In this late medieval woodcut, Time, labeled in the middle of the frame in Latin as “TEM - PUS” is symbolized as a demonic angel with cloven goat-hooves, usually a marker for the devil. Time clatters on nimble hooflets across the living world with his scythe, ready to harvest mortals from the joy of life, as a reaper mows wheat.
The dialogue ribbon from his mouth, ancestor of our comic book's dialogue balloon, states in Latin “Hanc aciem sola retundit virtus.”
Translation: “Only good deeds blunt this blade.”
The metaphor is drenched in one of the stagnant pools of medieval Christian theology that would later be questioned by Martin Luther, namely, salvation through good works. The comforting notion posited that the pain of the scythe of death would be reduced for all believers who had passed a life of Christian virtue. On the other hand, non-Christians, as was their supposed due, would be roasted to al dente juiciness as they writhed in agony, trussed to diabolic spits that turned slowly, slowly over the blistering barbecue of Hellmouth.
Yeah, to all dudes and dudettes: Happy, Inclusive, Christian New Year!
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© 2005 William Gordon Casselman