Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 862
Lazarus has just returned home after being dead for three days. Sumptuously dressed, he is surrounded by his sisters Mary and Martha, other relatives, and friends celebrating his resurrection. His three days in the grave have left marks on his body; there is a bluish cast to his fingertips and face, and there are cracked and oozing blisters on his skin. The deterioration of his body has been interrupted, but the restoration, his return to health, is incomplete. His demeanor, too, has changed. He is no longer joyous, carefree, and laughing, as he was before death. Now he is silent, neither laughing at the jokes of others nor offering such play himself. It is some time before those around him begin to notice these changes in him. No one asks him about his experience of death for a time. His friends and relatives are celebrating him as a symbol of life; their emphasis on his resurrection overshadows the other awful truth: His return to life has also made him their surest connection to death and its mysteries.
When one of the men asks Lazarus to tell them what he saw in death, he does not answer. The question is repeated, but still Lazarus does not answer. It is at this moment that the people notice the bluish cast to his complexion and his death sores, as well as his bloated body. They notice these things as Lazarus sits silent, and they feel his gaze on them as one of “destruction.” One by one the guests—and eventually Mary and Martha—depart.
Lazarus does not embrace his second life as he did his first. He is silent, cold, and indifferent to all that is around him. Those who fall under his gaze lose their own interest in life and slowly waste away. Those affected by his gaze feel no reason to do anything: There is no reason to eat, to play music, to go anywhere. Having broken the trail from death back to life, Lazarus is now the conduit through which death reaches humanity.
Gradually the desert envelops Lazarus’s life and enters his home. As his friends and family leave him, there is no one to care for him. Shunned by all, he finds that life contains no meaning at all.
As word of Lazarus and his spectacular return to life spreads, visitors travel great distances to see the man who spent three days in the grave. All these visitors meet the same fate as those who have visited Lazarus before them: Their lives become empty and meaningless. It is as if a great shadow passes over everything. In everything, even the newest, youngest, and most hopeful, these people see death and destruction.
The sculptor Aurelius of Rome has created works that others claim to be of immortal beauty, but he himself is unsatisfied, feeling that something elemental eludes him. Determined to visit Lazarus in the Holy City, he will not be dissuaded by his friends’ protestations against the trip. He fears neither Lazarus nor death. Aurelius approaches Lazarus surely and proudly, then asks to pass the night with him. Lazarus tells Aurelius that he has no bed, no light, and no wine, but the sculptor shrugs these details aside as inconsequential. When Aurelius begins to talk, he boldly refers to Lazarus’s death, his time in the grave, and his ugly appearance. As Lazarus invites him into his house, the night shadows fall across the earth. When Aurelius’s servant enters the house the next day to meet his master, he is shocked and disheartened by Aurelius’s countenance. The sculptor, too, has fallen victim...
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to the gaze of Lazarus, and he loses forever his ability to create beautiful works of art.
Eventually the emperor Augustus summons Lazarus to Rome. When he arrives, the emperor is not yet ready to receive him, so Lazarus waits seven days to be called. During this time he wanders the streets of Rome, the Eternal City, where he meets a drunkard who invites him to drink with him. After looking into Lazarus’s eyes, however, the drunkard loses all joy in drinking. Then Lazarus meets a young couple, deeply in love, who invite him to look on their beautiful love. They, too, come under his curse of emptiness and mournfulness. Finally Lazarus meets a wise man who claims to know even the horrors of death. Falsely secure in his knowledge, the wise man soon realizes that knowledge of something is not the thing itself, that death is greater and more horrible than mere knowledge of it. Under the curse, the sage can no longer think.
Lazarus’s final meeting is with the proud Augustus himself, who defies Lazarus’s power of destruction. Augustus proclaims his own power, authority, and greatness. Feeling impervious and invincible, he looks into Lazarus’s eyes. What at first seems a soft and loving gaze seduces Augustus, pulling him into the abyss of despair and shadow. Augustus orders Lazarus’s eyes burned out and sends him home, where the blind Lazarus stumbles across the desert in the direction of the setting sun. One day he follows the sun and never returns.