Piers Plowman

by

William Langland

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Piers Plowman: Passus XVII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The man introduces himself as Spes, also called Hope, and says he is looking for a knight who once gave him a commandment on Mount Sinai. Hope says that the commandment, which is in the form of letters, isn’t sealed. He asserts that “…Cross and Christendom, and Christ” will seal the commandment, and then the Devil will be defeated. When Will asks to see one of the letters, Hope pulls out a stone engraved with the words, “Love God and thy neighbor.” Hope teaches Will about the importance of loving God and loving others.
Hope is another major figure from the Old Testament, Moses, who led the Jews out of bondage in Egypt. The commandment Hope refers to is the Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses on Mount Sinai—an event detailed in Exodus 19-20. Hope knows that Christ will seal the commandment (set it into motion) since Christ’s Crucifixion is meant to “fulfill” the law (as stated in Matthew 5:17).
Themes
Love Theme Icon
As Hope, Faith, and Will walk along the road, they come upon a Samaritan, riding on a mule on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem, to see a jousting match. All of the men come across a wounded man on the side of the road, who has been attacked by thieves. Faith and Hope flee, leaving Will and the Samaritan to help the man. The Samaritan checks the man’s pulse, washes his wounds, and hoists the man up on his mule. The Samaritan rides with the man for seven miles until he comes to an inn. The Samaritan pays the innkeeper to take care of the man and then departs. 
The Samaritan is another biblical character, this time from the New Testament, appearing in Luke 10:30-36. Although there are some subtle differences in the story (here, the Samaritan is traveling to Jerusalem, while in the biblical story he is traveling away from it), the core of the story remains the same: a man demonstrates extraordinary compassion and empathy for a wounded stranger. That such important religious figures as Faith and Hope flee rather than help once again attests to the critical important of good works. Faith and Hope are important components of living a Christian life, but they are not enough. One must also, as the Samaritan does, perform good works out of a selfless love for others and for God.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Touched by the Samaritan’s pity for the wounded man, Will catches up to the Samaritan and tells him about how Faith and Hope fled. The Samaritan says this is understandable, as no medicine, nor faith, nor hope, can help save the wounded man. He can only be saved by being bathed in “…the blood of a babe born of a maid,” and then undergoing penance. Even still, the wounded man will not be fully healed “Till he has eaten all the babe and drunk of his blood.”
On the surface, the Samaritan’s explanation of what will save the wounded man sounds ominous, if not repulsive. However, like much of the poem, this moment is allegorical—Samaritan is alluding to the Eucharist (Holy Communion), where Christians consume bread (the body of Christ) and wine (the blood of Christ) to unite themselves with Christ.
Themes
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Will asks the Samaritan about the Trinity, explaining what Faith and Hope have already taught him. The Samaritan affirms that God is both three and one, just like a hand that is also a palm, fingers, and a fist. After giving Will a long lesson on loving his fellow Christians and repentance, the Samaritan says he must go and quickly rides away, as Will jolts awake.
Just as a single hand is made of several parts, each with different functions, so the Trinity is both one and three. This analogy may also point to the way that Medieval society was made up of three estates with different functions that, as the poem has it, make up a larger community.
Themes
Love Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
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