Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bernard Cornwell and Tanakh 2

There's a fantastic scene in The Winter King that sheds light on some texts in Tanakh. It appears on pages 386-387 in the hardcover version. Here's the scene.
Arthur clasped me again, then called for his servant Hygwydd to help him tug off the suit of heavy scale armour. It came off over his head, leaving his short-cut hair tousled. "Would you wear it?" he asked me. 
"Me?" I was astonished 
"When the enemy attack," he said, "they'll expect to find me here and if I'm not here they'll suspect a trap." He smiled. "I'd ask Sagramor, but his face is somewhat more distinctive than yours, Lord Derfel. You'll have to cut off some of that long hair, though." My fair hair showing beneath the helmet's rim would be a sure sign I was not Arthur, "and maybe trim the beard a little," he added. 
I took the armour from Hygwydd and was shocked by its weight. "I should be honoured," I said. 
"It is heavy," he warned me. "You'll get hot, and you can't see to your sides when you're wearing the helmet so you'll need two good men to flank you." He sensed my hesitation. "Should I ask someone else to wear it?" 
"No, no, Lord," I said. "I'll wear it." 
"It'll mean danger," he warned me. 
"I wasn't expecting a safe day, Lord," I answered.  
"I shall leave you the banners," he said. "When Gorfyddyd comes he must be convinced that all his enemies are in one place. It will be a hard fight, Derfel." 
"Galahad will bring help," I assured him. 
He took my breastplate and shield, gave me his own brighter shield and white cloak, then turned and grasped Llamrei's bridle. "That," he told me once he had been helped into the saddle, "was the easy part of the day."
When I first read this scene, it made me take a look at and question the famous scene in which Saul dresses David in his own armor to fight against Goliath. I got all excited and suggested to my husband that maybe Saul was insinuating to David that David should impersonate Saul and pretend that it is Saul himself who is fighting the giant. Then, when David refuses the armor, he is not only refusing the king's gift, but also refusing to impersonate Saul. 'I'll win on my own merit,' he seems to be saying, 'rather than pretend that I am you, and that you have won.'

However, I then reread the full scene in I Samuel 17. My potential reading doesn't work for several reasons: a) the king has publicly offered a reward for anyone who plans to fight Goliath, which suggests he does not intend to fight the giant himself b) although Saul dresses David in his armor, it is not clear that they are alone; this could be taking place in front of an audience and c) Saul wishes David to "Go with God" which suggests he is not angry with the youth for refusing to impersonate him. Also, the only other place that I remember offhand where a king has someone dressed in his clothing is Ahaseurus and Mordechai, and there the issue wasn't impersonation, but rather, honor. So it could be that Saul simply wished to honor David by dressing him in his armor rather than subtly trying to hint that David ought to impersonate him and allow him to take credit for the victory.

In support for my thesis, the questions remain: Why does Saul dress David in HIS OWN armor rather than simply asking David's brother or another person to give up their armor to the youth? Why does Saul HIMSELF dress the youth (remember, at this point the youth was simply a servant who played the lyre for him?) And after this battle, why does Saul take it so hard that the women sing that he has slain thousands, but David his tens of thousands (did he not himself assure David's reputation through allowing him to fight Goliath and then promoting him to his army?)

But if, from the very beginning, Saul had been trying to insinuate that David ought to let him have the glory, then of course it would fester that the youth had refused to permit him this, and had instead insisted on going out with his face clearly visible and recognizable to all...

