46 Great Opening Lines: 3

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions.

1 Kings 10:1

‘The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon’, Edward Poynter, 1890, Art Gallery of New South Wales

I have this painting on my living room wall. When I first saw it in the Art Gallery of NSW I fell in love with it, already being enamoured of Orientalism with its hot, deep colours and ancient drama and mystery. This painting is massive; it’s exhibited in an equally impressive broad gold frame, but even unframed, the painting measures 2.3 x 3.5 metres. Perhaps it was the size of it that had me suspending disbelief and imagining myself as a spectator in King Solomon’s court. I bought the print from the gift shop, had it framed, and over the years have put it up and taken it down. I’ve developed an occasional discomfort with the bare-breasted queen, lower in the space than the king, and approaching only because he bids her. Right now it’s up.

However, reading the opening line of this biblical story leaves me more impressed with the Queen of Sheba. After all, she was there to test the king with ‘hard questions’. This is good, it got me in, it’s exactly the kind of opening line that makes us read on.

She is, in a few alternative English translations of just this one verse, portrayed as quite a powerful and mysterious queen. Some translators have her trying him with subtle questions, with difficult questions, with riddles, or with enigmas. I particularly like this one in the Wycliffe bible:

But also the queen of Sheba, when the fame of Solomon was heard, came in the name of the Lord to assay him in dark and doubtful questions.

Can you imagine what kind of question would be dark and doubtful? Edward Poynter was evidently taken in by this opening line, whichever version he read (probably the King James bible). From the first, he was drawn into the story and stimulated to paint it for us all. May you read a great opening line like this, and may it lead you to an even greater achievement.

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Author: Trish

Literary translator, French to English. Family history amateur.

5 thoughts on “46 Great Opening Lines: 3”

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I just listened to it and of course recognised it, though I didn’t know it was to do with the Queen of Sheba.

      1. Indeed, Trish. It is one of those pieces of music which we readily recognise, but can’t always name. Methinks it is getting worse with seniority, but so is the “ear worm”, the tune which keeps going round and round in one’s head 🙄

  1. I couldn’t help hearing Händel’s “The arrival of the Queen of Sheba” in my mind when I read this charming post.

    Then I saw the comment above (Ken’s). And now I have the very same problem: the tune keeps going round and round in my head (played on historic instruments) Oh my!
    😀

    1. It’s funny that two people thought of Handel’s music. In my head I’m hearing Jewish violins, or the ancient lyre. Obviously I’ve had no classical music education.

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