Monday, June 11, 2007

1st Esdras 3:1 through 4:41

King Darius gave a great banquet for all his retainers, for all the members of his household, all the chief men of Media and Persia, along with the whole body of satraps, commanders, and governors of his empire in the hundred and twenty-seven satrapies from India to Ethiopia. After eating and drinking as much as they wanted, they withdrew. King Darius retired to his bedchamber, where he lay down and fell fast asleep.

Then the three young men of the king’s personal bodyguard said among themselves: ‘Let each of us name the thing he judges to be strongest, and to the one whose opinion appears wisest let King Darius give rich gifts and prizes: he shall be robed in purple, drink from gold cups, and sleep on a golden bed; he shall have a chariot with gold-studded bridles, and a turban of fine linen, and a chain around his neck. His wisdom shall give him the right to sit next to the king and to bear the title Kinsman of Darius.’ Each then put his opinion in writing, affixed his seal, and placed it under the king’s pillow. ‘When the king wakes,’ they said, ‘the writing will be given him, and the king and the three chief men of Persia shall judge whose opinion is wisest; the award will be made to that man on the evidence of what he has written.’

One wrote, ‘Wine is strongest.’

The second wrote, ‘The king is strongest.’

The third wrote, ‘Women are strongest, but truth conquers all.’

When the king awoke, he was handed what they had written. Having read it, he summoned all the chief men of Persia and Media, satraps, commanders, governors, and chief officers, and took his seat in the council-chamber. What each of the three had written was then read out before them. ‘Call the young men,’ said the king, ‘and let them explain their opinions.’ They were summoned and, on coming in, were asked to clarify what they had written.

The first, who spoke about the strength of wine, began: ‘Sirs, how true it is that wine is strongest! It bemuses the wits of all who drink it: king and orphan, slave and free, poor and rich, on them all it has the same effect. It turns all thoughts to revelry and mirth; it brings forgetfulness of grief and debt. It makes everyone feel rich; it cares nothing for king or satrap, but sets all men talking in millions. When they are in their cups, they forget to be friendly to friends and relations, and before long are drawing their swords; and when they awake after their wine, they cannot remember what they have done. Sirs, is not wine the strongest, seeing that it makes men behave in this way?’ With that he ended his speech.

Then the second, he who spoke of the strength of the king, began: ‘Sirs, is not man the strongest, man who subdues land and sea and everything in them? But the strongest of men is the king; he is their lord and master, and they obey whatever command he gives them. If he bids them make war on one another, they do so; if he dispatches them against his enemies, they march off and make their way over mountains and walls and towers. They kill and are killed, but they never disobey the king’s command. If they are victorious they bring everything, spoil and all else, to the king. Again, take those who do not serve as soldiers or go to war, but work the land: they sow and reap, and lay the harvest before the king. They compel each other to pay him their tribute. Though he is no more than one man, if he orders them to kill, they kill; if he orders them to release, they release. He orders them to smite and they beat, to demolish and they demolish, to build and they build, to cut down and they cut down, to plant and they plant. People and troops all obey him. Further, while he himself is at table, whether he eats, drinks, or goes to sleep, they stand in attendance round him and none can leave and see to his own affairs; in nothing whatever do they disobey. Sirs, surely the king must be the strongest, when he commands such obedience!’ With that he ended.

The third, he who spoke about women and truth, was Zerubbabel; he began: ‘Sirs, it is true that the king is great, that men are many, and that wine is strong, but who rules over them? Who is the master? Women, surely! The king and all his people, lords over land and sea, were born of women, and from them they came. Women brought up the men who planted the vineyards which yield the wine. They make the clothes men wear and they bring honour to men; without women men could not exist.

‘If men have amassed gold and silver and all manner of beautiful things, and then see a woman with a lovely face and figure, they leave it all to gape and stare at her with open mouth, and every one of them will prefer her above gold and silver or any thing of beauty. A man will abandon his father who brought him up, abandon even his country, and become one with his wife. To the end of his days he stays with her, forgetful of father, mother, and country. Here is proof that women are your masters" do you not toil and sweat and then bring all you earn and give it to your wives? A man will take his sword and sally forth to plunder and steal, to sail on sea and river; he confronts lions, he goes about in the dark; and when he has stolen and robbed and looted, he brings the spoil home to his beloved.

‘A man loves his wife above father or mother. For women’s sakes many men have been driven out of their minds, many have become slaves, many have perished or come to grief or taken to evil ways. Now do you believe me? Certainly the king wields great authority; no country dare lift a finger against him. Yet I watched him with Apame, his favourite concubine, daughter of the celebrated Bartacus. She was sitting on the king’s right, and she took the diadem off his head and put it on her own. She was slapping his face with her left hand, and all the king did was gape at her open-mouthed. When she laughed at him he laughed; when she was cross with him he coaxed her to make it up with him. Sirs, if women do as well as this, how can their strength be denied?’ The king and the chief men looked at one another.

Zerubbabel then went on to speak about truth: ‘Sirs, we have seen that women are strong. The earth is vast, the sky is lofty, yet the sun, swift in its course, moves through the circle of the sky and speeds home in a single day. How great is the sun which can do this! But truth too is great; it is stronger than all else. The whole earth calls on truth, and the sky praises her; all created things shake and tremble. With her there is no injustice. There is injustice in wine, and in kings, and in women, injustice in all men and in all their works, whatever they may be. There is no truth in them, and in their injustice they shall perish. But truth abides and remains strong for ever; she lives and is sovereign for ever and ever.

‘There is no favoritism with her, no partiality; rather she exacts justice from everyone who is wicked or unjust. All approve what she does; in her judgements there is no injustice. Hers are strength and royalty, the authority and majesty of all ages. Praise be to the God of truth!’

As Zerubbabel finished speaking, all the people shouted, ‘Great is truth: truth is strongest!’

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