The Vengeance of Nitocris

"The Vengeance of Nitocris" is a short story by Tennessee Williams, written when Williams was 16 years old, and published in Weird Tales in its August, 1928 issue.[1] The story is a "surprisingly lurid"[2][3] tale of loosely historical fiction, based on the account of the semi-legendary female pharaoh Nitocris found in Herodotus.[4] Williams was paid thirty-five dollars (almost $500 in 2013 money) for the story by Weird Tales; it was his first piece of stand-alone published fiction.[2] Robert E. Howard's "Red Shadows", the story that introduced Solomon Kane, was the cover story.[5]

Weird Tales August 1928
The August, 1928 issue of Weird Tales, where "The Vengeance of Nitocris" was first published.


Nitocris is the sister of an unnamed pharaoh. When a bridge the pharaoh built across the Nile collapses, the pharaoh extinguishes the sacred fires of Osiris, defiles a temple with hyena sacrifices, and as a result dies at the hands of an angry mob of priests and citizens. Nitocris, now the empress, takes revenge for the execution of her brother for sacrilege by inviting his judges to a banquet in a magnificent temple she has constructed, feigning only a desire to atone for his offenses. In fact, the new temple is an elaborate death trap. Once they have gathered, she opens a sluice gate and allows the water of the Nile to drown them all, and takes a great deal of pleasure in their demise. Then, realizing that she cannot escape retribution, she has her "boudoir" filled with hot ashes and commits suicide by asphyxiation.[1][6][3]


Williams remarked about the story in a New York Times interview, that " I was sixteen when I wrote ["The Vengeance of Nitocris"], but already a confirmed writer, having entered upon this vocation at the age of fourteen, and, if you're well acquainted with my writings since then, I don't have to tell you that it set the keynote for most of the work that has followed."[3] Despite the story's somewhat florid prose (Hushed were the streets of many peopled Thebes. Those few who passed through them moved with the shadowy fleetness of bats near dawn, and bent their faces from the sky as if fearful of seeing what in their fancies might be hovering there....),[1][2][7] the story prefigures themes found in Williams's later plays. The tale features a strong female protagonist, possibly affected by madness;[7] and a brother-sister relationship is central to its plot.[6] A psychic bond of reciprocity between brother and sister, in that Nitocris expresses the belief that "even he[8] must have considered his avenging adequate", is a theme that appears in several of Williams's later works, including The Two Character Play, Out Cry, and to some extent even The Glass Menagerie.[3]

The story also reflects Williams's longstanding interest in Shakespeare; Williams noted that when he was ten years old, he had been "interested in blood and guts Shakespeare", and that his favorite Shakespeare play was Titus Andronicus, the revenge tragedy.[3] Williams's Nitocris has been called the first of a long series of Cleopatra figures appearing in his works, the result of his early reading of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra; these figures go on to include Blanche DuBois.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Thomas Lanier Williams, "The Vengeance of Nitocris" (Weird Tales, August 1928)
  2. ^ a b c Donald Spoto, The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams (Da Capo Press, 1997: ISBN 0-306-80805-6, ISBN 978-0-306-80805-0), p. 24
  3. ^ a b c d e Francesca M. Hitchcock, "Tennessee Williams's Vengeance of Nitocris: The Keynote to Future Works" (The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 48, 1995)
  4. ^ Herodotus, History: Book 2
  5. ^ Replica issue from the Vintage Library. Accessed Feb. 13, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Matthew Charles Roudané, The Cambridge Companion to Tennessee Williams (Cambridge: ISBN 0-521-49883-X, ISBN 978-0-521-49883-8), p. 2
  7. ^ a b Jacqueline O'Connor, Dramatizing Dementia: Madness in the Plays of Tennessee Williams (Popular Press, 1997: ISBN 0-87972-742-X, ISBN 978-0-87972-742-0), p. 2
  8. ^ i.e., her pharaoh brother
  9. ^ Philip C. Kolin, "Cleopatra of the Nile and Blanche DuBois of the French Quarter: Antony and Cleopatra and A Streetcar Named Desire," Shakespeare Bulletin, 10 (1993), 25; Brown, p. 269.

