How a Jewish Composer Inspired an Unusual Poem by Lord Byron

Once widely known, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” is a poetic account by Lord Byron (1788–1824) of the Assyrian invasion of Judea in the time of King Hezekiah. Joseph Bottum writes:

The anapestic meter of “The Destruction of Sennacherib”—da da DUM, da da DUM—is loud, even for Byron, who loved three-syllable feet. The biblical story is taken at face value. And, very untypically for Byron, the narrator never winks in irony. Instead, we have six tetrameter quatrains, in rhymed couplets: a fast-moving and memorable retelling of the 701 BCE siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under King Sennacherib (as described in 2Kings 18–19 and Isaiah 36–37), rendered in galloping anapests like cavalry charging at the city.

The cause of the difference from his other work may be that Byron wrote the poem as part of his 1815 collection Hebrew Melodies. Isaac Nathan (ca. 1791–1864) was a musical con man—it’s hard to know what else to call him—and he came to Byron with a set of melodies he claimed were recreated from music once played in the Temple at Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The melodies weren’t authentic, of course, but Byron found Nathan a charming rogue, even while he recognized the type. Byron gave the composer a few older poems to set to the supposedly ancient music and wrote new verses based on biblical topics, among them “The Destruction of Sennacherib.”

Something in the exercise seems to have released Byron from his usual ironic voice, and the fun of composition overflows the story in Byron’s free-flowing alliteration, exuberant metaphors, and bouncy rhythm: “And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,/ Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!”

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Assyria, English literature, Hebrew Bilbe, Jewish history, Lord Byron, Poetry

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus