Monday, September 24, 2007

The Historical Novel II

Feuchtwanger`s “The Jewish War”

I. Josephus Flavius and the Jewish War


He was born Joseph ben Mattathias in Jerusalem in 37 CE, a few years after the time of Jesus, during the time of the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland. In his early twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release of several priests held hostage by Emperor Nero. When he returned home after completing his mission he found the nation beginning a revolution against the Romans.
Despite his foreboding that the cause was hopeless, he was drafted into becoming commander of the revolutionary forces in Galilee, where he spent more time controlling internal factions than fighting the Roman army. When the city of Jotapata he was defending fell to the Roman general Vespasian, Joseph and his supporters hid in a cave and entered into a suicide pact, which Joseph oddly survived.
Taken prisoner by Vespasian, Joseph presented himself as a prophet. Noting that the war had been propelled by an ancient oracle that foretold a world ruler would arise from Judaea, Joseph asserted that this referred to Vespasian, who was destined to become Emperor of Rome. Intrigued, Vespasian spared his life. When this prophecy came true, and Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Joseph handsomely, freeing him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians. Joseph thus became Flavius Joseph.
During the remainder of the war, Joseph assisted the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.
Living at the Flavian court in Rome, Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. He first wrote in his native language of Aramaic, then with assistance translated it into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE.


6 CE Archalaeus, Ethnarch of Judea, is deposed. Judea ceases to be governed by Jews and becomes a Roman province under Procurator Coponius. Census and taxes imposed.
41 Caligula assassinated. Claudius becomes emperor with the aid of Agrippa, grandson of Herod. Claudius bestows kingship of Judea and other lands on Agrippa.
44 Agrippa I dies. Judea again comes under the rule of a Roman procurator (Fadus).
50 Some Jewish lands assigned to kingship of Agrippa II.
54 and after. Jewish revolutionary activity heats up. "Sicarii" terrorists kill High Priest Jonathan. Felix uses force and executions to suppress revolt. Would-be prophets stir up the people; the "Egyptian," a Messianic figure, gains followers, many of whom are killed by Felix's army.
59 Festus becomes Procurator. Paul presents his case to Festus and Agrippa II, then is sent to Rome to appeal to the Emperor.
59-62 Festus continues to battle Sicarii. Clashes between Jews and Greeks in Caesarea.
65 Florus becomes Procurator. HIs abuses of power cause the sedition to gain followers. Violence breaks out in Caesarea and spreads to Jerusalem.
66, Summer. Jewish War begins. Sacrifices for the Emperor are halted in the Temple. Masada is seized by the Zealots. The Roman garrison at the Antonia Fortress is captured. The High Priest is slain by the rebels.
July 67 Jotapata falls after a six-week siege. Joseph captured. Claims that the Messianic prophecies that began the war actually applied to Vespasian, who therefore was destined to become Emperor. Vespasian, charmed, retains Joseph as hostage and interpreter.
July 69 Vespasian's legions proclaim him Emperor. Joseph`s prophecy having come true, he is freed. He takes Vespasian's family name of Flavius and marries a captive.
70, May 1. Titus encamps outside Jerusalem, beginning the siege. Joseph attempts to persuade the leaders of the revolt to surrender, but fails.
70, Tenth of Av (August 30). The Temple of Jerusalem is destroyed. Jerusalem is taken by Titus. The War effectively ends.

(Josephus Flavius Home Page)

II. Feuchtwanger, his Literary Work and his Views on the Historical Novel


Lion Feuchtwanger (pseudonym: J.L. Wetcheek) (7 July 1884 - 21 December 1958) was a German-Jewish novelist who was imprisoned in a French internment camp in Les Milles and later escaped to Los Angeles with the help of his wife, Marta.
Feuchtwanger was born in Munich in 1884, and raised in a Jewish household. He studied literature and philosophy in the universities in Munich and Berlin.
Early career and persecution
Lion served in the Germany Army during World War I. He soon became a figure in the literary world and was already well-known in 1925 when his first popular novel, Jud Süß, appeared. He also published Erfolg (m. "Success"), which was a thinly veiled criticism at the Nazi Party and Hitler. While he was on a speaking tour of America, in Washington, D.C., he was a guest of honor at a dinner hosted by then German ambassador Friedrich Wilhelm von Prittwitz und Gaffron. That same day (January 30, 1933) Hitler was appointed Chancellor, and the next day, Prittwitz resigned from the diplomatic corps and called Feuchtwanger and recommended not to return home.
Feuchtwanger and his wife did not return to Germany, moving instead to Southern France, settling in Sanary sur Mer. His works were included among those burned during the May 10, 1933 book burnings held across Germany.
In 1936, still in Sanary, he wrote The Pretender (Der falsche Nero), in which he compared the Roman upstart Terentius Maximus, who had claimed to be Nero, with Hitler.
Imprisonment and escape
When the Germans invaded France in 1940, Feuchtwanger was captured and imprisoned in an internment camp, Les Milles (Camp des Milles). He escaped Les Milles with the help of his wife Marta,Varian Fry, an American journalist who helped refugees escape from occupied France, and Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV, US Vice Consul in Marseilles. Feuchtwanger eventually received asylum in the United States, settled in Pacific Palisades, California in 1941, and continued to write there until his death in 1958.

