The Vision of Tundale: Introduction


1 See St. John Drelincourt Seymour, "Studies in the Vision of Tundal," p. 88. I find it hard to agree with Seymour that they are intentional or forgetful lapses into autobiography by Marcus.

2 Matthew 16:26; see also Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25.

3 Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Charles S. Singleton, Bollingen Series 80, 3 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970-75), 1.3.4.
Print Copyright Info Purchase

The Vision of Tundale: Introduction

Few critics have commented on The Vision of Tundale, and even fewer have found any merit. From its earliest versions, in prose or verse, in whatever language, commentators have disparaged the narrative as structurally chaotic, dramatically pointless, and doctrinally slender. To the Middle English poetic version in particular one might add linguistically repetitive and rhythmically pedestrian. Why, then, was the narrative so well received for over three hundred years? Why was it, with Sir Owain, one of the two most popular religious narratives of the Middle Ages? Why was it so highly regarded until Dante seized the laurels? It may be that recent readers have not found in the narrative what they expected. The Vision of Tundale is very much its own self. That it has seemed formless or wandering or insubstantial may simply reflect that the narrative is not what its critics, learned in the traditions of religious narrative, thought The Vision of Tundale ought to be.

The Latin original was written by Marcus, an Irish Benedictine monk from Cashel, recently arrived from Ireland at the influential Cistercian establishment of St. James in Regensburg. According to its dedication, it was a story brought from Ireland, written down at the behest of a certain Abbess G. Within the tract's own introduction it is dated by the author as 1149, a date open to quibbles, but certainly close and having the advantage of Marcus' authority. In a German translation later in the century by a Bavarian priest, Alber, the Abbess G. is more specifically identified as Gisela, and indeed there was an Abbess Gisela of the Benedictine convent of nuns in Regensburg at about the right time. Alber, who says that he made his translation into German in order to make this admirable work more accessible was the first of a long line of translators and adaptors, who included the Cisterian Helinand of Froidmont (d. 1235) in his Chronicon. Helinand shortened Marcus' version, removing many of the specifically Celtic references made by the very Irish Marcus, though so integral were St. Patrick and other Irish religious and legendary figures that they survived in Helinand and subsequent versions. Helinand's version seems to have been the source for St. Vincent of Beauvais' Tundale in his Speculum historiale, written some time between 1244 and 1254. Both Helinand and St. Vincent relate the story under the year 1149. Although many versions fol-lowed (there are over 150 Latin manuscripts and the story was at the last reckoning adapted into thirteen vernaculars), the St. Vincent version seems to have been the primary source of the English poetic version found in five fifteenth-century manuscripts.

In all renderings of the narrative the structure and the dogma are consistent with Marcus' original, and these are the fundamental matters which seem to trouble recent readers most. The structure is, indeed, problematic. It is, metaphorically, as if The Vision of Drythelm, Bede's influential story of a vision in his Ecclesiastical History (731), recorded under the year 696, were exploded and Marcus put it back together again, without the instructions, and with many extra pieces acquired notably from works such as the Apocalypse of St. Paul, a late fourth- century apocryphon accessible throughout the Middle Ages in a series of Latin redactions, for scenes of torment; from The Vision of Wetti (824) for particularly sexual punishments; and from many other visions, popular in narrative and in sermons from the time of St. Gregory's Dialogues (593-94), all enlivened by Celtic elements apparently introduced by Marcus himself. Each of the elements taken from existing versions would fit within the Cistercian traditions of meditation, sermons, and reading as part of their spirituality, but the combination of them in this poem seems bizarre.

