Belshazzar's Feast Rembrandt, c. 1635
(6th century BC), son of the last king of the
Belshazzar Neo-Babylonian empire,
Nabonidus, has inspired many works of art and cultural allusions, often with a religious motif. While a historical figure, depictions and portrayals of him are most often based on his appearance in the biblical story of
Belshazzar's feast in the
Book of Daniel. This story is the origin of the idiomatic expression "the writing is on the wall".
The writing is on the wall
In chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel, a hand writes
Hebrew letters on a wall, which
Daniel interprets as "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin". These words mean that Belshazzar is doomed. The phrase "The writing is on the wall", or "The writing on the wall", has become a idiomatic expression referring to the foreshadowing of any impending doom, misfortune, or end. If "the writing is on the wall" something bad is about to happen. A person who does not or refuses to see "the writing on the wall" is being described as ignorant to the signs of a cataclysmic event that will likely occur in the near future.
One of the earliest known uses of the phrase in English is in the writings of a Captain L. Brinckmair in 1638, during the
Thirty Years' War. Brinckmair writes: "Remarkable Prodigies..are in themselves like the writing on the Wall in Beshazzars Palace, which Sooth-sayers, Astrologians, and Chaldeans could neither understand nor reade’."
George Frideric Handel wrote the oratorio
in 1744 Belshazzar
, believed to have been first performed in the 12th century, and written by students at the school of
Play of Daniel (Ludus Danielis) Beauvais Cathedral. It includes elements from the Book of Daniel, including the feast.
Belshazzar George Frideric Handel, with
Charles Jennens. Written in 1744.
 The opera
Ciro in Babilonia, ossia La caduta di Baldassare (
Cyrus in Babylon, or The Downfall of Belshazzar) Gioachino Rossini, first performed in 1812. Based on the Book of Daniel.
Belsatzar, an 1840 ballad written by
Robert Schumann to the words of the poet
Heinrich Heine, inspired by the Book of Daniel.
Belshazzar's Feast by
George Frederick Root. A
cantata based on the biblical text, published in 1860.
(Belsazars gästabud), op. 51, by
Belshazzar's Feast Jean Sibelius composed in 1906.
Incidental music to Hjalmar Procopé's play with the same name.
Belshazzar's Feast William Walton, composed in 1931. An oratorio based on the biblical text.
 The 1937 musical
Pins and Needles Harold Rome's song "Mene, Mene, Tekel" in 1939. The song is based on the Book of Daniel and described as "Rome's musical send-up of bellicose dictators".
Johnny Cash wrote a
gospel song about and named Belshazzar, first recorded in 1957. The song is included on the album
(1964). The Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash
, a 1998 album by
Wormwood: Curious Stories from the Bible The Residents, includes the song "God's Magic Finger". The song tells of the feast.
Theatre and literature
Belshazzar had a letter—
He never had but one—
Concluded and begun
In that immortal Copy
The Conscience of us all
Can read without its Glasses
On revelation's wall—
Emily Dickinson, 1879
The fourteenth-century poem
Cleanness Pearl Poet recounts the feast and subsequent events as a warning against spiritual impurity.
(written between 1596 and 1599),
The Merchant of Venice Portia disguises herself as a lawyer's apprentice and calls herself Balthazar (in Act IV, scene i), alluding to the Biblical Belshazzar.
( Belshazzar's Feast La cena del rey Baltasar, 17th century), an
auto sacramental by
Pedro Calderon de la Barca.
 In 1720
 Jonathan Swift wrote "'Tis like the writing on the wall" in the poem "The Run Upon the Bankers", using the idiom.
Lord Byron's poem "Vision of Belshazzar" from
(1815) includes both the feast and Daniel's pronunciation. Hebrew Melodies
 The poem
Heinrich Heine is based on the feast. It appears in the collection Buch der Lieder ("Book of Songs", 1827).
 "Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" and Belshazzar is mentioned in
(1844) in connection with Gérard de Villefort having one of his long past crimes come to light. The Count of Monte Cristo
 In chapter 99 of
Herman Melville's novel
(1851), the first mate
Moby-Dick Starbuck murmur to himself "The old man seems to read Belshazzar's awful writing" as he spies
Captain Ahab speaking to the doubloon he had nailed to the mast of the
Emily Dickinson's poem "Belshazzar had a letter" from The Poems of Emily Dickinson is about Belshazzar's divine correspondence. Her poem was written in 1879.
 In the novel
Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser entitles a chapter "The Feast of Belshazar – A Seer to Translate" in which the gluttony of turn-of-the-century New York City is highlighted.
Belshazzar’s Feast ( Belsazars gästabud), a play from 1906 by the Swedish-speaking Finnish writer Hjalmar Procopé, based on the feast.
is a 1930 novel by
Belshazzar H. Rider Haggard. In it, the Egyptian Ramose's sister is sent as a gift to Belshazzar, and the feast is part of the plot.
H. P. Lovecraft's novella
(written 1931, published 1936), the character Zadok Allen says "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin", a reference to the Book of Daniel. The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Robert Frost's poem "The Bearer of Evil Tidings" (1936), is about a messenger headed to Belshazzar's court to deliver the news of the king's imminent overthrow. Remembering that evil tidings were a "dangerous thing to bear," the messenger flees to the
Himalayas rather than facing the monarch's wrath.
Wallace Stevens' poem "Country Words" (1937) the poet sings a canto to Belshazzar and wants him "reading right".
Fazil Iskander's novel Sandro of Chegem (1983), one of the chapters depicting a dinner involving an Abkhazian dance ensemble and
Joseph Stalin is titled "Belshazzar's Feast".
 was filmed in 1989.
The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings (1884)
Alfred Paget as Belshazzar.
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