Thursday, January 29, 2009

You're Getting to Be a Hobbit with Me

Golem, the--a fictional being, made of clay and other elements, called into being in order to correct a moral, social, or social injustice, usually associated with Jewish folklore and tradition; often a servant of a prominent and learned rabbi; a series of servant-beings beginning with Adam, intended for a serious, life-affirming task before being deactivated, stored for future use should it be necessary.

The best-known Golem was a sixteenth-century creature, created by the chief rabbi of Prague from clay of the banks of the Vitava River, brought to life with incantations and a seal placed on its forehead bearing the Hebrew word "truth," its job to protect the inhabitants of the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitism.

The Golem bears an interesting analogy to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a farmer who was appointed as dictator of Rome by the Roman senate when the Romans were engaged in warfare with the neighboring Aequians. Cincinnatus quickly took control, organized an army and a campaign to defeat the Aequians, returned the powers of dictator to the senate, whereupon he returned to being a farmer. Another comparison might be argued for the creation of Dr. Frankenstein, particularly since the word golem in Hebrew slang can also be interpreted as a witless hulk.

Over the rural and urban mythology surrounding various golems, a disturbing side effect of their powers indicated a usurpation of power after it was granted them, in some cases resulting in violence, selfishness, and hitting on the rabbi's wife. In most cases the tide of admiration and support for the golems turned to a tide of fear and revulsion.

There is a bit of the golem resident in all heroic characters, thus our need to watch them carefully and their need to watch themselves, This vigil is necessary whether they appear as historically accurate representations or manufactured dramatic quantities, leaving them as Napoleonic, individuals whose sense of mission is trumped by their enjoyment of power for its own sake, thus the need for the writer of heroic characters to be on guard for the side effects of power. The golem writ large is a theme found throughout Western literature, from The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare to the gun fight at OK Corral.

Cincinnatus remains over the years as a figure who used power wisely, meriting his choice as its recipient. No less remarkable in his own way was Atticus Finch who took up the role of defender with all due seriousness but who knew his own values and his own sense of justice.

P.S. The Hebrew word inked on the seal of the Prague golem's forehead was "emet," the word for truth. To make sure the golem was decommissioned, the "e" was removed, leaving the Hebrew word for death.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I guess the Hobbit reference is just a Tolkien gesture.

[holds ribs, chortles wittily to himself]