Absalom And Achitophel

Table of Content

The opening lines of Absalom and Achitophel take us back to the world of Old Testament history where the narrative is set. The mention of the biblical past from 2 Samuel helps legitimize the king’s promiscuity by connecting him as the father of the land. In those pious times before priestcraft began, polygamy was not considered a sin. One man would have multiple offspring, as there were no restrictions on marriage. The use of concubines and brides was allowed by nature and not prohibited by any laws. The king, who was likened to heaven’s own heart, expressed his vigorous warmth by having wives and slaves. His influence was so great that he spread his Maker’s image throughout the land.

The connection between God and David is established by comparing divine and human fertility. The reflection of God’s abundant creation in the king’s sexual extravagances creates irony, but this irony does not diminish the king’s status. Instead, it serves to differentiate between the person of the king and the role of the king, especially at the start of the poem.

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The initial scenes highlight David’s role as a doting father rather than as the leader of the nation. David’s happiness towards Absalom mirrors God’s perception of Adam in the Garden. Each of Absalom’s actions are accompanied by elegance, and his face radiated paradise. David, filled with delight, watched his son embody his youthful self once again. He granted Absalom all his desires and made Annabel, who captivated him, his beloved wife.

(l. 29-34) Absalom’s laid-back nature and the mention of paradise contribute to his portrayal as the Edenic figure who will reappear in the temptation. The depiction of David highlights his dual role as both divine and human father. Similar to God, David takes immense delight in his creation and, like God, provides Absalom with a valuable spouse.

This depiction of David in his fatherly joy and indulgence, compared to the divine model, does not criticize the king. Instead, it reinforces the connection between God and David that was established at the beginning of the poem. When weaknesses or flaws are mentioned in David’s character, it is in a context that demonstrates how his indulgence reflects his role as a father rather than a king: Any faults he had (because who is free from faults?) were either unseen or ignored by his father.

35-36) The focus is on David’s leniency as a father. The initial portrayal of David and Absalom concludes with a statement about the tranquility of David’s reign: Thus praised and lived the noble youth remained, While David, undisturbed, in Sion reigned. (l. 41-42) During the temptation, Achitophel employs biblical language to convince Absalom of his destined kingship: Auspicious prince, at whose nativity Some royal planet ruled the southern sky; Thy longing country’s darling and desire; Their cloudy pillar and their guardian fire: Their second Moses, whose extended wand Divides the seas, and shows the promised land; Whose dawning day in every distant age Has exercised the sacred prophet’s rage: The people’s prayer, the glad diviners’ theme, The young men’s vision, and the old men’s dream! Thee, savior, thee, the nation’s vow’s confess, And, never satisfied with seeing, bless.

(l. 230-241) The biblical context of the poem employs typology to highlight the contrasting reactions of Absalom and Achitophel. Achitophel portrays himself as a persuasive figure, using typological references to convince Absalom that he is the savior, while Absalom is a deceitful messiah. Achitophel substantiates his claims by providing concrete examples of his prophecies.

According to Achitophel, Absalom’s birth was auspiciously marked by a royal planet in the southern sky, which is seen as a positive omen. However, this astronomical sign is not the correct one that signifies the birth of the true Messiah. The actual Messiah’s star rises in the east, not the south, as stated in Matthew 2:2, 9-11. Achitophel then proceeds to refer to Absalom as the country’s cloudy pillar, guardian fire, and second Moses.

The text mentions three familiar biblical signs (pillar, fire, and anointing oil) that are promised in Isaiah as signs of God’s renewed presence among the Israelites (Isaiah 4:5). Achitophel, in an attempt to convince Absalom of his messianic role, portrays David as an old man with declining powers and compares him to a fallen Lucifer. He suggests that if David hadn’t hesitated to become king when Fortune called him, he would have remained an exile in Gath and the anointing oil from heaven would have been useless.

Let his successful youth engage your hopes, but avoid following the example of his declining age. Behold him setting in the western skies, with shadows lengthening as vapors rise. He is not now as he was on Jordan’s sand, when the joyful people crowded to see him land, covering the beach and darkening the strand. Instead, like the Prince of Angels, he tumbles downward from his height with diminished light (ll. 262-274). This holds a great deal of irony, serving as a warning against Achitophel’s deceitful persuasion.

In an effort to persuade Absalom about the feasibility of a “pleasing rape upon the crown” (l 474), Achitophel associates David’s old age with his presumed political impotence. Achitophel endeavors to detach the kingship and the issue of succession from the authority of Heaven and the law of God by distorting the account of David’s return from exile. As per Achitophel, David was summoned from Gath due to luck; however, according to the Bible, he was summoned from exile by god and anointed by Heaven. Achitophel’s argument implies that the sanctity of heaven relies on the unpredictable nature of fortune’s wheel, and one must seize its rewards.

In relation to biblical history, this ethical stance clearly contradicts the moral code and established order set forth in God’s written law. The conclusion of Achitophel’s portrayal is the comparison “like the Prince of Angels,” which serves to epitomize David’s downfall. Achitophel selects this analogy to juxtapose the diminishing radiance of David’s rule with the ascending regal presence of Absalom’s aspirations. However, the use of this simile exposes more than just a mere resemblance in words. By equating the godlike David with Satan, Achitophel aligns himself with the devil as a slanderer of God.

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Absalom And Achitophel. (2018, May 06). Retrieved from


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