Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sympathy for Eve




One of the texts I found really interesting when doing my undergrad was the Old English Genesis, especially the Genesis B section, because of its pretty unusual and unconventional depictions of God, Satan and Eve when compared to other accounts of the fall of angels and the temptation of Adam and Eve, both from the Anglo-Saxon period and other eras.

The Old English Genesis (A and B) can be found in the Junius 11 manuscript (also referred to as the Caedmon Manuscript), dating to about 930-1000AD. This manuscript also contains Daniel; Exodus; and Christ and Satan. The Old English Genesis is a translation (or transliteration when talking about Genesis B) of an Old Saxon version of the text.

 As an example of this poem's unconventionality (is this even a word?), here is an example of one of Satan's soliloquies:

‘There is no need at all for me to have a master. I can work just as many
marvels with my hands.I have plenty of power to furnish a goodlier throne,
one more exalted in heaven.Why must I wait upon his favour
and defer to him in such fealty? […]So it does not seem to me fitting
that I need flatter God at all for any advantage. No longer will I be
his subordinate.’ – Genesis B 278-291

Reading this, Satan seems to be coming across with some fair points, right? Seems like a sound enough guy! And to further top this off, the fact that God throws him and his followers into hell like an angry toddler, kind of makes us think again about who the good guy is...and why is he being such a dick?!


So that leaves us to move on to Eve, who gets off really lightly compared to other depictions of her. Rather than damning her, the poet seems to offer her a lot of sympathy, almost going out of his way to express how it wasn't her fault:

Yet she did it out of loyal intent. She did not know
that there were to follow so many hurts and 
terrible torments for humankind because she
took to heart what she heard in the counsellings
of that abhorrent messenger; but rather she thought
that she was gaining the favour of the heavenly King - Genesis B

Most importantly, this pleading for Eve's lack of blame veers toward heresy. In Genesis B, it is not out of disobedience, but of of "loyal intent" and innocent ignorance that Eve eats the fruit. This would suggest that the poet seems to be almost disagreeing with God's judgement and punishment of her and basically we've all been suffering because of God's lousy judgement of her. 

nom nom nom



Of course, it's nice that the poet is being all sympathetic towards Eve (and the Devil), but it must also be said that he is also a bit of a sexist...or more than a bit. Throughout Genesis B, Eve is described as being "lovely" and "beautiful", yet her intelligence is never commented on, while Adam is described as "self-determined" and is clear-sighted and independent enough to see through the 'messenger's' (in this version, Satan sends a messenger to tempt Adam and Eve, rather than go himself) temptations. So basically, what he's trying to say is that Eve is lovely and all, and a sight to look at, but basically, the lights are on, but nobody's home. Eve, like all of our sex, has "the frail mind of women" and does not think to question the angel/serpent, but takes the apple without too much thought. Lastly, the idea of "woman as beguiler of man" is evident here, as Adam, who can't resist Eve's "lovely" facade, gives in and takes a bite of the apple - don't you know, (warning, sarcasm alert) men can't help themselves when they are confronted with a sweet face, or a short skirt. Anyway, Adam pretty much blames it all on Eve - what a douche! This author really has us rooting for the traditional baddies!

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