Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Dante's Geryon and a 'Serpentine' Adam?

Gustave Doré
(Image from Wikipedia)

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':
Amid the Tree now got, where plenty hung
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.)
Now 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:
. . . Adam took no thought,
Eating his fill . . . (PL 9.1004-1005)

(Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, September, 2010.)
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).
The second post was from October 2, 2010, a commentary on an article by Christopher Eagle:
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,
'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.
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.

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 . . .

Labels: , , , , ,


At 4:09 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Many thanks, Jeffery! Just one more detail: Doré unfortunately spoiled the Man-Serpent suggestion by adding bat wings to Geryon. (As for the lion paws, described by Dante, in the Middle Ages they sometimes were pictured to the Serpent temping Eve, as well)

At 4:16 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

P.S. I forgot to explain this: im my opinion, in PL 10.869-871 Adam is not like Geryon, but he tries to show Eve as a Geryon-like person.
So that--- he IS like Geryon

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario. Do you know of any online images of Geryon and also the Serpent -- without bat wings but with lion paws?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:04 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

John Flaxman! (Blake's master when he was a young artist):
Flaxman's Geryon

Joseph Anton Koch (Italian, his name notwithstanding):
Koch's Geryon

Salvador Dali unfortunately followed Dore's path.

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, I like the image by Joseph Anton Koch.

But what about the serpent with lion paws? Any Medieval images online?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:30 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

As for the "pawed Serpent", or with arms, I had some Medieval and Renaissance pictures in my books, but it is not easy to find online images.

Anyway--- first of all, don't forget:

see detail

Hugo van der Goes:
Salamander Eve!

At 3:38 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

I add:

Medieval sculpture

whose source has not been identified, however

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:54 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

*aurgh* the "unknown Medieval sculpture" is in Notre Dame, and has already been published in this very website!

Anyway, see also the half-human Serpent in Rapahel's painting, some threads below. What's basically new in Dante's Geryon is that he has a male face.
A further hint, to Dante, may have been the "manticora" ("martichora" in Greek), the mythological beast having human face, a lion's body, scorpion tail.

At 8:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I was wondering about the manticore -- I read Robertson Davies on such things.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 9:30 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

>I was wondering about the manticore

This psycho-link between us two is quite disturbing.
Mankind was just hoping that there was just one madman like that---


At 1:04 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Following my new comment to the earlier thread, I should observe here than the these barbaric images are not appropriate illustrations for Paradise Lost, where, as I've said before, the proper graphical response is better to be found in Tanguy or Kandinsky.

That is, Milton may have these images scattered over his desk, but he seeks not to repeat their representation, but instead like a magician seeks to evoke them for sensational effect, but only then to dispel them, and up through the curling stage effect of dissipating smoke he represents abstractions and geometry that show the synesthetic resolution of the worst human problems through the clarification of the very best Epicurean and Christian harmonies.

At 2:25 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

absolutely OK with Tanguy!

much less fond of Kandinsky.

all in all, I copied that material only as a historical background.

At 3:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, Carter, let's do like the early Church Fathers and go for the allegorical reading . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...


I will endeavor do so.

But do you mean the allegorical meaning of Milton or of these various images?

Thinking cap on!

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Both, I suppose, though I was thinking specifically of those barbaric images.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Hmm. Then you need a good dictionary of symbols, and monographs on (at least) Greek, Roman, and Medieval religious symbolism and iconography.

And occult, astrological, medical and alchemical symbolism as well....

A good title from the Art History Department covering the relevant centuries will make this a snap. Hmm.... Eureka! You need to fire off an E-mail to Sister Wendy Beckett.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You have a sister?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 1:56 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Drollery, thy name is Hodges.

Sister Wendy

At 4:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario's sister is dressed like a penguin! Not much of an eye for fashion . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

huh?! why "Dario's"?

mine is Act, anyway

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, you did refer to your "Sister" . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Carter did, and was Samuel's sister.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oops, you're right. I lost track . . . or maybe my mind, probably shot from all this grading (or should be).

My humble apologies.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


Post a Comment

<< Home