Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Asmodean


By Linda

This essay deals with the possible sources for the character Asmodean.

Asmodean was born Joar Addam Nessosin in the port of Shorelle (The Fires of Heaven, The Gift of a Blade), and was:

a child prodigy, in both composition and performance on a wide range of instruments…

Joar Addam never fulfilled his early promise, at least never to the extent expected. Works he composed while as young as fifteen were performed in many of the great cities of the world, but he never rose to the exalted heights that many had foretold, and was never ranked among the great composers of the Age. It is reliably reported that his reason for dedicating his soul to the Shadow was the promise of immortality. With eternity at his disposal, surely he would reach that greatness, and perhaps even more important, the recognition that had eluded him.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

This is confirmed by Asmodean, who

claimed it had been the thought of immortality, of endless Ages of music, that seduced him; he claimed to have been a noted composer of music, before.

- The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

As someone who was unable to live up to expectations (though he was acclaimed enough as a composer to earn the coveted third name), Asmodean had little confidence or strength of character. His mannerisms show as much:

Natael tilted his head in that peculiar way he had, as if trying to look at Rand sideways, or watch without being noticed.

- The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

After being released from the Bore, he spent much time lurking in the shadows, searching for opportunities. Unfortunately Asmodean did not have enough persistence or boldness to make the most of them:

"He was always one to leap to another plan if the first proved difficult.”

- The Shadow Rising, A Breaking in the Three-fold Land

"He never had the courage to take a chance before. Where did he find the heart to join a lost cause?" [said Sammael].

Lanfear's brief smile was amused. "He had the courage for an ambush he thought would set him above the rest of us. And when his choice became death or a doomed cause, it took little courage for him to choose."

- The Fires of Heaven, The First Sparks Fall

“He was never very good at breaking through a shield; you must be willing to accept pain, and he never could."

- The Shadow Rising, A Breaking in the Three-fold Land

Asmodean turned to the Shadow to gain immortality, believing that with time would come greatness; but he also decided to hurry things along by removing his competition. He maimed artists so that they could not produce their art (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Such artistic envy has been described before, in Greek mythology.


Apollo

Apollo was the Greco-Roman god of music, poetry and dance. (Apollo’s other attributes, as god of light and archery were used to develop Sammael and as god of healing, Semirhage). His symbol was the lyre; Asmodean frequently plays the harp, a similar instrument. As immortal god of music, Apollo was indeed marvellously skilled. Asmodean dedicated himself to the Dark One to gain immortality and an eternity of music (The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows) and he too was able to express any emotion through music:

He played a bit of something that did indeed sound foolish.

- The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

Natael had begun idly plucking his harp; Mat had an ear for music, and to him the unfamiliar tune had an ironic sound…

- The Fires of Heaven, Before the Arrow

It was indeed “The March of Death” that he began, yet it had a sharper edge on his harp than ever before, a dirge-like keen that surely would make any soul weep.

- The Fires of Heaven, Before the Arrow

The tune became lower, and for a moment intricate, perhaps a dance, before settling to what might have been the sighing of breezes.

- The Fires of Heaven, News Comes to Cairhien

The music resumed again, like water babbling over stones, soothing. So he needed soothing, did he?

- The Fires of Heaven, News Comes to Cairhien

Like many of the Greek gods, Apollo was precocious and performed great achievements soon after his birth. His first achievement was to kill the dragon, Python, which guarded the sacred spring at Delphi and claim the sanctuary for his own. To make amends for killing a son of Gaia, Apollo had to serve King Admetus for nine years as a cowherd. About a year after his release from the bore, Asmodean, a child prodigy in music, fought Rand, the Dragon Reborn, for the male Choedan Kal, but was the loser. He then had to serve Rand as a teacher.

Apollo was ruthless at times. When Niobe boasted to Apollo’s mother, Leto, that she had borne more children than Leto, and so must be superior, Apollo killed Niobe’s sons and his sister, Artemis, killed her daughters. Asmodean committed atrocities in the Age of Legends.

