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February 28, 2005

What rhymes with "orgy"?

How strange that this poem, "Judith of Bethulia," would contain a stanza that rhymes "orgy" with "clergy."

The last stanza reads:

May God send unto our virtuous lady her prince
It is stated she went reluctant to that orgy
Yet a madness fevers our young men, and not the clergy
Inflamed by the thought of her naked beauty with desire?
Yes, and chilled with fear and despair.

(Wow, that really caught -my- attention... I never would have even considered rhyming those words, let alone placing them conveniently within distance of each other in a poem!)

To me, there is a fantasy element in the poem with the references to councils of soldiers and extreme elders; the verbage in this entire work just gives the feel of a kingly defense and a heroic demise. The element of battle woven into this poem grabs the reader at the very first line--"Beautiful as the flying legend of some leopard..." A flying legend?

Is this truly a "flying" legend--swift to travel, moving through people quickly? It is, indeed, legend, and a legend I was already familiar with... Initially (before I did a little googling) I thought that capitalizing "Invader" in the third stanza meant that there could be an appositive connecting some nation to this term. Turns out that the "Invader" is actually Captain Holofernes himself.

Interestingly enough, this -somehow- connects to my History of Western Art class (!). That's how I knew the legend... Immediately upon reading the title of the poem, I wondered if there was any true connection, but I figured that if there was that I'd surely blog about it (and here I am...!).

Two paintings depicting this event can be found in the study of the Baroque period. Both titled "Judith Slays Holofernes," one is by Artemisia Gentileschi circa 1612-1613; the other is by Michelangelo Merisi da Carvaggio, circa 1598-1599. (There are more works depicting this event in history than merely these two; however, these are two of the artists that we've recently studied in my HWA class.)

This summary of Judith's story comes from a site dedicated to the life of Gentileschi:

Judith was a Jewish widow of noble rank in Bethulia, a town besieged by the army of the Assyrian general Holofernes. She approached his tent as an emissary and captivated him with her beauty. He ordered a feast with much wine. After he passed out in his tent, Judith and her maid Abra saw their opportunity. Judith decapitated Holofernes with his sword and smuggled his head back to Bethulia. On seeing her trophy, the townsfolk routed the leaderless Assyrians. The story is an allegory picturing Judith as Judaism in triumph over its pagan enemy.

The poem tells this story in a more romantic, flowing manner (as poetry often has a way of doing :-) making facts translated into visions for the mind to digest. Judith herself is a weapon in this poem (stanza 1, line 4). "And a wandering beauty is a blade out of its scabbard." This allusion could be a pedestal for the artist Gentileschi, who was raped by another artist (a friend of her father). By violating her virginity, Tassi (the rapist) ruined her for marriage between decent people--she was marred. Unlike many women at the time, Gentileschi went to trial.

Consider this fact, though--trials for rape were nothing like those of today.

The trial was a painful public humiliation for Artemisia. During the proceedings, she underwent vaginal examination and torture with thumbscrews. She was accused of being unchaste when she met Tassi and also of promiscuity. He also attacked her professional reputation. A transcript of the seven-month court case survives.

Despite court documentation, the verdict was not recorded. It is unclear if the charge was dismissed or Tassi received a brief sentence. In either case, he gained his freedom soon after the trial. Is this painting Artemisia's means of brandishing symbolic justice for herself and other victims?

Considering this information about Gentileschi, could this explain the use of "orgy" in the final stanza?

May God send unto our virtuous lady her prince
It is stated she went reluctant to that orgy
Yet a madness fevers our young men, and not the clergy
Inflamed by the thought of her naked beauty with desire?
Yes, and chilled with fear and despair.

So much of this last stanza connects to the life of Gentileschi that I can't deny it in the least.

***This is spawning into my thesis! Hooray!

Jerz: Am Lit II (EL 267): Ransom, ''Judith of Bethulia''

"Judith of Bethulia" was also a movie. Synopsis: Judith lives in Bethulia, and Captain Holofernes lays siege to the fortified village. He is unsuccessful in permeating its immense stone walls; however, he does cut them off from their supply of water, forcing the people to slowly die of thirst. By divine inspiration, Judith, revered by the villagers, formulates an unholy plan to foil Holofernes' campaign--even at the risk of martyrdom.

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 28, 2005 6:13 PM


Woah, baby! You go, girlfriend! You just saved me a lot of online research! :c) How interesting! I'll definitely have to go and reread the poem keeping this info in mind! Thanks! :c)

Posted by: moira at March 1, 2005 3:09 PM

Thanks, Moira! I couldn't believe when I made the connection between the piece of art and this poem. I think I'm going to derive my thesis from this. Perhaps talking about the significance of any connective elements between the author, the poem's images, the legend itself, the artwork, and the artist will give me a term paper :-)

Posted by: Karissa at March 1, 2005 6:06 PM

I am in your History of WEstern ARt class and because we studied Gentelleschi I immediately though of Judith from the book of Judith also. However reading your blog helped make it more clear to me because even though the title made me think of Judith I for some reason got the idea that the poem was going in a totally different direction than that. I really understand it so much better now. Thanks!

Posted by: Mary at March 1, 2005 9:13 PM

Mary, glad you stopped by to comment!

About Judith and Hollofernes--I was definitely shocked when I made the connection to the painting from the poem. I'm pleased to know that you were able to take something away from my blog entry. I actually enjoyed doing the research because I get sort of, well, excited when things link up between classes... what liberal arts education is all about :-)

Posted by: Karissa at March 1, 2005 11:50 PM

I get excited about the connections between my classes - that is DEFINITELY what it's all about! :c)

Posted by: moira at March 2, 2005 10:41 AM

Wow! I see what you mean, once you read the history the poem seems to make a little more sense. I guess I will have to go back and read the poem again. I guess that makes my prostitute theory a little crazy, oh well, lol. I'm glad that you cleared things up though :)

Posted by: Sue at March 2, 2005 10:27 PM

Glad you liked the post, Sue :-) Thanks for stopping by!

I really can't wait to talk about this one in class tomorrow! I want to hear what everyone else thinks, because I think I might be trying to be too direct with what I think... I didn't really ruminate on anything except what I found as a connection to the art I'd just learned about, so seeing what others take from the poem will be a treat!

Posted by: Karissa at March 2, 2005 10:45 PM

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