Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

allowing only four wives, has not produced much change, for it places no limit to the number of concubines or secondary wives. In Solomon's harem there were seven hundred women of high birth—“princesses," -and three hundred concubines, making, exclusive of the female slaves of his establishment, which were no doubt very numerous, one thousand wives of the first and second classes. These wives and their attendants occupied apartments of their own, seldom or never seeing each other. Solomon's establishment then must have been very large. It is no wonder he had need for the gold of Ophir, and for the spices and gums and ivory of the whole world. But even great as his establishment was, we are not altogether without parallels. It has been stated that the late emperor of China had three thousand women in his seraglio, many of whom it is probable, he never saw.

The usual number in the establishment of the great Moguls of India, was reckoned at a thousand. Sultan Selim is said to have had two thousand; the Sultan Achmed three thousand, and the Persian king Khosroes, who died A. D. 579, according to his historian had twelve thousand females in his harem. Our Bible word concubine, signifies a female occupying a middle condition between wife and slave. She lawfully belonged to her owner, and could claim his protection as a secondary wife, and could not have any other husband, no more than if she were his only wife. Oriental polygamy is altogether a different thing from the free love system of our day, and bad as it is, it is not so corrupting.

The females of an Oriental seraglio may be divided into three classes: First, The favorites, who, without

a

:

THE WOMEN OF THE HAREM.

119

a

the legal rights of wives, are considered as such of the first class. If one of these becomes the mother of a son who is acknowledged as the heir to the throne, then this mother (wife) is the sultana, and the sovereign and all his other wives must own her as the queen. This is the case with the Sultan of Constantinople. For it is a part of the state policy of Turkey that the Sultan can never marry, but may keep his harem filled with women who have no political or civil rights. They all enter his seraglio as slaves, and rise only in his favor as they have children or gain influence over him. But there can never be but one sultana at a time, and issue of no other can inherit the throne. The secondary wives, or concubines, are the second class; and the third class are called Odaliks, or as it is in French, Odalisques, which I believe is a Turkish word, signifying “slaves of the household.” These are the female slaves of the establishment kept for the pleasure of the prince or great man. They ai to wait their time for promotion, and although it may and does not come to most of them, yet it is possible, and does happen to one and another.

In Persia the Shah marries, and usually contracts such alliances with ladies of high family, for the purpose of strengthening his hand. It was with this view that the great Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, designed to wed one of her daughters with the son of the terrible Sapor of Persia, that she might the better provide against the growing power and eastern conquests of imperial Rome under Aurelian. It is true, however, that the Persian sovereigns both in ancient and modern times have been restless and dissatisfied with this reany his

straint, and that they have sometimes raised to the highest honors such as have entered their harem as slaves. It has often happened in Persia and other eastern countries that other causes as well as giving birth to an heir to the crown have raised a favorite wife to sovereignty. And perhaps there is not in tory a more striking illustration of this, and at the same time one more appropriate to our subject, than Catherine the First of Russia, wife of Peter the Great. She was a Livonian peasant of the humblest origin, and taken prisoner at the sacking of a town in Peter's first war with Sweden, and afterwards became his wife, and for her great services to him and the army on the Pruth, when engaged against the Turks, was crowned with great pomp at Moscow, and succeeded, on the Czar's death, to the throne of all the Russias.* And if this is credible in the history of Russia in the sixteenth century, why is not the Book of Esther credible in the history of Persia five hundred years before Christ?

Now there lived, at this time, in the royal city of Susa, that is, Shushan, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, of the captivity in Babylon, whose name was Mordecai, and he had an uncle's daughter, whose father and mother were dead, whom he had taken for his own daughter, and brought up with great care and kindness. She was very beautiful-was fair of form and good of counte

* Catherine was crowned in the Cathedral at Moscow in 1724, by the Archbishop of Novogorod, with the most imposing ceremonies and pomp. “ Peter himself clothed her in the imperial mantle, and placed the crown on her head. and when she would have fallen ou her knees he raised her. Thus she who was born in obscurity, and of unknown parents, was now decorated with the ornaments of imperial power as empress, and received such honors as were never before accorded to a wife by the sovereigns of Russia. Her Majesty was so much affected that she sank at the feet of the Emperor, which she would have embraced, but he raised her and reassured her coufidence.” Fowler's Lives of the Sovereigns of Russia, 1 vol., p. 353.

THE QUEEN'S NAME.

121

nance, as it is literally in the text. Her parents called her Hadassah, that is, a myrtle ; but, when she was introduced at court, the Persians, according to our Greek authors, called her Esther, that is, a star. The second Targum says, this name was given to her from the name of the star Venus, which, in Greek, is Aster. The fair Simoisius of Homer, whom “great Ajax sent," so tragically, “to the shades of hell,” received his name from the river Simois, on whose banks he was born. Numerous instances occur in the Bible, and it was generally if not universally the case, among eastern people, to give names to their children expressive of some remarkable accidents connected with their birth. It is most likely, therefore, as the myrtle, in Persia, is one of the most delicate and beautiful of flowers, that Hadassah's parents considered her exceedingly beautiful at birth, and gave her this name because they thought her as beautiful as the myrtle in the land of their captivity. See Iliad iv: 549.

Now it came to pass, in the collecting of maidens, according to the king's decree, that Hadassah was brought to the king's house, to the custody of Hege, chief officer of the king's harem, and she pleased him, and he showed her special favors during the time of her purification. I think the Vulgate and Josephus must be in error in calling Esther Mordecai's niece; for she was the daughter of Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai, and

was, therefore, as we should say, his cousin. This is the Hebrew. It is true, however, that terms of relationship are used with considerable vagueness in oriental languages, and even in some modern ones. This Hege was, no doubt, as the Septuagint, Vulgate, Targum and the Syriac all say, the king's chief eunuch. It is well known that such persons only have the custody of the harems of the East. Hege and Hegai are, doubtless, only variations of the same name.

The maids of honor appointed to Esther, and the style of her entertainment, as described in the text, may be illustrated from Knoller's description of a bridal procession and traveling equipage of a bride in Turkey. He says he saw one that had “eleven coaches full of young maidens attended by black eunuchs, and these were followed by twenty-eight virgin slaves, attired in cloth of gold and accompanied by twenty-eight black eunuchs on horse back and richly clad. And then followed two hundred and forty mules, loaded with cloth of gold, tapestry, satin, velvet and cushions, which are the chairs of Turkish ladies.”

The things for their purification were oil of myrrh and sweet odors, as we learn from chap. ii: 12th verse. The myrrh was used six months, and then the sweet odors six months — making twelve months for the trial, lest the king should be imposed upon. There may also have been something of State in keeping the damsels so long in preparation, and something educational. The Orientals are proverbially fond of oils and odors, and the profusion indicated in the text gives us some idea of the luxury and sensual magnificence of the Persian court at that time. The king's taste was fastidious. The officers of his household thought six months' perfuming with the oil of myrrh necessary to make the skin soft and smooth, and six months of sweet odors to make the body vigorous, and to give it, in a hot country, an agreeable scent. Hege was, indeed,

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »