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THE CONDUCT OF DAVID AT THE COURT OF ACHISH,
KING OF GATH.
SIR, I MAY venture to call the letter I have the honour to write you, "An apology for the conduct of David at the court of king Achish," for my design is to prove three things: First, that if David had counterfeited madness on the occasion mentioned in the twenty-first chapter of the first book of Samuel, he would not have committed any sin. Secondly, that David did not feign himself mad, as is generally supposed. And thirdly, tha this heir apparent to the crown of Israel, had not, at the court of Gath, the least degree of madness, either real or feigned.
I. If you were a man who decided a point of morality by human authority, I might allege, in favour of this first article, the following distich of Cato:
* Disticha de moribus, lib. ii. Dist. 18.
man give all that he has for life? Have we not a right to do every thing except sin to avoid death? Blame, and welcome, the cruel policy of Dionysius of Sicily,* who sometimes spread a report that he was sick, and sometimes that he had been assassinated by his soldiers, with a design to discover, by the unguarded conversation of his subjects, how they stood affected to his government, that he might have a pretence for proscribing such as were ill affected to his despotism. Censure, if you please, the king of Ithaca, and the astronomer Metont for pretending to have lost their senses, the first for the sake of his continuing with his dear Penelope, and the last to avoid accompanying the Athenians in an expedition against Sicily. Pity, if you will, the two monks Simeon and Thomas, who affected to play the fool, lest the extraordinary holiness of their lives should not be perceived. I freely give up these tyrants and hypocrites to the most severe criticism; and I am inclined to be of the opinion of Cicero,§ who calls the finesse of Ulysses, non honestum consilium, a disingenuous conduct. Form, if you think proper, the same opinion of the stratagem of the famous St. Ephraim, who, understanding that he was chosen bishop, and that they were going to force him to be ordained, ran into a public place, walked irregularly, let fall his robe, went eating along the streets, and did so many actions of this kind, that every body thought he had lost his senses. He watched his opportunity, fled and concealed himself, and continued to do thus till they had nominated another bishop. I will not pretend to say, whether this proceeded from his contempt of vain glory, as Sozomen¶ pretends, or from his great love of retirement, for he was xxx parts. For my part, I make no scruple to say of this artifice, as well as of the trick ho played Apollinaris,** non honestum consilium But you, sir, who are such a good citizen, will you condemn the wise Solontt for counterfeiting distraction, in order to divert his fellow-citizens of Athens from their resolution to abandon Salamin, his country, to the inhabitants of Megara? You, sir, who are no
Insipiens esto, cum tempus postulat, aut res; Stultitiam simulare loco, prudentia summa est.* Independently of this author, of whom we hardly know either the true name, the religion, the country, or the age, every body will allow that there is a good deal of wisdom required to play the fool properly. Madness is no sin, it is a disease of the mind, or rather of the brain. David, it is to be observed, during his pretended madness, said nothing criminal. He did a few apparent acts of a person insane. Why might he not be allowed to free himself from imminent danger by this prudent dissimulation? To treat of this question fully and accurately, it would be necessary to go to the bottom of the subject, and examine the grounds and principles of the obligations men are under to speak and act sincerely to one another. It might not be improper to investigate this matter by inquiring, whether, in this reciprocal engagement, there be any difference between deceiving by words known and agreedy on between mankind, and misleading, by actions, the natural signs of the sentiments of our hearts. Particularly, it should be examined, whether there be no cases in which this kind of contract is in a sort suspended, and whether David were not in one of these cases, in which he was not obliged so to act, as to convey to king Achish his true and real sentiments. But as I know, sir, you have examined this subject in the case of Samuel, I will confine myself to two arguments, supported by a few facts, relative to the conduct attributed to David in order to justify him.
First, his life was in danger; and will not a
*Polyænus Stratag. 1. v. cap. 2. S. 15, 16.
enemy to prudence, will you disapprove the | like a man disordered in his senses. opinion given of Lucius Junius Brutus,*
Brutus erat stulti sapiens imitator.
He affected to be stupid, lest he should become suspected by Tarquin the proud, who had put to death his father and his eldest brother, for the sake of seizing their great wealth. It should seem, that on supposition David acted a part when he was in danger of his life, in a place where he had fled for refuge, it would be a sufficient justification of his character to say, that he thought he might innocently make use of such a stratagem.