Both Apollo and Asmodean were skilled in music, and both disliked having any rivals. Apollo was infuriated when the satyr Marsyas challenged him to a music contest. Apollo won the close contest and then had Marsyas flayed alive for his presumption (Encyclopaedia Britannica). During the War of Power, Asmodean had any artists that aroused his envy maimed so that they could no longer produce their art (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).


Muses

The Muses were figures in Greek mythology associated with Apollo, and like Apollo, they too were jealous of their musical skill. When challenged to a musical contest by the brilliant minstrel Thamyris, upon winning, they blinded him and robbed him of his musical talent. This reinforces the Greek mythological origin of Asmodean’s vindictive professional ego.

Asmodean’s other parallels are historic rather than mythological. He seems a less powerful, more mundane character than the other Forsaken, and this may be due to his having fewer mythological and more historical parallels than they.

Asmodean often wears clothes more suitable for a concert performance than for everyday wear or travelling, notably while Skimming to Rhuidean:

The dark-haired man stood at his ease, one hand on a hip, pensively fingering his chin. A spill of white lace dripped from his neck; more half-hid his hands. His high-collared red coat seemed shinier than silk- satin, and was oddly cut, with tails hanging almost to his knees.

- The Shadow Rising, The Traps of Rhuidean

and this is consistent with the historic music figures which are his parallels. Asmodean was a child prodigy in both performance and composing. Prodigies in performance are common, but not in composing.


Erich Korngold and Arthur Sullivan – the money trail

Erich Korngold (1897-1957) was an American composer of Austro-Hungarian birth, who was a child prodigy in composing. He wrote a ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman ) when he was eleven, which caused a sensation at its first performance. While still a teenager, he wrote the operas Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta. The opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City - sounds like Rhuidean ;)) composed in 1920 was one of the most successful operas written in the twentieth century. Korngold abandoned classical composition and went to Hollywood in 1934 to write film music. He won Academy awards for the scores of Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Arthus Sullivan (1842-1900) was a prodigy in composition from Britain who was predicted to become England’s greatest composer of the nineteenth century, but instead decided to write far more profitable comic operas.

Likewise, Asmodean was successful at composing when a teenager and never became as great a composer as predicted (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). However, this was not because Asmodean changed to creating more lucrative popular or incidental music.


Ferruccio Busoni - an all-rounder in an age of specialists

The Italian Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) gave his first recital at the age of eight, and was a recognised composer by age ten. As well as being a prodigy on the keyboard, he made a great contribution to the development of electronic music and proposed new laws for music – the division of the scales into microtones. Busoni’s work did not live up to its early promise because he was too inclusive and tried to put too many styles and ideas into his works. Interestingly and aptly, his most noted opera was Doktor Faust - about a man who makes a pact with the devil.

Asmodean made his own pact with the devil to gain time to rise to the great heights in composition originally predicted for him.


Yehudi Menuhin – great unrealistic expectations

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999) was a child prodigy in violin whose performance of Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto at age seven caused a sensation. As a teenager he toured widely, winning admiration both for his technical proficiency and for his musical interpretation. Later in Menuhin's concert career, while he was always regarded as being a musician who played with great feeling, critics complained that his technique was imperfect; so he too, in a way, did not live up to the critics’ expectations. This parallel shows that part of the problem is with the expectations in the first place. They may be so unrealistic that no one could live up to them, or they may cause the prodigy’s artistic gifts to wither under the pressure of trying to live up to them. This may have happened to Asmodean.


Antonio Salieri - if the myth fits…

Salieri (1750-1825) was an Italian composer who was a contemporary of Mozart. Mozart made several unsubstantiated allegations that Salieri was responsible for the poor reception of his operas Così fan tutte and Le Nozze di Figaro. Such suspicions may have originated in Mozart’s jealousy when Salieri was appointed as music teacher to the Princess of Württemberg; a post for which Mozart also applied. (Salieri was selected because of his good reputation as a singing teacher.) As Mozart’s music gained in popularity over the decades, his allegations against Salieri likewise gained credence. The movie Amadeus (1984) develops this myth to the extent of portraying Salieri as a scheming, mediocre composer, a murderer and a blasphemer. This mutation of history to legend and legend to myth is a favourite theme of Jordan’s. (The photo right is of a xylography of Mozart and Salieri by V. A. Favorsky).

