The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As twilight comes on, Pontius Pilate’s headache returns slightly. He thinks to himself that he has “lost something irretrievably,” but tries to dismiss the thought. Pilate whistles, causing his dog, Banga, to come rushing in, panting and licking his master. Banga’s evident joy shows that the storm is over, as storms are the only things he fears. Meanwhile, Aphranius goes to the barracks and orders some of his men to go and bury the executed bodies.
Pilate’s sense of loss is brought on by the finality of his decision to approve Yeshua’s execution. He has lost his opportunity to act courageously. Banga represents loyalty, which is oddly what Pilate is starting to feel towards Yeshua.
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Aphranius then visits a small stone house in the Greek area of the city. Here, he meets with Niza, a beautiful young woman that he knows. She whispers that her husband is not there; Aphranius goes inside and spends five minutes with her. Aphranius leaves. 
The reader is not privy to the conversation between Aphranius, but presumably it is to arrange the events that follow. There is also the hint that Aphranius and Niza are lovers.
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Niza gets changed and sneaks out of her house. Meanwhile, Judas visits the high priest Kaifa to receive his money for turning in Yeshua Ha-Nozri. Niza finds Judas near a market place and entices him to follow her, pretending that their meeting is a coincidence. 
The air of subterfuge in this chapter echoes the atmosphere of duplicity and secrecy in the Moscow narrative. Judas’ cowardly self-interest is behind his willingness to turn Yeshua over to the authorities, but also leads to his downfall. Bulgakov’s story differs from the biblical account, in which Judas, wracked by guilt, commits suicide.
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Judas wonders where Niza is going, as they had arranged to meet that evening. She says she didn’t want to sit around waiting for him and is going out of town to listen to “the nightingales.” Judas begs to go with her. In an atmosphere of secrecy, Niza takes Judas aside and tells him to meet her at the grotto by the olive groves in Gethsemane—and not to follow at her heels but leave some distance between them. Niza walks on.
Niza wants to lure Judas out of town, for reasons that soon become clear. The nightingale has associations with love and death, both appropriate in this instance.
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Later, Judas arrives at the moonlit grotto, which seems completely deserted. Suddenly, two men appear. They threaten Judas, forcing him to tell them how much money he received from the high priest Kaifa. Begging for his life, Judas hands over the “thirty tetradrachmas.” Just then, one of the men thrusts a knife through Judas’ back all the way to his heart. A third man, wearing a hood, appears, and tells the other two not to “linger.” He gives them a note to attach to the purse containing Judas’ money.
This extrajudicial killing forces the audience to think about the morality of revenge—whether violence is justified for a greater good. A further quandary is whether Judas’s actions, too, are justified: according to the biblical story, his betrayal of Jesus sets in motion Jesus’s crucifixion, which in turn serves the purpose of bringing salvation to mankind.
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Back at the palace, Pontius Pilate has his bed moved into the moonlight on the balcony. He tries restlessly to fall asleep. Around midnight, he takes off his cloak, puts down a knife that was attached his belt, and eventually drifts to sleep. Banga the dog sleeps on the bed next to him.
The knife gives the reader a clue as to the identity of the hooded killers in the previous scene.
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Pilate sinks into a blissful dream. In this dream, he walks up towards the moon accompanied by Yeshua. Pilate feels that “there had been no execution,” and that it would be “terrible” to execute “such a man” as Yeshua. They converse, debating intensely but respectfully. Yeshua states that “cowardice” is one of the worst vices; Pilate counters that it is the worst.
Pilate’s innermost thoughts come to the surface while he sleeps, showing how deeply affected he is by his meeting with Yeshua. He clearly sees Yeshua as fundamentally good and senses the magnitude and meaning of his death. Pilate’s subconscious corrects his error of judgment, erasing the decision to execute Yeshua while simultaneously revealing that Pilate knows that decision to have been cowardly.
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Related Quotes
Pilate, sobbing in his sleep, promises to Yeshua that he will throw away his career just to save Yeshua’s life, “for the sake of a man who has committed a crime against Caesar.” Yeshua tells him: “Now we shall always be together […] Where there’s one of us, straight away there will be the other!” Pilate asks Yeshua to remember him.
Pilate’s dream is a way of playing out the alternative scenario in which Yeshua is pardoned. Pilate is re-evaluating the hierarchy in which he holds his authority, seeing it as—for all its pomp and might—hollow and meaningless in comparison to Yeshua and his message. Yeshua’s comment is about loyalty.
