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A short story by Montague Rhodes James

Solomon And The Demons

Title:     Solomon And The Demons
Author: Montague Rhodes James [More Titles by James]

In an ancient Greek book called The Testament (that is, the Last Words') of Solomon, the story is told of the way in which Solomon overcame the demons and made them serve him. The tale is put into the mouth of the king himself.

When I was engaged upon the building of the temple in Jerusalem, there was a lad, the son of the foreman of the builders, of whom I took notice, for he was a clever workman. Indeed, so skilful was he that I increased his wages and his allowance of food above the rest. Yet in spite of that, as I saw him by day, I noticed that he was becoming thin and weak and pale. So one day I called him and asked him whether anything was the matter with him. At first he would not tell me, but when I pressed him he said, "I know not whether you will believe it, O king, but a strange thing has been afflicting me. Every night when I go to my bed, something comes and sucks my right thumb, and, moreover, it steals away my food; and I feel that it is taking away all my strength, and I believe that it is an evil spirit." When I heard that, I went back to my palace, and thought earnestly, and consulted the writings of the ancients; and I prayed that a way might be shown to me how I could set the lad free from the power of the demon. And after some days there came to me an angel, and brought me a ring with a stone in it, on which was cut the figure that is called the Pentalpha and within it the Name that may not be spoken; and he told me what I must do with it. On the morrow, therefore, I sent for the lad and gave him the ring, saying, "Take this, and to-night, when the creature comes, you must cast the ring into its bosom, and say, \ In the strength of the Name, King Solomon calleth thee.' Then rise up and come running to me, and be not afraid for whatever the demon may say to you."

So that night at the accustomed hour the wicked demon Ornias came to the lad's chamber, with intent to suck his blood and take away his food. But the lad remembered my words, and cast the ring upon the demon, saying, "Come, for Solomon calleth thee," and set off at once to my palace. But the demon shrieked out after him, "Boy, what hast thou done? Take the ring from me, and I will give thee the hidden gold of the earth; take it off, and bring me not before Solomon!" But the lad took no heed; and running into the palace, he called to me, "O king, I have brought the spirit, as you told me; he is there before the door, screaming and entreating me and promising me the hidden treasures of the earth if I will not force him to come to you." Then I rose up from my throne and went out into the court of the palace, and saw the creature, in the form of a flame of fire, quivering and shrinking; and I stood over it, and said, "What is thy name?" And it answered, "Ornias." And I bade Ornias reveal to me, in the strength of the ring, how I should make him subject to me; and he told me where his abode was, and how he afflicted men, and all that I asked him. Then I sealed him with the seal of the ring, and appointed him to hew stones for the building of the temple.

Thereafter, when I had considered what I should do, I called for Ornias, and delivered the ring to him, and bade him bring before me Beelzebul, the prince of all the demons. So Ornias went to Beelzebul, and found him sitting upon his throne, and said, "Solomon calleth for thee." And Beelzebul said scornfully, "Who is this Solomon of whom thou speakest?" And Ornias cast the ring into the bosom of Beelzebul, and said again, "Solomon calleth for thee." And at that Beelzebul uttered a mighty roar, and cast forth from his mouth a great flame of fire; but he must needs rise up from his throne and follow Ornias, and stand before me. And when I saw him, I gave thanks to the Most High, who had given me power over the demons. And I spoke roughly to him; and he promised to bring before me all the demons, and that they should be subject to me, and do all that I commanded them. And I appointed him to saw blocks of marble in pieces for the work of the temple; but when the other demons saw their lord and master labouring like a slave, they shrieked aloud and were sorely dismayed.

After that I sent for many of the chief of the demons, one by one, and questioned them concerning their deeds, what diseases they sent upon men, and what secret things they knew, and how they were to be subdued; and when they had told me, I bound them, and set them to work upon the building of the temple.

Now the shapes in which they appeared before me were manifold: one was like a beautiful woman, but she had one foot like an ass's hoof; and another like a man without a head, and a flame of fire coming out of his neck; another like a great dog. These two I bound together, and the dog kept watch over the headless man, and the flame of fire that came from his neck gave light to the workmen by night. There were also dragons, one with three heads, and one with the head of a man. Another had a face that shone with a green light, and hair like serpents, but the rest of his body was darkness; and yet another was a dark man with shining eyes, and a drawn sword in his hand, who said that he was the spirit of one of the old giants who perished in the days of the flood. And of some I saw no shape, but only heard a voice. But over all of them I had dominion, and I appointed them tasks. Some I made to carry water to the builders, and some made ropes; others melted the gold and silver, and others lifted the stones. So the temple was built speedily, and I, Solomon, enjoyed great honour and peace and tranquillity in my kingdom, and the kings and princes of all the regions round about came to visit me, and brought me precious gifts; and my kingdom was greatly exalted.

