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III. ON THE FALL OF THE FIRST-CREATED AND ALL HIS POSTERITY WITH ALONG WITH HIM
When the ruler of Orcus, whose dark brow was shaded by horns, saw them standing on this pinnacle and summit of nature, he grew green with envy, gave a hideous roar, and with his howls summoned the Stygian shades, hurling these words and thundering his wrath: “You eternal spirits who have your origins in the lofty sky, are we, who have been expelled from our heavenly home, to dwell in these lightless places and, alas, suffer endless punishments in accordance with God’s vengeance, while this Adam, a son of the earth, possesses the earth and in his hopes swallows up the citadels of heaven? Do we spirits thus suffer a fall while he endures, although formed of dust? I swear by Cocytus and the Stygian marsh, the streams of the Avernus, stinking with pitch, the pools of sulphur, and the realms damned to darkness, since they have overthrown the celestial homes with no help from ourselves, and have planted their camps in heaven after having defeated even God, I shall destroy humankind root and branch, purging my mind of its loathings by the downfall of that race, since it makes God hateful by its hateful resemblance to Him.”
The Stygian shades agreed and vowed to help with their arms. They rabidly roared and mingled their bestial mutters like a swarm of bees when their waxen hive is ravaged. As they did this, he continued, “We have no use for strength, my comrades. This business must be handled by cleverness. For there is no use in confronting our enemy chest-to-chest with obvious anger, or to attack him with open warfare. There is an animal, pregnant with wiles and displaying a heart teeming with evil, a snake, clever and handsome with its shining spotted back, prettily wrapping its tail in coils. Alas, this snake sets snares within its snakelike self!”
It chanced that the wife was wending her queenly way through the garden, looking like milk mixed with purple, shining like a lily joined to roses. Her hair flowed down to her neck like a cloud in the sky glowing in the sun’s rays. Now she inspected the hedges and the leafy homes of the birds, the growing branches of the trees, and now the happy fields, now the painted greenery and the streams beating against their banks with liquid sighs as they rolled the weary waters along their winding ways. Feeding her eyes on these things, she enjoyed happy hours. The twisty snake came to meet her, and when it recognized that it had an easy approach at an advantageous time, it laid itself before her ladylike feet, its head downcast, licked the soles of her feet, and thus guilefully began its speech:
“Oh lady mighty by land and sea, queen of all things beneath the sky, you who wield a scepter worthy of heaven and deserve to brandish the forked lightning of Olympian Jehovah, why do you live on this humble earth? And if you are a goddess possessing the world in your power, why are you forbidden the fruit of the earth? Does God begrudge you your slender fare and this apple that stands ready for you, or will he grant you dine at the table of the gods? No, he will not. His mind is determined otherwise. Alas, vain trust and empty hope deludes you.” Thus the serpent. His words were not in spoken in vain, nor were they swept away by the wind, striking the air like an arrow that missed its mark. For, if he did not lay his enemy low at the first assault, he paved the way for her destruction, for she did not offer a stout resistance to his ventures and strike a counterblow, but, speaking to him gently, she opened her mouth for these words:
“Whoever you are who addresses me so honorably, you must not imagine we are hateful to heaven or are gripped with bitter hatred, or that God has been so slothful as to forget us, you who adorn your back with those ruddy spots. Behold the wealth of this lush garden, where the forest rises up heavenward, burgeoning with its leafy tops, where rises up our fresh home and verdant kingdom. Behold this tapestry spread out at our feet, how the violets are pale, how the lilies are white, how their yellow cups are golden, how the shrubs sweetly glow. Why mention the breezes of the zephyr, blowing on the resin-bush and making it weep tears of myrrh over its mother’s wounding? Or the fountains of nectar, the flowing streams of honey, and the celestial food? Our bountiful Father has indulged us with the use of whatever the world contains, but has forbidden us the fruit of a single tree and its sinful eating. So who will reproach God with the accusation that He is a miser, and say that the poison of envy has tainted Olympus, if vain trust and empty hope does not delude me?”
