Monday, November 15, 2010

"Death is swallowed up in victory"

Skeletal Death
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's blog entry, I noted that both John Milton and John Donne depict "an all-devouring Death that ultimately submits to God and dies" and that both "are drawing upon scripture for inspiration." I promised to explore this point today, but I don't have much time, so I'll just note two scriptural passages. Both are surely thinking of St. Paul's doctrine, expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:54, which describes the resurrection in which believers will receive immortal bodies:
ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀφθαρσίαν καὶ τὸ θνητὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται ἀθανασίαν τότε γενήσεται ὁ λόγος ὁ γεγραμμένος Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
The Greek expression for "is swallowed up" is κατεπόθη (katapothē), which is the aorist passive indicative of καταπίνω (katapinō), which means "1) to drink down, swallow down 2) to devour 3) to swallow up, destroy." Paul is drawing upon an Old Testament verse, Isaiah 25:8, for his point:
בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח וּמָחָה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל־פָּנִים וְחֶרְפַּת עַמֹּו יָסִיר מֵעַל כָּל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּֽר׃

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken [it].
The Hebrew term for "he will swallow up" is בִּלַּע (billa`), the piel perfect for בָּלַע (bala`), which means "1) to swallow down, swallow up, engulf, eat up a) (Qal) 1) to swallow down 2) to swallow up, engulf b) (Niphal) to be swallowed up c) (Piel) 1) to swallow 2) to swallow up, engulf 3) squandering (fig.) d) (Pual) to be swallowed up e) (Hithpael) to be ended."

Paul, of course is using some Greek version (unless he's translating the Hebrew), but he's not using the Septuagint Greek version that's come down to us since that has "κατέπιεν ὁ θάνατος ἰσχύσας" ("He will swallow up death in victory"), whereas Paul has "Κατεπόθη ὁ θάνατος εἰς νῖκος" ("Death is swallowed up in victory").

This doesn't enlighten us a great deal on where Milton or Donne ultimately got their image of an all-devouring death, but there's a certain appropriate irony in the fact that death also gets devoured and dies . . .

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At 4:04 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

where Milton or Donne ultimately got their image of an all-devouring death

I don't understand. Why should they 'copy-paste' it from somewhere? Wouldn't it be enough to simply watch the world around? That's how Buddha got the first Noble Truth 2,500 years ago.

Unless--- the Medieval art was full of pictures of a crowd-devouring Hell shown as a monster. Or, the devouring Satan. That's not exactly the same as Death, but there's obviously - and Miltonially - a link between these three concepts.

At 4:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Death is universal, but images of death are not, I suspect, and if the image of death as an all-devouring monster is part of Milton's literary environment, then he was likely influenced.

Not that there was any copy-pasting going on . . .

The all-devouring Satan stems from a Biblical source that I'll note in tomorrow's blog entry.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:34 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

death as an all-devouring monster is part of Milton's literary environment, then he was likely influenced

This way, however, we would fall into an endless reseach: who inspired Milton's inspirer? And, who inspired him? Etc. At a certain point ananke stenai, Aristotle said.
Or, yes, a poet can work out a picture that maybe has already been used by someone else, but he has found it on his own, especially if he is a genius like Milton.

On the other hand, I like to think to propositions A and Non-A as both true, so--- looking forward to the sources you will be posting.


At 6:38 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No need to trace forever, but if the image was commonplace in Milton's time, one need not insist on his originality.

Nothing important rides on this issue. I just want to know the possibilities.

Jeffery Hodges

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