· The Josephus Trilogy -- about Flavius Josephus beginning in the year 60 in Rome
o Der jüdische Krieg (Josephus), 1932
o Die Söhne (The Jews of Rome), 1935
o Der Tag wird kommen (Das gelobte Land, The day will come, Josephus and the Emperor), 1942

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

In Germany, paperback editions of Feuchtwanger's novels have sold close to a million copies from the late seventies to the present day. His Frankfurt publisher asserts that "In my thirty years of experience as an editor, I have never seen a renaissance comparable to that of Feuchtwanger."
No such popularity has attended Feuchtwanger in the United States, where he remains largely unknown, except among cognoscenti of modern German literature. This reader unfamiliarity most likely stems from the fact that Feuchtwanger was anathema to American Cold Warriors of the late 1940s and the 1950s. In 1937, in the midst of the vicious "show trials" of falsely accused army officers, Feuchtwanger had made a visit to Moscow, in which he was granted an interview with Stalin, based upon Feuchtwanger’s already apparent sympathy with socialism. His report on the experience warmly praised Stalin and his program. He never formally recanted that naïve attitude... Feuchtwanger believed in egalitarianism, and hated the fascism that had done so much evil to him and his people. But he was hardly a cheerleader of the Communist cause.
(from Jim Bloom`s “Lion Feuchtwanger and his Josephus Trilogy”)


One topic that has deeply moved me as long as I can remember is the conflict between nationalism and internationalism in the heart of a single individual. If I were to tackle this theme in the form of a contemporary novel, I fear my presentation might be overshadowed and contaminated by personal grudges and resentment. I chose therefore to transplant this conflict into the soul of a man, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who, it appeared to me, had experienced it in the same way as so many do today, with the difference that he did so 1860 years ago.
I hope I have retained the peace of mind to judge things fairly; still I believe I can do a convincing job of depicting the persons who - 1870 years ago - put the torch to various central buildings in Nero's Rome, poor, foolish implements of the feudalists and militarists of their day that they were, and indeed do a more convincing job of it than I could of describing the people who two years ago set fire to the Reichstag in Berlin - poor, foolish tools that they were of the feudalists and militarists of our own era.
I have written both contemporary novels and historical ones. After closely examining my conscience, I venture to state that in my historical novels I intended the content to be just as modern and up-to-date as in the contemporary ones. It never occurred to me to write about history for its own sake... Other writers may place their conceptions at a greater spatial distance, perhaps in some exotic locale, in order to set them off with greater clarity; I for the same purpose have removed mine to a certain distance in time: that is the only difference.
I have always made an effort to render every detail of my reality with the greatest accuracy; but I have never paid attention to whether my presentation of historical facts was an exact one. Indeed, I have often altered evidence which I knew to be documented if it appeared to interfere with my intended effect. Contrary to the scientist, the author of historical novels has the right to choose a lie that enhances illusion over a reality that distracts from it.
I cannot imagine that a serious novelist, when working with historical subject matter, could ever regard historical facts as anything other than a means of achieving distance, as a metaphor, in order to render his own feelings, his own era, his own philosophy, and himself as accurately as possible.
(L. Feuchtwanger, "Vom Sinn des historischen Romans," 1935, Das Neue Tage-Buch.
Translated by John Ahouse)

III. The Feuchtwanger `s “Jewish War”, the Jews and the “Who-is-a-Human-Being” Question

1. Vespasian and Johanan ben Zakkai. Do the non-Jews possess a soul?

Marshall came very close to the tiny theologian, touched his shoulder and asked :
- But this does not contradict the fact that you do not feel us to be true people?
Iohanan still not opening his eyes, argued quietly, as if from afar :
- On the Feast of the Tabernacles, we do sacrificed 70 bulls for non-Jews.