The Vision of Drythelm is an orderly account of a good man, who dies but revives the next morning and provides his distraught wife with an account of what occurred while he was "dead." A shining angel first shows Drythelm the horrors of purgatorial punishments of fire and ice, but warns him that this is not the worst. In a darker place, Drythelm sees the more severe infernal punishments at the mouth of Hell, with damned spirits who bob up and down in globes of fire, though the depths of Hell lie still further beyond. The fiends try to seize Drythelm, but the angel returns, gradually taking form from a shining star, and guides Drythelm to a place of joy and light, in which Drythelm longs to stay. The angel, however, informs him that the souls in this happy place are not yet fully saved, but awaiting entry to Heaven itself, of which Drythelm gets a glimpse but is not allowed to enter. Some of this sounds very much like Tundale's experiences, but The Vision of Drythelm is concise and compact. Its tight narrative includes the four states of the afterlife according to St. Augustine: the state of purgation for the mali non valde (sinful souls who undergo a severe purgative experience), the mali (the damned), the non valde boni (sinners in a place of beauty, who have either completed purgation or were guilty of lesser faults, but are not quite ready for entry to Heaven), and the boni (the saved). The vision contains details present in Tundale, but the narrative is clear and straightforward. The Vision of Tundale is an eclectic representation that preserves the four groups, but changes emphases, adds a wealth of detail, and ambles through the afterlife in a more circuitous, divagating fashion. It is not that The Vision of Tundale is amorphous; in fact, in some ways it is the most precise and detailed fictional account of the Christian afterlife before Dante, and may even have been read by him. Rather it is that The Vision of Tundale moves through the afterlife according to its own logic.

The Middle English version replaces Marcus' references to the Irish Church and his location of the story in Cork with a formulaic call for attention that could be part of any number of contemporary narratives. In both versions Tundale is identified as a serious sinner; unlike the good Drythelm and most other visionaries, he is guilty of the eight deadly sins: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth, and the particularly Irish addition to the tradi-tional seven, treachery. It is amidst callous behavior towards a debtor that the story begins. Tundale, generously invited to stay to dinner by his aggrieved debtor, is stricken with a violent fit that results rapidly in his apparent death. It is hard to see how one could ignore the drama of this beginning; unexpected and vivid, it is a powerful demonstration of the scriptural admonition: "Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour. . ." (Matthew 25:13). His soul, parted from his apparently dead body, finds itself in a dark and grim place that causes an immediate regret that will deserve more attention in the discussion below of Tundale's character as visionary.

Tundale's guardian angel emerges from a star and accuses Tundale of ignoring him during life. Tundale readily and fearfully admits his guilt and the journey begins. In the Advocates' Manuscript version, printed here, Tundale's experiences are divided into ten Passus (literally "paces," but a common division of parts in medieval narrative); seven Gaudia, "joys"; and a Reversio Anime, a section in which Tundale's soul returns to his body, he reports his experiences, and promises to reform. Although the other Middle English manuscripts do not have these divisions, they accurately segment Tundale's experience, although sometimes, especially in the Gaudia, the distinctions between parts are not precise.

