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Capital letter I. 1 Maccabees 6:43

CAT 49 Capital letter I.  1 Maccabees 6.43.  Taferelen.  BA 51..jpg

CAT 48. Capital letter I. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 5 (from Maccabees 6:43) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 3:9. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

1 Maccabees 6: “[33] Then the king rising very early marched fiercely with his host toward Bath-zacharias, where his armies made them ready to battle, and sounded the trumpets. [34] And to the end that they might provoke the elephants to fight, they shewed them the blood of grapes and mulberries.  [35] Moreover they divided the beasts among the armies, and for every elephant they appointed a thousand men, armed with coats of mail, and with helmets of brass on their heads; and besides this, for every beast were ordained five hundred horsemen of the best. . . . [37] And upon the beasts were strong towers of wood, which covered every one of them, and were girt fast unto them with devices; there were also upon every one two and thirty strong men, that fought upon them, besides the Indian that ruled him. . . .  [43] Eleazar also, surnamed Saravan, perceiving that one of the beasts, armed with royal harness, was higher than all the rest, and supposing that the king was upon him, [44] Put himself in jeopardy, to the end he might deliver his people, and get him a perpetual name: [45] Wherefore he ran upon him courageously through the midst of the battle, slaying on the right hand and on the left, so that they were divided from him on both sides. [46] Which done, he crept under the elephant, and thrust him under, and slew him: whereupon the elephant fell down upon him, and there he died.”

In the foreground we see Eleazar with his sword, ready to stab the elephant bearing the large wooden tower from beneath. The elephant is impressive, in spite of being bisected by the capital latter I. (For another prominent engraved elephant, see Melville’s print of The Festival of Al-Mohurram, CAT number to be assigned). In Melville’s 1846 edition of the Bible he marked the above passage about the elephants being aroused with the “blood of grapes and mulberries” (Cowen 3:300). He put that passage to excellent use in characterizing Moby Dick after he has upended Ahab on the First Day of the Chase: “the sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus’s elephants in the book of Maccabees” (NN MD 551). In Clarel the pilgrims visit the site of “The Maccabees’ Masada true / . . . The Peak of Eleazer’s end” (NN C 2.29.53-5). The Masada story is not told in the Biblical Maccabees. Melville must have got it from other sources (NN C, p. 783).

1 Maccabees is a book from the Old Testament Apocrypha. It begins with the defeat of “Darius of the Persians and Medes” by “Alexander, son of Phillip the Macedonian.” The battle of Bathzacharias in chapter 6 is one of many battles in which Judas Maccabeus leads his Jewish warriors against the occupation by the forces of the Greek King Antiochus, who had conquered Egypt and brutally sacked Jerusalem. This book of the Bible intersects with the world of the Greeks and Persians as depicted by Flaxman’s illustrations of Aeschylus’s Persians, especially when all of Israel went into mourning after the sacking of the city: even “she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning” (1 Maccabees 1:27).