Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Eve's Apology In Defense Of Women"



I came across an amazing poet from the Elizabethan era in my Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. Her name is Amelia Lanier, and I am simply blown away by her interpretation of Eve's "sin" in the poem "Eve's Apology In Defense of Women," which is a section taken from the longer work Salve Deus Rex Judaeornum.

The narrator of the poem is Pontius Pilate's wife, and she is begging her husband to spare Jesus from execution. In the poem, she talks about her husband and his male friends' greater sin against Jesus, whom they're about to crucify; she compares this to Eve's innocent blunder, which was done in the name of knowledge, not anger and pettiness. The narrator argues that because she loved Adam so much, she gave him what she held most dear-- her apple and wisdom. Though she knew mortality would be the consequence, she preferred god-like wisdom to immortal ignorance. She knew the consequences of her choices, and she knew why she chose that way (reminds me of The Matrix, when the Oracle tells Neo that what is important about choice is that we understand the choice. But I digress again!). Here are some of the most touching lines from the poem "Eve's Apology In Defense of Women!"

"Till now your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much less appear;
Our mother Eve, who tasted of the tree,
Giving to Adam what she held most dear."
Lines 17-20

Jane's comment: What she held most dear is KNOWLEDGE, and she shared it with the one she loved the most (then again, he was the only one on the planet, lol, so one can be wisecrack and say "Who else can she love more?" Ha ha, let us continue).

"But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great yet he was most to blame.
What weakness offered strength might have refused;
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame"
Lines 33-36

Jane's comment: *shudders*

"Yea, having power to rule both sea and land,
Yet with one apple won to lose that breath."
Lines 45-46

"If Eve did err, it was for knowledge's sake;
The fruit being fair, persuaded him to fall." 
Lines 53-54

Jane's comment: Lines 53-54 seem to imply that it was a nobler motive to sin for knowledge, than for the more superficial pleasure of biting the fair fruit, which seems to have been Adam's motive, according to the author. My opinion is that Eve found sheer pleasure in it too; we must remember this was written in an era when it was forbidden for women to enjoy the sacred sacraments, in which they can engage only for procreation. But let us continue!

"Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love,
Which made her give this present to her dear,
That what she tasted he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more clearl
He never sought weakness to reprove
With those sharp words which he of God did hear;
Yet men will boast of knowledge which he took
From Eve's fair hand, as from a learned book."
Lines 57-64

This reminded me of The Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the author's implication seems to be that woman's role is to civilize the beast-like man. For the rest of Lanier's poem, she goes on to compare that sin for which all women thereafter have been punished, to the sin that men will commit against the one who will be their saviour. Lovely poem! I never saw it that way.

To end on a humourous note:

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