|Dionysian Procession, Marble sarcophagus, Metropolitan Museum|
Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of wine, was a favorite among the Hellenistic elite. Some Ptolemaic rulers claimed descent from Dionysus. A daylong parade included:
*30 Satyrs (goat-men) in purple and red body paint, crowned with gold ivy-leaves
* 5 troops of asses with gold and silver harnesses carrying drunk Sileni (horsemen) and Satyrs
Chariots driven by small boys with mini-spears and shields including
* 24 drawn by four elephants each
* 60 drawn by goats
* 12 drawn by antelopes
* 8 drawn by pairs of ostriches
* 15 drawn by buffaloes
* 8 drawn by zebras
*camels carrying captive women from India
*Ethiopians carrying elephant tusks
*2400 hounds, with their trainers
*150 men carrying trees from which were suspended cages full of parrots, peacocks and other birds.
*And standing at Ptolemy’s side, a man dressed as the fertility god Priapus, with an enormous and highly visible erect penis
(from John Marlowe, The Golden Age of Alexandria)
You thought you had something with the twelve days of Christmas.
Just when I felt ready to vomit from all this excess, I had an amazing conversation with my husband, who reminded me that the library in Alexandria was also the home of path-breaking mathematicians and inventors.
What does this Hellenistic excess have to do with Queen Shulamit? Like America today, Hellenistic civilization had the allure of wealth, innovation, the new and cool. The elite of Judea craved what Hellenism offered. In fact, the Maccabees had fought a civil war to keep Hellenism from overwhelming Jewish culture.
By the time the last of the Maccabee brothers, Simon, became the leader of the independent nation of Judea, the allure of the Hellenistic world was as strong as ever. Queen Shulamit, married to Simon’s grandson, was determined to keep Hellenism out of Judea. But even she was attracted by some of its features.
In my next blog, learn more about the inventions and inventiveness of the Hellenistic world.