Her fencing master Syrio Forel encouraged Arya to fight left-handed.
At last, my 16-year-old self had found a sinistral role model.
Both my grandmothers were subjected to a series of punishments to set them right: left arms tied to their backs, raps at the left wrist with a ruler, thousands of such things. Upon growing up, they decided not to set their respective sinistral children right, but rather encourage their left-handedness. And my own sinistral tendencies, of both hand and foot, were warmly encouraged as well.
In Christmas pantomimes, according to tradition, the villains always enter and exit stage left, while the heroes enter and exit stage right.
If one surveys the words for 'left' and 'right' in European languages, one finds that the latter are groups of cognates—dexios, dexter, destra and diritto, dereche, direita, droit, rechte, right, deis—and the former mostly unrelated—laios, sinister, lasciato, izquierdo, linke, gauche, left, clé. This is because words for 'left', with their negative connotations, have undergone taboo-substitution from foreign sources; izquierdo, for instance, is Basque ("ezkerreko"). So are esquerre and esquerdo (all Iberian Romance languages have adopted the Basque euphemism. In fact, Italian is the only Romance language to retain the original sinistro instead of replacing it with a euphemism!). To call someone gauche or sinister is to insult him—whereas to call him adroit or dextrous is high praise. It is no coincidence that right should have its two primary meanings, nor that left should come from a root meaning 'lame' or 'weak.'
Judas Iscariot, Cain, and Iago are depicted as left-handed; but on the flip side so are Link, Arya Stark, Emery Thane (of whom I have spoken before), Rei Hino, Rapunzel and her Eugene, Elsa of Frozen fame, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the list goes on and on.
In real life, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joan of Arc, Andersen, da Vinci, Escher, Pablo Ruiz Picasso, and Jingoro Hidari (best known for the Sleeping Cat, below, and the original Three Wise Monkeys), among many others, were renowned sinistrals.
The Fair Folk were and are seen (as depicted in Andersen's Elfin Hill/Elverhöj) as being left-handed and left-footed, just like Yours Truly. Like freckles or reddish hair (two other traits that I possess), this may have been (aside from an outright sign of villainy in a fictional character) one of the signs that this was no ordinary human child, but a changeling that parent trolls, elves, or fairies had swapped in the cradle.
Still a faint aura of dextralism lingers over our society.
How many times is it presumed that righties, like men/males or straight people, are the default; which makes those who don't fit in deviants? In a Grimm story, for instance, a violinist gives a bear lessons:
Aber du glaubst auch nicht, daß er sie aufgebracht hat. Wie das vorbei war, holte das Schneiderlein eine Violine unter dem Rock hervor und spielte sich ein Stückchen darauf. Als der Bär die Musik vernahm, konnte er es nicht lassen und fing an zu tanzen, und als er ein Weilchen getanzt hatte, gefiel ihm das Ding so wohl, daß er zum Schneiderlein sprach: "Hör, ist das Geigen schwer?" - "Kinderleicht, siehst du, mit der Linken leg ich die Finger auf, und mit der Rechten streich ich mit dem Bogen drauf los, da geht's lustig, hopsasa, vivallalera!" - "So geigen," sprach der Bär, "das möcht ich auch verstehen, damit ich tanzen könnte, so oft ich Lust hätte.
When that was over, the tailor took out a violin from beneath his coat, and played a piece of it to himself. When the bear heard the music, he could not help beginning to dance, and when he had danced a while, the thing pleased him so well that he said to the little tailor, "Hark you, is the fiddle heavy?" "Light enough for a child. Look, with the left hand I lay my fingers on it, and with the right I stroke it with the bow, and then it goes merrily, hop sa sa vivallalera!" "So," said the bear; "fiddling is a thing I should like to understand too, that I might dance whenever I had a fancy.
Presently the tailor took out a little fiddle and began playing on it. When the bear heard the music he could not help dancing, and after he had danced some time he was so pleased that he said to the tailor, 'I say, is fiddling difficult?' 'Mere child's play,' replied the tailor; 'look here! you press the strings with the fingers of the left hand, and with the right, you draw the bow across them, so--then it goes as easily as possible, up and down, tra la la la la--'
The same can be said about Comenius's "Sinistra tenet, dextra peragit," and the same author's "Ambidexter melior est quam scaevola." Unlike the non-dextralist Fenno-Ugric and Germanic words for equal handedness (se. tvâhänt, de. Zweihänder, hu. kétkezes, fi. kaksikätinen: all of which literally mean "two-handed"), the term ambidexterity refers to having two right hands. Ewww.