The Passus, however, are a rather neatly arranged catalogue of sins:
I: In this prologue Tundale is threatened and abused by fiends and comforted by the angel.
II: The murderers are melted and re-formed in the fires of a stinking pit. As the poem proceeds, The Vision of Tundale is distinctive in the way it associates specific places with specific sins.
III: The thieves and deceivers are swept back and forth between fire and ice.
IV: The proud are in a pit of fire and brimstone over which is suspended a narrow bridge that can be traversed only by someone as humble as the pilgrim priest who makes his way across. So far, the angel has been explicit about the sin, but the punishments have not been noticeably suitable to one sin rather than another. Here the punishment fits the crime.
V: The covetous must enter the gaping maw of Acheron to be tormented with fire and ice. There is some appropriateness in the greedy mouth of Acheron, but this section is more striking in that it is the first place where Tundale must actually undergo punishment rather than simply be a terrified observer. Perhaps appropriately to the sin, he is bitten by lions, adders, and snakes within the belly of Acheron.
VI: Robbers, and more particularly the sacrilegious, who have defiled holy ground are in a fiery lake full of beasts. The punishment is not especially appropriate, but the angel makes clear that there are gradations of suffering, a point not always noted in visions. Across the lake is a bridge - long, narrow, and sharp - which Tundale, again suffering in his own person, must cross. That he must lead a wild cow across the bridge is a part of his particular transgression: he had stolen his neighbor's cow and, though he had returned it, his intention had been sinful. It is hard to avoid the comedy in this scene, perhaps a remnant of Irish legend, even within the gruesome circumstances.
VII: Those guilty of sexual sins are tormented within an oven-like house. The souls, again not without some grim comedy, are hacked into bits by fiends, with devices ranging from weapons to farm implements, and then re-formed and hacked up again. Once more Tundale must suffer the punishment, but, as after each such torment, he is restored by his guardian angel. Here we see specific attention to genitals, appropriate to the sin; among the sinners are men of religion and, for the first time in the poem, Tundale recognizes some of the sufferers.
VIII: Lustful clergy and religious who have broken their vows are swallowed by a great bird and infested with vermin that creep in and out of their bodies. The torment seems to fit the carnality and again Tundale must suffer.
IX: In this Passus, what has earned the sinners their places in Vulcan's forges does not appear to be any particular type of sin, but rather the sheer number of sins they have committed. In the smithy of Vulcan they are tossed back and forth between infernal blacksmiths, who beat them with hammers on fiery forges. Again Tundale must suffer, because he has been a perpetrator of many and various sins.
X: The last Passus is devoted to Hell itself and Satan. Although it has been suggested in IX that the tormented so far are in a purgatorial rather than infernal state, it becomes clear that in II through IX the sinners have not yet been judged and have no idea whether or when they might finish purgation; both Heaven and Hell are still possibilities, and they have no knowledge of the duration of their fate. In Passus X we have those who have already been judged and are certainly and eternally lost. The Passus culminates in a long description of the prideful archfiend and corrupter of mankind - Lucifer, who inflicts horrendous pains and is simultaneously tortured by the pains he inflicts, even as he is bound fast until the Last Judgment so that he will not cast the world into chaos. Pain here is horrendous and eternal, and, for the second time in the poem, Tundale ruefully recognizes some individuals he knows. But the Passus is dominated by the huge, black, and horrible vision of Satan, the author of all evil.
This schematic summary has been provided to show in detail something of the structure of the ten Passus as a whole as well as some of the features that are distinctive in Marcus', and thereby his successors', vision of the afterlife. Specific locations are designated for specific sins, an element so unusual that some have thought it influential on Dante. Tundale, despite the fact that he is there only in spirit not in body, must himself suffer for five of them; Marcus ignores the problem of an incorporeal soul suffering physical punishments in favor of directly involving Tundale in the horrors he observes. The presentation of the suffering sinners has not been climactic throughout the truly purgatorial parts in which sinners suffer but have not yet been finally judged. Perhaps the lack of dramatic climax has caused some disappointment with the poem, though, taken as a whole, the punishments are at least comprehensive. There is, however, beginning in Passus IX and mounting through the whole of Passus X, a climactic movement in the ultimate horrors of true Hell and the elaborate portrait of Satan. Finally, Marcus recognizes some souls, both among those not yet judged in Passus VII and among the damned - a small gesture in the direction Dante took more extensively and dramatically.

The poem could be over, but Marcus proceeds to show us better worlds in the seven Gaudia. This continuation is not unique to The Vision of Tundale; indeed it is almost a traditional part of visions of the afterlife such as Drythelm. It is rather the way that Marcus moves from the ten Passus to the Gaudia, especially the first two Gaudia, that is distinctive and has caused most consternation about the structure of the narrative. After the climactic movement of the ten Passus towards Satan and true Hell, Marcus backtracks in the first two Gaudia to a more tolerable Purgatory.

In Gaudium I are souls who, although in a much more pleasant place than anywhere in the ten Passus, suffer hunger and thirst. More strikingly, these souls know that they will eventually be saved, but they are not yet wholly without pain. Marcus is embarking on an Augustinian view of the afterlife, which, because of its placement after Lucifer and Hell, is structurally odd. These souls, as in the Augustinian tradition, are specifically called mali non valde, though the precision of Marcus' Latin is somewhat obscured in the language of the Middle English version:
All leved they well in honesté,
Yet grevyd they God in sum parté. (lines 1519-20)
Gaudium II presents the Augustinian non valde boni, again rendered less obviously in the Middle English:>
Thawye they ben clansyn of all ylle,
Here mot thei abydon Goddus wylle. (lines 1567-68)
These souls include the Irish kings Cantaber (Conor O'Brien), Donatus (Donough MacCarthy), and the renowned Cormake (Cormac MacCarthy), who is especially well known to Tundale. All of them apparently must still suffer, but the pains of Cormake are particularly striking and vivid.