Asmodean was a child prodigy like Mozart, who resented others’ success and when he joined the Shadow he destroyed their artistic gifts rather than their reputations. He also schemed and committed murders like the hate- and envy-filled character of Salieri in Amadeus.


A Musical Interlude on Asmodean’s Instruments

Asmodean, as a very talented musician, could play a wide range of instruments very well: the harp, several sorts of flute, the shama, the corea, the balfone, and the obaen (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).


The first two instruments, the harp and flute, are directly comparable to modern instruments.

Corea probably pays homage to Chick Corea, the famous Jazz musician, while also alluding to ‘cor’, which is French for ‘horn’ and to the kora, which is a harp-lute from West Africa, see picture right (multiple parallels in one name again).



Shama probably refers to the shawm or shalm, a folk instrument related to the oboe, see illustration left, although a shama is a South East Asian bird noted for its melodious song. (Jordan likes to suggest two parallels with one name).


Balfone is derived from the balafone or balophone, a West African percussion instrument like a xylophone, but with gourds as resonators attached to the wooden keys, see photo right.

Obaen probably refers to the oboe. In short, Asmodean could play well on wind, percussion, brass and plucked string instruments. He was quite exceptional, far better than the emperor Nero, one of Asmodean’s major historic parallels who fancied himself as a performer.


Nero

The Roman Emperor Nero (37-68) came into power young, at only 16. The first five years of his reign were very well governed due to the influence of Seneca and Burrus. However, Nero’s behaviour soon deteriorated: he rioted in the streets at night and gave his artistic pretensions as a poet and lyre player full reign by giving public performances and acting theatrical roles on stage. Not only was it outrageously inappropriate for the emperor to perform on stage, but, since he was emperor, no one was allowed to leave the auditorium while he was performing for any reason. The historian Suetonius recorded women giving birth during a Nero recital, and men pretending to die so they could be carried out. Nero staged musical contests, which he won because he was emperor.

Nero killed rivals, and any who thwarted him or aroused his jealousy or anger. He poisoned Britannicus, a contender for the throne, at dinner in the first year of his reign. He made a few attempts to kill his mother Agrippina because she resented her loss of influence over him and opposed his relationship with Poppaea Sabina. Finally she was clubbed to death at his orders. Then he murdered his wife Octavia and married Poppaea, whom he accidentally killed in a fit of temper.

Trials for treason took place in his reign (which helped to restore the state income), and, even worse, people whom Nero suspected or disliked, or who aroused the envy of his advisors, were ordered to commit suicide.

In 64 AD a great fire ravaged Rome for several days. Nero was reported by contemporaries to have sung ‘The Capture of Troy’ using the fire as a backdrop. After the fire, he had Rome rebuilt in the Greek style and reserved a third of the city for an enormous palace – the Golden House – for himself. The populace believed Nero had personally started the fire in order to have the city built to his own tastes. Nero countered by claiming that the Christians were responsible for the fire – thus initiating the persecution of Christians and earning himself the reputation of Antichrist.

Finally the army turned against Nero and he suicided. His last words were ‘What an artist the world loses in me."

Asmodean governed areas for the Shadow:

By and large, his administrations were not particularly horrific compared with others of the Forsaken,

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

All the Forsaken persecuted the supporters of the Light and staged street riots to overturn governments and subdue the populace. Asmodean maimed his rivals or those whom he envied so that they could no longer produce their art. Like Nero, he also had his mother killed:

"Did you know that Asmodean severed his own mother? What they call stilling, now. Severed her, and let Myrddraal drag her away screaming.”

