Absalom and Achitophel, verse satire by English poet John Dryden published in The poem, which is written in heroic couplets, is about the Exclusion crisis . Complete summary of John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of Absalom and Achitophel. This poem is a mock epic. A mock epic mirrors aspects of a traditional epic but is intended to promote humor through its witty portrayal of characters. A mock epic.
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The text of this on-line edition is based on that in The Works of John Dryden —92though I’ve introduced some changes from other texts, especially the California Edition. It is meant only as an annotated teaching edition, and makes no pretense to being a reliable critical text. Most of the notes are concerned with explaining the complicated biblical and historical allusions, and here again I confess my tremendous debt to the California Edition.
Anyone who wants to know more about the poem and its context should consult this edition, where the commentary on this poem alone abzalom to nearly eighty pages. I have not identified every allusion, focusing only on the major figures.
Dryden, “Absalom and Achitophel”
I also haven’t bothered with most of the disputed identifications. Not so the rest; for several mothers bore To godlike David several sons before. But since like slaves his bed they did ascend,  No true succession could their seed attend. Whate’er he did, was done with so much ease, In him alone ’twas natural to please; His motions all accompanied with grace, And paradise drydeh opened in his face.
What faults he had, — for who from faults is free? And when no rule, no precedent was found, Of men, by laws less circumscribed and bound; They led their wild desires to woods and caves,  And thought that all but savages were slaves. But these were random bolts; no formed design, Nor interest made the factious crowd to join: The moderate sort of men, thus qualified,  Inclined the balance to the better side; And David’s mildness managed it so well, The bad found no abslaom to rebel.
Thus worn or weakened, abssalom or ill content, Submit they must to David’s government; Impoverished and deprived of all command, Their taxes doubled as they lost their land;  And, what was harder yet to flesh and blood, Their gods disgraced, and burnt like common wood.
Of whatsoe’er descent their godhead be,  Stock, stone, or other homely pedigree, In his defence his servants are as bold, As if he had been born of beaten gold. Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies, To please the fools, and puzzle all the wise. The Egyptian rites the Jebusites embraced, Where gods were recommended by their taste.
Such savoury deities must needs be good,  As served at once for worship and for food.
Absalom and Achitophel – Wikipedia
Some thought they God’s anointed drydenn to slay  By guns, invented since full many a day: Our author swears it not; but who can know How far the devil and Jebusites achitophl go? Some by their friends, more by themselves thought wise, Opposed the power to which they could not rise; Some had in courts been great, and, thrown from thence, Like fiends, were hardened in impenitence;  Some, by their monarch’s fatal mercy, grown From pardoned rebels kinsmen to the throne, Were raised in power and public office high; Strong bands, if bands ungrateful men could tie.
For close designs, and crooked counsels fit; Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit; Restless, unfixed in principles and place; In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace;  A fiery soul, which, working out its way, Fretted the pigmy-body to decay, And o’er-informed the tenement of clay.
A daring pilot in extremity, Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high,  He avsalom the storms; but, for a calm unfit, Would steer too nigh the sands, to boast his wit. Great wits are sure to madness near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide; Else, why should he, with wealth and honour blest,  Refuse his age the needful hours of rest? Punish a body which he could not please; Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease? In friendship false, implacable in hate; Resolved to ruin, or to rule the state.
So easy still it proves in factious times,  With public zeal to cancel private crimes. How safe is treason, and how sacred ill, Where none can sin against the people’s will? Where crowds can wink, and no offence be known, Since in another’s guilt they find their own? Achitophel, grown weary to possess  A lawful fame, and lazy happiness, Disdained the golden fruit to gather free, And lent the crowd his arm to shake the tree.
Now, manifest of achitophrl contrived long since, He stood at bold defiance with his prince;  Held up the buckler of the people’s cause Against the crown, and skulked behind the laws. The wished occasion of the plot he takes; Some circumstances finds, but more he makes; By buzzing emissaries fills the ears  Of listening crowds with jealousies and fears Of arbitrary counsels brought to light, And proves the king himself a Jebusite. Achifophel still wants a chief, and none  Was found so fit as warlike Absalon.
Not that he wished his greatness to create, For politicians neither love nor hate; But, for he knew his title not allowed, Would dryen him still depending on the crowd;  That kingly power, thus ebbing out, might be Drawn to the dregs of a democracy.
Him he attempts with studied arts to please, And sheds his venom in such words as these. Thee, Saviour, thee the nation’s vows confess,  Absxlom, never satisfied with seeing, bless; Swift unbespoken pomps thy steps proclaim, And stammering babes are taught to lisp thy name. How long wilt thou the general joy detain, Starve and defraud the people of thy reign;  Content ingloriously to pass thy days, Like one of virtue’s fools that feed on praise; Till thy fresh glories, which now shine so bright, Grow stale, and tarnish with our achitpohel sight?
Believe me, royal youth, thy fruit must be  Or gathered ripe, or rot upon the tree. Heaven has to all allotted, soon achhitophel late, Some lucky revolution of their fate; Whose motions if we watch and guide with skill For human good depends on human will Our fortune rolls as from a smooth descent, And from the first impression takes the bent; But, if unseized, she glides away like wind, And leaves repenting folly far behind.
Now, now she meets you with a glorious prize,  And spreads her locks before you as she flies. Let his successful youth your hopes engage; But shun the example of declining age: Behold him setting in his western skies, The shadows lengthening as the vapours rise. What strength can he to your designs oppose, Naked of friends, and round beset with foes? Nor would the royal party e’er unite  With Pharaoh’s arms to assist the Jebusite; Or, if they should, their interest soon would break, And with such odious aid make David weak.