Now in those days, as I was sitting on my throne in the midst of my palace (and Ornias the demon was standing by me), there came before me an old man, one of my workmen, and cast himself down before me, and cried to me to do him justice against his son; for his son ill-treated him and beat him and plucked out his hair. When I heard that, I had pity on him, for he was an old man, and weak; and I sent for his son, and asked him why he dealt so with his father. But the son denied it, saying, "I am not so given over to wickedness that I should strike my father. Be it far from me, O king: I have done no such evil." I sent him away, therefore, and called his father again, and bade him be reconciled with his son; but he said, "Nay, but let him die the death." Wherefore I was perplexed, and it was in my mind to give sentence against the young man; but it happened that I looked at Ornias the demon, and I saw that he was laughing. So I sent the people away, and said to Ornias, "Accursed one, why dost thou laugh at me?" He answered, "Forgive me, O king; it was not at thee that I laughed, but at this wretched old man: because he is contriving an evil death for his son, and, lo! in three days his son will fall sick and die." Then said I, "Is this the truth?" And he said, "It is." Then I sent for the old man and his son, and said to them, "Strive to make agreement between yourselves, and after three days come again to me; and in the meantime I will send you your food from my table." And they did obeisance and departed. And when the three days were past, I saw the old man come into the judgment-hall; and he was dressed in garments of mourning, and his face was sad. I said therefore to him, "Where is thy son?" And he answered, "I have no son: this day have I carried him to his burial."

So when he was departed, I said to Ornias, "How was it that thou knewest these things?" And he answered, "It is thus, O king. We who are spirits can fly up into the air under the firmament, and we hover about among the stars and overhear the decrees that go forth from the heavens against the children of men when they are appointed to die. But we cannot abide there for long, and so we become weak, and fall like the leaves from the trees; and when men see us they say, 'Look, there is a falling star.' But they are not in truth stars that fall, since the stars have their appointed place in the heavens, like the sun and the moon; but it is we, the spirits of the air, who are in appearance like stars." And I sent Ornias away, and marvelled greatly.

Again, in those days there came to me a letter from Adares the king of the Arabians, saying, "To King Solomon, greeting! We have heard of the wisdom that has been given to thee, and that thou art a compassionate man, and that thou hast power over all spirits that are in the air, or on the earth, or under the earth. Now be it known to thee that there is a destroying spirit in this land; for every day at dawn there arises a wind which blows for three hours, and it is so venomous that every one on whom it blows dies, and it kills the cattle also. Now therefore we entreat thee in thy wisdom to devise some means, and if it may be, send us a man who can capture the spirit; and if thou canst do so, then I and my people will be tributary unto thee, and Arabia shall keep peace with thee. And, we beseech thee, make not light of our petition, for we are in a great strait. And so farewell."

When I had read this letter, I folded it up again and gave it to my chief counsellor, saying, "Bring it again to my remembrance after seven days." Then I thought upon the matter; and after the seven days I called one of my servants and said to him, "Make ready a camel, and get an empty wine-skin." And he did so. Now the wine-skin was made of a whole hide of a beast, so that it had the upper parts of the four legs remaining upon it, the legs being sewn up, and the neck open. I said to him further, "Take this ring and go into Arabia, to the place where the venomous wind blows, and take the skin and hold the ring in front of the mouth of the skin towards the wind, so that the wind shall blow through the ring; and when the skin is blown up, you will know that the demon is inside it. Then hasten and tie up the neck of the skin, and seal it with the ring, and put it upon the camel, and bring it to me. But if on the way the demon promise you gold and silver and treasures to let him go, see that you do not obey him; but rather make him reveal to you where the treasures are hid, and mark the places, and come on to me. Now go, and good success be with you." So my servant set out and came to Arabia; and the men of the country doubted much whether he could capture the spirit. But when the day was dawning, even the first day after his coming, he rose up and set the skin with its mouth towards the wind, and laid the ring in the mouth of it; and the wind blew through the ring and entered into the skin and puffed it up. And the man caught the neck of the skin and closed it, and sealed it with the ring in the name of the Most High. Then he abode yet three days in the place to make trial of his success; but the poisonous wind blew no more, so that all the Arabians were assured that the demon was safely shut up. And they rejoiced greatly, and gave him many precious gifts, and did him great honour; and when he set forth to come back to me, they accompanied him to their borders. So he brought the skin back to Jerusalem, and put it in the midst of the temple.

