Aeschylus and the wild beast’s iconography

Aeschylus is one of the greatest theater writers of all times. He was able to elaborate some iconographic frame we later find in the book of Revelation. His tragedy, The Seven against Thebes, shows important links which are basic in the representation of the wild beast John depicted when in Patmos. It is a tragedy which maintains a deep relationship with some old, primeval conception of history.

A representation of the earth and the sky

When it is not the king’s palace, the Greek tragedy’s backdrop is a representation of the temple,  an inner space symbolically closed. The form is that of an amphitheater. The Greek theater is a representation of the earth surmounted by the celestial vault. In Aeschylus’ tragedy, Eteocles enters Act 1 by pronouncing his first monologue in defense of the altars. Addressing the men of Cadmus, he says:

“Array for action-all to rise in aid

Of city, shrines, and altars of all powers

Who guard our land; that ne’er, to end of time,

Be blotted out the sacred service due

To our sweet mother-land and to her brood.”

To the end of time

The time of the tragedy immediately opens to include the ” end of the time”. By these words, Aeschylus pulls the observer’s attention to embrace the complete boundaries of human history. The first attention is, this way, for the need of ruling the “city”, a representation of the mother-land and all her “brood”.  The attention is for the ruler. That’s him,

“Who sets the course and steers the ship of State

With hand upon the tiller, and with eye

Watchful against the treachery of sleep.”

A war between two brothers

Seven against Thebes is about the war between two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of King Oedipus. After their father’s death, they agree to rule Thebes in alternate years. But at the end of the first year, Eteocles refuses to leave the rule of the city to his brother. In retaliation, Polynices gathers an army led by seven captains to attack and conquer Thebes.  Eteocles calls forth and urges every man in Thebes to fight against his brother’s army. In the end, the two brothers discover they’ll have to fight one against the other. They will annihilate themselves in a mortal battle.

The beast with the seven heads

The situation depicted is similar to the one represented in the Bible. I’m referring to the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns.

“And it stood still upon the sand of the sea. And I saw a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, and upon its horns ten diadems, but upon its heads blasphemous names. Now the wild beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were as those of a bear, and its mouth was as a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave to [the beast] its power and its throne and great authority. And I saw one of its heads as though slaughtered to death, but its death-stroke got healed, and all the earth followed the wild beast with admiration.”Revelation 13:1-3

Seven Millennia

The seven warriors of Aeschylus’ tragedy have their exact correspondence in the seven heads of the beast of Revelation. They represent the seven millennia from the origin of history to its end. Each time has its particular forms of political-religious power. Each millennium brings changing and transformations. New elements are continually introduced in both dominions, the religious and the political one. Aspects that were once fundamental are forgotten and replaced by the new. This is why John explains in Revelation that the wild beast has subsequently one of its head beheaded. It always has to heal one of its mortal wounds. Each millennium one of the beast’s head is beheaded. This is the consequence of time going on.

The seventh king remains a short while

John wrote: “And there are seven kings: five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet arrived, but when he does arrive he must remain a short while.”Revelation17:10

By the time John was writing, the fifth millennium after creation was in course. Anyway,  Revelation 1:10 focuses on the Lord’s day. (By inspiration I came to be in the Lord’s day.) This is the period belonging to Jesus’ presence before the end of the sixth period. This was during John’s life a prophetic period not yet arrived. It is the millennium that ended in 1975. So, we are living today in the seventh millennium, which is by now about 45 years old. The end of this period is near. This is a time which corresponds to the years elapsing from Adam’s creation to the creation of Eve.

1914:  a prophetic year

These kings of Revelation 13:1 are not representations of specific worldly powers like Rome or the Anglo-American, but simply millennia. John does not present history from his starting point but from the perspective of the prophetic year 1914. From the point of view of someone living in that year, the sixth millennium is going on up to 1975. Then the seventh millennium seems to be starting.

Here is a table of times. The fifth king is ruling up to 975 C. E., the sixth up to 1975, the seventh is ruling now and he is going to leave his power, after a short time, to the messianic kingdom.

The ideal and the real power

Power has two levels: the ideal, perennial emanation of power (which is in the hands of Satan) and its real, visible application, (the effective power which is in the mortal hands of human rulers). Temporal power has a start and an end. There are two kings constantly fighting for power, the political and the religious one. Sometimes one is prevailing over the other for a period. For instance, during the seventh millennium, the one under the Messianic direction, the religious power will be prevailing. It will be an excellent form of power organized under the invisible lead of Jesus.

