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Before long the madness of intoxication broke out; they attacked one another with fists and knives, and it looked as if they would do murder. Suddenly the Saltmaster’s son, who had stood looking on, leaped among them, caught two of the combatants by the hair and knocked their heads together with such force that the blood started from their noses, and I thought surely their skulls had been crushed like egg-shells; but they must have been very hard-headed, for on being released they seemed little the worse for their punishment. After much shouting and screaming, Rochus succeeded in making peace, which seemed to me, poor worm, quite heroic. The music set in again: the fiddles scraped and the pipes shrieked, while the boys with torn clothes and scratched and bleeding faces, renewed the dance as if nothing had occurred. Truly, this is a people that would gladden the heart of a Bramarbas or a Holofernes!

It's from 'Monk and Hangman's Daughter' by Ambrose Bierce (1892).

But I can't figure out in what context the author use this 'a Bramarbas or a Holofernes' in the above paragraph, which seems to be far-fetched or even isolated to me.

I am not a native English speak, so my question may be too odd.

Many thanks in advance.

7

Holofernes is a character in the biblical Book of Judith (which is considered canonical in Catholic and Orthodox tradition, but not in Protestant). He was a Assyrian general under king Nebuchadnezzar, who invaded nations and destroyed their temples in order that they should instead worship the king. When laying siege to a Hebrew town, the widow Judith seduced him and cut off his head. Holofernes was later (in e.g. Dante) considered as an example of pride.

Bramarbas seems to be the German title of a play by Holberg, where the title character is a soldier who brags about his (imaginary) exploits; "bramabasieren" seems to have become a German word for this sort of bragging.

I believe Bierce tries to use the two names to characterize the people as proud, strident and combatative, but not necessarily very effective fighters.

  • 1
    Holofernes is also the name of a character in Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost. That character too, talks a lot. – kimchi lover May 4 '18 at 18:35
  • Thank you so much! You solved my curiosity. – user58207 May 4 '18 at 19:57
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    It is suggested in books.google.com/… that Holberg's play Jacob von Tyboe is based on Plautus's Miles Gloriosus, with the title character, the braggart soldier being JvT, aka Bramarbas. – kimchi lover May 20 '18 at 14:43
  • 1
    Indeed, common German versions of the title of Plautus's Miles Gloriosus is "Bramabus" or "Bramabus". – kimchi lover May 20 '18 at 15:41

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