Nitocris (Greek: Νίτωκρις) has been claimed to have been the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt's Sixth Dynasty. Her name is found in Herodotus' Histories and in writings by Manetho, but her historicity is questionable. If she was in fact a historical person, then she may have been an interregnum queen, the sister of Merenre Nemtyemsaf II and the daughter of Pepi II and Queen Neith. Alternatively, the Egyptologist and phylologist Kim Ryholt has argued that Nitocris is legendary but derives from an historical figure, the male pharaoh Neitiqerty Siptah, who succeeded Merenre Nemtyemsaf II at the transition between the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate periods.

Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983) was an American playwright. Along with contemporaries Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, he is considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama.After years of obscurity, at age 33 he became suddenly famous with the success of The Glass Menagerie (1944) in New York City. This play closely reflected his own unhappy family background. It was the first of a string of successes, including A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). With his later work, he attempted a new style that did not appeal to audiences. Increasing alcohol and drug dependence inhibited his creative expression. His drama A Streetcar Named Desire is often numbered on short lists of the finest American plays of the 20th century alongside Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.Much of Williams' most acclaimed work has been adapted for the cinema. He also wrote short stories, poetry, essays and a volume of memoirs. In 1979, four years before his death, Williams was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Weird Tales

Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine founded by J. C. Henneberger and J. M. Lansinger in late 1922. The first issue, dated March 1923, appeared on newsstands February 18th. The first editor, Edwin Baird, printed early work by H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, and Clark Ashton Smith, all of whom would go on to be popular writers, but within a year the magazine was in financial trouble. Henneberger sold his interest in the publisher, Rural Publishing Corporation, to Lansinger and refinanced Weird Tales, with Farnsworth Wright as the new editor. The first issue under Wright's control was dated November 1924. The magazine was more successful under Wright, and despite occasional financial setbacks it prospered over the next fifteen years. Under Wright's control the magazine lived up to its subtitle, "The Unique Magazine", and published a wide range of unusual fiction.

Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos stories first appeared in Weird Tales, starting with "The Call of Cthulhu" in 1928. These were well-received, and a group of writers associated with Lovecraft wrote other stories set in the same milieu. Robert E. Howard was a regular contributor, and published several of his Conan the Barbarian stories in the magazine, and Seabury Quinn's series of stories about Jules de Grandin, a detective who specialized in cases involving the supernatural, was very popular with the readers. Other well-liked authors included Nictzin Dyalhis, E. Hoffmann Price, Robert Bloch, and H. Warner Munn. Wright published some science fiction, along with the fantasy and horror, partly because when Weird Tales was launched there were no magazines specializing in science fiction, but he continued this policy even after the launch of magazines such as Amazing Stories in 1926. Edmond Hamilton wrote a good deal of science fiction for Weird Tales, though after a few years he used the magazine for his more fantastic stories, and submitted his space operas elsewhere.

In 1938 the magazine was sold to William Delaney, the publisher of Short Stories, and within two years Wright, who was ill, was replaced by Dorothy McIlwraith as editor. Although some successful new authors and artists, such as Ray Bradbury and Hannes Bok, continued to appear, the magazine is considered by critics to have declined under McIlwraith from its heyday in the 1930s. Weird Tales ceased publication in 1954, but since then numerous attempts have been made to relaunch the magazine, starting in 1973. The longest-lasting version began in 1988 and ran with an occasional hiatus for over 20 years under an assortment of publishers. In the mid-1990s the title was changed to Worlds of Fantasy & Horror because of licensing issues, with the original title returning in 1998. As of 2018, the most recent published issue was dated Spring 2014.

The magazine is regarded by historians of fantasy and science fiction as a legend in the field, with Robert Weinberg, author of a history of the magazine, considering it "the most important and influential of all fantasy magazines". Weinberg's fellow historian, Mike Ashley, is more cautious, describing it as "second only to Unknown in significance and influence", adding that "somewhere in the imagination reservoir of all U.S. (and many non-U.S.) genre-fantasy and horror writers is part of the spirit of Weird Tales".

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