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Typological Symbolism in Medieval Literature Author(s): Erich Auerbach Source: Yale French Studies, No.

9, Symbol and Symbolism (1952), pp. 3-10 Published by: Yale University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2929051 . Accessed: 11/06/2013 18:56
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ERICH AUERBACH

TypologicalSymbolism in Medieval Literature


the heavenof Venus,the soul on whomDante In Dante's third heaven, to him,by one is introduced wishesto focusour attention, apparently the ultimate in this manner:"Now, I will satisfy of her companions, to you; you wish to know who is desirewhichthisstarhas suggested hiddenin this light which shines about me like a sunbeamin pure water: this soul is Rahab, and her splendorgives to our ranksthe she was the first to be receivedinto this seal of supremebeatitude; the souls fromhell; it was most fitting heavenwhen Christliberated that as a trophy of the victory thatshe shouldbe in one of the heavens to the first was won withbothhands;and thisbecauseshe contributed in the holyland,a remembrance whichmeans conquest madeby Joshua witha violent attack little thespeaker continues to thePope." And then, againstthe avariceof the clergy. This passage is full of problems. Rahab, in the second and sixth is the harlotwho hides in her house of the book of Joshua, chapters the twospies sentby Joshua intothe townof Jericho-whosaves them declaresto themher faithin the God of by deludingtheirpursuers, thewindow Israel, helpsthemto escapeby meansof a red cordthrough of her house which is on the townwall, and makes themswear that in the the Jewswould spare her and her parentsand all her family house.The men askedher to bind to the window, as a sign,the scarlet rope by whichshe had let themdown; and thusonlyRahab the harlot men and women, and her houseweresparedwhenall of Jericho, were the town. put to deathby the victorious Jewsentering confer of thisharlot on thethird heaven Now, whydoes thesplendor the highest of her position degreeof beatitude, whyis the explanation able to fulfill the ultimate desirewhichthe starof Venus has suggested to Dante,whywas Rahab thefirst in thisstarwhenChrist to be received by thevictory won liberated thesoulsof theold Covenant, whatis meant withbothhands, and whathas the avariceof the Pope to do with his forgetting the gloryof Joshuain the Holy Land? All theseproblems are easilyresolved the figurative if you consider in a constant or typological of thebook of Joshua which, interpretation of Tertullian, is extradition, fullydevelopedalreadyin the writings number of commentaries, sermons, plainedor alludedto in an infinite

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Yale FrenchStudies
and also in Christian art. The book of Joshua, hymns, its especially firstchaptershas always been one of the most popular objects of figurative interpretation; Joshua was regarded as a figure of Christ(the of the namesJesusand Joshuais emphasized identity as earlyas Tertullian),and whenhe leadshis people overtheJordan(just like Moses leadinghis people out of Egypt) he figures Christ leadingmankind out of theslavery of sin and perdition into the trueHoly Land,the eternal of God. Concerning kingdom Rahab,all ancient commentators consider her as a typeof the church;her house alone,with all its inhabitants, escapesperdition, of the faithful just as the church will alone be saved the whenChrist appearsforthelast judgment; she foundfreedom from fornication of the worldby way of the windowof confession, to which she boundthe scarlet rope,the sign of Christ's blood,sanguinis Christi signum. Thus she is figura Eclesiae, and the scarlet rope,like theposts with the blood of the Lamb in Exodus,becomesthe figure struck of The conceptionsof Jerichoas eternal Christ'sredeemingsacrifice. perdition was supported bytheparablefrom Luke 10, 30 (a certain man wentdownfrom to Jericho, and fellamongthieves)generally Jerusalem interpreted as a figure of the fall of Man. In the same manner, the victory gainedwithone and the otherhand alludesto Joshua's victory won with the help of Moses' outstretched hands,the figureof the of Christ on the crosswithhis handsoutstretched victory on the arbor vitae crucifixae. Thus, Rahab, or the churchstands, in our passage of the Paradiso, as a trophy of both victories, thatof Joshua, and thatof of Joshua of thevictory inasmuch as Joshua and Christ; prefigures Christ, of that of Christinasmuchas Christ is the fulfillment of Joshua in the figurative (implere); both entities are equallyreal relationship and equallyconcrete; the figurative sense does not destroy the literal, nor does theliteral deprive thefigured factof its status as a real historical event.Obviously, the last sentence of our passage,namely thatthe Pope has forgotten Joshua's glory in theHoly Land,is also to be understoodin a two-fold and figurative It is not onlythe Holy Land manner. in its concreteand geographical sense which the Pope neglectsby fighting against Christians insteadof liberating it; he has also, for the sake of the maledetto of Florence,lost all fiore,the golden florim of the cityto come,eternaJerusalem. And now, the meaning memory of the passagehas becomecompletely elect soul in the clear: the first heavenof Venus is Rahab,a figure of the Church, thatis of the bride in the Song of Songs,in love of her bridegroom who is Christ-a of the highest formof love-and this view, as Folchetto symbol says, will satisfythe ultimatedesire the star of Venus has promptedin Dante's mind.