- The Fires of Heaven, Gateways

Asmodean intended to suicide if the Dark One broke free:

"Then the Dark One will consume you alive. As for me, I intend to open my veins the hour I know he is free. If I get the chance. A quick death is better than what I'll find elsewhere."

- The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

Musical prodigies and Roman emperors with artistic pretensions were not the only sources for Asmodean. The Nazi regime was a major source of inspiration for the Forsaken, and Asmodean is no exception. Aspects of some Nazis were divided among two, or even three, Forsaken to illustrate the effect time has on history and legend. Reinhard Heydrich is an example of this: he was used as a major source for Semirhage (see Semirhage essay) and a minor source for Asmodean.


Reinhard Heydrich

Heydrich (1904-1942) was from a musical family and played the violin well. He founded the SD, the Nazi intelligence agency (a parallel with Semirhage) and in 1941 he was allocated Bohemia Moravia to govern as a Reich Protector. In this position he crushed Czech resistance and deported Czech Jews to Poland. In 1942 his car was ambushed by two Czech patriots and he was assassinated with a grenade.

Asmodean, a musician and composer, governed conquered areas and participated in atrocities such as sending people to feed the Trollocs (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). Like Heydrich, he too was assassinated – but it was an opportunistic killing, by Graendal, someone allied to the Shadow rather than the Light.

While Heydrich’s characteristics were split between Asmodean and Semirhage, the Nazis Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess were exclusively used as sources for Asmodean.


Albert Speer – artistic designs

Speer (1905-1981) was the Reichminister of Armaments and Munitions and allocated slave workers to the various weapons manufactories. An architect, he was Hitler’s artistic advisor and designer and was involved in designing Nazi monuments and symbols and in staging Nazi rallies, parades and ceremonies. He joined the Nazi party because the “persistent stagnation of his professional life” (Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich) had left him discontented and aroused an interest in politics:

When he first met the Fuehrer, Speer writes, it was at a time in his career when, like Faust, he would have gladly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a patron who would make use of his architectural services. And something resembling a Faustian pact was made. All his energies and abilities Speer eagerly placed at Hitler’s disposal…

- Eugene Davidson’s introduction to Albert Speer’s, Inside the Third Reich

The price of power and status was high:

Up until 1942, I still felt that my vocation as an architect allowed me a measure of pride independent of Hitler. But since then I had been bribed and intoxicated by the desire to wield pure power, to assign people to this and that, to say the final word on important questions, to deal with expenditures in the billions.

In responding to this challenge I gave up the real center of my life: my family. Completely under the sway of Hitler, I was henceforth possessed by my work.

- Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich

In the last months of the war he disobediently refused to carry out Hitler’s scorched earth order to destroy German infrastructure. Speer then ingratiated himself with the Allies:

Since the war’s end, all had gone well for Albert Speer. Though he had initially been arrested along with the rest of the Donitz government, he sensed early on that he held a special interest for the Allies. Soon after his arrest, he was interviewed by three members of the US Strategic Bombing Survey who wanted to know how effective Allied air raids on Germany had been. His interrogators (visitors would have been a better word, given their respectful behaviour) were an economist and two Pentagon war planners…Maybe his freedom could be bought by what he held in his head…Now the Allies seemed to be succumbing to this combination of usefulness and attractiveness.

- Joseph E. Persico, Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial

He escaped fairly lightly and did reasonably well afterwards, for one in Nazi plots up to his neck. He was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, published books on the Nazi regime and became wealthy.

Asmodean went over to the Shadow to gain time to develop his own artistic potential fully. Under the sway of the Shadow, Asmodean sacrificed his mother: he severed her and let Myrddraal drag her away. Like Speer, he governed his areas less horrifically than other Forsaken. Once captured by Rand, he ingratiated himself and taught Rand well in the hope of saving his own skin and possibly gaining advancement. However, unlike Speer, Asmodean did not get off lightly.

