Avian Demography Unit
Department of Statistical Sciences
University of Cape Town
|BIRD NUMBERS||Volume 10 Number 1, July 2001|
22. Birds in culture: Extract from Psyche in Scripture: the idea of the Chosen People and other essays.
Rivkah Schärf Kluge (Inner City Books)
Here is how the story in the Second Targum [translation into Aramaic] to the Book of Esther goes:
When Solomon’s heart was merry with wine, he commanded the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky and the spirits and demons to be brought before him. One day the hoopoe was missing among the birds and he could not be found. The King became very angry about him, but finally calmed down again, when the hoopoe arrived and told him the reason for his absence: he had, he told the King, flown all over the world, in order to find out: "Is there a country or a kingdom, which is not subject to my Lord the King?" And thus it happened that he found the town Kitor, in the country of the rising sun. "The land is full of gold and silver," the hoopoe reports, "the trees there are standing from the creation, and they are watered from the Garden of Eden. Many peoples are there, on their heads they have crowns from the Garden of Eden. They know nothing of warfare, nor can they draw the bow. But I saw there also a woman, who rules over them all, and queen of Sheba (Malkath Sheba) is her name."
We see that a bird, an intuitive thought of the king, has discovered the paradisiac realm of the unconscious under the government of the anima, and the libido of the king is immediately drawn to it, as we will see from the continuation.
You will have asked yourself, too, whether the type of bird is of any symbolic meaning, for which the legend itself might give a key. It should fIrst be said that there are other birds mentioned in some legends: cock of the wood, and especially lapwing or peewit, which in the dictionaries are identical and of which the Winston Dictionary says: "Any of several Old World ploverlike birds, especially one species (Vanellus vanellus) called peewit." …
In an Arabic version, we read:
As Solomon was returning on the carpet from Mecca, a ray of sunlight penetrated through the bird canopy overhead, and smote him. By this he knew that one of the birds was absent from its post. So he summoned the eagle, and bade him call each of the birds by name, so to find which of them was missing. The eagle returned with the news that the peewit was absent. Solomon was greatly displeased at this, for the peewit was indispensable because it could detect water even in a desert or at the greatest depth.
So this is the function of this bird: to find water, the source of life, in the desert, or at the greatest depth of the unconscious.
In another Arabian story, however, the hoopoe left the bird canopy over King Solomon’s head because he was deliberately striking on the day of the king’s marriage as a result of the king’s request for the feathered slaves to pay the same honor to his bride as to himself. But the king, missing his favorite bird, ordered the others to go and find the hoopoe. He was discovered after many months, crouching in a hole in the rock on an island in the most distant of the seven seas. Upon being found, seeing that he could not escape, he said: "I go with you against my will to Suleyman, whose folly in asking us to do homage to the most worthless of creatures exasperates and disgusts me."
Then follow three stories about the worthlessness and untrustworthiness of women, and the necessity of keeping them under control. "‘You see from these true stories," concluded the hoopoe, "what silly, vain and tiresome creatures women are, and how wrong it was of Suleyman to ask us to do homage to one of them." The assembled birds acquiesced in the soundness of the hoopoe’s remarks. They considered that if these valuable facts were known to Suleyman he would change his ways with women and perhaps reward the hoopoe for having dared to disobey him out of such honorable motives.
They all returned to the king, who, when he had listened to the hoopoe’s three stories, took the crown off his head and placed it on that of the bird, whose descendants wear it to this day. So the hoopoe’ s crown is nothing less than the personal one of King Solomon, who was grateful to this bird for its good advice in the direction of "taming the shrew". The author gives the interesting information that, for this reason, the hoopoe is called still today by the fellahin (the Arab peasants) the "wise man’s bird" or "the bird of Suleyman el Hakim".…
Let us now go on with our legend.
As soon as the hoopoe finished his report about the marvelous country he had found, and its queen, he offered the king to gird up his loins like a mighty man, and to go to the city of Kitor, in the land of Sheba, to bring their kings and nobles to Solomon, by force if necessary ."And this saying pleased Solomon," the text goes on. All the royal scribes were called and a letter to the queen of Sheba was written and tied to the wing of the. hoopoe,
who thereupon lifted up his wings, and soared up in the air, and the other birds all followed him. And they came to the city of Kitor in the land of Sheba. And it was in the morning time, and the Queen had gone out to worship the sun. Suddenly the multitude of approaching birds obscured the sunlight, and the Queen lifted her hand and rent her garment into pieces and was mightily astonished.
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Document posted: 24-Aug-2001
Office Avian Demography Unit