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Agrippa and the Wandering Jew

LUCIFER Vol. XI, January 1893, pp.377-381.

[Agrippa, Henry Cornelius (1486-1535) BCW 1, pp.443-444]

Agrippa and the Wandering Jew.

[The following curious and interesting story is related in the Chronicles of Cartaphilus, the Wandering Jew, published in the year 1851. The date of this interview is not given, but, as Agrippa died in 1539, it must have been before that time.]

IMAGINE the famed necromancer, Cornelius Agrippa, buried in the abyss of thought--surrounded by divers crucibles and alembics, with skeletons of various animals that garnished his walls. Upon his table lay some ponderous and worm-eaten folios in confusion, many strange mixtures of metals placed in acrid fluids, numerous amalgams upon his right and left, also the elixirs, the salts, and the sulphurs, the ammonias, and divers other ingredients of his potential and secret art! A shelf nigh at hand was burthened with many small vessels, the curious contents of which the shining labels told, such as Mandi-bularum liquor, or oil of jawbones, Mandella, or the seed of black hellebore, Tassa, or the herb of Trinity, and many others.

The shades of night were gathering over Florence, and the lovely valley of the Arno had yet some feeble glimmerings of twilight reposing upon its green bosom, as if reluctant to part with so much beauty, or to cloud its charms by night's darker mantle. Suddenly Agrippa heard a low, quick rap at his door; a tall figure entered, with much courtesy in his demeanour, nobly formed, mysterious and awful in his carriage, and whose age could ill be divined, as both youth and age were so strangely blended as were never before seen in any mortal countenance! No furrow was upon his cheek nor wrinkle on his brow; his dark eye flashed with the brilliancy of early manhood and yet with all the intellectuality of long experienced age. But his stately figure seemed to have the weight of some years, and his hair streamed upon his shoulders in ample locks of fleecy white, blended with some of nearly jet black. His voice, though he had uttered only a sentence, was tremulous, but melodious, soul-searching, and enunciative of the sobriety of wisdom. A silken abnet, inscribed with divers oriental characters, encompassed his waist in many ample and graceful folds; in his hand he held a palmer's staff; upon his feet were gorgeous sandals faded and worn; on his shoulders was a purple ephod, of rare and exquisite workmanship, likewise the worse for time and wear, and upon the lappets of which, in front, were the Hebrew letters--Thauf, Resh, Yod and Aleph; and on that behind, suspended two cubits in length, was seen, embroidered in gold, a triangle, beneath that a single eye, the centre or pupil of which was formed of an inestimable sapphire, the lashes of thin dazzling rubies, and, over the upper lid of the eye was inscribed the letter Beth. The eye of the stranger was quick in resting a moment upon a graceful, but most intensely black dog, whose small and piercing eye shot forth the intelligence more of man than beast, and whose general expression seemed to amble on the very borders of humanity. Time and circumstances, at that instant, permitted to the stranger no closer scrutiny of the remarkable animal; but thought is speedier than action, and he could not shut out a rush of ideas, inspired in him by that much-famed and devoted attendant upon the great philosopher--for the Jew had heard of what the crude people so stubbornly insisted, that this jet black dog was naught but the very demon wherewith Agrippa wrought his marvellous deeds in the magic art. Still the Jew spoke no further words than at his first entrance, but gazed upon Monsieur (for so Agrippa had named his dog) then reposing at his master's feet amid many ponderous volumes and opened manuscripts on the floor around him. As the stranger entered, and uttered a few words of civility, there was an eye of the dog keenly intent upon him, and the other upon Agrippa, seemingly to enquire of his lord whether he should give to the Jew a kindly welcome. A morsel was instantly cast to the noble beast (his well known signal of hospitality) and quickly the philosopher and his dog were on their feet to welcome the approaching guest.

