Friday, January 2, 2009

The Box of Birthings

The Box of Birthings (or "Noah's Ark of Genesis")

Please know that I cannot be exhaustive in my commentary -- only 15 minutes a post.  On Genesis 1-3, in a quarter of an hour, there's so much I couldn't say.  Didn't you see the additional punning?  Of course, there's a 7th Ἡμέρη /a day of respite for the god, the creative poetic maker who birthed so much after "it's own kind" and "in our image, male and female girl he made them.

καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον,
κατ' εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν,
ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς"

The god and the human, the god-ikon as the creative-poetry, the male and fe-male in three poetic lines (and English fails with "fe" as "male").

What I'm saying I missed in my commentary on the first Jewish translation of Genesis 1-3 is this: how the Hellene helps the translators with the blurring of strict divisions, of separate logical categories. This is the Hebrew story; but in Greek translation, it's a coup, a validation of human and divine and gendered generative generation and ongoing generationS. Even the repeated/ repeating verb ἐγένετο (to continue the story) continues the wordplay on the womanly birthing-being called τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ (called "his womb-man"). And many of the various, creatively-made animals (all with "souls" or "psyches" from the beginning καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζῴων) are birthed from the birthing-ground according to their own birth-families: τῆς γῆς κατὰ γένος. This is very different from Aristotle's biologies, which emphasize separation and static natural difference and male ABOVE the "mutation" he coldly observes as lesser fe-male.

Now to Genesis 4-7 into Greek from the Hebrew:

So the story takes a turn with the first human birthed, with the woman being known by the man. Here's the lines:

Αδαμ δὲ ἔγνω Ευαν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ συλλαβοῦσα ἔτεκεν τὸν Καιν
καὶ εἶπεν Ἑκτησάμην ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ.

Notice the final phrase, Eve's sentence: "and she said, 'I've gotten a human through the god'" - the very first mother's very first magnificant. And yet the merging of this very Hebrew notion with the Hellene mother tongue gives birth to a kind of womanly participation in the divine that is precedented in Greek culture although praised only very little among the Greeks or among any culture of men (i.e., of males). The story, and it's translation into the poetic language of Greeks, re-creates a beginning in which wo-men were once more equal with men, and humans more with the god who creates.

How quickly this story turns from matriarchy, from divinity, to patriarchy of men. Men only and their sons only are named. The Hebrew story teller and the Jewish translators of Greek write what seems to be resistance to this re-gendering in the male-only direction; the story pauses to reflect prosaicly:

Αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων·
ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν Αδαμ,
κατ' εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν·

This is the book of the birthings of humans
the day the god made the 'adam
according to a god-ikon he made it.

And the poetry picks up:

ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτοὺς
καὶ εὐλόγησεν αὐτούς.
καὶ ἐπωνόμασεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῶν Αδαμ,
ᾗ ἡμέρᾳ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς.

male and girl he made them
and he stated a blessing on them
and he named his name 'Adam
that day he made them

But the god has an enthymeme, a deep passion within. (See at the end of an earlier post, I mentioned how huge this term enthymeme is for Greek rhetoric. For Aristotle teaching his Rhetoric to his elite male students in the Greek only Academy, "enthymeme" is the incarnation of rhetorical "proofs." For most expert rhetoricians today, this is the most theorized concept -- overdetermined as a "mutated" or "truncated" logical syllogism with a missing or an audience-supplied premise. The Hebrew translators supply the god with the very first enthymeme.)

Around this place in the story, the humans (i.e., the men now) are giving birth to daughters. (The daughters, unlike the sons, are typically unnamed girls). The lore supplies the fathers of these daughters, and in the translation the Jews translating render that this way: οἱ δὲ γίγαντες ἦσαν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις. See the pun on the wombman and the birthing ground again? And Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, and Isocrates -- the rhetorical Greek playwrights and poets and sophists -- speak of these so-called "giants." What are the Hebrew translators suggesting with this wordplay?

The story continues. The god finds "favor" (i.e., χάριν) with a human (and with his wombman and their sons and their wombmen). Is this favor one of the Graces, one of the goddess representing female beauty and charm? What are the Jewish translators doing by making this the god's response to this human?

The god tells the man to creatively make a "box" (i.e. an "ark") of wood: ποίησον οὖν σεαυτῷ κιβωτὸν ἐκ ξύλων. For Aristophanes in the Knights, such a wooden box made contains the female oracles and in the Wasps it is a coffin. For Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, the wooden box is an illustration of natural causes and natural species of essential substances in Nature:
For there are two senses in which X comes from Y; either because X will be found further on than Y in the process of development, or because X is produced when Y is analyzed into its original constituents. And different things can be generated by the moving cause when the matter is one and the same, e.g. a chest and a bed from wood. But some different things must necessarily have different matter; e.g., a saw cannot be generated from wood, nor does this lie in the power of the moving cause, for it cannot make a saw of wool or wood.

For Aristotle in his biologies, the box is illustrative of male parent power:

For neither will that which exists potentially be made except by that moving agent which possesses the actuality, nor will that which possesses the actuality make anything whatever; the carpenter would not make a box except out of wood, nor will a box be made out of the wood without the carpenter. The heat exists in the seminal
secretion, and the movement and activity in it is sufficient in kind and in quantity to correspond to each of the parts. In so far as there is any deficiency or excess, the resulting product is in worse condition or physically defective, in like manner as in the case of external substances which are thickened by boiling that they may be more palatable or for any other purpose. But in the latter case it is we who apply the heat in due measure for the motion required; in the former it is the nature of the male parent that gives it, or with animals spontaneously generated it is the movement and heat imparted by the right season of the year that it is the cause.

Towards the end of the Hebrew story in the Hellene mother tongue, the box gives birth to something more, a covenant:
καὶ στήσω τὴν διαθήκην μου πρὸς σέ· εἰσελεύσῃ δὲ εἰς τὴν κιβωτόν

And the god leaves the humans alone:
καὶ κατελείφθη μόνος Νωε καὶ οἱ μετ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ κιβωτῷ.

This is a trope, a Greek poetic antistrophos, from the earlier statement of the god concerning the only-lonely human:
Καὶ εἶπεν κύριος ὁ θεός
Οὐ καλὸν εἶναι τὸν ἄνθρωπον μόνον·
ποιήσωμεν αὐτῷ βοηθὸν κατ' αὐτόν.

In summary, the Hebrew translators weaving their birth story into the Hellene mother tongue are not simply categorizing concepts and propositions. They are not boxing in notions, and species, one against another, one over the other. Their story generates much more, something more like what Nancy Mairs calls "feminine discourse": "Feminine discourse is not the language of opposites but a babel of eroticism, attachment, and empathy." (The Hellene language is much like feminine discourse -- until Aristotle comes along to put it in his male-above-female box. But then the story of babel comes soon enough).

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