HEROD AND MARIAMNE by Per Lagerkvist


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In his later years, the seventy-seven-year-old Swedish author, while strengthening the stark Nordic spiritual landscapes, has tended to hone away particulars into the allegory of religious search, as in Pilgrims at Sea and its sequel, The Holy Land. In this brief fleshless tale, he returns to Biblical incident. Mariamne was one of the ten wives of Herod. (Actually there were two Mariamnes. Lagerkvist, typically, feels that historical accuracy is not too important here--and it isn't.) In spite of her Maccabeoan family, Mariamne is importuned by her kinfolk to beg release of prisoners from Herod; he is fascinated with her and she consents to marry him. The cool, forgiving self-sufficiency of Mariamne, ""who needed no temple, who was like a tree filled by the wind by its secret soughing,"" frustrates and enrages the ruler whose heart is a barren desert of loneliness. Suspecting possible deception Herod has Mariamne killed. It is not long after the Three stopped on their way to Bethlehem, after the Slaughter of the Innocents, that Herod, ""the emblem of mankind,"" dies. A corrosively simple tale, which insinuates the devastating image of humanity, unique in its powers, empty of grace. Almost too easy an effect--but curiously moving.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1968
Publisher: Knopf