Agrippa gazed involuntarily, for a moment, in silence and wonder mixed with awe, upon the high intelligence of the stranger, whose eye shone with unnatural lustre in the evening dawn, but whose countenance was pleasing to behold, and powerfully awakening--there being deep-laid sorrow, wisdom, and resignation, that seemed to reveal a tale of long accustomed misery, entirely softened by the supremacy of mind.

"Pardon me, O Agrippa! this untimely intrusion, so unbidden, upon thy privacy," at length said the Jew. "Thy vast fame has reached unto the world's limits; and I could not leave this fair city without communing with thee, its brightest ornament--so loved by some and so dreaded by others!"

"Thrice welcome art thou, O stranger," said Agrippa, "but thy curiosity in thus seeking me, I fear, will be ill requited; for fame is often mendacious, whether to praise or to censure, and to Agrippa it hath been both. My many years have been more devoted to profitless and vain pursuits than in gain of enduring honour and of real wealth. It is not all regulus that hath remained at the bottom of my crucible, O stranger!"

"Dost thou talk of many and tedious years, O learned and renowned Agrippa!" exclaimed the unknown one, "dost thou, who hast scarcely seen more than threescore years talk of lengthened life, spent in much thought and vexation? I do remember me that, when quite a youth, O Agrippa! I used to gaze upon the bright orb of day as he declined, and thought with delight of his speedy renovation in the far East, after he had quenched his rays in the boundless waters, and then foolishly coveted that my life should be like unto his--and be for ever; but, my Agrippa, a young head can wish for more than old shoulders can endure, and long experience has taught me that far better is it to slumber among those tombs on the Arno's banks, than, like the sun, to rise into renovated life, and thus for ages to pursue the same dull and toilsome existence. But the destiny of that sun is mine!"

Agrippa shrank within himself as the thought flitted through his mind that a dangerous madman was possibly before him. But the stranger mildly continued: "I fear I trouble thee with my visit and my unwonted speech, that has been too much of my poor self."

"Thou, indeed, hath wondered me much, good stranger," rejoined Agrippa.

"Not so much, O Agrippa, as thou makest me wonder, if report doth not belie thee, and if thou wilt grant my request. I would have thee tell me of that MARVELLOUS MIRROR which thy potent art of magic hath enabled thee to make, the renown of which hath brought even me, Cartaphilus (for that is the name I bear), within thy door, seeking after such strange knowledge. Tell me, I pray thee, is it indeed true that whosoever looketh into that mirror, with faith, doth see within the far-distant and the long dead? If so it be, then much doth Cartaphilus desire to look into that truthful mirror, since his eyes are wholly closed upon such far-distant scenes, upon the long dead, upon those who departed hence centuries ago. Yea, Agrippa, all life is but as a vale of tears. Myriads of myriads easily die--and when and as they would not; but Cartaphilus follows not; rivers do change their course, the solid rocks do disintegrate, the mountains repose, at length, upon the bosom of the valley, the proud mausoleums resist the elements only for a time, and even the solidest of them do fade away at last. Not so with me! Oh, give me, therefore, I pray thee, but one look into thy much-famed mirror, so that my earliest life--the one of my real youth--may again be seen by me."

Agrippa was greatly moved, but at length replied, "Whom wouldst thou see, O wonderful man?"

"Son or daughter never had I at that time," answered the Jew, "but earnestly do I crave to see Rebecca, only daughter of Rabbi Eben Ezra--a princess of every virtue, and the most beloved of all Jewish or other maidens. I would behold her as she was in youth, before Shiloh was fully revealed; as she was when with her I wandered, as Cartaphilus, son of Mariamne, upon the flowery banks of Kedron, in her father's garden; or as we rambled in joyous carelessness, and with the boundless innocence of earliest mutual love, upon the heights of Ramoth-Gilead."

