Abraham van Linge: "Jonah and the Whale"
A query surfaced on the Milton List concerning the comparison of Satan prone on the fiery flood to the sea-beast "haply slumbering on the Norway foam" (PL 1. 203). The question was whether the reference to Norway alluded to the Midgard Serpent (or World Serpent) of Norse mythology. I don't know about that, but Roy Flannagan provided us with a link to an image from Milton's time of the 'whale' that reportedly swallowed Jonah as another possible source. It's not the Midgard Serpent, of course, but it is rather reptilian.
I have 'borrowed' the image at that link, one of a series of photographs taken in Lincoln College Chapel, Oxford, by a certain "Lawrence OP" . . . or 'uncertain' since I'm not sure of that last name (so I'll refer to him as "Lawrence").
Concerning this image and the others with it, Lawrence tells us:
The windows are the masterpiece of Abraham van Linge, 1629-31. He was the finest glass painter of his generation.Not stained glass but enameled glass. I learn something new every day. Now, I've just realized that I don't specifically know what the "stained" in stained glass means. Why 'stained'?
They are not stained glass, but enamelled: the enamel was painted on then fired; the heat and length of firing determined the final colour. It is a tricky, sophisticated technique of which van Linge was the supreme master.
But that's not my inquiry for today. Rather, I was wondering why this 'whale' has scales (the 'reptilian' quality alluded to above). I realize that the Medieval depiction of whales in those books known as bestiaries shows them scaled, but Abraham van Linge was painting in the 17th century, well into the scientific revolution. Did people not know any better by then?
Lawrence, by the way, has chosen the New International Version of the Bible for a caption to the photo above:
"For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40)This NIV text says "huge fish." Let's check the Greek:
ὥσπερ γὰρ ἦν Ἰωνᾶς ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ τοῦ κήτους τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκτας οὕτως ἔσται ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ τῆς γῆς τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ τρεῖς νύκταςThe relevant word is "kētous" (κήτους), which the Blue Letter Bible helps us to understand by directing us to its Lexicon: "a sea monster, whale, huge fish." The definition is borrowed from Thayer's Lexicon, which informs us further that the original Jonah story had "kētei megalō" (κήτει μεγάλῳ) in the Septuagint (Greek) version, which would thus suggest "great sea monster, great whale, great huge fish." The Hebrew behind this is "dag gadōl" (דָּג גָּדֹול) in Jonah 2:1, which literally means "big fish."
This raises a host of questions (e.g., where the "whale" translation comes from) that I cannot deal with at present, for my day is soon to start.
But knowledgeable readers are welcome to comment.