Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lovecraft, Bel and the Dragon

Chrispy recalls an ancient tale of the Apocrypha, Bel and the Dragon*, the world's first mystery story. Daniel (the prophet) is summoned for his wisdom by a group of exiles to rebuke and expose false gods. In many cases this fromed the 14th chapter of Daniel, and while we're not sure which King James Bible HPL read, it may have been the 1607 version witht he Apocrypha. The 1611 version (which most Baptists - HPL's family was Baptist - used) was stripped of the Apocrypha.

1:3 Now the Babylonians had an idol whose name was Bel, and every day they used to lavish on it twelve bushels of fine flour ... Daniel worshipped only his God.

One day the king said to him, “Why don’t you worship Bel [Ba'al]?” 1:5 He replied, “Because I don’t revere idols made by human hands, but only the living God who created heaven and earth and who is sovereign over all humanity.” 1:6 The king said to him, “Don’t you think that Bel is a living god? You see how much he eats and drinks every day, don’t you?” 1:7 Daniel laughed and said, “Don’t be deceived, O king. For this idol is nothing more than clay on the inside and bronze on the outside. It has never eaten or drunk anything whatsoever.” 1:8 Then the king became angry and summoned his priests and said to them, “Unless you admit to me who is eating these provisions, you will die! 1:9 But if you prove that Bel is eating them Daniel will die, for he has committed blasphemy against Bel.” Daniel said to the king, “So be it just as you have said!”

1:14 So when those people had gone out, the king set out the provisions for Bel. Daniel instructed his attendants to bring ashes and scatter them throughout the entire temple in the presence of the king alone. Then they went out, closed the door, sealed it with the signet ring of the king, and departed. 1:15 The priests, along with their wives and children, came during the night, as was their custom, and ate and drank everything.

1:16 The king got up early in the morning, as did Daniel. 1:17 The king said, “Are the seals intact, Daniel?” And Daniel replied, “They are intact, O king.” 1:18 It so happened that when the doors were opened and the king looked on the table, he cried out in a loud voice, “You are great, O Bel! With you there is not the slightest deceit!”

1:19 But Daniel laughed and held back the king so that he could not go in. He said, “Take a look at the floor and notice whose footprints these are.” 1:20 The king said, “I see the footprints of men, women, and children!”

1:21 Then the king was enraged. He apprehended the priests, along with their wives and children. They showed him the secret doors through which they were entering and consuming whatever was on the table. 1:22 So the king had them killed. He handed Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed both it and its temple.

Compare Lovecraft:

"On neither occasion, though, had Gilman been there; and when told of the matter he wondered where he could have been wandering, barefoot and with only his night clothes on. He resolved to investigate the matter if reports of his sleep-walking continued, and thought of sprinkling flour on the floor of the corridor to see where his footsteps might lead. The door was the only conceivable egress, for there was no possible foothold outside the narrow window.

"Meanwhile he would try to keep track of his somnambulism. As he went upstairs and across the garret hall he sprinkled about some flour which he had borrowed ...

"Opening the door, he saw that the flour on the corridor floor was undisturbed except for the huge prints of the loutish fellow who roomed at the other end of the garret. So he had not been sleep-walking this time.

"He had better, he thought, spinkle flour within the room as well as outside the door - though after all no further proof of his sleep-walking was needed. "

I suggest that Lovecraft lapsed and conflated the flour and ashes together of the story. This is an odd addition to this story. But it appears Lovecraft the atheist knew his Bible well.

* This is a two-part story. "Bel" or Ba'al is part one, and "The Dragon" is part two which leads to the more traditional, albeit retold tale of Daniel in the Lion's Den.

No comments:


Blog Archive


Google Analytics