Agrippa trembled as the aspen. "Who and what art thou? and whether of Gehenna, or of Paradise, I wot not; but thy petition shall be essayed, come what may from the nether world," exclaimed Agrippa, with tremulous lips. Whereupon he incontinently chanted much strange language, and then he polished his mirror with the softest furs, next divers thin veils of shining gossamer were suspended before that metallic mirror, and many lights of various colours were seen streaming in from all directions. Agrippa then suddenly arose, raised his arms aloft towards Heaven, and anon depressed them towards Gehenna; when, lo! quick as a meteor bursts, a mass of dazzling white light shone around, and the mirror sparkled as the meridian sun.

"Thou art seemingly of but few years compared with what thou sayest," cried Agrippa, "and the mirror cannot be faithful, unless my wand shall wave once for every ten years since the maiden lived. Proceed now, O strange man! to number these tens since last she breathed, or, if thou listest, since the early youth of which thou speakest, and be thou most faithful not to deceive me."

As bidden, anxious and soul-wrapped, he numbered 149 times! Agrippa gazed in maddening terror, and at length sank with exhaustion upon his couch. "Wave on, wave on!" sternly yet imploringly exclaimed the Jew; the wand soon continued to move, and but twice more--noting thereby just 1510 years in all--when, lo! the mirror's surface was filled with numerous forms, reflected from its shining disk, seemingly as large as life, upon the gossamer that encompassed the mirror. All those forms were in the habiliments of ancient Palestine--each engaged appropriately in rural sports and actions. Upon this sweet scene the Jew gazed in wild rapture, as if his eyes would devour what his arms could not embrace. In the distance were lofty mountains, aspiring to reach the clouds, and hard by was descried Ramoth-Gilead, an ancient City of Refuge. In the foreground was a luxuriant valley, garnished with various goodly flowers, and refreshed by a limpid stream, gushing through wide crevices of rocks, and anon gently laving the banks, upon which were seen, indolently reposing, many fleecy sheep, a tamed gazelle, and numerous domestic animals, the cherished pets of a female of matchless beauty, who then was sheltered from the noontide sun by lofty cedars, grouped there by nature's tasteful hand. "'Tis she! 'tis she!" cried the enraptured Cartaphilus, "yea, Rebecca as she was in the days of the then Holy Temple; a work of human art the greatest and loveliest, as was she the perfectest of nature's gifts. I must, I will speak!"

Cartaphilus spoke to her, and lo! instantly thereon the charm was dissolved; a cloud gathered over the mirror, the dazzling light had wholly vanished, and the mysterious Jew sank, as one senseless, upon the couch. Reviving after a time, he seized the hands of Agrippa, and said, "Oh, many and boundless thanks unto thee, learned Agrippa, thou prince of all the magicians! I pray thee receive this purse of costly jewels. In it thou wilt find more of value than in any other within my abnet, and worthily do I bestow it on thee."

"No, no!" exclaimed Cornelius Agrippa, "keep thy jewels, of whatever worth, I will none of them--no Christian perhaps dare receive them; but tell me, I do implore thee, who thou art? such a recompense I may take of thee, but not thy jewelled purse, there seemeth danger in it."

"No peril to thee is either in my will or in my power, most worthy Cornelius Agrippa," replied the Jew. "My name thou already hast; but that reveals me not unto thee, as it seemeth. But now behold, I pray thee, that exquisite painting suspended on thy wall, upon the left, doth it not represent the Saviour bearing His cross? and look further upon thy right, yea, at that portrait, and then upon me."

Agrippa was lost in wonder, for the likeness was indeed perfect.

"That portrait, O mysterious man," said Agrippa, "is the faithful representation of that wretched infidel Jew, who smote the Saviour, and urged Him on when groaning under the weight of His cross."

"'Tis I, 'tis CARTAPHILUS, the miserable wanderer now before thee!" exclaimed the Jew, and instantly rushed from the chamber.

Agrippa retired to his couch, but not to sleep.

Such in substance is the wonderful revelation said to have been made at that period by the Wandering Jew.