The remaining Gaudia move through a kind of Earthly Paradise to Heaven. Gaudia III-VI present an increasingly beautiful set of locations, decorated in more and more ornate ways for the virtuous of many sorts, including the chaste married, martyrs, virgins, virtuous clergy, and those who have founded and supported churches and religious orders. The region never speci-fically becomes the Earthly Paradise or the Garden of Eden, but references, especially to the fall of Adam, make clear that this is what it is. The beauties, in singing choirs, flowers, gems, and splendid pavilions, make it hard to believe that we are not in Heaven itself. It must be granted that Marcus finds it hard to sustain a dramatic progression through stages of this Paradise, straining to find a vocabulary that will sustain a sense of ever greater glory and gratification. However, by assertion if not by dramatic representation, it becomes clear that the joys increase as Tundale proceeds. And all of these souls are aware that at some indeterminate time, unknown to them, they are assured of salvation.

In Gaudium VII, devoted to a view of Heaven, the angel and Tundale climb to the top of the most magnificent wall of all, in a land of magnificent walls, composed of precious gems and mortared with gold. From here they see the whole of creation, not only the earthly and purgatorial, but Heaven itself. Improbably, Tundale sees the nine orders of angels that perpetually praise God and even more improbably, he has a glimpse of the Trinity. It remains only for Tundale, after a cordial greeting by Renodan (St. Ruadan, the patron saint of Lorrha in County Tipperary, perhaps Marcus' place of birth), to meet St. Patrick, the patriarch of the Irish Catholic Church and epitome of active holiness for an Irish narrator, and the four bishops who "reformed," that is, Romanized, the Irish Church in the first half of the twelfth century, and to see the empty seat reserved, apparently, for St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest Cistercian of them all. Nothing is left but for Tundale to return to his body and live his life in conformity with the profound lessons he has learned.

Critical objections have been made, with some justification, to the static quality of Gaudia III-VI, but it is harder, in Latin or Middle English, to find a vocabulary for the increasingly glorious than for the increasingly horrific. It may also be that we have, retroactively, the supreme vision of Dante standing in our way. It has also been objected that the climax with the Irish saints would be very much beside the point to an English audience in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Here again, there is some justice in the criticism, though the scene is handled with an economy and sense of ultimacy that transcends ethnic unfamiliarity. The most serious criticism, however, is that there is a structural discontinuity between the Passus and the Gaudia: the former move through gruesome descriptions of souls who are purged without even the assurance of salvation and issue in a staggering infernal vision of Lucifer; the latter begin with mildly suffering souls and lead to the Beatific Vision. Tundale, it is suggested, seems like two different visions with a radical disruption in between. It is as if the author tried at the beginning of the Gaudia to incorporate the Augustinian categories more explicitly. The result, for the structure of the whole poem, is that the vision begins with the non valde mali and proceeds to the mali, then reverts to the boni non valde and proceeds to the boni.

This final criticism must be acknowledged, but for the reader it may not be devastating and may even be a virtue if one does not insist that linear narrative is the only or the best kind. It may not be that the structure is chaotic, but that Marcus, and his inheritors so widely admired by a variety of audiences, has taken advantage of one kind of climax in the Passus and another in the Gaudia and that far from being clumsy or incompatible, they enhance each other in a way that is consistent with a monastic, especially a Cistercian spirituality. The audience is asked to balance two types of meditation, one of horror and one of hope, both representative of ultimate spiritualities. The Passus lead from torment to hopelessness; the Gaudia lead from a milder suffering to bliss. Both are true visions and to balance them against each other, even at the expense of linear narrative, is to represent quite dramatically the contrasts between eternal destinations.

