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Greenblatt traces the story/myth of Adam and Eve from its origins (a Jewish reaction to Babylonian rule and myths) down to a post-Darwin world. He focuses a lot of time on the literature (Milton), philosophy (Lucretius), doctrine (Augustine), and art (Dürer) while maintaining a rough chronology of time ( from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts*.).
It was fascinating and moved quickly. I don't think it was as good as The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, but still worth the time and energy; comparable to Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. The big negative for me was its unevenness. Some chapters made me want to eat the fruit myself. Others made me pray for banishment. OK, that is probably a tad dramatic. I thoroughly enjoyed the sections on Milton, Durer, Augustine, and the first chapters that looked at Babylon and Gilgamesh: A New English Version in relationship to the Jewish people and the story of Adam and Eve.
I also appreciated the discussion that the story of Adam and Eve invariably brings up concerning sex, guilt, marriage, gender, power, faith, science, and our need to tell each other stories and understand where we came from and where we will eventually end up.
* Moroni 10: 3
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Two of the major sets of commentary are given short shrift. While there is mention of Jewish and Islamic traditions they are mostly set aside as contrasts against the more influential Christian traditions, because this book is really about how the story influenced Western Civilization.
Even when they were mentioned it was too frequently without proper chronological context. Islamic traditions of the story came hundreds of years after Augustin, and the comparison of his work, that of Muslims, and that of Jews seems out of place in the chapters that relate to his establishment of a literal tradition among Catholics. More appropriate it would have been to examine the departures of Islam from Augustine, not the reverse. The cross currents between Judaism and Islam seem to have been more fruitful than those of Jesuits, yet they are mentioned only in passing.
Further, without the viewpoints offerred in the very rich mystical traditions of Judaism and Islam, which examine the allegories in ways that are much more interesting and relevant to cosmogony and psychology as today we understand it, the story told is incomplete, leaving the impression that these scholars were simpletons.
Emptying these traditions of adult -level meaning by relating only to their children's stories literal version (after a short detour explaining how allegory lost out to literalism in the Catholic dogma - the actual "original sin"), treating them as plagiarisms of earlier Babylonian works that are clumsily rewritten, summarizes the historical view of western scholars but limiting it to that results primarily in an examination of Europe's and Catholicism's evolutions and interpretations of the story. That's interesting but that us only one part of the story, and it is not really about Adam and Eve influencing Europe as it is Europe influencing Adam and Eve - the relegation of the story to fairy tale status, with nothing to learn from.
I'd have liked to have known much more about the evolution of the story in Oriental cultures, which, though having had debates between literalists and proponents of allegory as well, its allegorical mystical treasury would have rounded out and completed this book, showing there is still much tone learned from it. Without it, it is partial at best
6 of 6 people found this review helpful