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Capital letter O. 2 Samuel 13:29

CAT 46 Capital letter O.  2 Samuel 13.29.  Taferelen. BA 42..jpg

CAT 45. Capital letter O. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 3 (from 2 Samuel 13:29) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:229. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

2 Samuel 13: “[28] Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine; and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you!  Be courageous, and be valiant. [29] And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man gat him upon his mule, and fled.”

Absalom commands that his brother Amnon be killed because Amnon had forced himself sexually upon Tamar his sister (an echo of David their father forcing himself upon Bathsheba). As the feast proceeds at the table inside the top of the letter O, Absalom’s servant, with sword and shield, carries out the order upon Amnon, whose knee only remains within the circle. Melville marked carefully in his own Bible a sequence of passages in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel showing the powerful rivalries among fathers and sons and brother upon brother in the kingdoms of Saul and David (Cowen 3:129-39). “Among all the different kinds of hate, anger and revenge,” writes Father Saurin at the beginning of this Tableau, “the brotherly is the most bitter, and the most stinging, because blood implacably inflames blood” (2:229). The words on the verso of Melville’s image include “lasterlijke-[schande]” (libelous incest) and “eersmet” (shame).

On his visit to Jerusalem in 1857, Melville noted the “Stones about Absalom’s tomb” (NN J 85). In Clarel these are particularized as the “pebble, flint, and stone” that “with malediction, jeer or groan” have been “Cast through long ages” at “Absalom’s Pillar!” (NN C 3.19.148-51).