Sebastian Schmidt, a celebrated Lutheran divine, proposed as a kind of problem, whether Providence might not permit David to be terrified into a momentary delirium, in order to effect his deliverance. Mr. John Christian Ortlob, a learned man of Leipsic published a dissertation, in 1706, on the delirium of David before king Achish, in which he shows, that the whole of the sacred text in Samuel naturally leads us to judge that David was so struck with the fear of sudden death, that for a few moments his understanding was absent. As this thesis is little known in this country, and as it is curious in itself, you will not be displeased, sir, if I give you here a sketch of what he says.
1. Mr. Ortlob shows, that dissimulation was impracticable in David's condition. Either he affected to play the fool the moment he was seized by the servants of the king, or only while he was in the presence of Achish. The text is contrary to the first, for it expressly assures us that this madness of David was in consequence of the conversation that passed between Achish and his officers in the presence of David. The second supposition is not at all likely, for it would have been very imprudent for him to begin to act his part in the presence of Achish; his officers would have discovered the artifice, and would have informed their master: beside, it is inconceivable that David should continue from his being first taken to that moment as mute as a fish, in order to conceal a design which required a state of mind more tranquil than that of David could be, in a danger so imminent.
2. If the danger of losing his life be not sufficient, let it be observed farther, that the deception was directed to the Philistines, with whom the Israelites were then at war. This is a second argument to justify the conduct of David. When was it ever unlawful to use stratagems in war? Did not God, himself, order the Israelites to "lie in ambush" and "to flee" before the inhabitants of Ai, in order "to draw them from the city?" Is there any less evil in affecting cowardice than there is in pretending to be deprived of reason? Where is the general, who would not be glad to take cities at the same price as Callicratidas of Cyrenet took the fort of Magnesia, by introducing four soldiers, who pretended to be sick? You have observed, sir, in Buchanan's excellent history of Scotland, the manner in which king Duncan defeated the army of Swen king of Norway, who was besieging him in Perth. He sent the besiegers a great quantity of wine and beer, in which some herbs of noxious qualities had been infused, and while this soporific was taking effect, he went into the 2. Next, Mr. Ortlob proceeds to prove, camp, and put the whole arny to the sword, that David had a true and natural alienation except the prince of Norway, and ten soldiers, of mind. who had suspected the present made them by The first proof is, his fear of danger. Dathe enemy, and had not tasted the beverage. vid, says the twelfth verse, "laid up the words The herb is supposed to be the solanum or in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the strychnos of Pliny,§ the night shade, which in king of Gath." The terror that seized his a certain quantity stupifies, in a greater quan- soul affected the organs of his body, and distity distracts, and if more than two drachms, concerted the fibres of his brain. There are causes death. For these two reasons, then, inany examples of persons affected in like I conclude that my first proposition is suffi- manner with sudden fear. Our learned auciently clear. I said, if David had counter-thor relates the case of a girl of ten years of feited madness, and played the fool, he would age, who was so terrified with thunder and not have committed any sin: first, because lightning in a furious tempest, that she was his life was in danger: and secondly, be- seized with violent convulsions in her left cause the Philistines were at war with his arm and her left leg. Though she did not country. lose her senses, yet she was constrained to flee on the other foot along the wainscot of the chamber, and the company could not stop her.
II. If any continue obstinately to maintain that the dissimulation of David was criminal, and opposite to sincerity and good faith, I have another string to my bow, to defend this illustrious refugee. I affirm that David did not play the fool, and act a part; but that, being seized with extreme fear at hearing the conversation of the ministers of state, in the court of king Achish, he fell under a real absence of mind, and behaved, in a few instances,
* Dion. Halicarn. Antiquitat. Roman. lib. 4. Polyænus Stratag. lib. ii. cap. 27, S. I.
Buchanani Hist. Scotica.-Rem. This tale is not credited by some historians, and indeed it appears highly improbable in itself. Mr. Guthrie calls it an infamous and improbable story.-Hist. of Scot. Vol. I. p. 234. P. 1086.