The other text where this scene more aptly applies is the famous battle with King Ahab and King Jehosophat.
כט  וַיַּעַל מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל וִיהוֹשָׁפָט מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, רָמֹת גִּלְעָד.29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.
ל  וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל-יְהוֹשָׁפָט, הִתְחַפֵּשׂ וָבֹא בַמִּלְחָמָה, וְאַתָּה, לְבַשׁ בְּגָדֶיךָ; וַיִּתְחַפֵּשׂ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיָּבוֹא בַּמִּלְחָמָה.30 And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat: 'I will disguise myself, and go into the battle; but put thou on thy royal robes.' And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle.
לא  וּמֶלֶךְ אֲרָם צִוָּה אֶת-שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ שְׁלֹשִׁים וּשְׁנַיִם, לֵאמֹר, לֹא תִּלָּחֲמוּ, אֶת-קָטֹן וְאֶת-גָּדוֹל:  כִּי אִם-אֶת-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְבַדּוֹ.31 Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty and two captains of his chariots, saying: 'Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.'
לב  וַיְהִי כִּרְאוֹת שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב אֶת-יְהוֹשָׁפָט, וְהֵמָּה אָמְרוּ אַךְ מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא, וַיָּסֻרוּ עָלָיו, לְהִלָּחֵם; וַיִּזְעַק, יְהוֹשָׁפָט.32 And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said: 'Surely it is the king of Israel'; and they turned aside to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out.
לג  וַיְהִי, כִּרְאוֹת שָׂרֵי הָרֶכֶב, כִּי-לֹא-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, הוּא; וַיָּשׁוּבוּ, מֵאַחֲרָיו.33 And it came to pass, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.
לד  וְאִישׁ, מָשַׁךְ בַּקֶּשֶׁת לְתֻמּוֹ, וַיַּכֶּה אֶת-מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בֵּין הַדְּבָקִים וּבֵין הַשִּׁרְיָן; וַיֹּאמֶר לְרַכָּבוֹ, הֲפֹךְ יָדְךָ וְהוֹצִיאֵנִי מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה--כִּי הָחֳלֵיתִי.34 And a certain man drew his bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the lower armour and the breastplate; wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot: 'Turn thy hand, and carry me out of the host; for I am sore wounded.'

In this story, Ahab deflects attention from himself by having Jehosophat dress in royal robes. The enemy assumes Jehosophat is the King of Israel (when in reality he is the King of Judah). However, the scheme doesn't work because Ahab is killed by a random bowshot. It is, however, another example where disguise is used in battle to achieve a certain effect.

Bernard Cornwell & Tanakh

A friend recommended that I check out The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell, who she praised as a believable author of historical fiction. I did check him out, but since the library I subscribe to didn't have The Saxon Tales, I instead picked up his retelling of the legend of Arthur. I love his revision of the tales, not least because it sheds a lot of light on Tanakh (especially I Samuel- II Kings).

I wanted to type up some of the pieces that I felt were especially relevant. The first piece is excerpted from The Winter King, pages 242-243 in the hardcover version. I felt it did a great job of demonstrating the love that men at arms feel for one another, and support the traditional reading in I Samuel of Jonathan and David as brothers-in-arms.
The bards sing of love, they celebrate slaughter, they extol kings and flatter queens, but were I a poet I would write in praise of friendship.
I have been fortunate in friends. Arthur was one, but of all my friends there was never another like Galahad. There were times when we understood each other without speaking and others when words tumbled out for hours. We shared everything except women. I cannot count the number of times we stood shoulder to shoulder in the shield-wall or the number of times we divided our last morsel of food. Men took us for brothers and we thought of ourselves in the same way. 
And on that broken evening, as the city smouldered into fire beneath us, Galahad understood I could not be taken to the waiting boat. He knew I was in the hold of some imperative, some message from the Gods that made me climb desperately towards the serene palace crowning Yns Trebes. All around us horror flooded up the hill, but we stayed ahead of it, running desperately across a church roof, jumping down to an alley where we pushed through a crowd of fugitives who believed the church would give them sanctuary, then up a flight of stone steps and so to the main street that circled Yns Trebes. There were Franks running towards us, competing to be the first into Ban's palace, but we were ahead of them along with a pitiful handful of people who had escaped the slaughter in the lower town and were now seeking a hopeless refuge in the hilltop dwelling. 
The guards were gone from the courtyard. The palace doors lay open and inside, where women cowered and children cried, the beautiful furniture waited for the conquerors. The curtains stirred in the wind. 
I plunged into the elegant rooms, ran through the mirrored chamber and past Leanor's abandoned harp and so to the great room where Ban had first received me. The King was still there, still in his toga, and still at his table with a quill in his hand. "it's too late," he said, as I burst into the room with sword drawn. "Arthur failed me."
It's worth it to keep reading to understand the relationship between Galahad and Derfel...but it's just as well not to spoil the book.