“I’m not in the least put out that my chariot wheel broke]
and I lost that silly race.
I’ll drink great wines the whole night long,
lying among lovely roses. Antioch is all mine.
I’m the most celebrated young man in town –
Valas’ weakness, he simply adores me.
You’ll see, tomorrow they’ll say the race wasn’t fair
(though if I’d been crude enough to insist on it secretly,
the flatterers would have given first place even to my limping chariot).]”
The Favour of Alexander Valas, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com. Spelling anglicised.
Alexander Balas was a humble-born native of Smyrna, but pretended to be the son of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Laodice IV and heir to the Seleucid throne. His claims were recognised by the Roman Senate and Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt. He married Cleopatra Thea, Ptolemy’s daughter. In 150 BC he defeated Demetrius I (Demetrius Soter, ie saviour).
As king, he is said to have abandoned himself to debauchery. In 145 his Egyptian protector and father-in-law betrayed him and, with Demetrius I’s son Demetrius II, defeated him near Antioch. Alexander Balas fled for refuge to a Nabataean prince, who murdered him and sent his head to Ptolemy, who had been mortally wounded in the battle.
Lying among roses. Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love:
“There I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle”
Elagabalus’s attempt to drown his guests in rose petals.
Painting in the National Galleries of Scotland by Botticelli of Christ sleeping by a rose bush adored by the Virgin.
Handel produced a quartet of patriotic or warlike oratorios after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion: the Occasional Oratorio in 1746, Judas Maccabaeus in 1747 and Joshua and Alexander Balus in 1748.
Alexander Balus is a condensation of chapters 10 and 11 of the first Book of Maccabees set in Egypt. It is thus partly concerned with the Greeks’ relationship with the Jews. Jonathan Maccabaeus (Jonathan Apphus, or the Wary) is the anti-Hellenic Hasmonean rebel leader after the death of Judas Maccabaeus. Alexander has courted him and the Jewish rebels. He is invited to Alexander’s wedding.
Ptolemy falsely claims that Jonathan is behind the plot to overthrow Alexander. At the end, Cleopatra receives news of both deaths, her husband’s and father’s. Jonathan winds up the story, reminding the living that those who trust in other than the true God will always meet their fate.
Demetrius II does not appear in the oratorio, but in the biblical story Jonathan makes his peace with him.
Hyperion CD notes: “Handel’s finale is, perhaps not so surprisingly in view of the calamities that have befallen Cleopatra, unusually muted in its minor treatment of the traditionally lively Amens and Halleluias.” Here are Jonathan’s final words and the finale; performers not stated.