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

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Feb 2 12:27:09 EST 2015

Correction to my previous, not Burton but Thomas Browne,* pseudoxia
epidemica*, Book 5 ch. 4:
That  "Satan appeared not unto Eve in the naked form of a serpent, but with
a virgin's head, that thereby he might become more acceptable. . . ."

On Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 10:08 AM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:

> 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
> neither.
> 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
> > wrote:
>> 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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