Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Who is telling the tale?

The Book of Judith is full of the male gaze, and filtered through what we need women to be: loyal, courageous, beautiful, chaste. We only know Judith's story at all because the distaff chroniclers preserved it with the other apocrypha; plus I think the women just weren't going to let this one go.

Judith, beautiful and chaste, defeats the enemy through her courage and cunning, outwitting and outfighting every man in the book, friend and foe. She does it while maintaining her key aspect of chastity, but I think Judith would have fucked Holofernes if she needed to get the job done, or just if he appealed to her. But she just got him drunk instead, and, as I have her maid say, "he never laid a hand on her even though you could tell he wanted to if you know what I mean."

In a way, the Judith story is a parable for childbirth, and the artistic treatments support this: the painters always go straight to the action and ignore the aftermath, the bloody bag that the maid carries the head away in.

Here I've drawn the weave of the basket, using three versions of the story (repeated as needed to fill the space): Judith's, straight from the Apocrypha. The maid's, written in the vernacular from the point of view of the person dragged along because she can't say no (the maid's story is in the comments); and the highly edited tale as seen from the point of view of Nebudchadnezer, Holofernes, the Judean counselors, and the captains of Holofernes' camp, preserving the most "manly" parts. Judith's and the maid's create the weave of the bloody bag, but Holofernes' blustering boasts are the blood dripping through the warp.

The Book of Judith: the maid's story

1 comment:

Alexandra said...

The maid’s story

I was a maid in the household of Judith. Even though she was a rich and beautiful widow now three years and six months, she just NEVER went out. She dressed in sack cloth and ashes and shut us all up in the house with her. Some days I’d just stare out the window wondering what I ever did to have to live like this.

But sometimes, Judith would complain that it was the men who shut us away because we were women without men, and they were always plotting and running around like they knew something. And then the foreign army came and were killing everyone around. And the men thought we would just pretend that the Lord didn’t care who we worshiped so the foreigners would think we liked their gods and wouldn't kill us. And Judith would have None Of That. She figured if she had to go around in sackcloth and ashes and never have sex again then they could damn well find their balls. So she called them and spoke as an equal and a queen, and resolved to save the people as the Lord would show her the way.

She told them, I got this, and just to stay at the gate, and she chose me to go out to the camp of Holofernes, saying that, in five days the Lord would look down upon his people Israel. So yay, I get to go out, but seriously, not crazy about walking right into the hornet’s nest.

But then she put away the all the widow togs, and got all dolled up, with the good soap, and the best ointment. She did up her hair and did the whole thing-the garments and the sandals and the bracelets and the earrings. She looked gorgeous, like we always knew she could. But she was chatting with the Lord the whole time about how she was going to take down Holofernes and wasn’t it a pip that he was going to get offed by a woman. So I think the Lord also gave her more beauty to, y'know, Help With The Cause.

Well, turns out she’s an ace plotter. She had it all figured out. She gave me a big bag with a bottle of wine, and a vessel of oil, and parched corn, and dry figs, and bread and cheese, and out we went. And when we came to the gate of the city, and the captains saw her their jaws dropped, and they just let us waltz right in without question. Men can be awful stupid sometimes. But we were praying our minds off the whole time, I can tell you.

Anyway, then Judith starts in on how the Lord is mad at Israel for thinking about surrendering, so she told them hell with that and thought she’d come over to the winning side and spill all the secrets. And they totally bought it, and before you know it there we are right in the tent of Holofernes himself! I about pee’d myself I was so scared. But Judith had it all together, and was like “oh my lord, you are the great one blah blah blah. She did the prostrate on the ground thing and everything.

And he offered Judith food, but she said: well, I can't eat your food because it's unclean, but I will eat of the things which my maid carries, and here have some more wine. So I emptied out the bag and she told me to hang at the entrance, and I thought, girl you gonna regret this, but she got him blind drunk and he never laid a hand on her even though you could tell he wanted to if you know what I mean. And anyway, he got so drunk he passed right out!

And she told me, stay at the door, but I peeked in and she took his very own sword right off the wall and oh god I can’t believe it, hack hack cut his head right off. And she pulled me in and stuck the head right in my bag that I had brought the food in, and then we just waltzed out like “oh we’re going to go pray because that’s what we do see you later!"

I’m never going to get all this blood out. Gonna have to dye the damn bag.