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The Tale of Macarius of Rome


For the people of the Middle Ages, whose thinking was dominated by religious ideology, paradise must have seemed even more splendid than idyllic India. They longed to see this paradise on earth.

Therefore the search for an earthly paradise was a most popular theme in mediaeval literature. The Tale of Macarius of Rome is about such a search. It originated in Byzantium and appears to have come to Russia not later than the beginning of the fourteenth century (an early manuscript is dated fourteenth century).

The Tale consists of two parts. The first is the account of the difficult journey of three monks who set out to find the place where “heaven and earth meet’.19 The second is the story of the life of the recluse Macarius of Rome, whom the three travellers meet at the end of their journey.

In their search for an earthly paradise the three monks travel through India and many other wondrous lands. They encounter people and animals similar to those described in The Tale of the Indian Empire. Like the hero of The Alexandreid, Alexander the Great, they visit places where sinners are writhing in torment. All these descriptions, which show the influence of The Tale of the Indian Empire and the Alexandreid, are very daunting. They arouse the reader’s attention and concern for the fate of the heroes, who are constantly threatened by all manner of dangers. Only Divine protection and wonder-working guides sent by God (a dove and a deer) help the travellers to overcome the difficulties of their journey.

At the end of the three monks’ long and dangerous journey is the cell of Macarius. On learning from the travellers the purpose of their wanderings, Macarius tells them that it is impossible to reach the earthly paradise, because it is guarded by terrible sentries appointed by God to keep mortals away.

Earthly paradise does exist, but it is not accessible even to the righteous and those favoured by the Lord in this earthly life.

Macarius’ account of himself is a typical hagiographical narrative about a pious hermit. It tells briefly of his retirement from the world, his life in the wilderness and friendship with wild beasts, his temptations, sins and repentance.

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