Saturday, September 27, 2014

What happened today behind closed doors between Amnon and Tamar should be blotted out

Sitting down I lay my head upon the desk. By the touch I know: here is my daughter’s face, which my child, Amnon, carved into the wooden surface years ago, when she was a newborn baby. Perhaps this scar is all that remains of a happier time. Perhaps this is all there is.
One thing is obvious: what happened today behind closed doors between Amnon and Tamar should be blotted out. 
I must instruct my court historians to avoid investigating it, let alone writing it. This story should remain out of their records. But why, then, do I feel compelled to sharpen my quill? I have no answer, except this: if I write everything down, and then read it back to myself, perhaps I will find a way to make sense of it all. 
Confusion makes me uneasy. Then again, in this case it may be less painful than clarity. Perhaps it is better to knock the inkwell upside down, and let the ink bleed across my characters, obscuring them completely. 
Of its own, the tip of my feather hovers over the blank sheet, and it starts its journey on the slant of the first letter, writing:

So Tamar went to the house of her half-brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the dumplings in his sight and cooked them. 

I imagine she could feel the obsession, the weight of his gaze at her back, as he was following every single one of her movements. As tension grew between them, she must have spotted the glint, the flareup of lust, escaping from the corner of his eye every now and again. 
Still Tamar resisted the urge to leave, because she respected my command, and made up her mind to be brave, even to her own detriment, and obey it. Besides, she figured that Amnon was of no danger, because he was sick. And as long as there were servants around her Amnon would have to restrain himself. 
At least for now, she was safe.

Then she took the pan and set it before him, but he refused to eat.
“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. 
Faithfully did Jonadab do his bidding.. “Out, all of you!” he shouted, avoiding to look at Tamar, who turned pale.
And so, everyone but her left the chamber. 

I imagine that she asked herself if she should leave, too, but held herself firm. Still, she respected my command. 

Amnon and Tamar
Ian Steen

Amnon and Thamar 
Niccolò Renieri (Nicolas Regnier) (1591–1667)

Curing an invalid: study for ´Amnon feigning illness in order to rape Tamar´
Maerten van Heemskerck

The rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon is a seminal event in the life of their father, David, as it starts off a chain of calamities that tests his control of the family and later, the nation. In my upcoming book, The Edge of Revolt, he will discover how it happened and tell it in his voice.

The rape inspired many artists to depict it, before, during, and after the deed. The first painting here is by Ian Steen. It shaw Amnon lying lazily upon his bed, his shirt dropping off his shoulder, feigning sickness so his sister would come to cook for him and feed him, which is when he can get close enough to rape her. His servant already holds Tamar in a disrespectful way, while she is shown pleading with him.

The second painting is by Niccolò Renier, and he chose to explore the aftermath of the rape. While Tamar is weeping into her handkerchief, lamenting the loss of her innocence, Amnon is in rapture, concentrating on the satisfaction he got through his brutality. He looks away from her and even shoves her away.

The Third is a study by Maerten van Heemskerck, who chose to depict the hustle bustle in Amnon's house while Tamar is still in the process of cooking for her seemingly sick brother. The place is full of color, with the exception of Amnon who is shown to be purposely white, and lying still on his bed, hiding behind all the commotion. By his side are attendants, servants, and even a doctor who stands by the window, lifting a glass container to the light, examine the sick person's urine.  

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  1. In light of rape, sexual abuse, molestation and the many sexual attacks that plague women worldwide this is very timely. I'm thinking of United States Women soldiers sexually abused/raped by their fellow male soldiers who have virtually no regress; women in Middle-Eastern countries who are stoned to death for perceived sexual misconduct and the sad story of the missing Nigerian Chibok girls who were kidnapped from their school and probably by now sold into sexual slavery. From Bible days until now women and girls are still seen and viewed as objects not as fully realized human beings with the right to education, choices and safety. I was date raped as a 19 year old by another Army soldier whom I trusted. However my story has a happy ending. The Bible says she became a "desolate woman" meaning she was abandoned and disgraced for life. Sad. Shameful. Disturbing. Haunting.

    The Rape of Tamar
    Eustache Le Sueur
    (French, Paris 1616–1655 Paris)
    Date: probably ca. 1640
    Medium: Oil on canvas

    The painting represents Tamar being raped by her brother, Amnon. According to II Samuel 13:1–22, Amnon, a son of David, fell in love with his sister Tamar, and with a friend conceived of a ruse whereby he feigned illness and requested his sister attend him. When alone, he turned on her and raped her. Overcome with revulsion for what he had done, he then had her expulsed from the bedchamber. Their brother Absalom discovered the deed and had Amnon slain. This picture was painted when Le Sueur was still deeply influenced by his teacher, Simon Vouet.

    1. Thank you Dancing Palmtrees, your analysis is spot on. This story, and its significance to all of us--women and men--is something I explore in great depth in my upcoming book. Thank you also for your reference to the famous painting by Eustache Le Sueur. Being an artist, art greatly influences my own writing, and it illustrates the many points of view by which the story is depicted.