King Solomon Summary
A man of great eminence and amatory prowess is entering old age with powers undiminished. The women still flock to him, and he periodically publishes books of deep thought. However, there is nothing impressive about him physically, and his aphorisms seem remote from reality and from the life he leads.
The great man’s counselors are at once his audience, before whom he disports himself and his achievements, and his severest critics—among themselves. They decry his taste; they are jealous of and voyeuristic about his love life; they try in vain to ascertain the source of his success. As the old dictum has it, no man is a hero to his valet.
The climax of the story is the visit of the queen of Sheba. She may be merely another woman drawn to this charismatic man, but she stands out by being a queen, by coming from afar, and by injecting herself into Solomon’s life as perhaps no other individual, certainly no woman, ever did. The consequences of her visit are no less ambiguous than her personality is. On the one hand, she turns out to be as unromantic and self-absorbed as Solomon. She is middle-aged; she eats too much and is overweight; she is indecorous, exhibitionistic, and vulgar. At last, she virtually throws herself at him and succeeds only in embarrassing him.
On the other hand, she has some insight into Solomon’s main defect. Though neither saint nor sage, she presents in her parting speech a keen analysis of Solomon as a man who lives for a love that takes rather than gives, a self-absorbed man who arouses love in others but has little of it himself, who mistakes sexual adventurism for something tender or spiritual.
The climax of their affair or relationship is the climax of the story as well. The affair neither draws Solomon out of himself nor ends with a marriage. The last section of the story is therefore a sorry coda, bringing Solomon into late old age, with all of its attendant indignities. He grows more obsessed with possessing women, strays from God, quarrels with his priests, grows out of touch with the people he governs, and becomes bogged down in bureaucratic procedures.
The story closes poignantly with glimpses of Solomon as a doddering old man. He loses what little hold he has on reality. Approaching death, he, like all human beings, becomes overwhelmed by the mystery of existence, the absence of the meaning of life, the transience of all achievements. Sleep becomes elusive, the body falls apart. Even animal sensual gratification becomes elemental, as a hot water bottle replaces wife or mistress.