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Though initially thought to be part of the Lives of the Saints and included in works such as the Golden Legend, the story of Barlaam and Josaphat is actually derived from the Life of Buddha, transferred to many languages and cultures. The Christianised version of this legend in Greek is the most important for the present German translation; today it is accepted that the Georgian monk Euthymios Hagioreites (c. 955-1028) was the translator, his source the Balavariani, based on an Arabic model that went back to the original Indian/Persian legend.
The story is one of Christianity triumphing over paganism. At Josaphat's birth, his father, a pagan king, receives a prophecy that Josaphat will someday convert to Christianity. The young prince is educated while secluded from the world's suffering, but learns about death, illness, and old age from the people he encounters. He then meets Barlaam, a hermit, who tells him parables of the world's transience, and under Barlaam's influence Josaphat converts to Christianity. Josaphat goes on to convert his father and his people, but when the time comes for the prince to take the king's throne, he retires to seclusion with his old teacher, Barlaam.
The woodcuts in this rare copy of the German translation are overflowing with action and movement. An illustration opens every chapter, the ideal size to include two or more scenes, and the image for chapter three contains four scenes: the birth of Josaphat, his father thanking the tin god on a column, the people offering sacrifices, and the astrologers reading the stars, predicting Josaphat's Christianity.