Thursday, January 14, 2016

That Fourth Horseman

Quick quiz! Name the four horsemen of the apocalypse! No googling!

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Got it?

Okay, so it turns out that it's surprisingly contested, especially the identity of horseman #1. The original source (the Book of Revelation) has been interpreted a number of ways. But in the popular tradition, there's Pestilence (or Plague), War, Famine, and... Death.

I got to thinking about this because I'm researching one of the other horsemen. And I have to admit I've always wondered about Death-as-Horseman. Death is the only one that the original source material actually names by name. And yet it's the one that makes the least sense. I mean, isn't death implied in the other three? Is this just a case of gilding (or wilting) the lily?

Because, if not, then it sort of implies that War, Famine, and Pestilence maybe are serious, but not, you know, deadly-serious. Like maybe Famine is really more along the lines of "that feeling you get when you forgot to pack a lunch and have convinced yourself that you can make it until dinner time but now it’s 4 p.m. and you’re wondering if anyone will notice if you take something out of the employee fridge." Maybe Pestilence just turns out to be a bad rash, and you realize that you probably only need a little hydrocortisone ointment.

And then Death arrives late at the party, and is all like NO WE ARE NOT SCREWING AROUND PEOPLE.

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These are the things I think about.

6 comments:

heu mihi said...

:)

Anonymous said...

Here's my thought, pulled straight out of my hat.

Some people live through famines, wars, and plagues, but Death gets everyone.

Susan said...

Or, to take anon 4:55's point slightly differently: war famine, plague cause widespread suffering and death. But (a) you can live through them and (b) you will alway meet death somewhere...

Phul Devi said...

I always have taken it to mean unexpected, sudden death, a category of some anxiety in the ancient and medieval worlds. If you are in the middle of a famine, a war, or a pestilence, you might survive (as Susan and anon. suggest), but even if you die, you've had a chance to come to foresee the possibility and get your house in order, so to speak.

But Death, personified as the Fourth Horseman, is going to reap you down without warning, in an environment that does not seem adverse. And that's a really bad fate.

~squadrato, commenting as Phul Devi

Notorious Ph.D. said...

PhulD, I was hoping you'd weigh in! Welcome back!

s said...

Read Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The appocaplyse can't happen until Death arrives at the party. (there's also the fifth Horseman, Pollution.) ;)