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ERICH AUERBACH
The method used here for the interpretation of the first of chapters the book of Joshua does, of course, not apply onlyto thistext,but is partof an entire system whichembraces thewholeof theOld Testament. When Saint Paul came to the conviction that a man is justified by faithalone, not by actionaccording to the Jewishlaw, and that God is not the God of the Jewsalone,the character of the Old Testament was changed completely-this was no longerthe law and the particular history of the Jews,because "all these thingshappenedto them in figura only": thusthe Old Testament becamea seriesof prefigurations of Christ, of his incarnation and passion,and of the foundation of the Christian Church.Saint Paul himself gave a few figurative interpretations (the conception of figurism as such was not unknownto the Jewish tradition), and the whole system developedso rapidly thatwe findit completely workedout,withan incredible abundance of details, in the earliest patristic literature. You will realizethatthis methodof interpretation involves an approach to humanand historical phenomena entirely different from ours.We are apt to consider theevents of history and the happenings of every-day life as a continuous in development chronological succession;the figurative interpretation combines two events, causally and chronologically remote from each other, by attributing to thema meaningcommonto both.Insteadof a continuous development, the direction and ultimate result of whichis unknown to us, the figurative interpreter purports to knowthe significance and ultimate resultof humanhistory, because this has been revealedto mankind; in this theory, the meaningof history is the fall and redemption of and the eternal Man, the Last Judgment, Kingdomof God. We, on the other hand,are able to explainto a certain extent every singlehistorical fact by its immediate causes and to foreseeto a certainextentits immediate consequences, movingso to speak on an horizontal plane; with the figurative approach, on the contrary, in orderto explain the significance of a single historical event,the interpreter had to take recourse to a vertical projection of thisevent on theplaneof providential designby whichthe eventis revealed as a prefiguration or a fulfillment or perhapsas an imitation of otherevents.In view of the fact that education and culture ecclesiastical werealmostentirely up to the fourteenth century, thatthe conception of humanhistory, as taught by the was dominated church, of the scriptures, and that by the interpretation this interpretation was entirely figurative and based on the trilogy fall of man,incarnation of Christ, last judgment-inview of all thesefacts of history had to exerta deep it is evident thatthefigurative conception and lasting influence on medieval lifeevenon laymen. spiritual Sermons, churchsculpture, that is to religiouspoetry(lyricaland dramatical),

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Yale FrenchStudies
say the threemostimportant meansof popularizing knowledge in the middleages,were entirely impregnated with figurism. May I draw the attention of my readersto the important difference which obtains between figurism and other similar forms of thinking suchas allegorism or symbolism. In thesepatterns, at least one of the two elements combined is a pure sign,but in a figural relation both the signifying and the signified factsare real and concrete historical events. In an allegory of love or in a religioussymbolat least one of the termsdoes not it is an abstraction or a sign. But in the belong to human history; sacrifice of Isaac considered it is as a figure of the sacrifice of Christ, essential, and has beenstressed withgreatvigor, at leastin theoccidental tradition, thatneither theprefiguring nor the prefigured eventlose their literal and historical reality by their figurative meaning and interrelation. This is a veryimportant point. Dante's mindwas deeplyrootedin this tradition, and I believethat not only manyparticular passagesin the Commediacan be explained in this manner, but thatthe whole conception of the greatpoem has to be considered fromthis angle. It is not difficult to prove that the of the blessed in the Empireo,in whichDante's Paradiso community culminates,is arranged according to a figurative pattern. Not only the worldof the Christian religion, but also the ancientworldis included in Dante's figural system; the Roman empireof Augustus is forDante a figure of God's eternalempire, and the prominent part Virgil plays to in Dante's workis based on this assumption. Dante is not the first to the figural subject all the materialof human history conception; came to be seen as universal biblical history, Jewishand Christian, and humanhistory, material had to be inserted and all pagan historical adaptedto this framework. EspeciallyRoman history was interpreted as a path of Christian and otherpatristic authors by Saint Augustine foland of the plan of providence. Mediaevalauthors universal history in lowed this tradition, and veryoftenused it for politicalpurposes, the long struggle and sacerdotium. So did Dante, betweenimperium and mostof his figures are connected with takenfromRoman history his politicalideas, as the following exampleshows. At the foot of the mountainof the Purgatorio, Dante and Virgil meeta venerable old man,who,withsevereauthority teaches themhow to prepare accessto purificafortheascent, as theguardian who controls tion. It is Cato of Utica. The choice of this particular character for such a function is veryastonishing. For Cato was a pagan; he was an his allies,Caesar'smurderers of Caesarand themonarchy; Brutus enemy and Cassius,are put by Dante in the deepesthell, in Lucifer's mouth Cato committed by the side of Judas;moreover, suicide,a crime for