Rudolf Hess – hapless captive

Hess (1894-1987) joined an infantry regiment in the German Army in 1914, was twice wounded and reached the rank of lieutenant. In 1918 he became an officer pilot in the German air force. He was influential with Hitler and the Nazi cause early on, but as other leaders such as Goering, Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann gained more importance, the highly ambitious Hess flew to Scotland in a desperate attempt to regain influence. He hoped to meet with and persuade King George VI to sack Churchill and make peace with Germany.

By his flight to England, Hess was probably trying, after so many years of being kept in the background, to win prestige and some success. For he did not have the qualities necessary for survival in the midst of a swamp of intrigues and struggles for power.

- Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich

Hitler was outraged:

What bothered him was that Churchill might use the incident to pretend to Germany's allies that Hitler was extending a peace feeler. "Who will believe me when I say that Hess did not fly there in my name, that the whole thing is not some sort of intrigue behind the backs of my allies?"

- Albert Speer, Inside The Third Reich

Hess was declared a traitor by the Nazis.

He was assessed by a British psychiatrist in 1941 as convinced that he was surrounded by secret service agents who would either drive him to commit suicide, kill him and stage his death as a suicide, or poison his food.

After World War II, Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment. There is some mystery surrounding his 1987 death: officially he committed suicide by hanging himself with an electrical extension cord, but he was a frail 93 year old and may not have been capable of this unaided.

Like Hess, Asmodean never held any field commands, though he did take part in a number of battles in the War of Power (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time). He was one of the weaker Forsaken and, driven by ambition to try and promote himself above the others by obtaining the access key to the male Choedan Kal, ended up a captive. Asmodean was assumed a traitor, as Hess was, and knew he was therefore doomed. He intended to suicide if the Dark One broke free, but was killed instead, with his killer not revealed until several books later.


Joar Addam Nessosin (Asmodean’s original name)

Joar is similar to the names of real-world places: Joar Garabdi Char in Bangladesh, and Joara in Bangladesh and in Spain. Addam probably refers to the American artist Charles Addams (1912-1988):

The cartoonist whose drawings, known mostly through The New Yorker magazine, became famous in the United States as examples of macabre humour.

His cartoons began to attract considerable popular attention about 1940. Addams became famous for his ironic depictions of morbid or inexplicable behaviour by sinister-looking individuals. His best-known cartoons centred on a family of ghouls whose activities travestied those of a conventional family; for example, they prepare to pour boiling oil from the rooftop on a group of Christmas carollers. Addams' ghoulish characters served as the basis of “The Addams Family,” a popular television series in the mid-1960s.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

Addam is also similar to the names of real-world towns: Adam in Oman, Ad Dammam in Saudi Arabia, and Ad Dawm in Sudan.

Nessosin probably refers to Nessos, a centaur of dubious character whom Hercules and his wife Deianira encountered on their travels. Nessos was the ferryman on the Evenus River. As Nessos carried Deianira across, he tried to sexually assault her, and Hercules shot the centaur in the heart with one of his arrows. Just before he died, Nessos set up his revenge by telling Deianira that the blood pouring from his wound could be used as a love potion, if need be. Deianira collected some of the centaur's blood and later put it onto a cloak she'd woven for Hercules, hoping it would renew his love for her. The blood was not a love potion, but a deadly poison instead, and its touch burned Hercules' skin and led to his death. (Photo right from Wikimedia commons taken by Μαρσύας.)

Interestingly, Heracles murdered his music teacher, Linos, so it is appropriate that Nessos unknowingly punished Hercules and avenged Linos. This fits in with Asmodean being a musician and composer.

The centaurs were Greek mythological creatures, part human and part horse. They were descendants of Centaurus, a son of the music god Apollo (the music theme again). Most centaurs, such as Nessos, were unruly, brawling, susceptible to drunkenness and often hostile to humans. They symbolise the negative combination of man’s animal and spiritual natures: violent lust, adultery, brutality, vengefulness, heresy, and the Devil – an appropriate parallel for Asmodean. A few centaurs were learned, wise and self-controlled, skilled in the arts of Apollo: medicine, music, prophecy and hunting.