Seeing that her slow wits and helpless heart were open to his warfare and artillery, the fierce snake of the Acheron began to grow hot for battle and started his warfare. And yet he did not show his anger, he did not thunder with his arms. He put on no crested helmet and did not gird himself with a sword, or glare balefully at his enemy and draw his steel. Rather, he artfully wove his wiles and, dissimulating his hostile heart, began with these words: “Why do you sit idle? What concern for God troubles you? Why do His commandments gnaw at you? God’s mind is not so well-disposed towards you as you suppose. Who does He bid you keep away from that sacred grove and its fruit, the food of the gods? Tell me what fault defiles you, what dire sin makes you impious,, and why you have deserved to be punished by this imprisonment. Or, if you are faultless, why is heaven denied you and why has he made you the wretched colonists of this patch of earth? That morsel which God forbade you to bite is the food of the gods and the delight of supreme Jehovah. When you have taken it in your mouths, the realm of heaven will receive you as gods, no secrets which are, which were, or which will to come to light in the future, will elude you. There is never anything more useful or delightful than to know the gods’ secrets and mystic rites, to penetrate to the bowels of the earth and travel through all nature, opening the innermost secrets of things. It is good to know what the impenetrable precincts of heaven conceal, what the earth hides away in deepest night, and what Neptune’s realm stores away in its azure coffers: how many stars are in the sky, how many hailstones the clouds send rattling down on roofs, with how many ears of corn the fields show golden, how many waves are on the sea, how many grains of sand the storm stirs up, and all the unspoken feelings pent up in a heart. These things will be yours at the expense of little labor. Take your hand and pluck these apples, dappled with hues of gold and purple like Phoebus’ fire and rosy car, and as soon as you put it to your lips, the most dazzling forms of things will stand revealed everywhere, clearer than the dawning daylight or Cynthius when he shines in mid-heaven, the forms of everything contained in the sea, on the earth, and within heaven’s spheres. Neither death nor the iron Fates will have any power over you. As a goddess, you will bind Libitina’s neck in eternal chains, subjugating death.”
After the serpent, ill-fed on the grass of the Styx and mighty with his plausible persuasion, had uttered these things, she was of a divided mind as she regarded this thing from all sides. She thought it would be a great and glorious honor for Man to be set in heaven’s shrines and on the Thunderer’s throne, to be numbered among the gods and wield the forked lightning, dictating laws to the beings of heaven and holding the world’s reins. When her mind gave its assent, the way was open for catastrophe and a dire downfall, as when Boreas attacks a mountain-ash with its savage gusts, summoning its strength with a blast, and knocks over its top, and bends its trunk like a bow. It shakes its lowest part, raging against it like an army breaking into a defended castle, and does not desist until the tree is entirely uprooted and it sweeps the field with its victorious howl. Not otherwise did this fury-like snake, bent on mankind’s ruination, as soon as it had occupied the citadel of Eve’s mind and opened the gates to this deadly plague, advance its camp to set siege to her will, displaying its arms and its torches, and in its ferocity it did not cease to rage until it had quite defeated its unhappy enemy. For her mad lust for power led her to forget her lot in life, that she was created out of dust, and she began to take up arms against God and defy heaven.
Oh the crime, oh the shameful stain, the infamy of the thing! This vile scraping of the earth promises herself the scepter of the gods, the home of the gods, and divine honors! A woman sharing rule with supreme Jehovah! As soon as she saw the apples, reflecting the morning sunlight, she was captivated by the sight, by a great, impatient fever for knowledge, and a mad lust for praise. Furthermore egged on by her belly’s great hunger, she polluted her mouth with the deadly food, and she drew the partner of her bed into a partnership of sin. With sweet address and pleasant words she addressed him thus:
“Husband, dearer to me than these eyes and the light of day, my sweet glory, my support, without whom my life would not be worth living, since it is granted us to consider the events we share in common, since our shared fates are written on the same page, accept this shared gift. My darling, I have found a way in which you may repeal the laws of death, so that you may scorn Jehovah’s thunderbolts in security, the torches of the Furies, and the scourges of a foolish mind. With an eager mouth I have eaten of the food forbidden us by God, and broken His divine rules. Neither the road to death nor to harsh labor was opened up. See, I survive, I thrive, I breathe the air of life. What remains but to mount to high heaven and increase the number of the gods? But without you, neither heaven nor anything else is sweet. Are you to remain an inglorious vagabond on this lowly earth, while I regard myself as worthy of Olympus? So come, make no delay in abandoning this home. What praise is there in spending your life in dark forests, wandering among cattle and the generations of the beasts? In tending the apple-bearing gardens and pruning its foliage, in scoring tree-trunks with your sickle and wounding the earth with the iron of your plow? And yet we are said to wield the reins of everything beneath heaven, alas, we poor kings! We toil with hoes, mattocks, and rakes. These are the toothed emblems of our empire. I swear by my right hand and the light of the air we breathe, by your side, by the ribs of your side and at cage of bones from which I take my beginning, if you are gnawed by any concern for your wife, you must free yourself of these chains and this prison. Come, oh my glory, join me above the high places of heaven. I shall go before, or we shall go together. If you take this apple in your mouth, it will set you on the summit of Olympus, where you will steer the entire universe with your divinity.”
