Prior is sleeping in the hospital. A man dressed in medieval clothing wakes him up and introduces himself as Prior’s distant ancestor, Prior I—Prior himself is actually the 5th person to carry his own name. Prior corrects Prior I, saying that he’s actually the 34th person with his own name. Prior I says that this is only true if you count “the bastards.”
We’d already heard about Prior’s long, impressive ancestry. Now we see the extent of this ancestry, in a scene that references the many lists of ancestors in the Bible, further placing Prior as a kind of American prophet with a bloodline to prove it.
Prior I tells Prior about the bubonic plague—the greatest disease of his time. Those who suffered from the bubonic plague were sent away from their communities to die. Prior I then introduces Prior to Prior II, who died from a mysterious disease in the 1600s. Prior asks his ancestors if he’s going to die, but his ancestors claim they can’t answer him. They warn him that the path to death is dark and “rocky.” Prior is so terrified that he buries himself under his blankets and sings a song from “My Fair Lady.”
There’s something strangely comforting in knowing that AIDS isn’t the only deadly plague in history—although diseases have ravaged humanity many times before, humanity has always survived. Also, we’re reminded of the way that Prior retreats into fantasy and performance (here, a celebrated Broadway musical from the late 1950s) in order to escape suffering.
Prior’s ancestors pull him out from under his blankets and tell him they’re there to prepare him for an “unseen messenger.” They begin to sing for Prior in both Hebrew and English—a chorus similar to the voice’s pronouncements.
We’re still not sure about the message Prior is going to receive—what it is or if it’s even real in the first place. The combination of English and Hebrew in the Priors’ chants suggests a strange mixture of many different traditions, cultures, and religions.