Friday, November 12, 2010

Ancient figures associated with Tyre

A ROLL CALL of ancient classical and biblical figures associated with the Phoenician city of Tyre appears in an American Spectator travel piece:
With its expensive purple dye made from a local mollusk, the murex, Tyre was the center for the Versaces and Givenchys of the ancient world. Paris took Helen of Troy here on a shopping expedition to drape in sumptuous fabric the frame and face that launched a thousand ships.

King Hiram of Tyre was an ally and trading partner of Jerusalem's King Solomon. Hiram sold Solomon the cedar timber for the great Temple.

The Jerusalem-Tyre relationship was rocky then as now. The old Hebrew prophets inveighed against the wealthy city and its neighbor, Sidon, as hotbeds of heathenism and vice. Jezebel, a Tyrian princess (and Dido's great-aunt) who married Israel's King Ahab, came to an unhappy end.

Egypt's pharaohs many times made war against Tyre. Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar battered Tyre in the 6th century B.C. Some 250 years later, Alexander the Great already had established effective mastery over the entire Levant when he demanded to offer sacrifice at Tyre to its principal god, Melqart. Alexander maintained that he himself was divine because, he said, he was a descendant of divine Herakles, of whom Melqart was only an avatar. The Tyrians didn't cotton to that.

When diplomacy failed, Alexander mounted a costly siege whose success resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Tyrians, deportation into slavery for the survivors, and ruin of the splendid city. Modern historians say there was no strategic rationale for Alexander's destruction of Tyre and its people. The impulse for the genocide was something like the rage of a deranged, spurned lover. Is "education" the answer to war and the world's other problems? Consider that the Macedonian sociopath had for his personal tutor the serene and rational Stagirite who wrote the Nicomachean Ethics.

When Jesus walked up the short road from Galilee to Tyre, preaching to the people and driving a demon out of a local woman's daughter, he saw what Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander had done to the place, fulfilling the prophecies of, inter alia, Amos, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Jeremiah. He instructed his disciples to say to Galilean towns that rejected them and their preaching: "It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for thee."

Tyre, its glories, and its devastations have inspired much English-language poetry, not all of it great. The shakiest entry in the Shakespeare canon is Pericles: Prince of Tyre, a weak work slapped together in a regrettable collaboration between the Bard and some London hacks from a mediaeval tear-jerker, Apollonius of Tyre. The Gnostic Necromancer Simon Magus and his paramour Helen of Tyre, who lived just after the time of Jesus, are themselves the figures of fascinating legend. Longfellow was obsessed with Tyre, but being no Dante with Paolo and Francesca, he spoiled the story of Simon and Helen in a tedium of moralistic stanzas -- "pious gurglings," as Mencken put it.