Asmodean

The name Asmodean is derived from Asmodeus, a demon prince in Jewish demonology. He was believed to be lechery personified.

According to the apocryphal Book of Tobit, Asmodeus, smitten with love for Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, killed her seven successive husbands on their wedding nights. Following instructions given to him by the angel Raphael, Tobias overcame Asmodeus and married Sarah.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Talmud relates that Solomon captured the demon and pressed him into slave labour during the construction of the First Temple of Jerusalem, just as Rand captured Asmodean in The Shadow Rising and forced him to teach Rand to channel.


Jasin Natael (Asmodean’s alias)

Jasin may be an allusion to the Ancient Greek Hero Jason, who ventured with the Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece. His wife was Medea, niece of Circe (a parallel of Graendal). She was a witch and is often named as a priestess of Hecate, and therefore is a parallel of Lanfear (see Lanfear essay). Medea aided Jason on his tasks. Jason sowed the teeth of a dragon into the ground and they sprouted into an army of warriors. He was able to defeat them by following Medea’s advice to distract them so that they fought each other. He drugged the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece with a herbal potion given him by Medea and stole the treasure.

Asmodean imprinted the dragon tattoos on Couladin’s forearms to distract Rand while Asmodean raided Rhuidean for the male Choedan Kal access key, a treasure as great as the Golden Fleece. As a result, the Aiel, Children of the Dragon, fought each other over whether Rand was their Car’a’carn. Lanfear and Asmodean had a partnership for a time and each aimed to use the Dragon as a puppet for their own ends. The hero Jason has strong parallels with Rand as well as with Asmodean (see Rand essay).

Natael is similar to Natal, the Israel centre for treating Israeli victims of terror and war. Ironically, Natael, (a war criminal) was forced to aid the Light in the war against the Shadow.


Asmodean’s links with Lanfear

Despite his protests to Rand that he knew little about the other Forsaken, Asmodean seems quite closely associated with Lanfear. Not only did they plot together to use Rand as a puppet, but in Rhuidean Asmodean called Lanfear by her original name, Mierin. Lanfear is also very informative about Asmodean’s character and past.

This is supported by their real world parallels, since Asmodean and Lanfear are linked through their Greek mythological origins. Apollo, as god of music, is a parallel of Asmodean, while Apollo’s sister, Artemis, is a source for Lanfear, and, as described above, Greek hero Jason has some parallels with Asmodean and his wife Medea parallels with Lanfear.

Furthermore, it is appropriate that Asmodean, the only known matricide of the Forsaken, should fall foul of Lanfear and be weakened by her, since she has the Furies, those Greek avengers of kinslaying, especially matricide, as one of her parallels.


Conclusion

Once captured by Rand, Asmodean accepted his fate to be condemned as a traitor to the Shadow for teaching Rand (The Fires of Heaven, Memories of Saldaea) as is appropriate for a character derived from a Greek mythological figure. He knew he was doomed – he expected to be killed - but was determined to hang on as long as he could.

_________________________________________

Written by Linda, March 2005 and updated February 2012

2 comments:

Ingrid said...

Check out the most famous portrait of Mozart. If you take away the wig and the rather plump face, you're left with Asmodean's clothes on the occasion when he and Rand fights in Rhuidean: Red coat with tails, and lace.

Rowena said...

Another interesting read; I do love find out about all the parallels.

I would however nitpick saying centaurs are symbols of the Devil being as how Greek mythology pre-dates the Christian notion of such and the Greek gods were never so black and white as to be labelled 'good' or 'evil'.
Early Christians used them - among other symbols of animalistic beliefs - to create an image of their Devil in order to simultaneously defame the old religions and to create negativity toward our primal urges.
As such that specific symbol does not work in this context for the majority of people.

But I nitpick, as I said ;) Still great stuff!