Monday, August 27, 2007

More on Eve's "Femal charm"

Legends of the Fall
Entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
The Tree of Knowledge: A Serial Fondler?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a blog entry of about one week ago, "But fondly overcome with Femal charm...", I commented upon a sermon that I'd heard in which Adam was portrayed as making a heroic decision to sacrifice himself out of love for Eve.

Incidentally, that sermon can be listened to online at the SIBC website's list of sermons by Pastor Jack Peters, where it appears under the title "Adam and the Reign of Death" (August 19, 2007). Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a transcript, which would be far more convenient ... for me, anyway, though not for anyone who might be 'volunteered' to transcribe it.

Anyway, in that sermon -- unlike in the Milton quote that I used for the blog's header, which portrays Adam as foolish, i.e., "fondly overcome" ("fondly" at that time meaning "foolishly") -- Adam's love was portrayed as a pure, Christlike sort. As you may recall, I thought the pastor's reading of the text to be based on a misunderstanding of Romans 5:14.

But that's not my point this morning. Rather, I merely want to direct interested readers to other hermeneutics on the Genesis story of Adam's fall that I've come across in my search for an essay topic on Milton. One interesting interpretation, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, appears indebted to Milton -- or at least readings that present Adam as motivated by love -- but reinterprets the text to show woman's intellectual superiority to man:
A man and a woman were placed in a beautiful garden. Every thing was about them that could contribute to their enjoyment. Trees and shrubs, fruits and flowers, and gently murmuring streams made glad their hearts. Zephyrs freighted with delicious odours fanned their brows and the serene stars looked down upon them with eyes of love.

The Evil One saw their happiness and it troubled him. He set his wits to work to know how he should destroy it. He thought that man could be easily conquered through his affection for the woman. But the woman would require more management. She could be reached only through her intellectual nature. So he promised her the knowledge of good and evil. He told her the sphere of her reason should be enlarged, he promised to gratify the desire she felt for intellectual improvement, so he prevailed and she did eat. Did the Evil One judge rightly in regard to man? Eve took an apple went to Adam and said "Dear Adam taste this apple if you love me eat." Adam stopped not so much as to ask if the apple was sweet or sour. He knew he was doing wrong, but his love for Eve prevailed and he did eat. Which I ask you was the "creature of the affections"? ("Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman's Rights, September 1848," The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Paper Project)
Stanton apparently accepts Milton's view that Adam was "fondly overcome with Femal charm" (PL 9.999), but she overturns Milton's understanding of the relative intellectual power of the sexes by elevating Eve above Adam -- Eve as the more intellectual, Adam as swayed by emotions.

Interestingly, the scholar Jean M. Higgins notes a similar interpretation in the Irenaeus fragment XIV, which is appended to the standard editions of Irenaeus by way of an excerpt from Anastasius Sinaita's Anagogicarum Contemplationum in Hexaemeron Libri XII (PG 89.851-1078). The citation occurs in Book 10 (PG 89.1013-1014) and reads as follows:
Why did the serpent not attack the man, rather than the woman? You say he went after her because she was the weaker of the two. On the contrary. In the transgression of the commandment, she showed herself to be the stronger, truly the man's "assistance" (boethos).

For she alone stood up to the serpent. She ate from the tree, but with resistance and dissent, and after being dealt with perfidiously. But Adam partook of the fruit given by the woman, without even beginning to make a fight, without a word of contradiction -- a perfect demonstration of consummate weakness and a cowardly soul.

The woman, moreover, can be excused; she wrestled with a demon and was thrown. But Adam will not be able to find excuse in having been defeated by a woman. He had himself personally received the commandment from God.

The woman, finally, even when she did hear the command from Adam, must have felt she was being made little of; either because she had not been judged worthy to converse with God herself; or because she suspected there was an even chance that Adam had given her the command on his own. (Jean M. Higgins, "Anastasius Sinaita and the Superiority of the Woman," Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 97, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), p. 254)
As Higgins acknowledges, patristic scholars strongly doubt that this late 7th-century passage excerpted from Anastasius Sinaita truly stems from Irenaeus. I also doubt it, for the interpretation sounds more typical of Gnostics than more orthodox Christian writers. Perhaps Anastasius Sinaita had some garbled text containing a Gnostic passage that Irenaeus was critiquing.

Be that as it may, there it stands, in all its fascinating detail, for your contemplation.

