Milton's Eve: The Perfect Predator?
My artistic cyber-friend Dario Rivarossa linked to an image of the Vampwere, his own creation, in a remark on "eating death" that he left in a recent blog-post comment:
You LOVE this subject, eh? So, hope you'll like this recent Christmas artwork (En-Uk is my master), showing a creature who wonderfully unites Eating and Death...Okay, Dario called it a "were-vampire," not a "vampwere," but I redubbed it the latter, and he seems to have accepted that renaming.
... Ladies and Gentlemen...
... THE WERE-VAMPIRE!
By any name, however, I liked this warmblooded predacious undead "creature who wonderfully unites Eating and Death" and thought it a fitting image for a passage that I came across in an article by Ryan Marrinan titled "With Teeth: Food, Fallenness, and Predation in [Paradise Lost]," published in Universal Journal, an online publication of The Association of Young Journalists and Writers. Marrinan, a recent alumnus of Princeton University, argues that Eve carried out the first act of predation in Paradise Lost by plucking and eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and thereby wounding nature in the process, from which follow acts of predation by other creatures. Marrinan first cites the lines oft quoted of late on this blog:
Greedily she engorged without restraint,He afterwards makes a number of interesting, if murkily reasoned points:
And knew not eating death: (PL 9.791-2)
Last, and most important, eating and death appear in the final line of the quotation above. I would argue that death through eating is a sufficient condition for predation, since predation in its traditional sense requires the killing and eating of one animal by another. On the other hand, very seldom does one hear that a piece of fruit has been murdered. Thus, eating and death seem quite out of place in a discussion of fruit, and this renders death's presence here all the more significant. Moreover, Eve as a predator is "eating death," a personified entity in Paradise Lost; and as a footnote in our Norton tells us, Milton's syntactical double entendre allows Death to simultaneously eat Eve. In this sense, eating the forbidden fruit becomes an act of mutual predation, shattering the divinely ordained relationship of feeding commensality. Further, Milton figures Death as the ultimate predatory carnivore through the following macabre epic simile:Marrinan does not explicitly state, but perhaps implies, that Eve becomes like Death by preying on "the perfect predator," a similitude that I'll perhaps explore further in upcoming posts. The entire article by Marrinan, a readable eight pages, is at times overly speculative in its etymological associations, but always interesting, especially for what he writes about commensal "feeding" versus predatory "eating" and the intrinsic relationship of these two means of taking in nourishment to Eve's act of eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in acting out the first sin.. . . As when a flockThis chilling epic simile figures Death, its tenor, as a ravenous vulture -- a bird of prey -- that hovers over a battlefield as it waits for its gory dessert. Milton endows Death with a preternatural sense of smell that allows it to catch the scent of "carnage, prey innumerable" (10.267) and the "scent of living carcasses" through its upturned "nostril wide." Death is the perfect predator: its sense of smell is so keen that it can smell carcasses even while they are living and "taste / The savor of death from all things . . . that live" (10.269). The great predator is always "sagacious of his quarry," even from afar.
Of ravenous fowl, though many a league remote,
Against the day of battle, to a field,
Where armies lie encamped, come flying, lured
With scent of living carcasses designed
For death, the following day, in bloody fight.
So scented the grim feature, and upturned
His nostril wide into the murky air,
Sagacious of his quarry from so far.
But Eve eats Death; she preys on the perfect predator. Or does death rather prey on her? In either case, man's first disobedience unleashes a perverse cycle of death and predation on the world: "Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat / Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe" (9.783-784).
Meanwhile, perhaps one can better understand the appropriateness of Dario's Vampwere for today's post . . .