Monday, August 17, 2009

The ghastly King Herod


Queen Mariamne leaving the court of Herod.

I was thinking about King Herod last night. His life would make an epic movie. While still a teenager he became an effective warrior. He fell in love with and asked for the hand of Princess Mariamne, the daughter of the high priest and a descendant of the last true kings of Israel. In order to marry Mariamne, he cast off his first wife Doris and his three year old son. Caesar, Marc Antony and Octavian were well disposed towards him, the son of their loyal friend and when he had destroyed his enemies once and for all he went to Rome and was made king of the Jews. Palestine was his.

And then he turned into something that the Greek playrights and centuries later, Shakespeare would've understood very well. He became insanely jealous of Mariamne, once, according to Jospehus, even fretting that she was intrested in Marc Antony, who by that time was clearly and totally in love with Cleopatra. His subjects hated him-- a foreigner, an upstart son of a servant to the last true king and they resented his Roman connections. Mariamne had a little brother who naturally had far more claim to the throne than he did and when the boy was 19 or 20, Herod had him killed. Though they loathed Herod, Mariamne and her brother were well thought of by the people and this murder must have horrified them.

I'd love to see a young Sophia Loren playing the part of Mariamne. Imagine what she must have felt. Eventually Herod's jealousy led him to listen to ambitious courtiers who claimed that Mariamne was unfaithful. He put her to death and regretted it immediately afterwards. He had what appears to be something a nervous breakdown and fled to his Summer palace for months. When he returned he went on to kill his mother-in-law, his uncle, three or four of his sons, a brother-in-law and menaced his brother, who died on his own before Herod could kill him. And of course he slaughtered his unhappy subjects at will. It's easy to see why killing 20 or so peasant babes in Bethlehem wouldn't have made him bat an eyelash.

He later married Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Mariamne II, Malthace, Phaidra, Pallas, and Elpis. Were any of them happy even for a day, I wonder? History doesn't tell us. Herod was like the Henry VIII of the ancient world, a promising youth who became an ogre. He attempted to Hellenize Israel, but the common people resisted the gentile influence. He famously rebuilt the temple but his lack of religious faith, or sincerity and the inclusion of Roman Eagles to the temple gates shocked and offended the people. Brave young rabbinical students took those eagles down and paid for it with their lives.

Some scholars believe that Herod died of gangrene or a hell of a case of scabies. Others think it was kidney disease. I wonder if his paranoia and depressive episodes didn't stem from secondary syphilis. His story really is one of the most horrifying of the ancient world.

5 comments:

Catholic Mom of 10 said...

Can u update to my new blog?

Dymphna said...

Will do.

Sanctus Belle said...

As I read this post, I was thinking..."Herod sounds alot like Henry VIII" and of course then you said the same thing. I suspect that habitual lust with an over riding pride that turns the soul black leads to these megalomaniac wife-eating, paranoid "kill everyone in site" tyrants.

Anita Moore said...

I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.


Macbeth, Act III, Scene 4.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"He later married Cleopatra of Jerusalem, Mariamne II, Malthace, Phaidra, Pallas, and Elpis. Were any of them happy even for a day, I wonder?"

I was going to mention Henry VIII here, but then read that great minds think alike:

"Herod was like the Henry VIII of the ancient world, a promising youth who became an ogre."

Probably the carreer of Nimrod ben Kush before them ... and of Antichrist after them.