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Capital letter U. Genesis 13:8

CAT 28  Capital letter U. Genesis 13.8. Taferelen. BA 37.jpg

CAT 27. Capital letter U. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 12 (from Genesis 13:8) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:23. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Genesis 13: “[8] And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen, for we be brethren. [9] Is not the whole land before thee?  Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me; if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ [10] And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. [11] Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. [12] Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.”

The engraving emphasizes the equality of the two human figures and the spaciousness of the chosen lands. The two human hands clasped in the center contrast nicely with those extending beyond the stems of the “U.” A graceful camel is beneath the open hand on the left. This image represents the calm before the storm that results in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (“Gomorra” is one of the Dutch words on the verso of the engraving). The artist’s depiction of Abraham and Lot accords well with Melville’s depiction of these same two men in Book 2 of Clarel as “Blanketed Bedouins of the plain . . . in the time ‘ere Sodom’s fall” (NN C 2.37.34-38). In Book 4 of Clarel, Ungar cites the division of land between Lot and Abraham almost verbatim from these same verses of Genesis, adding his own “North and South” to the Biblical “East and West,” an allusion to America’s Civil War (NN C 4.9.65-81).

Father Saurin’s commentary for this tableau is largely devoted to the civil war waged by neighboring kings over the chosen lands newly settled by Abraham and Lot, prompting Abraham to “become a warrior” who, “courageous like a young lion, armed with strength from above,” was able to “chase the robbers” out of the land and “save” Lot and his people.