A Study of Gumgaegseolsaengjeon[劒客薛生傳]
The purpose of this paper is to investigate the characteristics of Geomgaegseolsangjeon[劒客薛生傳], the swordsman Seolsang’s biography written by Nam Juheon[南周獻]. The biography started out with Seolsaeng’s father killed and robbed of his cow by burglars when Seolsaeng was young. Seolsaeng saw the robbery taking place and informed a government official who found the burglars and demanded the death penalty. Seolsaeng studied swordsmanship for several years before working for a prime minister. One day, a Buddhist priest, who is the prime minister’s enemy, forced himself into the prime minister’s office and suddenly tried to attack him. Seolsaeng instantly killed the Buddhist priest with his sword. After several years, Seolsaeng advised the minister to change his bedroom that night for his safety. At midnight, another Buddhist priest broke into the minister’s original bedroom, but found it empty. This Buddhist priest exclaimed, “The last priest you killed was my student, so why don’t you fight me?” Seolsaeng and the Buddhist priest fought each other until Seolsaeng killed him. Seolsaeng then turned to the prime minister and said, “I repaid your kindness, and I will now leave you.” The prime minister was the same government official who helped find retribution for Seolsaeng’s father’s death.
This biography was not originally written by Nam Juheon, but was adapted from Yu Hanjun[兪漢雋]’s work, Geomgaeggimun[劒客記聞]. The contents of these two works are similar, but there remain differences. For example, Nam removed a scene from Yu’s work that would ruin the plot’s perfection. In addition, Nam used an unofficial historical tale in his work to make it more lively and interesting. Finally, Nam criticized Seolsaeng praising Hyung-ga[荊軻], a famous assassin in ancient China. Since Yu’s work is a direct transcription of tales from the people, there is no criticism. The assassin Hyung-ga attempted to kill the king of Qin[秦] for Tianguang[田光], who appreciated Hyung-ga. Seolsaeng and Hyung-ga are equal when considering how they repay kindness. Therefore, Nam’s criticism contributes to the work.
Swordsmen emerged after Imjinueran, which is the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, and were prevalent throughout the latter Joseon times. During these times, tales about swordsmen were popular among the people and writers wrote biographies about the swordsmen tales.