If the structure of the whole has not been received generously, neither has the character of Tundale, who has been seen to have lost the distinctive characteristics of his sinful life and become a bland and undifferentiated traveler to the next world. Here again, I would defend the Tundale poet. It would be just as unthinkable to have him remain a miscreant as it would for him to react more variously to the spectacles provided him. In the Passus, he suffers and we have a sympathy for him impossible for other visionaries. Upon "dying" and finding himself alone in a bleak place, he immediately and sympathetically recognizes the error of his ways. He is intriguing because he sometimes seems not the sinner we began with, but a professed religious, being instructed in the afterlife. Those instances may be authorial lapses.1 If they are a flaw, they are a welcome flaw that adds variety to the sometimes dreary role that a visionary is called upon to play. Regardless, Tundale is a participant-observer and, at a few crucial places, engages in dialogue with his angel or listens attentively to instruction that the angel provides, but those are more appropriate to the consideration of the theology of the narrative below, where it becomes clearer that we care about Tundale, and ought to.

Even if this poem is oddly, even clumsily, structured and Tundale has, for the most part, the blandness of the visionary, though his role is enhanced by the need actually to suffer along the way, it is not accurate to say that it is slender on doctrine. It is not a theological narrative, but it is imbued with doctrine that is fundamental to the idea of Purgatory. Tundale does not argue refinements on the doctrine of Purgatory. For example, it mentions but does not inquire into what the souls know, how long they will be purged, when salvation will ultimately come. It does not even seem to worry, in an analytic way, about having two classes of purgatorial souls - those who suffer unjudged and those who know they are saved. Nor does it quail at Tundale's seeing the Trinity when he is not truly dead. These are all taken for granted, men-tioned, but rather as a matter of fact than a matter of contention. Most important in this regard, the story does not seem to be interested in the doctrine of suffrages, which became so important in purgatorial literature. Indeed, the only mention of suffrages is as a discouragement by the demons who first greet Tundale.
"All the gud that in tho erthe is,
Nor all the matens ne all the masse
Myght not help thee from the peyn of hell." (lines 211-13)
good; the earth
matins; masses
Their assertion that suffrages will now do him no good must, of course, in context be taken to suggest that suffrages can do good, but this aspect of purgatorial teaching is not what Marcus, or those who transmitted his narrative, were interested in. Suffrages were to become prominent soon after Marcus' work, when the doctrine of Purgatory became more the property of the Dominicans than the Cistercians. For Dominican scholars and preaching friars, suffrages had a special potency, but that focus is different from what seems to have been most important to the Cistercians in their uses of Purgatory as part of their meditative spirituality.

That difference is highlighted by the doctrine that is central to the theology and spirituality of Purgatory in Tundale: God's justice and mercy. That doctrine, which pervades the poem and gives it its spiritual vitality and compassion, is raised early, if obliquely, by the fiends who greet and torment Tundale immediately after his death. They emphasize that Tundale deserves to suffer. When they taunt him with what he deserves, they echo the scriptural counsel: "For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?"2 Tundale's earthly power has abandoned him to what, in reality, he merits. Likewise, when the infernal fiends at the gates of Hell in Passus IX threaten Tundale, they emphasize what Tundale deserves:
For thi wykkydnes and thi foly
In fyr to brenne art thu worthy. (lines 1213-14)
Even Tundale's guardian angel, in his first address to the soul, chastises Tundale for his guilt in not having paid attention to his urgings to live a better life and thereby not have to fear a deserved horrible eternity (lines 239-44).

It is important that Tundale is not wholly passive and the angel does more than lead him, identify the sins, and indicate when Tundale's special guilt makes it necessary for him to suffer a particular torment. The most important location in which the angel provides the advice which is fundamental to this vision of Purgatory is in Passus VII. There Tundale, viewing the horrors of punishment, questions God's mercy by alluding to Scripture:
"Wher his the word that wryton was
That Goddus mercy schuld passe all thyng?
Here see Y therof no tokenyng." (lines 812-14)

