Absalom and Achitophel

Biblical background

The story of Absalom's revolt is told in the Second Book of Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible (chapters 14 to 18). Absalom rebels against his father King David. The beautiful Absalom is distinguished by extraordinarily abundant hair, which is probably meant to symbolise his pride (2 Sam. 14:26). When David's renowned advisor, Achitophel (Achitophel in the Vulgate) joins Absalom's rebellion, another advisor, Hushai, plots with David to pretend to defect and give Absalom advice that plays into David's hands. The result was that Absalom takes the advice of the double agent Hushai over the good advice of Achitophel, who realising that the rebellion is doomed to failure, goes home and hangs himself. Absalom is killed (against David's explicit commands) after getting caught by his hair in the thick branches of a great oak: "His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on" (NRSV 2 Sam. 18:9). The death of his son, Absalom, causes David enormous personal grief. The title of Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom! is taken from David's mourning in 2 Sam. 18:33 or 19:4. There is a second parabolic allegory that begins in lines 425 to 426, however, the ideas of this allegory can be seen throughout the poem. This second parable is that of the Prodigal Son. A second son returning for his birthright works well for the problems of ascension. This parable can be found in Luke 15:11-32; it tells the story of a son who asked for his birthright early, lost it, and returned to his father who then took pity on him and shared with him the rest of his fortune. This fatherly indulgence is contrary to that of Achitophel to David. Dryden uses the similarities and difference is the stories to play off each other and expose the problems with ascension.

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