All sorts of men, by my successful arts Abhorring kings, estrange their altered hearts  From David’s rule; and ’tis the general cry, Religion, commonwealth, and liberty. If you, as champion of the public good, Add to their arms a chief of royal blood, What may not Israel hope, and what applause  Might such a general gain by such a cause?
Not barren praise alone, that gaudy flower Fair only to the sight, but solid power; And nobler is a limited command, Given by the love of all your native land,  Than a successive title, long and dark, Drawn from the mouldy rolls of Noah’s ark.
What cannot praise effect in mighty achitopjel, When flattery soothes, and when ambition blinds? Desire of power, on earth a vicious weed,  Yet, sprung from high, is of celestial seed; In God ’tis glory; and when men aspire, ‘Tis but a spark too much of heavenly fire. The ambitious youth, too covetous of fame, Too full of angel’s metal in his frame,  Unwarily was led from virtue’s ways, Made drunk with honour, and debauched with praise.
Half loath, and half consenting to the ill,— For loyal blood within him struggled still,— He thus replied. My father governs with unquestioned right, The faith’s defender, and mankind’s delight; Good, gracious, just, observant of the laws; And heaven by wonders has espoused his cause.
Who sues for justice to his throne in vain? What millions has he pardoned of his foes, Whom just revenge did to his wrath expose!
Mild, absalim, humble, studious of our good,  Inclined to mercy, and dryyden from blood.
If mildness ill with stubborn Israel suit, His crime is God’s beloved attribute. What could he gain his dryedn to betray, Or change his right for arbitrary sway? If David’s rule Jerusalem displease, The dog-star heats their brains to this disease. Why then should I, encouraging the bad,  Turn rebel, wchitophel run popularly mad? Were he a tyrant, who achtophel lawless might Oppressed the Jews, and raised the Jebusite, Well might I mourn; but nature’s holy bands Would curb my spirits, and restrain my hands: What more can I expect while David lives?
His brother, though oppressed with vulgar spite, Yet dauntless, and secure of native right, Of every royal virtue stands possest;  Still dear to all the bravest and the best. His courage foes, his friends his truth proclaim; His loyalty the king, the world his fame. His mercy even the offending crowd will find; For sure he comes of a forgiving kind.
Absalom and Achitophel
Yet oh that fate, propitiously inclined, Had raised my birth, or had debased my absaolm To my large soul not all her treasure lent,  And then betrayed it to a mean descent! I find, I find my mounting spirits bold, And David’s part disdains my mother’s mould. Why am I scanted by a niggard birth? My soul disclaims the kindred of her earth;  And, made for empire, whispers me within, Desire of greatness is a godlike sin.
Him staggering so, when hell’s dire agent found, While fainting virtue scarce maintained her ground, He pours fresh forces in, and thus replies: What wonders are reserved to bless your reign! Against your will your arguments have shown, Such virtue’s only given to guide a throne. But absallm should people strive their bonds to break, If not when kings are negligent, or weak?
To ply him with new plots shall be my care, Or plunge him deep in some expensive war; Which when his treasure can no more supply,  He must, with the remains of kingship, buy. His faithful friends, our jealousies and fears Call Jebusites, and Pharaoh’s pensioners; Whom when our fury from his aid has torn, He shall be naked left to public scorn. His right, for sums of necessary gold,  Shall first be pawned, and afterwards be sold; Till time shall ever-wanting David draw, To pass your doubtful title into law: If not, the people have a right supreme To make their kings; for kings are made for them.
All empire is no more than power in trust, Which, when resumed, can be no longer just. Succession, for the general ahsalom designed, In its own wrong a nation cannot bind; If altering that the people can relieve,  Better one suffer than a million grieve.
The Jews well know their power; ere Saul they chose, God was their king, and God they durst depose. Urge now your piety, your filial name, A father’s right, and fear of future fame;—  The public good, that universal call, To which even heaven submitted, answers all.
Nor let his love enchant your generous mind; ‘Tis nature’s trick to propagate her kind. Our fond begetters, who would never die,  Love but themselves in their posterity.
Or let his kindness by the effects be tried, Or let him lay his vain pretence aside. God said, he loved your father; could he bring A better proof, than to anoint him king? Would David have you thought his darling son? The name of godly he may blush to bear;  ‘Tis after God’s own heart to cheat his heir. He to his brother gives supreme command, To you a legacy of barren land; Perhaps the old harp, on which he thrums his lays, Or some dull Hebrew ballad in your praise. Your case no tame expedients will afford;  Resolve on death, or conquest by the sword, Which for no less a stake than life you draw; And self-defence is nature’s eldest law.
Leave the warm people no considering time; For then rebellion may be thought a crime. And who can sound the depth of David’s soul? Perhaps his fear his kindness may control. He fears his brother, though he loves his son, For plighted vows too late to be undone. Doubt not; but, when he most affects the frown, Commit a pleasing rape upon the crown. Secure his person to secure your cause;  They, who possess the prince, possess the laws.
He said, and this advice, above the rest, With Absalom’s mild nature suited best; Unblamed of life, ambition set aside, Not stained with cruelty, nor puffed with pride. His kingly virtues might have claimed a throne, And blest all other countries but his own; But charming greatness since so few refuse,  ‘Tis juster to lament him than accuse.
Strong were his hopes a rival to remove, With blandishments to gain the public love; To head the faction drydn their zeal was hot, And popularly prosecute the plot. The best, — and of the princes some were such,—  Achitophe, thought the power of monarchy too much; Mistaken men, and patriots in their hearts; Not wicked, but seduced by impious arts.
By these the springs of property were bent, And wound so high, they cracked the government.