Short summary - Mariamne (Herod and Mariamne)
Pär Fabian Lagerkvist
Mariamne, the wife of Herod the Great, king of Judea (years of his life c. two of his own sons from Mariamne - Alexander and Aristobulus (not mentioned in the story). The people of Judea considered King Herod a despot and a stranger: the Romans put him on the royal throne, whom he knew how to please, but he came from Judea, a desert area south of the Dead Sea. The same Romans helped Herod seize his own capital, Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, King Herod was capable of inspiring fear - his inherent cruelty and rapture of power, coupled with a sharp mind and strong will, made him a dangerous enemy. But there was in Herod both a love of life and a love for beauty. And although he treated the clergy and their rituals with mockery, it was he who undertook the restoration of the Jerusalem temple, the course of which the king personally observed, arranging the construction so that it did not interfere with the performance of religious rites. It was rumored that the king started this construction out of pride - in order to glorify his own name for centuries. Rumor generally attributed to Herod many vices. It is only known for sure that in love Herod was rude and cruel: having quenched his passion, he was filled with disgust for a woman and often changed concubines, then giving them to his close associates. All the more surprising was what happened to him one day at the city gates on the road leading to Damascus.
Here Herod first saw Mariamne, who struck him to the core. Although Herod did not even get a good look at the girl, he only noticed that she was young and fair-haired. He began to look for Mariamne, without resorting to the help of his spies, they would have soiled her appearance. Suddenly, Mariamne came to the palace herself - to ask for the boy, her relative, who rushed to the guard Herod. The boy wanted to avenge his executed father, one of the Maccabees. By turning to Herod for mercy, Mariamne thus exposed herself to terrible danger. The king appreciated her courage; he did not yet know that she could not do otherwise. He released the boy, but told Mariamne that he was doing this only for her.
The news of the unprecedented intercession swept through the whole city. Nobody else has been able to do this. Mariamne was approached by women whose sons or husbands had been captured by Herod. She refused no one and was able to help many, but not all. Her debt to Herod grew, and she feared what would come next. Finally, the moment came when the king asked Mariamne to become his wife.
On their wedding night, Herod's violent passion frightened her. Although Herod tried to be more restrained and attentive with her than with others, he still could not tame Mariamne. She understood that she did not love him, and only tried to please him in order to soften his temper and humble his cruelty. And she tried not to dwell on what she could not stand in him.
Mariamne succeeded and much more. The king released almost all the prisoners he kept in the dungeons of the palace, executing only his most implacable enemies. The people of Jerusalem praised the queen. And the relatives of Mariamne began to hate her, considering her a traitor. But she didn't know about it. The old maid who brought her news of her relatives kept silent about it.
Time passed, but the king's passion for Mariamne did not subside, he had never known a woman like her before. Herod really loved her. And resentment grew in him. Herod was far from stupid and gradually realized that Mariamne was only trying to please him, but did not love him. The king suffered, but endured humiliation, without showing his offense in any way. Then he began to show in every possible way that he did not really need Mariamna, and stopped approaching her. This is how he expressed love.
Soon the king learned with anger that the boy, whom he had released, had fled to the mountains, where the Maccabees had gathered an army against him. Before, Herod had always been the attacking side, but this time the Maccabees came out first, and the king's troops suffered one defeat after another, then Herod himself went on the campaign. During a decisive battle in which he won, he saw a runaway boy in the camp of the enemy, attacked him and cut him with a sword from shoulder to heart. Herod's companions were very surprised by his act: the boy was practically defenseless.
Returning, Herod threw himself on his knees before Mariamne and without a word began to pray that she would forgive him his cruelty - Mariamne knew what had happened to her relative, and blamed herself for his death. She forgave the king: she wanted to regain her influence on him, and yet, as she involuntarily admitted to herself, her awakened female body needed him. So she felt doubly guilty.
The people breathed a sigh of relief again. But not for long. Herod became more and more restless, he increasingly fell into suspicion and unbelief. The moment came when he openly expressed to Mariamne: she does not love him, he notices this every time he lies down with her, she betrays herself already by trying so hard to show him ardor and passion, which she does not feel at all. After this explanation, Herod again went with the army to the mountains to fight with the Maccabees, and calm and lonely days came for Mariamne; at this time, she finally found out what was hidden from her: her relatives abandoned her. Mariamne, who met Mariamne in the square near the well, pretended not to notice her.
When Herod reappeared in Jerusalem, he told Miriamne that he would now have other women. And he again started the former order in the palace. Of course, promiscuous women disgusted him. But disgust, in a strange way, only kindled lust in him.
The dark days have come again. People were seized in their homes, and then they disappeared. The dungeons of the palace were filled with prisoners, and the chambers with painted harlots. Herod needed them not only for lust, but also for the humiliation of Mariamne. His heart remained evil even in love.
Once he began to reprimand Mariamne for the fact that she endures such a life and does not notice what is happening around, does not shame and does not condemn him for his debauchery. Is this how a real queen should behave?.. But, looking at Mariamne, Herod stopped short... He never met her again until her death.
The old maid who brought news of her relatives to Mariamne was ordered to be killed by Herod. She probably helped the enemies of the king to secretly communicate with his wife. Moreover, Herod suspected Mariamne herself of a conspiracy. She was just the perfect conspiracy figure! Of course, the king knew that this was not true. But he constantly convinced himself of this. Like many passionate and cruel natures, he was very afraid of death. And he was maniacally suspicious. Herod carefully concealed from himself what was the cause of his thoughts. And he did not admit to himself those dark motives that were hiding at the bottom of his muddy soul.
And the people of Jerusalem still loved the meek queen, although now she could do nothing more for him.
Herod hesitated. Can he continue to tolerate this woman next to him? She lived very close to him. A strange woman whom he had not seen for a long time. This is dangerous! Enough! We must put an end to this!
The king hired an assassin. Both in physique and face, he was very much like him. For some reason, out of the many people who were ready to fulfill his order, the king chose this particular person. Herod saddled his horse and left Jerusalem. On the way, he reversed his horse and galloped back at full speed. But he knew he wouldn't make it. When Herod broke into the palace, Mariamne was already dying: he fell on his knees in front of her, wringing his hands and repeating only one word: “Beloved, beloved ...”
Soon he ordered to seize the murderer and bring him to him. He killed him with his own sword. The killer didn't resist.
After the death of Mariamne, the life of the king did not change at all. She, as before, proceeded in malice, hatred and pleasure in vice. Moreover, the vices of the king multiplied over time. In the end, he managed to destroy all the men from the Maccabee tribe that were dangerous to his power. The people who suffered under his yoke had no hope left.
But the king did not forget Mariamne. He was sick, aging, he was increasingly overcome by the fear of death. The Magi informed him of the birth of the King of the Jews. Herod followed them and thus learned that the baby was born in the small city of Bethlehem. He then ordered to kill all the boys in that city and around it, but when his terrible will was fulfilled, the baby with his parents was already far away.
King Herod was left alone. All close associates and servants left him. In the lonely days of his old age, he often thought of Mariamne. One night, while walking around her chambers, he collapsed to the floor, repeating her name. The great king Herod was only a man. He lived his allotted time on earth.