Tundale is echoing Latin Vulgate Psalm 32:5, which the scribe quotes in Latin after line 814. The long response of the angel is a dissertation on the nature and profundity of God's mercy. He begins by asserting:
"Allthauff God be full of myght and mercy,
Ryghtwessnes behowyth Hym to do therby.
But He forgevyth more wykkydnes,
Thenne He findeth ryghtwesnes.
Tho peynus that thu haddus wer but lyght.
Grettur thu schuldyst have tholud with ryght." (lines 817-22)
Justice requires

The angel has succinctly stated the necessary interconnection between God's justice and mercy. He continues by asking (lines 826-29), why, without the threat of punishment, would man do God's will? But the main burden of his discourse is that all human beings, even babies, deserve, by justice, punishment by God; it is only the benevolence of God's mercy that makes salvation, or even alleviation, possible. In addition, granted the difference between what we deserve and what God's mercy makes possible, it behooves us to do penance on earth and live according to God's will. Later the angel expands on this point in answering Tundale's question about why the wicked prosper, while the good on earth are often deprived (lines 1446-52); he explains that discomfort on earth may help human beings to struggle and live more in accord with divine will (lines 1453-60). That suffering on earth is desirable is a corollary of the doctrine of divine justice and mercy, especially in view of the fact that God tempers with mercy the retributive justice that we all deserve. Thus, it is better to suffer on earth than to have to face even a merciful reckoning after death. Penitence on earth is preferable in view of what we all deserve according to a strict interpretation of God's justice. However, even purgatorial punishment in all its horrors is a manifestation of the operation of God's mercy. Purgatory becomes the "doctrine of the second chance," a powerful manifestation of God's prevailing mercy.

Much later than Marcus, Dante inscribed over the gates of Hell:
Justice moved my high maker.3
This is a hard saying, but Dante could have equally as well introduced Purgatory by an-nouncing it as the demonstration of God's mercy. That is the doctrine that underlies all of the pain in The Vision of Tundale's Hell and Purgatory, and the incomplete joy of the first two Gaudia, and even the waiting in Gaudia III-VI.

The angel's speech on justice and mercy is central to the whole narrative. Once one sees clearly what we get in contrast with what we deserve, the merciful solace that runs throughout the narrative becomes clearer. If one has not noticed before, one can see how the poem's demonstration of justice is repeatedly moderated by the pervasive recognition of how justice is tempered with mercy. As early as the preface, the narrator makes the fundamental doctrine clear. Tundale is a sinner:
Yett nold not God is sowle tyne
For He hit boghthe from Hell pyne,
For His mersy passud all thynge. (lines 37-39)
would not; his soul harm
it bought; Hell's pain
mercy surpassed
Long before Tundale's complaint in Passus VII, the narrator has assured us of the theological basis of all that we will see. In the act of Redemption, God demonstrated and made effective the doctrine that informs even the most gruesome aspects of the poem. After Tundale dies, the first recognition he has is that he must now rely on God's mercy and his angel soon comforts him:
But Goddus mercy schall thee save. (line 257) God's
The angelic reassurance may destroy suspense, though the descriptions of the torments that come tend to preserve our unease, but mercy is a theme that recurs perpetually: in the fact that Tundale is allowed not to suffer in Passus II; in the angel's comfort upon their approach to Lucifer; in the explanation of why Cantaber and Donatus are not damned; and repeatedly in casual assertions throughout the journey. The doctrinal substance of The Vision of Tundale lies not in theological disputes about the refinements of the nature of Purgatory, but in its hor-rifying, though ultimately exalting, recognition of our dependence upon God's mercy in a universe where we would deserve even worse than what we see. In such a context, Tundale's Reversio Anime becomes not only a logical consequence of his journey, but an ultimate mani-festation of the narrative's central consolation, the mercy of God.

