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Capital letter R. 1 Kings 3:23

CAT 47 Capital letter R.  1 Kings 3.23.  BA 55..jpg

CAT 46. Capital letter R. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 1 (from 1 Kings 3:23) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 2:231. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

1 Kings 3: “[23] Then said the king, The one said, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead; and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. [24] And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. [25] And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. [26] Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. [27] Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof. [28] And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment.”

Between the one woman holding the living baby on the left, and King Solomon on the right, is the capital R with the sword-bearer in the upper loop, the supplicating woman immediately below on her knees, and the dead baby at the lower right. The verso of Melville’s image includes “het levendige kind” (the living child) and “sneden worden” (to be divided). Saurin’s commentary emphasizes Solomon’s “gift of a wise and sensible heart,” even in a “dark dispute” such as this.

Melville marked many passages (though not this particular one) in 1 Kings, including the one in the next chapter declaring that “Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:30; Cowen 3:146). Melville’s admiration for Solomon as a king and thinker is evident in Ishmael’s extended meditation on the “unfathomably wondrous Solomon” in the “Try-Works” chapter of Moby-Dick (424). The more sensuous and mystical side of Solomon’s legacy inspires a debate in Clarel over whether “Solomon’s Song is allegoric” (NN C 4.26.171-202). The next section of this catalog features thirteen engravings in response to the Song of Solomon, some of which are allegoric (CAT 50-62).