Writing purported or speculative biographies of Adam had gone on since pre-Christian times. The Vita Adae et Evae, as Brian Murdoch in his edition (with J.A. Tasioulas) of The Apocryphal Loves of Adam and Eve (two early middle English poems) explains has no originatory text, but was a set of related narratives with common elements, the ‘Adambooks’, recorded all over Pre-Reformation Europe, into the Balkans, the Middle East, and Christian parts of Africa.
The early and medieval narratives tended to focus on penance. After the Fall, Adam and Eve attempt penance for Original Sin: they fast, and stand in rivers for days at a time. Eve is again deceived by the serpent, who truncates and ruins her penance by disguising himself this time as an angel, and falsely telling her that the penance she has done is sufficient. Adam, more successful in continuing penitent, does win a kind of remission – they will die and go to hell, but be saved from hell after 5,600 years. The ‘Adambooks’ tend to continue with the adventures of Seth, sent by the dying Adam to follow back along the footprints they left when driven from Eden – for no grass has grown in these prints. If Seth follows them back to Paradise, he is to ask for the oil of mercy. Depending on the telling, Seth sometimes meets the serpent on the way, and is wounded in the face. He reaches Paradise, but is debarred entry. But the Cherubim guarding Paradise gives him seeds, or a branch of fruit. Seth hurries back, but his father has died in the meantime. The seeds, or the fruit, will be buried with Adam, and grow into the tree that will provide wood for the cross, for these stories connect to a set of legends about the Holy Cross.
I’ve been reading a late example and atypical, by Gian Francesco Loredan, published in Venice in 1640, and appearing in England, translated by ‘J.S.’ in 1659. This 17th century ‘Adambook’ omits the theme of penance: indeed, it is so anti-Eve that Adam barely seems to have anything to be penitent for.
Loredan was widely translated into English, with five different works appearing between 1654 and 1682. As for The life of Adam, it’s hard to define what the original appeal was: was it, beneath its ostensible subject, actually enjoyed as a wittily anti-feminist work using that age-old target, Eve? Maybe in a work like this we get some sense of how many pictures of Adam and Eve (or some of the manifold other depictions of them) were received, in a mixture of salacity and moralization. If you think of Loredan himself as accustomed to seeing the two Tintoretto paintings of the Fall of Man in Venice (in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and that in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, above), well, they are both Eve-centered versions. Adam has his back to us in both paintings, provoking us to our own incriminating reaction to the temptation offered by Eve.
Loredan was born into a minor branch of the Venetian clan who provided three Doges. He was founder of the Accademia degli Incogniti, noblemen who were in their way free-thinkers (and promoters of opera). Loredan’s writings emerge from that group: novellas, collections of witty essays, a romance, and a ‘scala sancta’, an ascent of the soul based on fifteen psalms.
The tone of ‘The Life of Adam’ - at least in English - is of bland moralization, as God’s intentions behind each detail of that scanty narrative in Genesis are speculated upon in a series of ‘because’ / ‘or else…’ extrapolations. Like the medieval example, the work is utterly anti-feminist, an aspect it has in common with other parts of Loredan’s writings. His view of women seems to compound an exaggerated sense of the persuasive power of female beauty with an extreme view of female moral frailty - nothing very novel about that, of course. He was himself forced into marriage (apparently).
‘The Life of Adam’ deals with Adam’s fall after some general scene-setting which seems to have been derived as much from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as from the Bible: “God had, with Ideas suitable to his own omnipotence, compiled the machine of Heaven and of the World. The Chaos retained no longer either confusion, or darkness. The Elements, though proud of their variety of qualities, united themselves for the conservation of the Whole …”
After a speech of suitable gratitude for having been created, Adam names the animals: “His Divine Majesty made all Birds and other Animals of the earth to come before Adam, that from him (who had received from God the knowledge of their Natures) they should receive their Names. The Lord did this, to make Adam see by comparison how much he was obliged, in seeing himself so different, and so upright above all other Creatures. Or, because God having created Man Prince of all creatures, would have him know his vassalls and the Animals reverence him as their Prince…” Again, the detail about the distinct human erectness among the animal creation is Ovidian, though it was a common enough observation about humankind. (Obviously, there are lots of animals you have to ignore: plenty of flightless birds are upright in stance.) Milton makes much of it.
But we progress rapidly to the nemesis of this grateful and knowledgeable Adam, his wife. Loredan has a speculation about why Adam was made to fall asleep prior to the removal of his rib: Adam had after all been granted a prophetic spirit by God, and so, if he had been awake, he might well have objected:
“Or else it might be, that he cast Adam into a sleep, as if he feared that he would contradict him; whilst with the spirit of prophesy given him, he might foresee the mischiefs accruing to mankind in the making of Eve.”
