The Song of Songs
To the Editor:
“Sex According to the Song of Songs” by Hyam Maccoby [June] is a fascinating guide through the labyrinthine mazes of the origins and meanings of this endlessly puzzling book of the Hebrew Bible. It proves once again, however, the parlous nature of the academic parlor game of hunting down sources and parallels.
In noting how the description of the female in the Song of Songs is similar to that of the queen of Egypt, Hatshepsut, the author comments in a footnote: “An interesting example in Western literature of a queen compared to a goddess is Enobarbus’s description of Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play.” The speech which Shakespeare assigns to Enobarbus is, of course, taken almost verbatim from the Thomas North translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Compared Together.
The search for ultimate roots is an endless digging.
American International College
Hyam Maccoby writes:
I do not quite grasp Milton Birnbaum’s point. “Ultimate roots” is not the issue here. Surely the magnificently sensual Shakespearean passage is more relevant to the poetry of the Song of Songs than the prose passage of North’s Plutarch of which it is a (by no means “verbatim”) reworking.