In that case, power will not emanate from Satan but from the Lord, the Son of God. Humankind will gradually be brought to perfection.  Anyway, at the end of it, a large part of the human society will rebel and encircle the camp of the holy ones, as prophesied in Revelation 20:7-9. That will be a period similar to the one we are still living since 1975 up to the actual beginning of the Lord’s Kingdom, a period of, let’s say, about 50/60 years.

Satan out of prison

“Now as soon as the thousand years have been ended, Satan will be let loose out of his prison, and he will go out to mislead those nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war. The number of these is as the sand of the sea.  And they advanced over the breadth of the earth and encircled the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down out of heaven and devoured them.  And the Devil who was misleading them was hurled into the lake of fire and sulfur, where both the wild beast and the false prophet [already were]; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Rev 20:7-10

An eighth king going off into destruction

The book of Revelation has a complete description of the political-religious power that has been exercised on the earth from the beginning of creation. It has permeated every aspect of human life in all dreadful and horrible ways. Generally, the wild beast is represented as a compound of seven kings meaning seven mountains. But the beast is in itself an eighth king that springs from the seventh and goes off into destruction. This is a representation of the feet of Daniel’s statue.

“And the wild beast that was but is not, it is also itself an eighth [king], but springs from the seven, and it goes off into destruction. And the ten horns that you saw mean ten kings, who have not yet received a kingdom, but they do receive authority as kings one hour with the wild beast. These have one thought, and so they give their power and authority to the wild beast.  These will battle with the Lamb, but, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also, those called and chosen and faithful to him [will do so].” Rev 17:9-14

Feet partly made of iron and partly of clay

The eighth king is a power ruling at the end of times which goes off into destruction. It corresponds to the feet of Daniel’s statue which are partly made of iron and partly made of clay. They will be clashed by a stone falling on them when all human political direction will go to its end and power will belong to God only.

The ten kings are not properly worldly king or political powers. They are more subordinate rulers of another kind. They are a representation of the slave of Matthew 24:45-51, the governing body and all his associated, dependent organization on the earth. Understanding this will help in the understanding of the prophecy of Gog of Magog’s war.

The faithful and discreet slave

“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time?  Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so.  Truly I say to YOU, He will appoint him over all his belongings. “But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, ‘My master is delaying,’ and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know, and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.” Matthew 24:45-51

Daniel’s statue as seen by Nebuchadnezzar

The ten kings are in a relationship with the feet of the statue of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar which Daniel depicted in his prophetic book.

“And whereas you beheld the feet and the toes to be partly of molded clay of a potter and partly of iron, the kingdom itself will prove to be divided, but somewhat of the hardness of iron will prove to be in it, forasmuch as you beheld the iron mixed with moist clay. And as for the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of molded clay, the kingdom will partly prove to be strong and will partly prove to be fragile.  Whereas you beheld iron mixed with moist clay, they will come to be mixed with the offspring of mankind; but they will not prove to be sticking together, this one to that one, just as iron is not mixing with molded clay.” Daniel 2:41-43

 

A stone was cut, but not by hands

“And in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite; forasmuch as you beheld that out of the mountain a stone was cut not by hands, and [that] it crushed the iron, the copper, the molded clay, the silver, and the gold. The grand God himself has made known to the king what is to occur after this. And the dream is reliable, and the interpretation of it is trustworthy.” Daniel 2:44-45

Finally, God’s kingdom

The ten toes belonging to the statue are fragile and a stone not cut by human hands will crush all human political and religious power. This is God’s kingdom. The end of all human powers has finally the same result depicted in Aeschylus’ tragedy. They will annihilate each other in order to give place to the Messianic kingdom.

Back to Aeschylus’ tragedy again

It’s quite amazing to find that Aeschylus’ tragedy, the seven against Thebes, has so many points in common with the Bible. It’s a tragedy I read when I was a teenager. Then I couldn’t understand nearly anything. I’ve read it again last summer during a brief holiday in the mountains. It helped me to confirm that the end of human political-religious power will be complete and near. I can now understand that the seven warriors are a representation of the seven millennia of human power. Moreover, it gives us some hints about the next fatal fight between politics and religion. I couldn’t imagine finding all that in an old Greek tragedy.

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