A Simple Heart and Other Stories

"The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier"

"The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier", in French La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier, is a story about Julian the Hospitaller. (Note that the story has nothing to do with the Order of Hospitallers, despite the similarity of the names.) He is predicted at birth to do great things. His father is told that he will marry into the family of a great emperor, while his mother is told he will be a saint. They dote on him. After Julian kills a mouse who interrupted his concentration in church, his cruelty towards animals grows and culminates into his massacre of an entire valley of deer. A stag curses him to kill his own parents. He almost brings the curse to fruition twice: he drops a sword while standing on a ladder near his father, and he pins his mother's white shawl against a wall with a javelin because it looked like a bird's wings. He leaves to escape his future (much like Oedipus).

Julian joins a band of vagrants, and they eventually grow into a huge army under his control. He makes a name for himself and marries rich, but never hunts. Finally, his wife convinces him to go hunt and he is haunted by the spirits of all of the animals he has killed. He returns home to surprise his wife and finds a man and a woman in her bed. Unknown to him, his parents had arrived to see him and his wife had given them her bed. He thinks that it is another man sleeping with his wife and murders them. He recognizes his misdeed and leaves once again.

Having given all of his possessions to his wife, Julian begs for food but is shunned for his deeds. He comes across a deserted river crossing and decides to live a life of servitude. One day, there is a great storm and a leper wishes to cross. It is rough but Julian does not give up. Once across, the leper's requests increase. He wishes for food and wine, Julian's bed, and finally the warmth of Julian's body. When Julian gives the man everything without hesitation, the leper is revealed to be an angel, or perhaps Jesus Christ himself, and Julian is taken to heaven.

The story is described at length in Yann Martel's novel, Beatrice and Virgil.


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