Plin. Hist. Nat. lib. xxi. cap. 31.-Salmas ad Solin.
The next proof is taken from the expressions of the inspired writer, which simply and literally explained, signify a real madness.
"David changed his behaviour." It is in the Hebrew, his taste, that is his reason, for reason is, in man, what taste is in regard to aliments.
"And he became mad." The Hebrew verb halal, in the conjugation hithpael, as it is here, always signifies in Scripture real, and not
*D. Sebast. Schmidius in 1 Sam. xxi.
Davidis delirium coram Achis. Lipsiæ, 1706, 4. p.
1 Ephemer. Med. Phys. Germ. Academiæ, curiosorum, An. 8. Observ. 71.
feigned madness; and there is nothing in the text which obliges us to depart from a sense that perfectly agrees with the simplicity of the history. The French and English versions render it, he feigned himself mad; but they are wrong, for the original says nothing about feigning.
"He scrabbled on the doors of the gate." Cornelius a Lapide thinks he wrote the letter tau to form the figure of the cross. Rabbi Schabtai, in a German book entitled Esrim Vearba, was better informed, and he says David wrote on the gates of the palace, "The king owes me a hundred thousand guilders, and his kingdom, fifty thousand." Mr. Ortlob, learned as he is, does not know so much as the Rabbi and the Jesuit. He contents himself with observing, that David, all taken up with his delirium, and having no instrument in his hand to write, scratched the gate with his fingers, like people in a malignant fever. He observes also, that the indecent manner in which David "let his spittle fall down upon his beard," is a natural and usual consequence
of a delirium.
His third proof is taken from the connexion of the whole history, which supposes and indicates real madness. "David changed his behaviour:" the sacred author explains first in what this change consisted, it was in becoming mad in the presence of the king and his officers; and he adds two actions of madness, the one scratching and writing on the gates with his fingers, and the other drivelling on his beard.
The last proof our author takes from the consequences. Achish gives David his life and liberty, as a man beneath his resentment. He was angry with those who brought a madman to him. David, on his side, escaped the danger, recovered his spirits, and becaine himself. There is no reason to question whether he observed the precept given by himself in the thirty-fourth Psalm, which he composed, as well as the fifty-sixth, to praise God for his deliverance, "keep thy lips from speaking guile," ver. 13.
My second proposition was, that David did not feign himself mad, as is usually supposed; and Mr. Ortlob, in this treatise, has justified David from the charge of every kind of dissimulation, and so far it gives me pleasure to follow him; for this is an opinion more tolerable than the former, but I must beg leave to dissent from this learned writer, and to state in the next place my own opinion, for I do not think, as Mr. Ortlob does, that David had any degree of madness.
III. I think the whole passage ought to be understood of an epilepsy, a convulsion of the whole body, with a loss of sense for the time. Judge, sir, of the reasons on which I ground this third proposition.
1. My first reason is taken from the original terms, which perfectly agree with an epilepsy. This is not easy to discover in our modern versions; but it is very plain in the Septuagint, and in the old Latin version, which our interpreters often very injudiciously despise. The authors of both these versions were in a better condition than we are, to understand the force
* Printed in 1703.
and the real signification of Hebrew words and idioms. I am fully persuaded we ought to prefer these versions in the present case.
David, said the sacred historian, changed his behaviour, or his taste. The Septuagint reads it nowσ To рow, UT, and the Vulgate, immutavit os suum, he changed countenance. I think this translation is better than that of Mr. Ortlob, his reason was changed: because it is added, before them, or in their sight, and in the thirty-fourth psalm, before Abimelech, or in his presence. It is well known, that the countenance of a person taken with an epilepsy is suddenly changed. But should we retain the word reason, we might with equal justice say, that the reason, or the taste is changed in an epileptic fit, because for a few moments reason is absent.