When she had said these things, her husband’s virtue succumbed, as a baby in its cradle, after struggling against idle sleep, yields and deep repose pours itself over all its body when it is entranced by the murmur of a soothing lullaby. The dire bane increased, the noxious air of vain praise came over them, as the sea rages in a howling storm and lashes the sky with its foamy wave. So he was carried away by his folly, driven on by a mad desire to death. With his hands he plucked the fatal apples, and corrupted his mind and mouth with this sinful food. Alas, the seducing woman and her husband conspired in the crime! Were you more the seductress, or was he gullible? He was gullible, but you were also a seductress.
When the forbidden meal had been eaten and the table was cleared, the victorious snake, its head crowned with laurel, raised its crest and its hissing neck to heaven, and with its unclean mouth the ardent animal sang a song of triumph. Meanwhile the man was besmirched by the stain of sin and criminal contagion, he came to loathe the light and the stars, which were aware of his guilt, he wearied of beholding the sky’s dome. Shameful blotches broke out all over his body, and with in his imagination he beheld visions horrible in wondrous wise. His mind was darkened as if overcome by Cimmerian night. His will, not knowing how to obey God’s commands, grew as hardened as the Marpesian cliffs. Monstrosities, horrid monstrosities, took up housekeeping in the secret recesses of his heart, such as the goatish Lust of his loins; voracious Gluttony, the pander of his avid palate; Wrath, armed with a vengeful flail and blood-stained mantle; puffed-up Vainglory, louder than the howling easterlies; gnawing Envy, biting at his guts; insatiable Greed with its gaping maw; and torpid Sloth with its sluggish idleness. As many kinds of sin made their appearance as Africa has monsters, as the Hydra sprouts snake-like heads. Shame colored their faces, they were fear-stricken, the vengeful force of a guilty mind raged and ranged widely, unbridled, and their minds were hagridden with horror and its Furies’ torches. Then the sky seemed to tumble and everything around them to quake. The Styx, the Acheron, Phlegethon, Chaos, and the lightless realm of Dis became visible as the hinges of Hell’s gates creaked open, and with a sudden disarray the world’s machinery fell to fighting with hostile standards.
They took no pleasure in liquid fountains, in burgeoning streams of sweet nectar. Meadows, pleasant lawns, cone-bearing cypresses, lofty pines, and the cedar, lofty and ever-green with the honor of its foliage, gave them no delight. Everything was full of fear. Then, unsure where to turn their steps, they caught sight of a fig-tree flowing with its leaves and branches, shutting out the sky with the darkness of its greeny shade. There they turned in their timid fear, and hastened to cover naked limbs, most especially their organs of procreation which holds the seeds of the human race, which were now shameful with sin. For this was the sin of the father which infects all his progeny and taints all our race with guilt, which is why our genitals are a source of shame. Unsure how to cover them, they sought concealment, and, dumbfounded, they plucked large handfuls of leaves, made threads out of thin tree-bark, doing quick work in their misery, and with their vain effort made broad skirts — a shameful employment! — to veil these marks of sin with a covering of foliage.
