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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Judas Maccabæus

Act I. The Citadel of Antiochus at Jerusalem

  • The writing of this tragedy followed immediately upon the dismissal of The Divine Tragedy, and was in a measure an offshoot from it. While the poet’s mind was charged with the contemplation of Judaic scenes, there came back to him the thought of a tragedy based upon the history of Judas Maccabæus, which had first visited him twenty years before. In 1850 he had entered it in his note-book as a subject for a poem.
  • Now, he repeats the suggestion December 5, 1871, and five days later he records: “At home all day. Began the tragedy of Judas Maccabæus. The subject is a very striking one—the collision of Judaism and Hellenism.” Elsewhere, he raises the question: “The subject is tragic enough, but has it unity, and a catastrophe to end with?” He began the drama on the 10th of December; on the 12th The Divine Tragedy was published, and on the 21st he had finished his first draft of the new work. “The acts are not long,” he writes, “but there are five of them.” Judas Maccabæus formed one division of the volume Three Books of Song, which was published May 25, 1872; the other two divisions were The Second Day of Tales of a Wayside Inn and A Handful of Translations.


    O ANTIOCH, my Antioch, my city!

    Queen of the East! my solace, my delight!

    The dowry of my sister Cleopatra

    When she was wed to Ptolemy, and now

    Won back and made more wonderful by me!

    I love thee, and I long to be once more

    Among the players and the dancing women

    Within thy gates, and bathe in the Orontes,

    Thy river and mine. O Jason, my High-Priest,

    For I have made thee so, and thou art mine,

    Hast thou seen Antioch the Beautiful?

    Never, my Lord.

    Then hast thou never seen

    The wonder of the world. This city of David

    Compared with Antioch is but a village,

    And its inhabitants compared with Greeks

    Are mannerless boors.

    They are barbarians,

    And mannerless.

    They must be civilized.

    They must be made to have more gods than one;

    And goddesses besides.

    They shall have more.

    They must have hippodromes, and games, and baths,

    Stage-plays and festivals, and most of all

    The Dionysia.

    They shall have them all.

    By Heracles! but I should like to see

    These Hebrews crowned with ivy, and arrayed

    In skins of fawns, with drums and flutes and thyrsi,

    Revel and riot through the solemn streets

    Of their old town. Ha, ha! It makes me merry

    Only to think of it!—Thou dost not laugh.

    Yea, I laugh inwardly.

    The new Greek leaven

    Works slowly in this Israelitish dough!

    Have I not sacked the Temple, and on the altar

    Set up the statue of Olympian Zeus

    To Hellenize it?

    Thou hast done all this.

    As thou wast Joshua once and now art Jason,

    And from a Hebrew hast become a Greek,

    So shall this Hebrew nation be translated,

    Their very natures and their names be changed,

    And all be Hellenized.

    It shall be done.

    Their manners and their laws and way of living

    Shall all be Greek. They shall unlearn their language,

    And learn the lovely speech of Antioch.

    Where hast thou been to-day? Thou comest late.

    Playing at discus with the other priests

    In the Gymnasium.

    Thou hast done well.

    There ’s nothing better for you lazy priests

    Than discus-playing with the common people.

    Now tell me, Jason, what these Hebrews call me

    When they converse together at their games.

    Antiochus Epiphanes, my Lord;

    Antiochus the Illustrious.

    Oh, not that;

    That is the public cry; I mean the name

    They give me when they talk among themselves,

    And think that no one listens; what is that?

    Antiochus Epimanes, my Lord!

    Antiochus the Mad! Ay, that is it.

    And who hath said it? Who hath set in motion

    That sorry jest?

    The Seven Sons insane

    Of a weird woman, like themselves insane.

    I like their courage, but it shall not save them.

    They shall be made to eat the flesh of swine

    Or they shall die. Where are they?

    In the dungeons

    Beneath this tower.

    There let them stay and starve,

    Till I am ready to make Greeks of them,

    After my fashion.

    They shall stay and starve.—

    My Lord, the Ambassadors of Samaria

    Await thy pleasure.

    Why not my displeasure?

    Ambassadors are tedious. They are men

    Who work for their own ends, and not for mine

    There is no furtherance in them. Let them go

    To Apollonius, my governor

    There in Samaria, and not trouble me.

    What do they want?

    Only the royal sanction

    To give a name unto a nameless temple

    Upon Mount Gerizim.

    Then bid them enter.

    This pleases me, and furthers my designs.

    The occasion is auspicious. Bid them enter.


    Approach. Come forward; stand not at the door

    Wagging your long beards, but demean yourselves

    As doth become Ambassadors. What seek ye?

    An audience from the King.

    Speak, and be brief.

    Waste not the time in useless rhetoric.

    Words are not things.

    “To King Antiochus,

    The God, Epiphanes; a Memorial

    From the Sidonians, who live at Sichem.”


    Ay, my Lord.

    Go on, go on!

    And do not tire thyself and me with bowing!

    “We are a colony of Medes and Persians.”

    No, ye are Jews from one of the Ten Tribes;

    Whether Sidonians or Samaritans

    Or Jews of Jewry, matters not to me;

    Ye are all Israelites, ye are all Jews.

    When the Jews prosper, ye claim kindred with them;

    When the Jews suffer, ye are Medes and Persians;

    I know that in the days of Alexander

    Ye claimed exemption from the annual tribute

    In the Sabbatic Year, because, ye said,

    Your fields had not been planted in that year.

    “Our fathers, upon certain frequent plagues,

    And following an ancient superstition,

    Were long accustomed to observe that day

    Which by the Israelites is called the Sabbath,

    And in a temple on Mount Gerizim

    Without a name, they offered sacrifice.

    Now we, who are Sidonians, beseech thee,

    Who art our benefactor and our savior,

    Not to confound us with these wicked Jews,

    But to give royal order and injunction

    To Apollonius in Samaria,

    Thy governor, and likewise to Nicanor,

    Thy procurator, no more to molest us;

    And let our nameless temple now be named

    The Temple of Jupiter Hellenius.”

    This shall be done. Full well it pleaseth me

    Ye are not Jews, or are no longer Jews,

    But Greeks; if not by birth, yet Greeks by custom.

    Your nameless temple shall receive the name

    Of Jupiter Hellenius. Ye may go!


    My task is easier than I dreamed. These people

    Meet me half-way. Jason, didst thou take note

    How these Samaritans of Sichem said

    They were not Jews? that they were Medes and Persians,

    They were Sidonians, anything but Jews?

    ’T is of good augury. The rest will follow

    Till the whole land is Hellenized.

    My Lord,

    These are Samaritans. The tribe of Judah

    Is of a different temper, and the task

    Will be more difficult.

    Dost thou gainsay me?

    I know the stubborn nature of the Jew.

    Yesterday, Eleazer, an old man,

    Being fourscore years and ten, chose rather death

    By torture than to eat the flesh of swine.

    The life is in the blood, and the whole nation

    Shall bleed to death, or it shall change its faith!

    Hundreds have fled already to the mountains

    Of Ephraim, where Judas Maccabæus

    Hath raised the standard of revolt against thee.

    I will burn down their city, and will make it

    Waste as a wilderness. Its thoroughfares

    Shall be but furrows in a field of ashes.

    It shall be sown with salt as Sodom is!

    This hundred and fifty-third Olympiad

    Shall have a broad and blood-red seal upon it,

    Stamped with the awful letters of my name,

    Antiochus the God, Epiphanes!—

    Where are those Seven Sons?

    My Lord, they wait

    Thy royal pleasure.

    They shall wait no longer!