Dante's Geryon and a 'Serpentine' Adam?
In a couple of recent posts, I've suggested that not just Eve, but Adam himself is somewhat 'Serpentine' in Paradise Lost. The first post was on September 27, 2010:
Milton also portrays Adam as serpentine. Early in the passage where Eve is being tempted by Satan, she is told by the 'Serpent':The second post was from October 2, 2010, a commentary on an article by Christopher Eagle:Amid the Tree now got, where plenty hungNow in fact, the 'Serpent' possessed by Satan never did take even a single bite from the Tree of Knowledge, but note the Devil's claim: "I spar'd not" to "eat my fill." As with the verbal parallel between the 'Serpent' being "sated at length" and Eve being "satiate at length," a verbal parallel links "eat my fill" with Adam in his own temptation scene, specifically, when he is described as eating:
Tempting so nigh, to pluck and eat my fill [ 595 ]
I spar'd not, for such pleasure till that hour
At Feed or Fountain never had I found. (PL 9.594-597)
(Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, September, 2010.). . . Adam took no thought,Adam is thus precisely as 'serpentine' as Eve, for this verbal parallel from PL 9.595 comes just in advance of the verbal parallel to Eve in PL 9.598. Milton is implicating both Adam and Eve as Satanic in the same foreshadowing passage of PL 9.594-601, for the Fall has parallel effects upon both of them, as the second eating of the fruit 'iterates' the first (cf. PL 9.1005-1006) and thereby 'completes' the original, deadly sin (cf. PL 9.1003-1004).
Eating his fill . . . (PL 9.1004-1005)
(Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, September, 2010.)
Professor Eagle's point is that Satan had first learned to misuse language by exploiting a 'fallen' disjunction between appearance and reality, that Satan had then used the Serpent to mislead Eve through this disjunction, and that a Satanic Adam is now acting like the 'Serpent' in his verbal abuse of Eve by means of this disjunction. The result is that words now "assume this covering-over of their proper and primary signification . . . , not only by meaning figuratively, but by meaning obscurely."As noted there in that latter post, I shall need to think about this argument. Here's a thought to consider: we ought to distinguish between becoming 'Serpentine' and becoming 'Satanic', at least in principle, though the two can coincide. More on that some other time.
Fellow Miltonist Dario Rivarossa read the remarks on Eagle's article and suggested that I look at the figure of Geryon in Dante's Inferno 17.1-18 for a possible source of Adam as 'Serpentine', so I've checked it out:
"Ecco la fiera con la coda aguzza,The Italian text is from Divina Commedia edited by Giorgio Petrocchi and published by Mondadori (Milan, Italy, 1966-67), which I've borrowoed from the Princeton Dante Project, which supplies the English as well.
'Behold the beast with pointed tail, that leaps
che passa i monti e rompe i muri e l'armi!
past mountains, shatters walls and weapons!
Ecco colei che tutto 'l mondo appuzza!"
Behold the one whose stench afflicts the world!'
Sì cominciò lo mio duca a parlarmi;
was how my guide began.
accennolle che venisse a proda,
Then he signaled to the beast to come ashore
vicino al fin d'i passeggiati marmi.
close to the border of our stony pathway.
E quella sozza imagine di froda
And that foul effigy of fraud came forward,
sen venne, e arrivò la testa e 'l busto,
beached its head and chest
ma 'n su la riva non trasse la coda.
but did not draw its tail up on the bank.
La faccia sua era faccia d'uom giusto,
It had the features of a righteous man,
tanto benigna avea di fuor la pelle,
benevolent in countenance,
e d'un serpente tutto l'altro fusto;
but all the rest of it was serpent.
due branche avea pilose insin l'ascelle;
It had forepaws, hairy to the armpits,
lo dosso e 'l petto e ambedue le coste
and back and chest and both its flanks
dipinti avea di nodi e di rotelle.
were painted and inscribed with rings and curlicues.
Con più color, sommesse e sovraposte
So many vivid colors Turk or Tartar never wove
non fer mai drappi Tartari né Turchi,
in warp and woof or in embroidery on top,
né fuor tai tele per Aragne imposte.
nor were such colors patterned on Arachne's loom.
Is this a source for Milton's hints of a 'Serpentine' Adam? The emphasis upon "fraud" would fit the misuse of language noted by Eagle, and Geryon is certainly serpent-like. There are similarities as well to Milton's depiction of "Sin," for which Milton drew on the depiction of "Error" in Edmund Spenser's Fairie Queene, though both "Sin" and "Error" are both feminine in these depictions. At any rate, I don't find clear dependence of a 'Serpentine' Adam, so I leave it as a mere possibility.
Back to grading . . .