Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
A prefatory scene emphasizes the tale’s timeless character. On the side of a wild mountain, high above the paths beaten by pilgrims on their visits to Delphi’s temple, an old woman lives in isolation with her feebleminded son. Every so often, the morning light reveals a girl, fresh from her bath in a sacred spring, being led by priests to a nuptial rendezvous with the god. The old woman knows the girl’s thoughts and sensations: In her youth, before being cursed by everyone and driven from the city, she had herself served as consort to Apollo.
The novel proper begins with a stranger’s ascent of the stony slope to the Sibyl’s hut. A pilgrim, he was turned away from the oracle because the question he brought was unanswerable. After roaming the city in despair, he was directed into the mountains by an old blind beggar to consult an ancient oracle “who can answer all that a man can ask.” Now that he has found her, he explains his mission by recounting an incident in the distant past “which had scored itself so deeply into his memory that he seemed not to recall anything besides; an event which left his soul no peace.”
The man (implicitly recognizable as Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew) had been enjoying a prosperous, easy life with his wife and young son in a house which faced the road to Calvary. The sight of criminals condemned to crucifixion being led past by the soldiers was a common one. One day, one such prisoner was so...
(The entire section is 1466 words.)
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