Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/475

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417
The Legend of Merlin.

one side King Solomon, whose place has been taken here by Nebuchadnezzar, who is already turned to a kind of buffoon, and on the other a demon, whose place has been taken by a wonderful child with prophetic powers and of a half-human and half-demoniacal nature.[1] This version proves that at the end of the seventh century (for I place the date of the history of Sira at that period), the old legend had undergone sufficient change to approximate it to the legend of Merlin. But we must assume the existence of a fuller text of this form of the legend in which some of the older incidents had been preserved which have dropped out of the Sira version. In the old Solomon version we find the following incidents, which occur again in the Merlin version but not in the intermediate oneof Sira. Solomon is anxious to build the Temple, but must not use any iron for cutting the stones. The only person that can help him is the king of the demons, Ashmedai, whom his general Benayah captures by a clever trick and who fastens a chain round him upon which the ineffable name of God had been engraved, so that he could not break it. On the way to the king the demon meets a bridal pair, and he weeps; he sees a wizard prophesying and promising to others riches, and he laughs; he sees a man bargaining for a pair of shoes and asking whether they would last him for seven years, and again he laughs; and so he does many strange things until brought before King Solomon, where he continues to act in a similar manner. When asked a few days later to explain the reason of his weeping at a bridal procession and his merriment at the man asking for a pair of shoes that would last a long time,

  1. It is not here the place to discuss a possible and very plausible connection between this version of the legend and other legends current at that and at earlier times, in Asia, about the virgin birth. Suffice it to remark that in the infant history of Jesus the son of Sirach we find surprising parallels to the apocryphal "Gospel of the Infancy," notably in the incidents of the precocious child and the teacher, which child instead of being taught takes the rôle of the teacher.