Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mother Eve, Anthropos

καἐποίησενθεὸς τὸν νθρωπον,
κατ' εἰκόνα θεοῦ ἐποίησεν αὐτόν,
ρσεν καθῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς

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

I don't know if you can hear the beauty of the poetry above.  We all, nonetheless, can see it.

In translation to English, it goes something like this.  We all know it goes nothing like this:

And he it created: the god made the mortal human
According to God's likeness, he it created: that person
boy and girl, he them created: those persons

So Adam knew Eve, that wombman of his
and taking it together she
birthed offspring, that Cain,
and said,
I've gotten out a mortal human
through that God

My point in translating into English is to show how foreign the familiar can sound.  And yet it's not really strange at all, to conceive of a mother as conceiving another mortal human being and giving it birth.  There's hardly anything less foreign, except the mystery of it all, than our human mothers giving us life.  It's a translation like no other!


The Jewish translators of their Hebrew scriptures chose their words carefully.  When back in Egypt around 250BC, their choice for which Hellene to use was pronounced.  They were living in the city Alexandria, set up as the great Greek metropolis of Alexander the Great.  Alexander had been tutored by Aristotle, and Aristotle by Plato, and Plato by Socrates who had been unjustly condemned.  Here was the new patriarchy.  The new Greek empire had arisen with the philosopher king to reign long, wide, and supreme.

The Hellene of the day in Alexandria was politically correct.  That is, it was the Hellene of philosophy, of science, of ethics, of politics.  It was not the Hellene of myth and muses, of rhetoric and sophistry, of epic poetry and fancy, of barbarism and dissoi logoi.  But the Jews chose the latter.

When we read the Torah in Jewish Greek, we get the idea.  When we read "Genesis" (the translation of the first Hebrew book of Moses into Hellene), we get the idea.  We feel like we're reading the ancient Homer, or Sappho, or Hesiod.  The first four chapters of Genesis reminds us much of Hesiod's "Theo-Gony."

We think of "the common conception and birth shared by immortals and mortals" (ὡς ὁμόθεν γεγάασι θεοὶ θνητοί τ ἄνθρωποι)

We think of the mother earth giving birth to the skies (the heavens) before the gods θεοὶ and humans ἄνθρωποι were born.

We think of Hecate, καὶ μουνογενὴς ἐκ μητρὸς (kai mouno-genes echs metros, "even the only-born of her mother").

We think of the end of Theo-Gony resembling the beginnings of Gen-Esis:

αὗται μὲν θνητοῖσι παρ' ἀνδράσιν εὐνηθεῖσαι
ἀθάναται γείναντο θεοῖς ἐπιείκελα τέκνα.
νῦν δὲ γυναικῶν φῦλον ἀείσατε, ἡδυέπειαι
Μοῦσαι Ὀλυμπιάδες, κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο.

While Glenn W. Most reminds us how these very last two lines are also those first two of the Catalogue of Women, Richmond Lattimore translates these four final lines as follows:

__These went to bed with mortal men and,
themselves immortal,
bore to them children in the likeness
__of the immortals.

But now, O sweet-spoken Muses of Olympos,
of Zeus of the aegis,
__sing out the generation of women.

Like her . . . or like her . . . or like her
__who . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.