Now at this time I, Solomon, was somewhat in the place to make trial of his success; but the poisonous wind blew no more, so that all the Arabians were assured that the demon was safely shut up. And they rejoiced greatly, and gave him many precious gifts, and did him great honour; and when he set forth to come back to me, they accompanied him to their borders. So he brought the skin back to Jerusalem, and put it in the midst of the temple.

Now at this time I, Solomon, was somewhat troubled, because I had a great stone made ready to be placed upon the corner of the temple, and none of my workmen and none of the demons were able to lift it and set it in its appointed place; but I was exceedingly desirous to put it there, because it was of such beauty and excellence. And on the morning after my servant was come back out of Arabia, I went down to the temple, thinking by what means I could lift the stone. And as I entered the temple I saw the skin; and it rose up and hopped seven paces, and fell on its face and did obeisance to me; and I marvelled, and bade it stand up; and it stood on its feet, puffed up with wind. Then I asked, "Who are you?" And a voice answered me from within the skin, "I am Ephippas who dwell in Arabia." And I said, "What can you do." And it answered, "I can overturn kings' palaces, and wither the green trees of the wood, and I can move mountains." Then I said, "Are you able to move this stone, and lift it up and set it upon the corner of the temple?" And it said, "Not only can I do so, O king, but if I have the demon that is in the Red Sea to help me, I can bring up the great Pillar that is there, and set it in whatever place you command." So I said, "Lift up the corner-stone." And the skin first of all became flattened, as if the wind was gone out of it, and slipped itself under the stone; and then it blew itself out again so that the stone was lifted up upon its back, and it walked upon its stumps, bearing the stone, to the ladder, and climbed up and set the stone safely in its place upon the corner of the temple; and I was greatly rejoiced, and all Jerusalem with me.

After that I sent Ephippas to fetch to me the demon that is in the Red Sea, and commanded them to bring with them the great Pillar; and after a while I saw the Pillar being borne through the air, and was astonished at the strength of the two demons. And when I considered with myself how mighty they were, and how they could shake the whole world in a moment of time, I feared to let them go; I made therefore a circle about them in the air with my ring, and said, "Stay there!" And the demons stayed, holding the Pillar sloping between heaven and earth; and there they are to this day. And if any one looks, he can see the Pillar sloping in the heavens, but the demons he cannot see. But when they let fall the Pillar, then will be the end of the world.1

1 I believe that the Pillar is the Milky Way: it is certainly meant to be one of the constellations.

Then I questioned the demon of the Red Sea and he told me how in old times he resisted Moses in Egypt, and helped Jannes and Jambres, the two wizards who fought against Moses; and how when Pharaoh followed after the children of Israel he went with him; and when the sea returned back and drowned the Egyptians, he was overtaken by it and shut up in the depths, and he remained there until Ephippas came and brought him to me.

Thus I, Solomon, had power over the spirits of the earth, and of the air, and of the water, and made them serve me; and my kingdom was exalted, and there was peace in my days. But when I became mighty my heart was lifted up, and I committed foolishness; for I saw the daughter of a certain Jebusite, and loved her exceedingly, and asked for her in marriage. But her kinsfolk said, "You shall not take her to be your wife except you worship our gods, even the great gods Remphan and Moloch." Then I said, "I cannot worship strange gods; why would you that I should do this?" They said, "Because they are the gods of our fathers." And I refused. Then I went to the maiden and entreated her; and she also said, "I will not hearken to you, except you worship my gods." So I departed from her. But after a little, she sent me five locusts by the hand of a messenger, saying, "Take these five locusts and crush them in the name of the god Moloch, and I will be your wife." And I did so. And forthwith my glory departed from me, and I forgot my wisdom, and became weak and foolish in my mind; and the heathen woman compelled me to build temples to the false gods, to Baal, and Remphan, and Moloch; and my spirit was darkened within me, and I became a byword among men and demons.

Therefore have I written this testament, that men might remember me, and think of their latter end as well as of their beginning.

[The end]
Montague Rhodes James's short story: Solomon And The Demons