Loredan wonders why God, wanting his new world populated, didn’t create multiple humans. As answers to his own idle question, he produces both a democratic and an anti-feminist speculation: “God for the more expeditious population of the World, could have made many men, & many Women, but would, that all should descend from one Father, and one Mother, to the end Men should conserve Love, peace, and concord amongst themselves. And who knows … he would not permit Adam multiplicity of Wives for that he might not thereby multiply his miseries…”
Eve once created, and Adam revived (with his opportunity for prophetic objection missed), Loredan now turns to the dangerous and total allure of women, which he expresses in Petrarchan or Marinist cliches: “Adam stood stupefied in contemplating two Suns under one pair of eyebrows, whilst he saw no more but one in Heaven … The by-Nature-plaited tresses, so nearly resembled Gold in tincture, and purity, that they pleaded Adams excuse, if he did not refuse so honourable a prison … Her flesh appearing like a lovely composure of scarlet and milk, although at the touch it would be taken for marble. Her age was about the fourth lustre, (accompting five years to a Lustre) proper for a woman in reference to Procreation and Love.”
Adam nearly idolizes her: “Adam was about to have adored her as a Goddess. For but only that it was infused into him by revelation, that the woman was a part of himself, doubtless disobedience should not have been the first of his sins.”
Once acquainted, Adam duly informs Eve about the one prohibition under which they are to live. Eve immediately sets off, on her own, in quest to see the forbidden fruit. The novelisation of Genesis treats this as yet unfallen Eve as though all post-lapsarian accusations of women apply to her: “The Woman became at those prohibitions the more curious. To forbid a woman, is to increase her appetite … The Woman therefore, transported by those impatiencies, that interposed between them and their felicity, left Adam; desiring to enjoy … the sight of that fruit, which being forbidden, was to be supposed the more exquisite.”
In a particularly breathtaking piece of misogyny, Loredan manages to imply that Eve provokes her own temptation: “Having found the tree, she beheld the fruits with so much curiosity, that it induced the Devil to tempt her.”
The serpent itself is in the shape of that familiar monster, the serpentine female: “Amongst the infinite forms of animals there was a Serpent with the face of a Damsel, which God had replenished with all subtility.” I think this notion goes all the way back to the Venerable Bede. It set off, no doubt, in a mixture of anti-feminism and crack-brained rationalization: for it provides an answer of sorts to questions about why Eve wasn’t alarmed by a serpent that spoke to her: the serpent-tempter had in part assumed her shape. As Loredan puts it: “She started not at the sight of a Serpent; for seeing it resemble her self in countenance she rather rejoiced then feared”. It seems nobody dared to suggest either to the Venerable Bede, or any of those who repeated him, that this half-human serpent would in fact be a far more alarming sight.
The serpent-maiden flatters Eve. Eve repeats the terms of the prohibition, and Loredan does not fail to score a point against women by exploiting the disparity between Genesis 2, 17 and Genesis 3,3: “His Divine Majesty had commanded only that they should not eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but the Woman moreover adds the Touching it: because as a Woman she could not discourse without aggravating or over-reaching.”
The narrative briefly pauses to suggest the more perceptive things Eve might have said to refute her tempter (“How came I to merit so much of thy affection that thou shouldst desire, that I should first obtain a benefit so great, a prerogative so rare, as to be divine?”) before noting her precipitate belief: “The unfortunate woman believed all for truth, because she desired all to be true.”
When Eve eats the fruit, Loredan introduces another piece of anti-woman needling, now taking offence that “She called not Adam to eat of the Apple before her, as was the duty of her subjection; because believing divinity to be reposed in that fruit, she would not admit any to have the precedence of her.”
When Eve, having failed in her duty to give the fruit first to her husband, eventually gets back to Adam with her story, Loredan gives Adam a firmly reasoned refusal to join her in disobedience:
But Eve resorts (what else?) to “sighs and tears, the wonted artifices with which women betray the honour, liberty, and safety of men”, and to allurement: “Casting therefore her arms about the neck of Adam, she so besieged his constancy, with her glances, caresses, and kisses that, after some small resistance, he yielded himself overcome …What cannot women do in an amorous soul!”
As soon as Adam has a morsel of the fruit going down his throat, he repents, and he sees their nakedness. Loredan makes a firmly Augustinian point about how, previously, “lust had not ability to suscitate sensual affects, without the consent of Man”. Adam now knows his, and his wife’s, nakedness, and doesn’t like the effect it has.
