Part of tomorrow’s GD lesson is Mosiah 20, which includes the story of the wicked Noachian priests and the stolen daughters of the Lamanites:
1 Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.
2 And it came to pass that there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance.
3 And now the priests of king Noah, being ashamed to return to the city of Nephi, yea, and also fearing that the people would slay them, therefore they durst not return to their wives and their children.
4 And having tarried in the wilderness, and having discovered the daughters of the Lamanites, they laid and watched them;
5 And when there were but few of them gathered together to dance, they came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness; yea, twenty and four of the daughters of the Lamanites they carried into the wilderness.
Later, in chapter 23, it looks like the wicked priests are finally going to get their comeuppance, but no:
33 And it came to pass that Amulon did plead with the Lamanites; and he also sent forth their wives, who were the daughters of the Lamanites, to plead with their brethren, that they should not destroy their husbands.
34 And the Lamanites had compassion on Amulon and his brethren, and did not destroy them, because of their wives.
When I was a boy, this story always bugged me. When I read about the creepy priests lurking in watchful wait and taking the Lamanite girls, I would feel the bloodlust of revenge welling up within my seminary student heart. I wanted those priests to suffer! And why, I wondered, didn’t those girls take their chance for vengeance, but instead pleaded for the lives of the men who had become their husbands?
Well, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. This story reminds me a great deal of the story of the Rape of the Sabine Women, as recounted in the opening book of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (“From the Founding of the City [of Rome],” often given the English title “History of Rome”). (The story is also recounted in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.)
In Rome’s legendary first generation under founder Romulus (for whom the city was named), the founding group had gained sufficient military strength to hold its own with the surrounding tribes. But there was a problem: almost all of Romulus’ followers were men, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that their society will not last beyond a generation without wives and families. Romulus visited each of the half-dozen or so surrounding tribes, requesting the right of intermarriage among their peoples. Although he was politely received, in each case this right was denied his people, since the tribes feared the growing power of the Romans.
Romulus held his cards close to his vest and bided his time. Finally he planned games and a public spectacle in honor of the Equestrian Neptune, to which the surrounding tribes were invited. At one point during the festivities a signal was given, upon which the Roman youth dashed in all directions to carry off the maidens of the Sabine tribe who were present. This was done mostly indiscriminately, but in the case of the most beautiful girls they were specifically targeted by some of the young men. One, conspicuous amongst them all for grace and beauty, is reported to have been carried off by a group led by a certain Talassius, and to the many inquiries as to whom she was intended for, the invariable answer was given, “For Talassius.” Hence the use of this word in the marriage rites even in Livy’s day [That is, the procession in which the bride was led from her parents’ house to her new home was attended by minstrels who invoked Tallassius in the nuptial song.]
This event is traditionally called The Rape of the Sabine Women, but here “rape” is not used in its more common modern sense of “sexual assault,” but rather in the sense of “abduction” (from Latine rapio, to seize, snatch, grab). As Livy tells us:
The abducted maidens were quite as despondent and indignant. Romulus, however, went round in person, and pointed out to them that it was all owing to the pride of their parents in denying right of intermarriage to their neighbours. They would live in honourable wedlock, and share all their property and civil rights, and–dearest of all to human nature-would be the mothers of freemen. He begged them to lay aside their feelings of resentment and give their affections to those whom fortune had made masters of their persons. An injury had often led to reconciliation and love; they would find their husbands all the more affectionate because each would do his utmost, so far as in him lay to make up for the loss of parents and country. These arguments were reinforced by the endearments of their husbands who excused their conduct by pleading the irresistible force of their passion–a plea effective beyond all others in appealing to a woman’s nature.
This of course led to war with the surrounding tribes. The other tribes attacked first, and the Romans in each case prevailed. Eventually it was the Sabines’ turn, and things were not going so well for the Romans. The parties were pitched for a final, bloody battle, when the Sabine women themselves intervened to put a stop to the fighting:
Then it was that the Sabine women, whose wrongs had led to the war, throwing off all womanish fears in their distress, went boldly into the midst of the flying missiles with dishevelled hair and rent garments. Running across the space between the two armies they tried to stop any further fighting and calm the excited passions by appealing to their fathers in the one army and their husbands in the other not to bring upon themselves a curse by staining their hands with the blood of a father-in-law or a son-in-law, nor upon their posterity the taint of parricide. “If,” they cried, ” you are weary of these ties of kindred, these marriage-bonds, then turn your anger upon us; it is we who are the cause of the war, it is we who have wounded and slain our husbands and fathers. Better for us to perish rather than live without one or the other of you, as widows or as orphans.”
The two armies stood in hushed silence, and then the generals from each side advanced and negotiated the terms of a treaty. The two peoples actually joined together and became one (just as the priests would become one with the Lamanites); the Sabine king jointly ruled with Romulus until his death five years later.
This story eventually hits home with modern Mormon culture, via the movie Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (There is no truth to the rumor that a Mormon version exists, “Seven Brides for one Brother.”) Steven Vincent Benet in 1937 wrote a parody of The Rape of the Sabine Women with the title “The Sobbin’ Women,” and this was incorporated into the movie as a rousing musical number, led by Howard Keel as Adam.
As I’ve told my class, I’m a movie lover and I often relate to the scriptures through the movies. So here is a movie (a BYU favorite in my day) that actually plays out a plot very much like that of the stolen daughters of the Lamanites.