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ERICH AUERBACH
whichhorrible circleof theInferno. punishment is metedout in another And yet Cato has been appointed as guardianof the Purgatorio! The problem becomesclear to us by the wordswithwhichVirgiladdresses him: "I prayyou, allow my companionto enter;he is in searchof liberty, thatprecious good you know so well-you who have despised life for it; you know it well, because deathwas not bitterto you in Utica,whereyou abandoned yourbody thatwill be so radianton the last day."Fromthesewords,it becomesobvious, thatCato is a figura, or better still,thatthe historical of theCato in Dante's Cato is a figura Purgatorio. The politicaland earthly freedom for which he died, was fromevil which only a shadow,a prefiguration of Christian freedom leads fromthe bondageof corruption to truesovereignty over oneself, thelibertas attains Dei-a freedom whichDante finally gloriaefiliorum at the top of the Purgatorio, over when Virgil crownshim as master himself. is Cato's choice of voluntary death in orderto avoid slavery of this obviously considered by Dante not as a crime, but as a figura liberation. Of courseDante was inspired in the choiceof Cato for this part by Virgil's sixth book, where Cato is represented as a judge of the righteous in the netherworld (secretosque pios, his dantemjura Catonem) and he was encouraged to treatCato in a specialmanner by the universal admiration expressed for him even by authors who were his political opponents. Cato was one of the classical examplesof Romanvirtue on whichDante based his politicalideology of universal Roman monarchy. But the mannerin which he introduced Cato and justified his partis independent of Virgiland is dearlyfigurative. Both of Cato are real and concrete, forms and the eternal thehistorical form; his function in the beyond presupposes the reality of his historical role. Cato is not an allegory nor a symbol of liberty, but an individual perhe is raisedfromhis preliminary sonality: status, wherehe considered politicalfreedom as the highestgood, to the finalperfection of his in whichcivil virtueor law have lost theirvalue,and in which form, the only thing of importance is the "ben dell'intelletto," the true highest good,the liberty of the immortal soul in the sightof God. In striking contrast to earlier poets who dealt with the otherworld, theinhabitants of Dante'sthree realms havenotlosttheindividual shape and strength of theirearthly character; on the contrary, theirindividual character presentsitselfwith an intensity and concreteness superior to what it was duringthe variousstagesof theirearthly careers;and thisrealism in thebeyond is allowedto survive in spiteof the factthat they havelefthistory foran eternal, and eternally unchanging, situation. This powerful realism is based on Dante's conception, thatGod's judgment develops and fixes thecomplete and ultimate form of theindividual

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Yale French Studies


withThomistic anthropology-a conception whichis in concordance endows in that God's judgment and which at thesametimeis figuralistic: with its own finaland absoluteperfection. an earthly figure and audacious in such a universal Earlierpoets neverused figurism treatment in mostcases to the poetical figuralistic manner; they confine interpretation of otherevents figurative illustration of sacred history; or of life in generalwas mostly unconscious. have artand poetry, thefigurae beginning of Christian Fromthevery can be found a tendency to appear in series.These seriesof figures sarcophagi;we find for example the alreadyon the earlyChristian of Jonahfromthe liberation of Josephfromthe pit, the liberation of Lazarus bellyof the whale (afterthreedays) and the resuscitation of Christ's side by side as figures (also afterthreedays) represented of figurative seriesin Christian resurrection. But the full development than one of late antiquity. a mediaevalphenomenon poetryis rather period, of.the Carolingian So far as I can see, the Latin hymnologists of the sequences,Notker Balbulus,were the especiallythe inventor of what I may and the greatmaster first to use thisformconsciously; is century call figurative eulogiesis Adam of St. Victor; the twelfth and especially of figurative series.The praise the apogee of figurism forinstance, in manyof the sequences of Adam and his of the Virgin, as successively of just such series;she is represented imitators, consists at Isaac's birth, Jacob'sladderthe top of whichreaches Sarahlaughing by the flames, bush whichis not consumed to heaven, Moses' burning Aaron's rod that budded,Gideon's fleecesoaked with dew, the ark of the Covenantthatcontainsthe celestialManna, the throneor the Isaiah's rod comingout of the bed of the trueSolomonwho is Christ, stem of Jesse,Ezechial'sgate looking towardsthe East which shall be shutbecausethe Lord has entered by it; she is the gardenenclosed, the well of livingwaters the fountain of gardens, sealed,the fountain from theSong of Songs,and so forth. here the A studentof mediaevalFrenchliterature may remember the most famousof plays,especially figurative series in the mystery These prophets of prophets. them, the Jeu d'Adamwithits procession are not prophets in the restricted use this sense in whichwe normally in general: besides Isaiah, personalities word, but Old Testamentary Daniel and Jeremiah, thereappear Abrahamand Moses, David and Each of thembegins Balaam and Nebuchadnezar and others. Solomon, withone Latin sentence isolatedfromthe text of the Bible, and then of goes on to explain the sentencein Frenchas an announcement the whole of his prophecy Isaiah for examplewill not present Christ. and the king of Babylon, the future but is of Jerusalem concerning 8

