Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Solomon and the Queen of the Ants

I wrote about one of Solomon’s Arabian Nights-style adventures found in Louis Ginzbuerg’s endlessly entertaining,seven-volume Legends of the Jews on Monday, and before I put the books back on the shelf for a while, I want to share one more. This one, however, which comes under the heading “Lessons in Humility,” reads more like a cross between Aesop’s Fables and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King:
On one occasion, he strayed into the valley of the ants in the course of his wanderings. He heard one ant order all the others to withdraw,to avoid being crushed by the armies of Solomon. The king halted and summoned the ant that had spoken. She told him that she was the queen of the ants,and she gave her reasons for the order of withdrawal. Solomon wanted to put a question to the ant queen, but she refused to answer unless the king took her up and placed her on his hand. He acquiesced, and then he put his question: “Is there any one greater than I am in all the world?”--”Yes,” said the ant.

Solomon: “Who?”

Ant: “I am.”

Solomon: “How is that possible?”

Ant: “Were I not greater than thou, God would not have led thee hither to put me on thy hand.”
Exasperated, Solomon threw her to the ground, and said: “Thou knowest not who I am? I am Solomon, the son of David.”

Not at all intimidated, the ant reminded the king of his earthly origin, and admonished him to humility, and the king went off abashed.
While I enjoy this story for its individual elements--Solomon wandering willy-nilly around the world! Talking ants!--I have to admit that I fail to see how it teaches Solomon a lesson in humility. The ant’s argument about God’s intentions isn’t terrible, but neither is it particularly powerful--and, rather than convincing Solomon, it seems only to anger him. But then she mentions his earthly origins, and that does it? Seems unlikely.

I like to think there’s something missing here: maybe she had her army of ants overwhelm him, but leave him unharmed, to demonstrate the extent of her power? Or she points out that she can speak and understand his language, while he can’t understand a word of hers? An ant in Aesop would, I think, have been craftier.

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