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    For Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb,
And the children of Daraa, Syria

Varus, old boy, it's been a dreadful year,
A dreadful decade; three sons all turned traitor
(That bitch's kids and scheming Antipater)
Those Persian spies, sedition far and near,
And, too, this endless, torturous disease --
Seized on by those revolting Pharisees
Who dared to challenge me: King of the Jews!
(With pus and gout it's hard to still look regal.)
...They soon were caught, of course. How odd they'd choose
To perish over one more Roman Eagle.

And that insidious December plot
Hatched by the rebels down in Bethlehem.
Of course we made short work of most of them,
But captured the ringleader kids and brought
Them back; it wasn't hard to make them sing.
I knew it -- treason, and some upstart king
They'd schemed to crown! What, Varus, was my error?
I, I, their cherished monarch, who rebuilt
Their Temple; kept them safe from crime and terror!
(I hope, before they died, they felt some guilt.)

…They'll have their new king ere the year is out.
Worms gnaw my flesh, the bitter end now nears;
Fool Antipater in his dungeon cheers,
And in the streets deluded masses shout
For some long-promised Savior of their land --
(On them you'll have to use a heavy hand).
Now go: find those the people most esteem,
Bring them to Jericho; they'll share my doom,
And all shall see the tears for me that stream
In loud lament. And write upon my tomb,

Here lies King Herod, Great Basileus:
Famed, feared, much honored, and much loved by us.

Historical notes:

Varus: Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BC to 9 AD), a Roman general under Emperor Augustus, was most famous for losing three Roman legions in the disasterous battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Before this unfortunate end to his career (and life), however, Varus served as governor of Syria during the last years of King Herod's reign, and was known for his harsh rule and heavy taxes. When messianic anti-Roman revolts erupted after King Herod's death in 4 BC, Varus did indeed "use a heavy hand", crucifying over 2000 Jews in retaliation.

King Herod's sons: King Herod had at least nine sons, and five daughters, by eight different wives. His family, though large, was not a happy one: he executed his own wife Mariamne I in 29 BC, as well as her two sons in 7 BC and his first-born son Antipater in 4 BC (shortly before his own death) on charges of attempting to murder him. By his death, the royal succession was in such a mess and Herod had changed his will so many times, that Caesar Augustus point-blank refused to confirm it, instead splitting up Herod's kingdom between three of his remaining sons.

King Herod's disease: Nobody is quite sure what King Herod died of, but the symptoms sound atrocious: worms, incontinence, gangrene, fever, itching and bad breath to boot. Some experts suspect kidney disease complicated by Fournier's gangrene.

The Pharisees and the Roman Eagle: In the last months of Herod's life, a group led by two prominent Pharisees -- named Judas and Mattbias -- took advantage of Herod's illness to pull down a Roman Eagle he had set up over the front door of the Temple in Jerusalem (contrary to Jewish religious law). They were caught, sentenced to death and burned alive.

King Herod's last wish: King Herod did indeed command, in his last days, that "all the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation" be brought to Jericho and imprisoned there, to be slain after his death so that there would be loud displays of weeping. Fortunately, the final part of this wish was not carried out and the men were instead freed.


Background on An Advent Canticle:

In December 2012, I wrote a series of 25 poems in total (one for each day of December 1-24, plus a Prelude) and posted each one here on Daily Kos as I completed it. The poems dealt with common Christmas themes, as well as with issues highly relevant to Daily Kos readers: commercialism, climate change, and interfaith dialogue, among others. The wonderful feedback and support I received from Kossacks was a big part of what kept me going throughout this project!

It was suggested that I repost them on Daily Kos as a yearly event, and after some thought, I've decided to do so. (If you want to read them all, they're archived here; scroll down to the bottom.) Enjoy!

Originally posted to Green Canticle on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 06:43 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Elders of Zion.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (11+ / 0-)

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

    by Eowyn9 on Fri Dec 06, 2013 at 06:43:24 PM PST

  •  I was gonna say! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Portlaw, Eowyn9

    We know only one Varus here, thats the one who lost his legions in the Teutoburger Wald! (I live actually moderatey close to there, and I´ve been on that battlefield. They found it, it is in Kalkriese, and its a real nice recon struction they have made there. If ever you come by these stretches here, its worth a visit.)

    wasnt there some exclamation by the Roman emperor about Varus not giving him back his legions? Oh yes.

    was it good or bad? Who can say? We here in the germanic swamps, we missed out on civilization, literacy, christianity. what would have become of Europe and the world had the Romans cilivilized our germanic forefathers before they overran the Roman Empire?

    the Romans had tough luck, in comparison. And still managed two thousand years before the ultimate end at the walls of Constantinople in 1453. (Thats a stretch, but still justifiable I hope; all the third or fourth Rome claims after that are just nonsense.)

    Kalkriese battlesite


    •  Thanks for this. Am going now to check out (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MyLifeInKenya, Eowyn9

      your archive,

    •  Cool! I will definitely check out the battlefield (0+ / 0-)

      if and when I'm ever in the area! Thanks for the link!

      And yep -- that's the same Varus, with the exclamation about "Give me back my legions."

      I'm not sure I consider the late Roman Empire "civilization", exactly. It was a highly exploitative and repressive empire that didn't value human life too highly -- unless you were a Roman citizen. Slavery, warfare, conquest, crucifixion, burning dissidents alive or torturing them to death all were rather commonplace. (The book "As a Driven Leaf" contains a particularly gruesome incident in which a number of rabbis were tortured to death for nothing more than trying to keep their own religion alive.)

      After the fall of Rome, the area was "civilized", if you want to call it that, by various Christian missionaries (who built monasteries, spread literacy more widely among the population, etc). In my mind this is much preferable to northern Europe becoming yet another Roman conquest...

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 08:56:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  wow, I read "as a driven leaf" a million yrs ago (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        from my parents' bookshelves, but haven't thought of it since.  whew, blast fr teh past...

        the definition of what a civilization is fortunately keeps getting upped in quality.  it appears that we mostly mean "empire" even if we don't realize it.  i recall the story of a european ignorant of Mahatma Gandhi's London law school and practice experience in south africa, who asked, "What do you think of Western civilization?" and Gandhi answering, "I think it would be a good idea!"

        •  Yes!! I love that Gandhi quote. :) (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mettle fatigue

          A friend of mine (who identifies as Native) HATES the term "civilization", at least in the way it is commonly used (i.e. in a very euro- and Western-centric way). At first I disagreed with him, but I'm increasingly coming around to his point of view.

          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

          by Eowyn9 on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 08:53:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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