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9 Comments:

At 4:03 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

I think that this is a mis-reading by EC Stanton, making Feminism the centre of PL just a Shelleyan Romanticism made Satan the heart. Adam yields as an act of Love, but to reduce that to a matter of "affection" is to read a modern notion of love back into the seventeenth century. Love, as Milton knew, was the culmination of Neo-Platonic and Christian thought. For Adam to recognise Love does not weaken him and place Eve above him as a thinker. I cannot think of anything in Paradise Lost that supports such a debased reading. I guess that everything depends on Milton's defenition of Love, which is an article! What do people think?

 
At 5:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're right that Milton wouldn't have thought of the prelapsarian love that Adam had for Eve as a mere affection. Stanton had extra-Miltonic reasons for emphasizing Adam as swayed by his emotions -- she had an axe to grind in her defense of woman's intellect.

But I do think that Milton was presenting a subtle critique of the tradition of courtly love, which tended to idolize the woman, which is partly why Milton has Adam's overly elevated love for Eve fall into lust immediately after his partaking of the apple.

Maybe that's what I should write my paper on...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:35 PM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

It is interesting to compare the hermetical Milton of the early poems with the Milton of Paradise Lost. The relationsip of poet and Female Muse (in the early poems) falls within the amor cortois whereas there is a "subtle critique" of this tradition in PL. It it generally assumed that misogynistic Milton had a simple attitude towards Eve's kind--far from true.

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Very interesting, Eshuneutics. Could you direct me to Milton's early weakness for amor cortois? I've decided to work on this for my paper, which I needs must finish quickly, for the semester is nigh...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:27 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

The best work that I know on this is "The Idea of the Woman in Renaissance Literature: The Feminine Reclaimed", by Stevie Davies. Chapter 4 is devoted to Milton and his perception of women in Platonic, Orphic and Christian terms. One of the points that she notes is that Eve is paradoxicaly veiled (IV, 495-7), naked and hid. She is the "potable gold" of alchemy. This distancing echoes the amor cortois...out of Dante etc. I suppose that what principally concerned Milton was the unwedded nature of courtly love. The mysterious Eve also echoes the veiled goddess Melancholy in "Il Penseroso". There Goddess and poet occupy a very strange space: the poet-Muse bond is reminiscent of the cult of Amor. Fowler notes, interestingly, that Eve's title, "Daughter of God" is ironic, reversing the amor cortois and Catholicism which elevated the divine woman as Mary, Mother of God. Stevie Davies also studies the rapacious nature of Satan on beholding Eve. It might well be that Milton presents him as a courtly lover who has transgressed the boundaries of convention...why does Satan find "terror" in love? Milton's tirade against courtly love centres around the "starved lover" in Book 4. But in "Il Penseroso", it is the starved melancholic lover that he praises, the lover who never, as it were, touches the beloved physically (within marriage). Is this of any help?

 
At 3:20 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

Interesting, perhaps. Milton was well aware of Neoplatonic triads. This connects with an earlier paper of yours...the fruit...which is obviously in your mind from your phrase "partaking of the apple." If the courtly lover is starved, he is without sensual appetite. One extreme. Melancholy and "Il Penseroso". If the lover at (Charles' court) is sensual appetite, he is a satiated lover. Pleasure and "L'Allegro". These reflect the double nature of amor cortois: it was both spiritual and earthly. Milton places the Love of Adam and Eve in the middle, in the pre-lapsarian Eden. Hermetic aspects of love (sorry, sounds like a bad musical!) followed triple views. And so, Milton, with a rise, converion, fall pattern. Satan rises to view Eve, Adam's view of Eve converts the rapist's view into Puritan, wedded bliss, Adam and Eve fall into rapacious lust.

 
At 4:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for that -- all of it. I'll take a look at Milton's 'tirade' on the "starved lover" in PL 4. Is that the expression used there?

I know that Milton also criticized the conception of chivalry in the Romance tradition, objecting to all that 'false heroism' of warfare in favor of a quieter, more Christian heroism (in Milton's opinion). I'll need to work that in as well.

Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that Adam ate the apple as an act of supreme "self-sacrifice" to "save Eve from being cut off from God" is just another way for men to uplift themselves and put down women.

Men reduced the women, whom they claimed to love, to the legal status of cattle for 6000 years, in practically every society on the planet. No amount of romantic revisionism will change that fact. Men have made themselves inferior.

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, you certainly have some evidence in this interpretation of the Genesis story.

Not every man, however, holds to this interpretation.

Jeffery Hodges

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