The language of worship

Both Dysart and Alan use language associated with pagan and Christian worship, which then gets regurgitated in Alan’s Equus rituals.

Pagan references

Dysart talks of himself as a priest who makes human sacrifices – initially to an ancient god, Zeus, but latterly to the ‘god of health’ / ‘god of Normal’. He is entranced by the vitality of life in classical Greece, the poetry of ‘certain shrines and sacred streams’, the divinityor ‘geniuses’ inherent in places and certain people.

He refers to Dionysus, Mount Olympus and to the centaurs trampling the fields of Argos, familiar to him from the epics of Homer. Confronted by the power of Alan’s mythic horse, at the end of the play, Dysart faces an unknowable darkness, and talks of ‘pay[ing] it .. homage’, language associated with obeisance to rulers and gods of the classical world.

Biblical phraseology

Much of the intensity of Alan’s worship of Equus comes from his use of language associated with Christianity in its historic forms. Until the post-war era, the seventeenth century phraseology of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer was deeply familiar to church-goers. (For more information see The influence of the King James Bible and The linguistic influence of the Book of Common Prayer.) Although by the time Equus was written there were a number of modern translations and new Anglican liturgies, it is not surprising that Dora has conveyed her beliefs to Alan using the language with which she was familiar and which conveyed solemnity by its association.

The influence of the King James Bible

Alan echoes the balance of phrasing of the KJB’s genealogies with his:

Flankus begat Spankus. And Spankus begat Spunkus the Great, who lived three score years.

He is entranced by the passage from Job 39: 19-25 and quotes from it:

19Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? 20Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. 21He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. 22He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. 23The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. 24He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. 25He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha! And he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.      KJB

He also uses archaic phrases commonly found in the KJB such as:

  • ‘The Hosts … its tribe’ (e.g. Joshua 10:5)
  • ‘spake’ (modern version – spoke)
  • ‘seest’ (modern version – sees).

Christ-focused terminology

Above all, Alan appropriates terminology strongly associated with Jesus. When talking of the horse god Equus he makes references such as:

Just as Christians believe that Jesus has saved them from their wrong-doing by shedding his blood, so Alan draws on this idea and the associated terminology, even though his own rites reverse the actions attributed to Christ. For example:

Alan even ends his ritual with, ‘AMEN!’, the traditional ending of a Christian prayer.

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