God appears in the Garden, and finds Adam, in his fig-leaves, hiding with all the self-exculpatory wiles of, say, Captain Francesco Schettino, beneath the forbidden tree itself. Adam stoutly blames God for making Eve too alluring: “Who can resist the power of beauty? The commands of her, that thou gavest me for a Companion, hath in such manner tyrannized over my reason, and intellectuals, that I have not power to dispose of my self … He that can withstand the importunate solicitude of the fairest piece that ever came out of thy hands, either knows not how to Love or deserves not to be Beloved. Alone I should not have known sin, for bad-company is a fomenter of the greatest sins. Lord, turn against her thy reproofs and chastisements.”
Eve perhaps makes a rather better job of self-exculpation “I could not persuade my self that there were treacheries in Paradise, nor deceits in the face of a Damsel. Thunder therefore, O Lord, thy punishments upon the Serpent, as upon the author of all evil.”
God passes his curses on the serpent, the earth, Eve and Adam (“With the sudors of thy industry shalt thou spend thy days”), and expels them, addressing Adam in particular: “Get thee packing therefore out of the Paradise of delights, and fix thine abode where thou wast formed, cultivating that earth from whence thou hast derived thy being.”
Loredan asserts that the expulsion counts as one of God’s acts of mercy: “It was one of the wonted effects of God’s benignity to drive Adam out of Paradise, because, if he had continued amongst those delights without enjoying them, he would have received too much torment; there being no greater punishment to be found then to be in the midst of felicities and to be denied the fruition.”
He then proceeds to sum up. There’s the usual notion that Adam and Eve were only in Paradise for a few hours: “Poor Adam! that didst not scarce one whole day enjoy the gifts of Gods favour. His felicity being shorter then that of an Ephemeris [a mayfly]. About three of clock he was brought into the Garden; at six a clock, he sinned; and in the Evening, was expulsed.”
Once outside Eden, Eve is given a speech of thorough contrition, which is undermined by Adam turning lustful: “ ‘The sorrow for my sin shall die with my heart, which I believe shall be the last part of me alive’ … Adam, with a smile begot by the stimulations of sensuality, thus replied, ‘I need no longer now to fear your company (my Eve) since you become to me an incentive to good’ …Thus saying & with glances, and kisses having thrown his arms about his wife’s neck they gave themselves wholly up to delight, which peradventure for the time begot in them an oblivion of all the accidents past.”
After sex, Eve has an instant awareness that she is pregnant: “Scarce had Eve satisfied the instinct of nature, and appeased in part the allurements of sense, when with the signs of pregnancy, she was assaulted by repentance, the indivisible companion of fleshly delights.”
Loredan lobs in another of his quite appalling misogynistic observations. The pregnancy proves to be a difficult one: “Here I will not mention the extremes of her passions, in loathing, and longing for every thing; in the burden of her belly, in her vigils, and in the acerbity of those pangs, the more grievous, by how much the more strange: because the most that I can speak, would be the least part of what they were. Much less will I speak of the sufferance of Adam; because it is known that to have a wife, and a wife pregnant, is a species of martyrdom.”
Poor Eve gives birth to a boy and a girl. In these quotations, I suppose the daughters’ names are derived from Rabbinical lore: “Eve brought forth two births, Cain was the name of the male, and Calamana that of the female … Eve afterwards bore Abel, and Delbora, whereby she increased the joy of Adam.”
Meanwhile, Adam emerges as well worth a place on the radio show ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’: “Adam, not content with what the Earth repaid him with interest for the seed received, employed himself also in continual grafting. He transplants wild trees into the meliorated, makes the sterile fructiferous, and dulcorates the insipid … He transmutes one species into another, and inoculates many species upon one sole stock.” And he progresses from living in caves to mud huts: “Poor Adam sheltered himself (necessity constraining him) in certain Caverns, the palaces of Nature … He learnt, for his greater shame [his] first Architecture from the Swallow.”
Adam finally dies aged 930, and we get a specific day for his death: “It is the opinion of many that he dyed on Friday the 3d of March, being the day on which he was created, to hint that misery comes in the very instant of our felicity.” We also are told where he was buried, and subsequently re-buried: “He was buried in Hebron, in a Sepulcher of Marble, and was afterwards transported to Calvary, to the very place where Christ died.”
Of Eve’s death, Loredan makes the following typically hostile remarks: “Of Eve’s age the Scriptures make no mention; perhaps because we ought not to know the death of her, that deserved to die before she was born; all the miseries of mankind taking rise from her. It’s probable that she was oppressed by age, and passion, for Adam’s death. It pleased his Divine Majesty, perhaps, that she should survive Adam to double her punishment, in beholding the death of the dearest part of herself.”
This suavely nasty work was, as I say, translated into English, and dedicated to the ‘Lady S.B.’, the translator affirming that the first of men made a suitable subject for the ‘best of women’. I suppose one should never be surprised at the crassness of 17th century men, and their view of what women might want to read.