[Milton-L] The Apple . . . and the Worm

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Feb 2 10:08:09 EST 2015

Robert Burton says that painters represent the serpent as having "the face
of a virgin," that is, a young girl, Satan having assumed the appearance of
innocence in order to mislead Eve. Thus at least one early modern
interpreter read the traditional iconography as not intending the misogyny
that modern viewers impute to it. One would need to look at particular
paintings and decide whether the serpent's face is actually Eve's face
(usually it is not) and whether its expression is seductive or innocent or

Sorry I do not have the Burton reference at hand.

On Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 2:23 AM, Dario Rivarossa <dario.rivarossa at gmail.com>

> Dear friends, this:
> http://sta.sh/01njtjbmx9es
> is a fresco from the so-called "Bible according to Raphael" in the
> Vatican Loggia, painted by Raffaello's team about 1517. The episode of
> the original sin is clearly inspired by Michelangelo's, but with some
> witty changes. For a starter, Adam's and Eve's positions have been
> exchanged (so as to remove Eve's mouth from the notoriously
> "embarrassing" place it finds itself in in the Sistine Chapel).
> Like in the Sistine Chapel, the forbidden fruit is not an apple, but a
> fig, possibly in the light of the Jewish Rabbis' teachings, according
> to which the place of the Fall would immediately turn into the place
> of the promise of Redemption.
> But the most interesting detail is the Serpent. To portray it with the
> head of a woman, usually the same as Eve's, was a very common solution
> in Medieval and Renaissance art. Quite often, the Serpent also had
> human arms (see Michelangelo), or lion's paws (see Dante's Geryon).
> Original variations included giving the Tempter the body of a newt,
> etc.
> Here, the face is different from Eve's: she is "the other," "the
> rival," Lilith (cf. Milton, PL 9. 828). And, possibly a unique case,
> the body is shaped like a huge, disgusting worm --- that indirectly
> hints at apples. It sort of foreshadows William Blake's pictures of
> the Fall, especially in his long poem "Jerusalem" (see e.g.
> http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=jerusalem.e.illbk.63&java=no
> ).
> Best!
> il Tassista / the Tasso Driver
> http://tassonomia.blogspot.it
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