The Fourth Magi

We all know about the three "Magi" who brought gifts to the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. However, hardly anyone knows the little-told story of Artaban, the Fourth Magi, who never made it to the manger and who never appears in nativity scenes.

 

Nevertheless, he did embark on the journey with the other kings, bearing precious stones. On the long voyage, guided by the stars, he came across the needy he wanted to help, who diverted him from his final destination, away from the other Magi and the history books.

Artaban is a hero who has never been celebrated. Everyone refers to the three Wise Men – also because three is a magic number – and everyone thinks about the gold of Melchior, the incense of Caspar and the myrrh of Balthazar.

Artaban had a sapphire, ruby and pearl with him. Myrrh doesn’t really make the cut compared with these precious gems!

And yet, Artaban had a tendency to be distracted, to take care of others, preferring uncertainty, procrastination, tentative gestures and providing help regardless of whether help has been asked for or not: treating the poorly, protecting a family from Herod’s legions who wanted to kill firstborn children, and saving a girl from rape. So, the official portraits and history books immortalize the manger, donkey, cattle, Mary and Joseph, and only the three Wise Men who arrived bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus. Among the figures in today’s nativity scenes, we can even find Maradona, Che Guevara, politicians and various celebrities, but never – I had to Google the name to make sure – Artaban.

In conclusion, posterity never had any doubts about the arduous verdict, to use Manzoni’s words, and Artaban and his story have been forgotten, denying him the fame.

But I haven’t forgotten him. For me, he was the true fame. And I believe that, deep down, we all feel a kinship with this extraordinarily complicated and topical character, who chose the less traveled path, preferring detours and dirt roads, giving up fame and fortune, putting the needs of others first and, above all, who indulged his rebellious streak. Restless and open-minded, Artaban was one of those people who allow humankind to make small but significant swerves forward. For that, it’s impossible not to love him.