2. Our version adds, he feigned himself mad in their hands. The Septuagint seems to me to have rendered the words much better, παρατήρητο ἐν ταῖς χερσιν αυτόν. He struggled or tossed himself in their hands. (For I think the preceding words in this version," in that day he feigned," is one of those interpolations, which passed from the margin to the text; and that the words, και ετυμπανίζον επί ταις θύραις Tss, are of some other version, and have got into the text as the former.) The Hebrew word halal is a general term, which signifies to agitate one's self, to shake, either by twinkling like the stars, or by applauding like some one, or by boasting of any thing of our own, which the Latins call jactare, jactare se: or by moving ourselves involuntarily, as a paralytic man does, or a madman, or a person in convulsions, or one in excessive joy. The Septuagint could not translate the word here better than by cap, because #apagopog among the Greeks is put for a distracted person, a demoniac, and because a body irregularly and involuntarily agitated is said
Aristotlet uses it in the same sense. Having said that there seems something in the soul of an intemperate man beside reason, and opposite to it, he adds, he is like a paralytic body, the patient aims to move the right hand or the right foot, and the left hand and the left foot move TAPTION SIG TO UOITтogæ пmρaspora.. The only difference is, we perceive irregular motions of the body, whereas those of the soul are invisible. The Vulgate translates in a manner more favourable still to my opinion, et collabebatur inter manus eorum, he fell into their hands. The term collabi, as well as cadere, and corruere, are applied to the epilepsy, which the Hebrews, like us, called the falling sickness. All these Latin words may be seen in this sense in the first apology of Apuleius. He addresses himself to Emilianus, his adversary, to justify himself from the accusation of having bewitched one Thallus, who was fallen extreinely ill with an epilepsy. Imo si verum velis, Emiliane, tu potius caducus qui jam tot calumniis, cecidisti, neque enim gravius est corpore quam corde collabi, pede potius quam mente corruere, in cubiculo despui, quam in isto splendidissimo cætu detestari.
* Phavorinus in voce
Aristot. Ethicor. ad Nichomacum, lib. 1. cap. 13. Apuleius Apol. pro se ipso prima.
3. And he marked the posts of the gates. This is the version of the late Mr. Martin, but allow me to lay aside all the versions of our modern divines, and even those of the most celebrated Rabbies, and to abide by my Septuagint and my Vulgate. The Septuagint renders it καν επιπτεν επί της θύρας της πύλης, and the Vulgate says, et impingebat in ostia portia and he hurt himself, or he dashed himself against the posts of the gate. Munster pretends indeed that the Latin interpreter first wrote, et pingebat in ostia portiæ, and that it was afterwards changed into impingebat; but though this ingenious conjecture has been adopted by able critics, yet it seems to me futile, because on the one hand the Vulgate evidently follows the Septuagint, and on the other, because the Latin interpreter would have contradicted himself, collabebatur inter manus eorum, et pingebat in ostia portiæ, if he fell into their hands how could he write, or scratch with his fingers on the gate or the door? Nor is it necessary with the celebrated Lewis Capelf to suppose the change of a letter, and to say that the Septuagint reads vajatoph, instead of vajetau. The verb tava signifies to mark, to make an impression, or some print with the hand, or an instrument, and to shake, and make the body tremble where the mark is imprinted. David was violently hurt against the posts of the gate, so that marks were left in his flesh. This signification of the verb is agreeable to the Chaldean language, in which teva signifies to tremble, to shiver, and in the Arabic, where the same root signifies to be troubled or astonished.
4. King Achish uses another word, which modern translations render fool, madman. Lo, you see the man is mad. Have I need of madmen, and so on. The Septuagint, which I follow step by step, and the authors of which understood Hebrew better than we, translates it, adou mỗiтe xvdgx and so on: Why have you brought this man? Do you not see that he is attacked with an epilepsy? Have I need of epileptics, that you have brought him to fall into convulsions in my presence? This single testimony of the Septuagint ought to determine this question.
2. My second class of arguments is taken from the scope of the place, and I think, even supposing the original terms were as favourable to the idea of folly or madness as they are to that of an epilepsy, yet we should be more inclined to the latter sense than to the former.
First, if there be some examples of persons frightened into folly or madness, there are more of persons terrified into an epilepsy. Among the various causes of this sickness, the author of a book on the subject, supposed to be Hippocrates, has given sudden fright as one. It would be needless to multiply proofs when a sorrowful experience daily gives us so many! But I recollect one instance of the zeal of St. Barnard, which deserves to be related, I do
* Munsterus in h. 1. in criticis magnis.-See Bayle Achish. Rem. C.
