Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Roswitha, Delcitus, From the Plays of Roswitha
Approx. 965

 Translation: Christopher St. John, 1914, From the Latin.

Death of Irena

From the Plays of Roswitha:   Scenes XII, XIII, XIV

Death of Irena:

Scene XII

Sisinnius: Irena, take warning from the fate of your sisters, and tremble, for if you follow their example you will perish.

Irena: I long to follow their example, and to die, that I may share their eternal joy.

Sisinnius: Yield, Yield!

Irena: I will yield to no man who persuades me to sin.

Sisinnius: If you persist in your refusal, I shall not grant you a swift death. I shall eke it out, and every day I shall increase and renew your torments.

Irena: The greater my pain, the greater my glory!

Sisinnius: You are not afraid of being tortured, I know, but I can use other means that will be abhorrent to you.

Irena: By Christ’s help I shall escape from all you can devise against me.

Sisinnius: I can send you to a house of ill-fame, where your body will be abominably defiled.

Irena: Far better than my body should suffer outrage than my soul.

Sisinnius: When you are dishonored and forced to live among harlots, you can no longer be numbered among the virgins.

Irena: The wage of sin is death; the wage of suffering a crown. If the soul does not consent, there is no guilt.

Sisinnius: In vain I try to spare her, and show pity to her youth.

Soldiers: We could have told you as much. She is not to be frightened, and nothing can make her worship the gods.

Sisinnius: I will show her no more mercy.

Soldiers: That is the only way to deal with her.

Sisinnius: Have no pity. Be rough with her, and drag her to the lowest brothel you and find.

Irena: They will never take me there.

Sisinnius: Indeed! What can prevent them?

Irena: The power that rules the world.

Sisinnius: We shall see.

Irena: Yes! Sooner than you would like!

Sisinnius: Soldiers, do not let the absurd prophecies of this woman interfere with your duty.

Soldiers: We are not likely to be frightened by a slip of a girl! We will carry out your orders at once.

Scene XIII

Sisinnius: Who are these men hurrying towards us? They cannot be the soldiers who took away Irena. Yet they resemble them. Yes, these are the men. Why have you returned so suddenly? Why are you panting for breath?

Soldiers: We ran back to find you.

Sisinnius: Where is the girl?

Soldiers: On the crest of the mountain.

Sisinnius: What mountain?

Soldiers: The mountain yonder, nearest this place.

Sisinnius: O fools, madmen! Have you lost your senses?

Soldiers: What’s the matter? Why do you look at us so threateningly, and speak with such anger?

Sisinnius: May the gods crush you with their thunder.

Soldiers: What have we done? How have we offended? We have only obeyed your orders.

Sisinnius: Fools! Did I not tell you to take this rebellious girls to a brothel?

Soldiers: That is so, but while we were on the way up came two young strangers and told us you had sent them to take Irena to the summit of the mountain.

Sisinnius: I learn this for the first time from you.

Soldiers: So we see.

Sisinnius: What were these strangers like?

Soldiers: They were gorgeously dressed and looked like people of rank.

Sisinnius: Did you follow them?

Soldiers: Yes, we followed them.

Sisinnius: What did they do?

Soldiers: They placed themselves one on each side of Irena, and told us to hasten and tell you what we had seen.

Sisinnius: Then there is nothing to do but for me to mount my horse and ride to the mountain to discover who has dared to play us this trick.

Soldiers: We will come too.

Scene XIV

Sisinnius: What has happened to me? These Christians have bewitched me. I wander blindly round this hill, and when I stumble on a path I can neither follow it nor return upon my steps.

Soldiers: We are all the sport of some strange enchantment. We are exhausted. If you let this madwoman live an hour longer it will be the death of us all.

Sisinnius: Take a bow one of you, bend it as far as you can, and loose a shaft that shall pierce this devilish witch.

Soldiers: That’s the way!

Irena: You wretched Sisinnius! Do you not blush for your shameful defeat? Are you not ashamed that you could not overcome the resolution of a little child without resorting to force of arms?

Sisinnius: I accept the shame gladly, since now I am sure of your death.

Irena: To me my death means joy, but to you calamity. For your cruelty you will be damned in Tartarus. But I shall receive the martyr’s palm, and adorned with the crown of virginity, I shall enter the azure palace of the Eternal King, to Whom be glory and honour forever and ever!



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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