However, deviance can be positive or negative.
Whether wielding a sword or a tennis racket, for instance, we left-handers are sure to throw our opponents off-kilter. Nowadays during peacetime, in sports, it's a pretty valued trait... but, in the olden days, we sinistrals had pretty much of a more relevant advantage... a literal matter of life and death. Syrio Forel, for instance, encouraged Arya's left-handedness for this very reason.
The Old Testament stories of Ehud killing Eglon and Joab/Yoav killing Amasa have been seen in both a positive and negative light through the ages. Both stories involve greeting the opponent as a friend, reaching out a friendly right arm, while thrusting a hidden left-handed sword into the false ribs of that person in cold blood. Not in vain have these stories raised many an eyebrow in both fear and awe:
The second parallel (of Yoav) with Ehud is found in the account of the assassination of Amasa. Here, the focus seems to be on the unexpected thrust of the weapon using the left hand.
When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out.
And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's left hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died.
As for the unexpected left-handed thrust, in Judg. iii 21-22, Ehud’s
reaching with his left hand to draw the sword from his right to plunge
it into the king’s belly is clearly and vividly described. That Joab also
used an unexpected left-handed thrust to dispose of his victim is, however,
often overlooked. Here, although the text never explicitly states
that Joab used his left hand to kill Amasa, it is nonetheless a logical
conclusion given the way the assassination is described. For in 2 Sam.
xx 8, it is first reported that Joab’s sword accidentally fell out from
its sheath. Then, presumably to divert Amasa’s attention from the
fallen sword, Joab is said in 2 Sam. xx 9 to grasp Amasa by the beard
with his right hand to give him a kiss. The author then shows
Joab surprising Amasa with his sword plunged into his belly in 2 Sam.
xx 10, presumably even while the deceitful kiss was still in progress.
Here, since the narrator had taken extra care to specify that Joab
grasped Amasa’s beard with his right hand, the only hand left to pick
up the fallen sword and plunge it into Amasa’s belly without Amasa
noticing is the left. Thus, the unspecified "other hand" holding the sword in
2 Sam. xx 10 can only be the left. What this means, then, is
that like Eglon, Amasa had also died from an unexpected left-handed
thrust of the sword through his belly by someone not presenting himself
as a foe.
Incidentally, it is also worth noting that after Amasa has been killed,
the narrator reports in 2 Sam. xx 10 that his intestines poured out
onto the ground. This gory detail is reminiscent of the report in Judg.
iii 22 that Eglon’s excrement came out as a result of the stab to his
Secondly, a similar argument can also be made concerning the
implied left-handed thrust in the account of Joab’s assassination of
Amasa. Now in the Ehud account, Ehud’s left-handedness is significant
not only because it played on his tribal identity as a Benjamite or “son
of the righter-hander”, but also because it was this unexpected left-handedness
that allowed him to smuggle the weapon in by hiding it
on the side of his body where one would normally not expect a weapon
to be carried. But in the account of Joab’s assassination of Amasa,
although the author seems to have made it a point to note that Joab
grasped Amasa’s beard with his right hand, thus resulting in the deadly
thrust being delivered by the only other free hand, which is his left,
in the grand scheme of things, it actually would not have mattered
even had Joab grasped Amasa’s beard with his left hand such that the
weapon was deployed by his right (Admittedly, if Israelite society was one in which the proper use of the left versus the right hand was relatively well defined, then it would be unlikely that Joab would grasp Amasa’s beard with his left hand. But the point being made in the following
discussion would still stand. For if it is indeed natural and expected for Joab to grasp
Amasa’s beard with his right hand, then why bother specifying that the act was done
with the “right” hand? As it is, this unnecessary specification seems rather to draw
attention to the different activity each hand was occupied with). For from the description of the
assassination in 2 Sam. xx 9-10, one gets the impression that what
put Amasa off his guard was actually Joab’s unexpected display of
affection as he grasped his beard to kiss him (This is especially so given that Joab and Amasa had been fighting on opposing sides until not long ago.). Therefore, regardless
of which hand Joab might have used, Amasa would have been equally
surprised and distracted, thus giving Joab the opportunity to carry out
his assassination. What this means is that strictly speaking, the author
did not need to specify in 2 Sam. xx 9 that it was with the right hand
that Joab grasped Amasa’s beard. He could have simply left out the
word “right” and the overall plot would not have been affected in the
least. This suggests, therefore, that the subtle attempt to frame this
assassination as a left-handed one is not motivated by internal plot
necessity, but more likely, by a desire to provide a specific parallel
Finally, there is the matter of the pouring out of Amasa’s intestines.
