In John Dryden's poem Absalom and Achitophel, why does the speaker ascribe an interest in property and money to many of Achitophel's followers?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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John Dryden’s poem Absolom and Achitophel uses references to money and property to suggest that some of the main motives of many of Achitophel’s followers are selfish and mercenary. Thus the speaker refers to allies of Achitophel who

By [the] the springs of property were bent,

And wound so high, they crack'd the government.

The next for interest sought t'embroil the state,

To sell their duty at a dearer rate;

And make their Jewish markets of the throne;

Pretending public good, to serve their own.

Others thought kings an useless heavy load,

Who cost too much, and did too little good.

These were for laying honest David by,

On principles of pure good husbandry.

With them join'd all th'haranguers of the throng,

That thought to get preferment by the tongue. (499-510; emphasis added)

The italicized words and lines here help emphasize that many of Achitophel’s follows have strongly economic motives to support the rebellion. They are motivated by concerns of “property” and financial “interest” and are essentially self-serving in their intentions. They hope to profit, in various ways, by supporting Absalom and Achitophel. They are not true patriots, although they pretend to be motivated by patriotism and by a concern for the general welfare.

The speaker levels these kinds of attacks against Achitophel’s followers in order to imply that their motives are neither truly spiritual nor truly altruistic (motives that would have been widely admired in Dryden’s day) but are instead rooted in pride and ambition (motives which were widely condemned in the strongly Christian culture of the time).

 

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