L. Capellus criticiæ sacra libro. iv. cap. 5. S. 35. Hippocrates περιφερᾶς νόσου. T. ii. S. xi. p. 336. Vita Sancti Bernardi. lib. ii. cap. 6. n. 38. Rogavimus te, et sprevisti nos, supplicavit tibi in altero quam jam tecum habuimus, conventu servorum Dei ante te adunata multitudo, et contempsisti. Ecce ad te
not say to be applauded. William the Xth Duke of Aquitain, and Count of Thoulouse, declared himself against Innocent the Ild in favour of Peter de Leon, an antipope who had taken the name of Anacletus the Ild. The Duke had driven the Bishops of Poictiers, and of Limoges, from their sees. St. Barnard was sent into Guienne to engage him to reconcile himself to the holy see, and to re-establish the two bishops, but he could not prevail with him to be reconciled to the bishop of Poictiers. While they were talking at the church gate, St. Barnard went up to the altar and said mass. Having consecrated the host, and pronounced the benediction on the people, he took the body of the Lord in a patine, and going out with a countenance on fire, and with eyes in a flame, he addressed with a threatening air these terrible words to the Duke: "We have entreated you, but you have despised us. In a former interview, a great number of the servants of God besought you, and you treated them with contempt. Behold, now the Son of the Virgin comes to you, the head and lord of the church you persecute. Behold your judge, at whose name every name in heaven, earth, and hell, bow. Behold the avenger of your crimes, into whose hand, sooner or later, your stubborn soul shall fall. Have you the hardiness to despise him? And will you contemn the master as you have done the servants?" The spectators were all dissolved in tears, and the count himself, unable to bear the sight of the abbott, who addressed him with so much vehemence, and who held up to him all the while the body of the Lord, fell all shaking and trembling, to the earth. Being raised up by his soldiers, he fell back again, and lay on his face, saying nothing and looking at nobody, but uttering deep groans, and letting his spittle fall down on his beard, and discovering all the signs of a person convulsed in an epilepsy. St. Barnard approached, pushed him with his foot, commanded him to rise, and to stand up and hear the decree of God. "The bishop of Poictiers, whom you have driven from his church, is here; go and reconcile yourself to him; and by giving him a holy kiss of peace become friendly, and reconduct him yourself to his see. Satisfy the God you have offended, render him the glory due to his name, and recall all your divided subjects into the unity of faith and love. Submit yourself to pope Innocent; and as all the church obeys him, resign yourself to this eminent pontiff chosen by God himself. At these words the count ran to the bishop, gave him the kiss of peace, and re-established him in his see."
2. I return, sir, from this digression, which is not quite foreign to my subject, to observe, in the second place, that the sacred historian attributes to David the three characteristical marks of the falling sickness, falling, convulsion, and frothing. Falling, for it is said he
processit filius virginis, qui est caput et Dominus ecclesiæ, quam tu persequeris. Adest Judex tuus, in cujus nomine omne genu curvatur cælestium, terrestrium et infernorum. Adest vindex tuus, in cujus manua illa anima tua deveniet. Nunquid et ipsum spernes? Nunquid et ipsum sicut servos ejus contemnes?
Elevatus a militibus, rursum in faciem ruit, nec quippiam alieni loquens, aut intendens in aliquem, salicis in barbam defluentibus, cum profundis efflatis gemitibus, epilepticus videbatur.
fell into the hands" of the officers of the king: convulsion, for he hurt himself against the "posts of the gate:" and frothing, for he let fall his "spittle upon his beard." These are symptoms, which Isidore of Seville gives of an epilepsy,* cujus tanta vis est, ut homo valens concidat, spumetque. We may see the cause, or at least what physicians say of it, in the work of Hippocrates just now quoted, in the posthumous works of Mr. Manjot, and in all the treatises of pathological physic. The manner in which Hippocrates explains the symptom of froth seems very natural, apou da EX TOU STOμRTOS, &c. The froth, that comes out of the mouth, proceeds from the lungs, which, not receiving any fresh air, throw up little bubbles, like those of a dying man.