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Pilate is woken abruptly by the arrival of Ratslayer, who informs him that Aphranius has come to see him. Pilate instructs Ratslayer to fetch Aphranius and complains that "even by moonlight I have no peace.” Aphranius reports that Judas has been killed and shows Pilate the bloody purse.
Pilate is often depicted as retreating into moonlight, a symbolic representation of his need to find peace. The conversation between him and Aphranius, as with the earlier one, is euphemistic—they both know who killed Judas.
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Aphranius explains that he has not yet found Judas’s body but assumes that he would have been killed out of town. Pilate wonders how a believer could be lured out of the city on the night of the Passover meal. Aphranius informs him that the purse was thrown over the wall of Kaifa’s palace. Aphranius suggests that Judas may have travelled away from the city in order to hide his money, a theory Pilate likes.
Pilate’s suggestion that Judas is morally compromised is based on the latter’s betrayal of Yeshua. The return of the purse represents an attempt on Pilate’s part to restore things to how they were before his decision to approve the execution, a subconscious attempt to turn back time.
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Aphranius adds that no one at Kaifa’s palace will admit to paying Judas any money, which Pilate suggests will make it “much harder to find the killers.” Pilate says that Judas’ death may have been suicide, and that rumor of this will soon get around the city.
The return of the money also lets Kaifa know that someone is aware of his complicity in Yeshua’s death.
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The conversation moves on to the burial of the executed bodies. Aphranius explains that Yeshua’s body was no longer on the hill, cut down and stolen by Matthew Levi. Some of his men, continues Aphranius, found Levi cradling the body in a cave. Though Levi was very agitated, the men calmed him by allowing him to participate in Yeshua’s burial.
Levi is completely devoted to Yeshua, who has become an all-consuming passion. Before meeting Yeshua, Levi was a tax collector; his transformation thus adds to the overall argument in the book against material possession.
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Pilate says he “needed to see this Matthew Levi,” not realizing that Aphranius has brought Levi to the palace. Pilate thanks Aphranius for “everything that has been done” and gives him a seal ring as a memento. He orders the men who were supposed to be surveilling Judas to be reprimanded, and those who performed the burial to be rewarded.
The punishment for Aphranius’s men is nothing but a gesture, part of Pilate’s need to be seen to follow appropriate protocol.
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Once Aphranius is gone, Matthew Levi is brought in to see Pilate. He is muddy and disheveled, wavering on his feet. Refusing a chair, Levi sits on the floor and looks at Pilate contemptuously. Pilate has Ratslayer bring in the knife that Levi used to cut down Yeshua. Levi says that he needs it back in order to return it to the bakery from which it was stolen; Pilate insists that they will return it for him.
Levi feels contempt for Pilate because he feels that he is responsible for Yeshua’s death. Pilate’s decision to hold on to Levi’s knife is perhaps part of a scheme to cover up who killed Yeshua, a prop that can be placed somewhere. Levi’s gesture of sitting on the floor is his way of symbolically denying Pilate’s authority over him.
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Pilate orders Levi to show him the parchment scrolls on which he has written about Yeshua. Pilate can’t make sense of what he reads, seeing “an incoherent chain of certain utterances, certain dates, household records, and poetic fragments.”
This chimes with what Yeshua said earlier regarding the inaccuracy of Levi’s writings. Pilate asks to see them under the pretense of exerting his authority, but in fact he wants to know more about Yeshua.
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Pilate offers Levi work in the great library at Caesarea, which Levi rejects. Pilate then offers him money, which Levi also refuses. Levi says that Pilate wouldn’t be able to look him in the face having ordered Yeshua’s death. Pilate retorts that Yeshua had said that “he did not blame anyone” just before he died, and that, if Yeshua were in Levi’s position, he would have accepted something from Pilate.
If Levi were to accept Pilate’s offers, which are an attempt by Pilate to absolve his guilt about Yeshua’s killing, he would be acknowledging the Hegemon’s authority. Levi wants to mark himself out as fundamentally different from the society Pilate represents—as Yeshua did. Levi’s refusal also marks him out as different from the corrupt Moscow characters.
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Levi gets up suddenly and leans over Pilate’s table, stating that he is going to “kill a man in Yershalaim.” Levi says he knows he can’t kill Pilate but will devote his life to killing Judas of Kiriath. Pilate informs him that Judas has already been killed and, furthermore, it was he, Pilate, who committed the murder.
Here Bulgakov reveals the identity of Judas’ mysterious hooded killer—Pontius Pilate. This completely changes the surface meaning of the preceding chapter. Pilate kills Judas in an attempt to assuage his guilt for not preventing Yeshua’s execution.
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