Short summary - Athalie - Jean Racine

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Athalie
Jean Racine

The action takes place in the kingdom of Judah, in the temple of Jerusalem. Joram, the seventh king of the Jews from the dynasty of David, married Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, who ruled the kingdom of Israel. Atholia, like her parents, is an idolater who persuaded her husband to build a temple to Baal in Jerusalem. Joram soon died of a terrible illness. Planning to exterminate the entire family of David, Athalia betrayed all of Joram's grandchildren to the executioners (his children had already died by that time). However, Jehoram's daughter from another wife, Josabeth, saved the last grandson and only heir of the kingdom of David, Joash, and hid it in the temple of her husband, the high priest Jehoiada. The boy does not know that he is the king of the Jews, and Jehoiada (or Yehuda) prepares him for accession to the kingdom, bringing him up in strictness and respect for the laws. Jehoiada is waiting for the moment to reveal the new king to the people, although he has few allies, for everyone is afraid of the wrath of Athalia, who demands universal worship of Baal. However, Jehoiada hopes for the mercy of God, he believes that in any case, the Lord will protect the king of the Jews, even if there are crowds of idolaters around with weapons in their hands. The high priest believes in a miracle and tries to convince everyone else of his faith - the commander Abner, the Levites, the people who do not yet know that the heir to the throne of David is hiding in the temple, under the name of Eliakim.
Once during the service, Athalia unexpectedly entered the temple and saw Eliakim, who was serving Jodai in white robes along with Jodai’s son Zacharias. The appearance of an idolater is considered a desecration, and Jehoiada demanded that she leave the temple. However, Atholia noticed the boy and now wants to know who he is, for she had a dream in which her mother predicted her death, and then a boy appeared in white Levite clothes with a dagger, and in Eliakim she suddenly recognizes that boy. The apostate priest Matthan, who became a priest of Baal, says that the boy must be killed, since he is dangerous, because a dream is a heavenly sign, "whoever is suspected is guilty before the trial."
Gofolia wants to take a closer look at the boy, since the child cannot be hypocritical and will tell her who he is, what kind. When Joash is brought in, he replies that he is an orphan and the King of Heaven is taking care of him, that his parents abandoned him. The child's truthfulness and charm touched Gofolia. She invites him to live in her palace and believe in his God, and not in Baal. She has no heirs, the boy will be like her own son.
Later, Athaliah sends Matthan to Joseph to say that for the right to pray to his God in the temple, Jehoiada and the Levites must give her the foundling Eliakim. If they refuse, they will thereby confirm the suspicions and rumors that the child is from a noble family and is being raised for a hidden purpose. Josabeth passes on Matthan's words to Jehoiada and offers to run with the child into the wilderness. However, the high priest accuses her of cowardice and decides that it is time to act and it is no longer possible to hide Eliakim - he must appear in a royal dress and crown. The choir of virgins sings the glory of the Lord. This choir and the Levites are the only defense of the heir to the throne of David, there is no one else in the temple, but Jehoiada believes that the Lord will give such strength to this army that no one will break them.
In the temple, the ceremony of elevation to the kingdom is being prepared, Josabeth tries on the royal crown on Joash (Eliakim). He does not yet understand what the matter is, and believes that he will only help to perform the rite of Iodai, whom he honors as a father. Jehoiada asks if the boy is ready to follow David's example in life, and he replies that he is ready. Then Jehoiada kneels before him and proclaims that he is honoring his new king. Other priests also take an oath of allegiance to him.
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A Levite appears and announces that the temple is surrounded by troops. Jehoiada arranges people to protect the temple and turns to the chorus of the virgins to call on the Creator.
Zachariah, the son of Jehoiada, tells his sister Sulamite how the Levites were deployed to defend the temple. The priests prayed to his father to hide at least the ark of the covenant, but he answered them that this cowardice did not suit them, for the ark always helped to defeat the enemy.
The military leader Abner appears, whom Atholia released from prison to say that the priests will be spared if they give her Eliakim and the treasure that was once given by David to be kept in the temple. Abner advises to give Atholia all values and thus save the temple. He himself is ready to go to execution instead of Eliakim, if it will bring peace and quiet. The fate of the boy is in the hands of the Lord, and no one knows how the queen will behave - hasn't God already instilled pity in her heart? Abner asks Iodai to try to "delay the blow with concessions," and in the meantime he will take measures to save the temple and the priests. Jehoiada reveals to Abner the secret of Eliakim, He is ready to give the queen the treasures and tell her what kind of boy, when she enters the temple without her soldiers, Abner must persuade her to do this. Jehoiada instructs the Levite to close the gates of the temple, as soon as the queen is inside, to cut off her way back, and all the other priests will call the people to the rescue. The armed Levites and the king will be hidden behind the curtains for the time being.
Athalia appears and, calling Yodai a rebel, says that she could destroy him and the temple, but by agreement she is ready to take only the treasure and the boy. Jehoiada is ready to show them to her. The curtains are parted, and Jehoiada calls the king of the Jews to appear. Joash and the armed Levites come out. Atholia is terrified, and Jehoiada tells her that the Lord himself has cut off her escape route. Ismail, the chief over the priests, enters and reports that the hired soldiers of Atholia are fleeing - the Lord has instilled fear in their hearts, the people rejoice when they learn that a new king has come to take the throne. Baal is thrown into the dust, and the priest Matthan is killed. Atholia recognizes Joash by the scar from the blow of her knife when he was still a baby. Atholia is ready for death, but in the end she predicts that the hour will come when Joash, like her, will turn away from his God and, having desecrated his altar, will avenge her. Joash is terrified and says that it is better for him to die than to become apostate. Jehoiada reminds the king of the Jews that there is God in heaven - the judge for the earthly kings and the "parent of orphans".