3. The horror of king Achish concerning the condition of David, is a third reason, which confirms our opinion. "You see," said this prince to his officers, "this man is epileptic, shall such a man come into my house? And he drove him away," as it is said in the title of the thirty-fourth psalm. According to the common opinion, David feigned himself a natural, a fool, not a madman: he did actions of imbecility, and silliness, not of madness and fury. Now the ancients, far from having any aversion to this sort of fools, kept them in their palaces to make diversion. Tarquin the proud kept Lucius Junius Brutus in his family less as a relation of whom he meant to take care, than as a fool to please his children by absurd discourses and ridiculous actions. Anacharsis, who lived about three hundred years after David, could not bear this custom of the Greeks. This wise Scythian said, "Man was a thing too serious to be destined to a usage so ridiculous." Seneca, in one of his letters to Lucilius, speaks of a female fool, whom his wife had left him for a legacy, and who had suddenly lost her sight. She did not know she was blind, and was always asking to be let out of a house where she could see nothing. Seneca says, that he had a great dislike to this kind of singularities; that if ever he should take it into his head to divert himself with a fool, he need not go far in search of one, that he would make a fool of himself: and he agreeably compares mankind with their defects to Harpasta the fool of his wife. Every body knows, adds this philosopher,§ ambition is not my vice, but we cannot live otherwise at Rome. I dislike luxury, but to live at a great expense is essential to living in this great city; and so on. Pliny the younger, writing to one of his friends, complained of having misspent his time at an elegant supper through the impertinence of these fools, who interrupted conversation: he says, that every one had his own whim; that he had no relish for such absurdities; but that some complaisance was necessary to the taste of our acquaintances.
It was not the same with madmen, and particularly epileptics. Every body carefully
avoided them, and thought, to meet them was a bad omen. Dion Cassius says, the Roman senate always broke up, when any one of them happened to be taken with an epilepsy, for which reason it was called morbus comitialis,* witness these verses of Serenus Sammonicus:
Est subiti species morbi, cui nomen ab illo est,
Pliny the elder, who relates the same thing, informs us of another custom, that was, to spit at the sight of an epileptic: Despuimus comitiales morbos, hoc est, contagia regerimus; simili modo et fascinationes repercutimus, dextræque clauditatis accursum. There was then as much superstition in this custom as aversion to the illness. Accordingly Theophrastes has not forgotten, in his character of a superstitious man, to represent him seized with horror, and spitting at meeting a madman, or an epileptic. This was so common, and so much confined to an epilepsy, that it was frequently called the sickness to be spitted at: Thus Plautus, in the comedy of the Captives, where Tyndarus, to prevent Hegio from staying with Aristophontes, accuses him of being subject to the illness that is spit at.§
In this custom of spitting at the sight of an epileptic, I think I have formed a very probable conjecture on another famous passage of Scripture; but, sir, I shall do myself the honour to treat of this in a future letter to you. At present, I avail myself of this custom to explain why Achish discovered so much indignation against his courtiers, and so much disdain for David, and why he drove him so quickly from his palace.
4. In fine, I think, it is easy to see in the thanksgiving psalms, which David composed after he had escaped this imminent danger, several indications of the nature of the illness that had seized him so suddenly. It is agreed that he composed the thirty-fourth and the fifty-sixth on this occasion, as the titles assure us, and to them I add the thirty-first and the hundred and sixteenth, concerning which I beg leave to make two remarks.
First, that the hundred and sixteenth has so much connexion with the fifty-sixth, and the thirty-first with the hundred and sixteenth, that it is very evident these three psalms were composed at the same time, and in view of the same deliverance: with this difference, however, that in the fifty-sixth David confines himself to the malignity of his enemies, to the punishment they might expect, and to his own confidence in God, who engaged him to despise all their efforts; whereas in the thirty-first he expresses more clearly the terror which had been excited in him by the conversation of Achish and his officers, and the prayers which he had addressed to the Lord in his distress. In the hundred and sixteenth he attends more to the success of these prayers, and to the gratitude he felt for deliverance from his great danger, and to the profound impression which
*Dio Cassius. lib. 37.
+ Plin. lib. xxviii. cap. 4.
Theophrastes Charact. περιδεισιδαιμονίας.
Plut. Capt. Act. iii. Scen. 4. ver. 15, &c. morbus qui insputatur,