Friday, April 10, 2009

Poetry Friday - lestai


The rebels hang today, the latest round-
up having netted three. No easy time
we had arresting them, the sullen scum
who dwell in this unhomely, barren land
were helping them evade us. One appears
to think himself a priest of some sort. He
was charged by local law with blasphemy,
though treason is the crime that hangs him. (Wars
of liberation led by holy men!
You'd never find the like in any other,
saner land. Return me home, and soon,
to folk with sense!) Pilate didn't bother
much with it, just washed his hands and then
dispatched him to the hill known as Golgotha.

October 15, 1977

Lestai is the plural of lestes, the Greek word used by Flavius Josephus in his history of the Jewish War against Rome, 66-70, to refer to some of the rebels. It is also used in the Christian gospels, Matthew 26:55 and parallels, for the two men who were crucified with Jesus. I encountered the word in some scholarly book I was reading, which said that though Josephus (and his Roman readers) saw the rebels as bandits, brigands, thieves, the lestai would have used other words for themselves. As in any insurgency, their motives would have varied -- some probably were just petty robbers, but others seriously wanted to liberate their country from Roman rule. As in my earlier poem R├Ęgne Animal, I decided to look at a biblical story from the viewpoint of an outsider.