Thus, it may be that the concatenation of horrors issuing in beatitude, presented in the context of the prevailing mercy of God, was the combination of elements responsible for the sustained popularity of the narrative in the Middle Ages. This is not to say that the narrative's twelfth-century audience saw exactly the same horrors and comforts that its fifteenth-century audience did, any more than it is to say that our perspective is the same as either. What in the twelfth century was an appropriate stimulus for Cistercian meditation and edification may be quite different from the sources of the narrative's popularity in the later Middle Ages. The Middle English version seems rather to rely on a more popular taste for the grotesque and horrific, mediated by eventual consolation, rather than on Cistercian spirituality. That four of the five manuscripts of the Middle English version include a large number of romances, including Sir Gowther, Sir Isumbras, Sir Amadas, Guy of Warwick, Sir Eglamour, and Sir Launfal, may argue that interest in Tundale was consistent with a more general interest in stories of adventure.

Yet the perdurance of Tundale into the fifteenth century seems more than that. Yes, the fascination of the grotesque seems a likely attraction, but the integral affirmation of God's mercy seems likely to have been as comforting to a more popular and secular, though still religious, audience. The version in which they received the story admittedly is not graceful verse, though the story flows more rhythmically if one emphasizes its verse form simply as a four-stress line rather than as strict octosyllabics. Still, the power of the poem seems to reside largely in char-acteristics intrinsic to the narrative. The fifteenth century may have revelled more in the gory descriptions than Cistercian predecessors did. And the story may have been altered in its effect by the partial skepticism implied by the scribe at the end of the English poem:
Be it trwe, or be it fals,
Hyt is as the coopy was. (lines 2382-83)
That is to say, a fifteenth-century audience may have seen fiction where a twelfth-century audience saw history. Nevertheless, even if catering to a different taste for the descriptions and a different sense of the poem's verisimilitude, the demonstration of God's tempering of justice with mercy must have contributed to the later audience's pleasure and solace.

No one would mistake The Vision of Tundale for the Divine Comedy, in which Dante endowed the matter of the afterlife not only with rare linguistic excellence but also with a metaphoric universality that transcends all ages. But there are many layers of quality between the sublimity of Dante and the banality of trivial descriptions. The Vision of Tundale is somewhere in between and deserves our attention more than as simply a document in literary history.

Go To The Vision of Tundale
Select Bibliography


National Library of Scotland MS Advocates' 19.3.1, fols. 98r-157v. [c. 1425-1450]

British Library MS Cotton Caligula A. ii, fols. 95v-107v. [c. 1400-1450]

British Library MS Royal 17.B.xliii, fols. 150r-184v. [c. 1400-1450]

Bodleian Library MS Ashmole 1491 (SC 7656), five leaves at the end of the book; frag-mentary. [c. 1400-1450]

MS Takamiya 32 (olim Penrose 10, olim Penrose 6, olim Delamere), fols. 166v-75v. Presumably in a private collection. Photographic copies are available at the Library of the University of Chicago and at the British Library: Facs. 405 (16). [Fifteenth century]


Gardiner, Eileen, ed. "The Vision of Tundale: A Critical Edition of the Middle English Text." Ph.D. Dissertation: Fordham University, 1980. DAI 40.12A (1980), p. 6266A.

Mearns, Rodney, ed. Visio Tnugdali: The Vision of Tundale. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1985.

Turnbull, William B. D. D., ed. The Visions of Tundale, together with Metrical Moralizations and Other Fragments of Early Poetry. Edinburgh: Thomas G. Stevenson, 1843.

Wagner, Albrecht, ed. Tundale: Das mittelenglische gedicht über die Vision des Tundalus. Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1893.


Gardiner, Eileen. "The Translation into Middle English of the Vision of Tundale." Manu-scripta 24 (1980), 14-19.

----. "A Solution to the Problem of Dating in the Vision of Tundale." Medium Ævum 51 (1982), 86-91.

Hines, Leo James. "The Vision of Tundale: A Study of the Middle English Poem." Ph.D. Dissertation: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1968. DAI 29.6A (1968), p. 1869A.

Marshall, J. C. Douglas. "Three Problems in The Vision of Tundale." Medium Ævum 44 (1975), 14-22.

Seymour, St. John Drelincourt. Irish Visions of the Otherworld: A Contribution to the Study of Mediæval Visions. New York: Macmillan, 1930.

----. "Studies in the Vision of Tundal." Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 37.4, Sec. C (January 1926), 87-106.