As has been noted, the description of Amasa’s intestines pouring out
after Joab’s sword was plunged into his belly is reminiscent of the
detail about Eglon’s excrement coming out after Ehud’s sword was
plunged into his belly. But here again, while the detail of Eglon’s
excrement coming out seems relevant to the advancement of the plot,
the description of Amasa’s intestines pouring out strikes one as unnecessary.
For in the case of Eglon, the foul smell that resulted from the
coming out of his excrement may have been what caused the attendants
outside to conclude that Eglon was relieving himself. This thus
explains their hesitancy to barge in, which in turn gave Ehud sufficient
time to escape. But the same plot relevance appears to be absent
regarding the detail about Amasa’s intestines. True, the sight of Amasa’s
corpse wallowing in blood in the middle of the road did become somewhat
of a distraction for the soldiers in 2 Sam. xx 12-13. But even
there, no further mention was made of the intestines. The focus was
instead only on the large quantity of blood, something to be expected
from a stab wound. Thus once again, one can argue that the detail
about Amasa’s intestines pouring out may have been included only to
provide a parallel with the Ehud account and not out of internal plot
But if the above three observations indeed suggest that, from a
rhetorical standpoint, the assassination account of Ehud has priority
over the two concerning Joab, such that it is the latter two that make
allusions to the former, then what the author of the Joab accounts
seems to be doing was presenting Joab as a latter-day Ehud.
At least as Bar-Efrat understands it, David’s condemnation of Joab in
1 Kgs. ii 5 refers essentially to the fact that “Joab did not kill Amasa in the course of battle but during times of peace, in the guise of friendship, when the victim suspected nothing.” Thus, to Bar-Efrat, what David objected to was “the treacherous way in which the murders
But regardless of whether it is the assassinations themselves or
the treacherous way they were carried out that is the focus of the
condemnation against Joab, the simple fact is that Joab’s assassinations
are not presented as honourable acts. And in light of this overall negativity,
one can hardly give any part of the accounts a heroic reading.
And that brings us back to Ehud. If Joab’s two assassinations are
indeed meant to be understood negatively, then by virtue of the fact
that each makes allusions to Ehud, one can infer that there must have
been aspects of Ehud’s assassination that were also viewed negatively
by the author of the Joab accounts. And since the allusions seem to
concentrate especially on the use of deception, one can only conclude
that this use of deception must have been what was viewed negatively
by the author of the Joab accounts.
Furthermore, not withstanding the current debate about how Ehud
should be evaluated, this negative take of Ehud’s use of deception must
have been sufficiently well established among contemporaries of the
author of the Joab accounts for him to simply make the allusions without
having to worry about his audience missing the point. What this
seems to suggest, then, is that, a negative take on Ehud’s use of deception
may have early intra-biblical support, and is therefore not as “disturbing”
and counter intuitive as Andersson thinks. While this does
not necessarily justify a uniformly negative evaluation of Ehud such as
Klein’s, it does leave open the possibility that, in spite of a deliverance
that deserves be celebrated, there is room for disquietude when
it comes to Ehud’s use of deception.
I know what my own humble opinion on these tales, as a proud, young, subversive sinistral, is.
PS. SINISTER STORMTROOPERS
Imperial Stormtroopers are all left-handed, speaking of which.
As the ranks of the Empire broadened to include more and more non-clone troopers, including dextrals (and non-human humanoids), no right-handed guns were produced, leading to "set left," against their will, the non-sinistral members of the military.
For once, the left --at least in a fictional sci-fi universe-- is the default and the right is the deviance.