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ERICH AUERBACH
introduced for the sake of one sentence:egredietur exclusively virga de radiceJesseetc.,whichwas considered as a prediction of the Virgin forthe sake of the promise and Christ;just as Abraham is introduced God madeto him,and Aaronforhis budding rod.This is purefigurism; the Old Testament becomesa succession as I have mentioned before, of Christ. of isolatedprefigurations, or, if you prefer, figural prophecies even Adam maybecomenot onlya figura but a figural In thissystem of mankind prophet of Christ. His sleep during whichEve, the mother death in theflesh, was created out of one of his ribs, prefigures Christ's with a spear or sleep beforehis resurrection, whenone of the soldiers came there out blood and water, piercedhis side,and forthwith symbols in the spirit. of the Church, the mother of the sacraments of mankind Adam's sleep is the mystical sleep of contemplation or ecstasy;when "therefore he awakenshe startsprophesying: shall a man leave his and his motherand shall cleave unto his wife,and theyshall father as a figure be one flesh";this passagehas been constantly interpreted This is one of the mostancient of theunionof Christ and theChurch. one of the few introduced and venerable figures, by Saint Paul himself (Eph: 5, 29-32): "sacramentum hoc magnumest, ego autemdico in Christoet in ecclesia."This interpretation of Adam as a figurative prophetpredicting Christ and the Churchhas become an unbroken I becameawareof it forthefirst tradition. a sermon timewhenreading The Jeu d'Adam,it is of Saint Bernard, the second in Septuagesima. true,does not presentAdam in the procession of the prophets, but in another passage of the play he outspokenly predicts Christ.After his fall,when he gives himself up to despairand long-winded selfhe sees one ray of hope: "Therewill be no salvationfor accusations, me exceptby theson who will be bornof thevirgin-"Deus.... ne me feratja nul aie, forsle filsqu' istrade Marie."In his deepestdespair, he becomesconscious of the future redemption; he has knowledge of the future. This blitheanticipation of the future may appear to us as mediaeval naivete, as a lack of historical perspective-the same historical naivetewithwhichAdam and Eve or in otherplaysotherbiblicalpersonalities are realistically depicted as Frenchmen of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries. And, of course,thereis indeed implied,in such a naiveteand lack of historical phenomena, perspective; but such an evaluationwould not be exhaustive. The figurative interpretation, in on historical spiteof its stress completeness derivesits inspiration from the eternalwisdomof God, in whose mind theredoes not exist a difference of time. In His sight,what happens here and now, has happenedfromthe very beginning, and may recur at any moment in the flow of time. At any time,at any place, Adam falls,Christ

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Yale FrenchStudies
and humanity, sacrifices thebrideof theSong of Songs,faithful, himself. and loving,searches hopeful, for Him. A personality who is a figura as Adam is, has knowledge Christi, of the providential future-Christ knew that Judaswould betrayhim, just as another of Christ, figure li reis,nostre "Charles in the Chanson Charlemagne, emperere maignes," de Roland, knowsfrom thevery thatGanelonis a traitor. beginning The eternal in God's mindof all historical coexistence events is a conception best expressed doctrine that God keeps present by Saint Augustine's in hismindall things in their pastand future truereality-that therefore it is not correct to speak of God's fore-knowledge, but simplyof his Dei non praescientia knowledge-"scientia sed tantumscientia dici potest."Figurism gives the basis for the mediaevalfusionof realistic naiveteand other-worldly wisdom.

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