Meanwhile the sun had crossed the midpoint of the sky, and the fresh air of the day was blowing more mildly. The lofty ridges commenced to shake at God’s coming, the earth quaked beneath His feet and bellowed in its caverns. Thunder was heard, the groves trembled at its crash, and the terrible sound of wind could be heard. This was followed by the voice of God, the sound of His voice penetrated through the forests, repeating, “Adam, Adam, what place, what earthly home is keeping you? Are you shunning dealings with Me? Why hide yourself in the dark woods? Come forth, Adam, do not conceal yourself from My sight.” Adam grew pale with fright, all the blood deserted his body, his hair stood on end, his ears rang with dread, like the leaves of a poplar tree or a doe surrounded by hounds. Since he had no hope of escape, he sought the silent places of night, either hidden by branches or a great gaping cave, and there the iron Eumenides and the unforgiving Erynnes barred him from a hiding-place with their vengeful flails. Then, sorry, he said these words with a groan, a sob, and a Hellish howl, his face hanging down towards his breast.
“Oh Judge, Your strange, unexpected appearance terrifies me. My base stains and the naked meanness of my body torment my heart, troubled by harsh punishments. Savage horror hounds me, nor are verdant meadows, crystal fountains, the golden citadels of heaven lying under either the rising or the setting sun, do not delight me. Thus the face of a judging God terrifies me, sin thus sickens my heart. Oh, if it were granted me to break off my life and escape my punishment by any manner of death! Would that Mother Earth would yawn upon for me! And let me be thrust down to the pitchy shades and regions below, or be buried under mountains and the ruins of heaven, before I be obliged to look at Your face, Your fiery countenance, and expose myself to heaven’s armament!”
To him replied God, “What’s the reason for your shame and those disgraceful stains on your body? Why this flight? What foul desire has led you astray? Have you been provoked by a dire hunger to eat that which I have forbidden, and have you fallen as a foul prey to Mistress Belly?” Adam for his part, seeing no refuge or secret places to hide, assailed heaven with his mad barking, like a rabid dog in a fever which shuns water and foams with its great maw when it can do nothing else to vent its anger and sate its fury. Out of his mind and driven by the Furies, he did no other and, having no man at whom he could sinfully lash out (oh, the crime!) he directed his outrages at God, saying, “Do You not understand that, when I was held in deep sleep and a sweet slumber like unto death, that You opened my side and the curved cage of my ribs, and gave me a consort for my bed? It was by Your auspices, by Yours, that I burned the torches of my wedding, You created my love, You were my groomsman. Since You alone were our go-between, the guilt falls on You. It was Your doing that I received this poison as my dowry. For she who was joined to me by the laws of marriage was deemed by You to be my fit bed-mate, and it was she who clung to my embrace and urged me to consume this fatal food, this disastrous dish. Such is the power of love and of Mistress Beauty!” So God asked Eve the cause for this crime and bade her explain it. Why did she dare this felony? What was the origin of such a great sin?
As soon as she could speak for sorrow, fighting back her tears she said these sobbing words: “Father of nature, that snake you created, spotted with blue markings on its back, stealthily filled my heart with its Hellish poison and planted deadly fires deep within my bone. When I saw and sullied my eyes with the sad sight, a then wild error impelled me, then dire desire stole me away from myself and intoxicated me with a whiff of vain praise. A foreign taste for luxurious food and an ambitious hunger for forbidden fruit drove me down to Stygian Orcus. But it was Your hand that created the snake’s mouth and painted its back with its varied marking. Its cleverness is all Your doing. And we are damned to Hell?”
Does this not make you break out in a sweat, heaven? Do you shudder, earth? Do you not grow dim when touched by these poisons of Thessaly, you titan? Do you not totter, all you machinery of the universe? Does cheap potter’s clay dare accuse the Thunderer and find Him guilty, and issue heaven a summons for sin? But when she strove to free herself of vain, a hidden power objected, plucked her by the ear, and advised her she must pay the price for her own guilt. As a horse bent on throwing its rider, injured in its hock, stumbles in its gait and, refusing to obey its reins, turns its foaming mouth back towards its master, but the more it kicks or bites, the more its rider applies the bit, and applies his spurs to its flanks and his whip to its back, just so, while the woman accused God and tried to cast the blame on heaven, the Judge pierced her heart with His goads and scourged her breast with His furious lash.
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