William Langland ‘The Visions of Piers Plowman – Passus 18’ ctd.

Satan observes, with what struck me as uncharacteristic honesty, that Lucifer cannot say Jesus wants to reclaim the lost souls unfairly, since Lucifer himself got them by tricking Eve into eating the apple. So now there is no helping  and they have to open the gates of Hell to Jesus, who is at the door and repeating more or less the same argument. After they are open, the souls of people who died before Jesus emerge. There are some interesting points in the passage, the first one being Satan’s claim that Jesus’ saved people from sin for thirty-odd years, while the biblical account has Jesus to be active publicly only in the last three years of his life. Satan also claims it was him who tried to scare Pilate’s wife in her dream so that she would persuade her husband not to execute Jesus, and therefore sabotage the whole plan of salvation. Now we are getting into the twisted logic of medieval theology: assuming crucifixion was a Good Thing, because it led to the salvation of humankind, and anybody who stood in its way was a villain (or an unwitting tool of Satan, as in the case of Pilate’s wife), why should Faith earlier on curse all the Jews for demanding Jesus’s execution?

The third point is not so much literary but visual: at some point Jesus describes Lucifer in Eden as “as lizard with a lady’s face”. This is a trope in medieval iconography that actually persisted in some variations even beyond the Middle Ages and you can see some of its elements in Michelangelo’s depiction.


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