Title Background

The Crucifixion Drink in <i>Piers Plowman</i> B. 18 and C.20.

The Crucifixion Drink in Piers Plowman B. 18 and C.20.

Pace K-D, the reference in B. 18.50-53 to the crucifixion drink as Christ’s deeth-yvel (“fatal illness”, “death”) is authorial, although the drink is described in C.20 as a device to prolong Christ’s life. The differing versions reflect the paradox of the Crucifixion -life achieved through death-and relate to Satan’s desire to undo that paradox. WL’s crucifixion drink refers to the acetum given Christ in the Gospels and in the pseudo-gospel of Nicodemus; this drink, by itself or identified with that of Matt. 27:34, works against the devil’s purposes by hastening Christ’s death and thus the devil’s defeat at the Harrowing of Hell. The change of purpose of the drink in the C text, in which the earlier reference to the dream of Pilate’s wife is omitted, serves as the only concrete manifestation of the devil’s desire to prolong Jesus’s life.