has hidden in a tree is a winter day will do as a substitute for the additional oil lamps the young nun who lives in the cell has asked for and been promised but not yet received. Something that hot, the chaste is longing for where she is lying with the thin blanket pulled up over her face, hoping that the morning will not linger as long as she knows it will. Heat, heat, heat. To this single word, she is firmly clinging, hoping that it will protect her from freezing to death. (Die of cold, however, she will not do, because the cell is not much colder than the rooms in her father the prince's castle during winter and the blanket not much thinner than the gold embroidered down quilt that once shielded her at night.)
As she is lying there, persisting as best she can, she feels something furry brush against her bare feet. First she gets scared, but then she gets happy. Heat, heat, heat, she thinks. A miracle has come to pass! She once more feels the furry something, whatever it is, brush against her feet. Give me some of your heat, you hot, furry creature, she prays inside herself. She thinks that it presumably is God who has seen her distress and sent an angel. And an angel must, of course, be furry in order to be able to be hot: she has, after all, been taught that in Gehenna the fire burns hot and that Heaven is the opposite to sinner's dwelling after death. From these two facts, she concludes that Heaven is cold.
Increasingly hotter, she remembers her sister's fate and is about to curse her own when she realizes that she has changed roles with her sister. Oh, how desirable is not the apparition that has come to her cell! how enviable not her bed! Oh, my Lord's messenger, wrap me in your hot fur that I may never be cold again, the young girl prays, hoping that another miracle will come to pass.
And another miracle comes to pass. The wretched sinner is getting increasingly hotter, and in her mouth she has a profusely bleeding stigma. Did my Lord really get a nail in his throat, the tormented thinks. That I've never heard of. But then she remembers that a mortal's vitality is in the blood and gets happy to be so close to her savior.
The furry creature is still lying at the the sinner's feet but is now cold and even more angelic. It is prayed: Oh, St. Rochus, have mercy on us. The tormented thinks: The plague! Who has the plague? It is prayed: Oh, St. Rochus, have mercy on the child. The child thinks: The child! I am the one who will soon die. But then the sick one remembers the angel and that an angel cured St. Rochus from the plague and that St. Rochus had a red cross on his chest, just like she has a sign in her throat. She remembers this and imagines she understands that her Lord has had mercy on her.
Crucified, the caressed is resting calm and hot, blissful to be close to her master. On the third day, she is constantly thinking. On the third day. On the third day descended to the dead.
And the name of the cell was unknown.
The virgin and the unicorn
The virgin and the unicorn: There was in the Middle Ages a widespread belief that a unicorn, according to Marco Polo's Voyages in Asia the same as a rhinoceros, would allow itself to be captured by an innocent virgin.
White as the horn: The unicorn's horn is certainly innocently white but also symbolizes the somewhat less innocent phenomenon phallus.
Hidden from the world, we can be here in the thicket as long as we like: Ultimately an allusion to Aeneas and Dido's love cave in The Aeneid by Virgil, Aeneas being, in the epic, the Trojan leader and founder of Rome and Dido the queen of Carthage. This love cave has since been reused by countless writers, among others in many 19th century novels in the form of thickets and the like, where the author lets the hero and heroine hide when he or she wants to suggest that they are doing more than just walk hand in hand or the like.
Jhvh: In the Hebrew original version of the Old Testament, there are only consonants; the vowels the reader must add himself or herself. Jhvh is the transcription of the consonants that represents God's name and that has been interpreted Yahweh and Jehovah and perhaps in some other way I don't know about. From time to time, this name has been considered so sacred that it was not allowed to be pronounced; instead, the word lord has been used, as it seems usually capitalized, for example in King James' Bible, first published in 1611, and in The New International Bible, first published in 1978.
my lord: Hebrew adonai, a common term for God in the Old Testament, and Latin domini, a common term for Christ in the New Testament.
for I am, after all, in some ways his equal: The unicorn has been considered a symbol for Christ.
your strong hand: The hand, especially the right one, is in the Old Testament a common symbol of God's first person (God in the trinity God-Christ-Holy Spirit, that is).
sublunar creatures: Creatures living under the moon (of Latin sub luna "under the moon"). In the medieval belief that the earth was the center of the world and surrounded by spheres where the celestial bodies (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) was moving, the sphere of the Moon is the one closest to the Earth. Outside of Saturn's sphere is the sky of fixed stars and beyond that, according to Cosmographia by Petrus Apianus (1539), the heaven of fire, which is the dwelling of God and all the chosen ones.
horn: a symbol for the spirit, in other words what gives the unicorn life and, ultimately, is the unicorn.
the boniest of partners: Death. The dance of death, or dance macabre, depicting the personified Death as a skeleton accompanied by a single person or several persons, often with Death leading a line of people holding hands, was a common motive in medieval art.
the fallen ones: Humankind. Refers partially to the sin Adam and Eve committed when they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and the punishment they, therefore, received from God but also has a deeper meaning, namely the fall of humankind from having been free from dependence of to having become increasingly dependent of material things.
My dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear friend: Dear is repeated at the beginning of the legend once and, then, two, three, four, five, six and, finally, seven times. Seven is a common symbol in many contexts, among other in ancient Greece – seven sages (Bias, Chilon, Cleobulos, Periander, Pittacus, Solon and Thales), seven wonders (the pyramids of Egypt, the walls of Babylon and the hanging gardens of Semiramis, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, the colossus of Rhodes and the lighthouse of Alexandria) etc. – and in medieval Europe – seven heavenly virtues (faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence), seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth) and seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, eucharist, marriage, reconciliation, holy orders and anointing of the sick) etc. Without anticipating each reader's own interpretation, I would like to mention that I in "The virgin and the unicorn" has thought especially of the seven liberal arts (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, music, arithmetic and astronomy), here perceived as human knowledge and ability in general and the development of such knowledge and such ability that can be born out of the encounter between the more down to earth, represented by the virgin, and imagination, represented by the unicorn.
The girl and the angel
a scythe a starving landless has hidden: When the scythe replaced the sickle during the Middle Ages, cereals began to be cut close to the ground instead of higher up close to the ear. Consequently, less stubble was left to be used as fodder, a fact that mainly affected small farmers with a share in a common pasture but not many other resources (Bra Böckers Världshistoria 6, p. 33).
her father the prince: For upper-class families in the Middle Ages, girls were uneconomical, because a large dowry to the bridegroom's father was required for a girl to be married off. A more economical option was to put one's daughter in a convent (Bra Böckers Världshistoria 6, p. 33).
my Lord's messenger: both the Hebrew and the Greek word for angel means messenger.
stigma: (Greek mark). Stigmatization means the appearance of wounds where Christ was wounded when he was crucified (on the hands, the feet and the side of the torso). According to The Chronicle of Novgorod 1016-1471, the sign that someone infected with plague only had three days left to live was that he or she was spitting blood (Bra Böckers Världshistoria 6, p. 21).
a mortal's vitality is in the blood: According to Lev. 17:11, the soul of all flesh is in the blood.
The furry creature is, of course, not an angel but a rat infected with plague. When the rat has died, rat fleas are leaving the increasingly colder body, infecting their new host the girl.
St. Rochus: saint from Montpellier, born in the late 13th century with a red cross on his chest, who took care of sick people and is said to have been cured from plague by an angel.
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