- What are the seven precepts? – asked the Roman.
Yohanan raised his eyebrows, his blue eyes clear and very young, and looked directly into the grey eyes of Vespasian.
- One is positive and six are negative - he said. - Individuals must do justice, not deny God, not worship idols, not kill, not steal, not betray his husband/wife and not abuse animals.
Vespasian thought a little and said with regret :
- Well, then I have little chance to receive the holy spirit

2. The Actor Demetrius and his people

- Oh, my very good Jews - he [Demetrius] continued. - They shout against me where they can. In the synagogue they are cursing me just for the fact that I do not disregard a gift given me by God, and scare their children with me. But when they have some problem, then they come to me and they fill my ears with their requests. Then Demetrius Libanius is good enough.
- Lord, - said the young Antony Marull – yes, the Jews always complain, as everyone knows.
- I ask! - suddenly stood up and screamed the actor. - I ask you not to offend the Jews in my house! I am a Jew.

3. Joseph – experienced but impure
I am priest from the first sequence - said Joseph.
- Damn these Jewish people, they are too pretentious, appealed to Caenis Vespasian. - Some of us may be touched her, this doesn`t mean that she is losing her taste. And yet, Emperor Nero and I myself, we married divorced women, isn`t so, Caenis?
- I come from rabbis - said Joseph very slowly. - My family goes back to King David ..

When Joseph Ben Mattathias, according to the will of Berenike, went to her, she made a defending gesture of the hand and exclaimed :
- Do not come closer! Stand there! Between you and me there must be seven steps.
Joseph became pale when she stepped back as if he was leprous.

(Translation Google)

* this is a handout for a lecture, held at the Third Contact Session (August 2007) of the three-year "Contextualizing Classics" project of the Sofia University and the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching (Open Society Institute, Budapest).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Historical Novel I

Gustave Flaubert's 'The Temptation of St. Anthony'

I. St. Anthony and the Vita Antonii by St. Athanasius of Alexandria

1. The “Life of Anthony”

The chief source of information on St. Anthony is a Greek Life attributed to St. Athanasius, to be found in any edition of his works… here it will suffice to say that now it is received with practical unanimity by scholars as a substantially historical record, and as a probably authentic work of St. Athanasius.

(Catholic Encyclopedia -

Introduction to “Vita S. Antoni”

(Written between 356 and 362)
The Life of St. Antony is included in the present collection partly on account of the important influence it has exercised upon the development of the ascetic life in the Church, partly and more especially on the ground of its strong claim to rank as a work of Athanasius… As it is, the question being still in dispute, although the balance of qualified opinion is on the side of the Athanasian authorship, it is well that the reader should have the work before him and judge for himself... Monasticism, with all its good and evil, is a great outgrowth of human life and instinct, a great fact in the history of the Christian religion…

(Philip Schaff,
New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892

2. Contents of the “Life”

§§5, 6. Early conflicts with the devil. §7. Details of his life at this time (271–285?)
§§8–10. His life in the tombs, and combats with demons there. §11. He goes to the desert and overcomes temptations on the way.
§46. How he sought martyrdom at Alexandria during the Persecution (311).
§§70, 71. How he visited Alexandria, and healed and converted many, and how Athanasius escorted him from the city.
§§72–79. How he reasoned with divers Greeks and philosophers at the ‘outer’ mountain.
§80. How he confuted the philosophers by healing certain vexed with demons. §81. How the Emperors wrote to Antony, and of his answer.
§§89, 90. How, when now 105 years old, he counselled the monks, and gave advice concerning burial.
(by Ph. Shaff, ibidem)

II. Flaubert and his 'Temptation of St Anthony'

1. About Flaubert
The disease of Flaubert
In Egypt
(Gustave Flaubert: Plan of the Site -

2. “The Temptation”- general information
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (French La Tentation de Saint Antoine) is a book which Gustave Flaubert spent practically his whole life fitfully working on, in three versions he completed in 1849, 1856 (extracts published at the same time) and 1872 before publishing the final version in 1874. It is written in the form of a play script. It details one night in the life of Anthony the Great where Anthony is faced with great temptations, and it was inspired by the painting, which he saw at the Balbi Palace in Genoa.

