Title Background

Some Versions of Apocalypse: Learned and Popular Eschatology in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

Some Versions of Apocalypse: Learned and Popular Eschatology in Piers Plowman.

Many of the apocalyptic prophecies in the B version of PPl seem mutually incompatible and have never been adequately accounted for by scholars. Some reveal a thoroughly traditional, Augustinian orientation; others appear to draw on “a combination of popular Sibylline legends and intellectually faddish Joachimism in order to offer promises of a millennium.” Close examination of the passages in question reveals that the Augustinian perspective is the controlling one; WL’s theology has almost nothing in common with that of Joachim; the quasi-Joachimist riddles promising a golden future at little or no personal cost (e.g., B.3.284 ff. and 10.322 ff.) probably have some rather obvious and orthodox answers, despite their exotic imagery. These passages appear to function as an element within a comprehensively deceptive rhetorical strategy designed to teach the reader by luring him into various sorts of false hopes for cheap reform. Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that WL, like many of his contemporaries, is considerably more anxious about the imminence of “the last days” (and, to a limited degree, more optimistic about them) than are Augustine, Jerome, Bede, or the other influential sources of orthodox medieval eschatology.