The following is a list of major characters and does not include characters such as the gods or the prophets. A complete list of characters can be found in the glossary of the Random House edition (Olds, 195-233).
· Saint Anthony: The protagonist. He is tempted by many characters and objects to stray from his belief that isolation is the truest form of worship.
· Ammonaria: One of his sister's friends, Anthony is drawn into a battle between his desire for her and his desire to remain holy before God in his isolation. He is distraught that he cannot control his body.
· King Nebuchadnezzar
· The Queen of Sheba: Tempts Anthony with riches, trying to evoke lust.
· Hilarion: Also known as Lucifer. Once Anthony's student, now he tries to tempt him away from his chosen lifestyle by creating doubt and eventually morphs into Science.
· Lust and Death: Lust appears as a young woman; Death, an old woman. They try to convince Anthony to give in to his desires and commit suicide.
· Flaubert, Gustave, and Michael Foucault (introduction), Lafcadio Hearn (tr), and Marshall Olds (glossary). The Temptation of Saint Anthony. New York: Random House, 1992.
Wikipedia -

2. Contents of the play
Contents II
8. A Holy Saint
9. The Temptation of Love and Power
10. The Disciple Hilarion
11. The Fiery Trial
12. All Gods, All Religions
13. The Mystery of Space
14. The Himera and the Sphynx
(Simon P. Magee publ., Chicago, Ill. Copyright 1904 by M. Walter Dunn

III. Flaubert`s interpretation of some places from the “Life”

1. The devil
But the devil, who hates and envies what is good, could not endure to see such a resolution in a youth, but endeavoured to carry out against him what he had been wont to effect against others. First of all he tried to lead him away from the discipline, whispering to him the remembrance of his wealth, care for his sister, claims of kindred, love of money, love of glory, the various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life, and at last the difficulty of virtue and the labour of it; he suggested also the infirmity of the body and the length of the time. In a word he raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose.
(Vita, 5 - English translation by Ph. Shaff, ibidem )

2. The chief temptations

A. Diversity of the world. Curiosity

And the devil, unhappy wight, one night even took upon him the shape of a woman and imitated all her acts simply to beguile Antony.

(Vita, 5)

- travels (monologue)
And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”
(Vita, 20)

- reasoning (vision, dialogue)
In a word he (the devil) raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose.

(Vita, 5)

…But see! you still do not believe and are seeking for arguments. We however make our proof “not in the persuasive words of Greek wisdom as our teacher has it, but we persuade by the faith which manifestly precedes argumentative proof…

(Vita, 80)

B. Vanity (vision, description of Anthony`s meeting with the Emperor)

And the fame of Antony came even unto kings. For Constantine Augustus, and his sons Constantius and Constans the Augusti wrote letters to him… And so he was unwilling to receive the letters, saying that he did not know how to write an answer to such things. But being urged by the monks because the emperors were Christians, and lest they should take offence on the ground that they had been spurned, he consented that they should be read, and wrote an answer approving them because they worshipped Christ…

(Vita, 81)

3. The face of devil (description of the devil, dialogue in vision)
Once some one knocked at the door of my cell, and going forth I saw one who seemed of great size and tall. Then when I enquired, “Who art thou?” he said, “I am Satan.” Then when I said, “Why art thou here?”…
But he having heard the Saviour’s name, and not being able to bear the burning from it, vanished.’

(Vita, 41)

Alors une grande ombre, plus subtile qu'une ombre naturelle, et que d'autres ombres festonnent le long de ses bords, se marque sur la terre.
C'est le Diable, accoudé contre le toit de la cabane et portant sous ses deux ailes, comme une chauve-souris gigantesque qui allaiterait ses petits, - les sept Péchés capitaux, dont les têtes grimaçantes se laissent entrevoir confusément.
Antoine, les yeux toujours fermés, jouit de son inaction ; et il étale ses membres sur la natte.

“The Temptation”, ch. II

(Historical annotations to Flaubert's 'Temptation of St Anthony')
c360: Athanasius writes Life of Antony
335: Athanasius banished ; 332: Athanasius charged with murdering Arsenius ; 326: Athanasius elected bishop
c312-356: Anthony lives in cave on Al-Qalzam/Kolzim/Colzim mountain ;
c310-c395: Didymus
c307: inspired by Anthony, Hilarion retreats to Gaza for 50 years ;
c295-373: Athanasius of Alexandria ; c291-c371: Hilarion
285-337: Constantine
c285-c305: Anthony lives alone on Mount Pispir ; c270: Anthony gives away wealth, lives in tomb for 15 years
c234-347? Paul the Hermit
(Jorn Barger August 2002)

* this is a handout for a lecture, held at the Third Contact Session (August 2007) of the three-year "Contextualizing Classics" project of the Sofia University and the HESP Regional Seminar for Excellence in Teaching (Open Society Institute, Budapest).