John Flood, Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages

By Heavey, Katherine | Medium Aevum, Fall-Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

John Flood, Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages


Heavey, Katherine, Medium Aevum


John Flood, Representations of Eve in Antiquity and the English Middle Ages (New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2011). xvi + 193 pp. ISBN 978-0-415- 87796-1. 80.00 [pounds sterling].

Introducing this rich and engaging survey of the antique and medieval Eve, John Flood asserts that 'Eve is the beginning of women's history' (p. 3). However, he stresses that the first woman is 'useful neither as a shorthand for women nor for the oppression of women; her history is too rich and varied' (p. 6). Although, unsurprisingly, the period's literary representations of Eve are often negative, Flood demonstrates convincingly that they are not all uniform: different accounts might condemn or disapprove of Eve in different ways and for different reasons, while other readings seek to exonerate Eve, or lay greater stress on Adam's blame. Flood begins with an account of some of the most influential biblical treatments of Eve, such as those that were either composed by St Paul, or else were attributed to him in the Middle Ages, and which associated live with apostasy, sexual sin, and disobedience. Post-biblical exegesis by authors such as Tertullian often criticized her for lack of patience, disobedience, and unbridled speech, though other post-apostolic authors, such as Melito of Sardis or Justin Martyr, might be more sympathetic, criticizing Adam instead, or emphasizing the deceitful powers of the serpent, or comparing Eve's birth to Christ's.

Consistently, Flood demonstrates that alongside the well-established authorial desire to condemn the first woman, there developed this parallel instinct to excuse, defend, or even champion Eve: these defences, by figures such as Christine de Pizan, form the basis of chapter 5. Christine defends Eve as God's creation in works such as the Book of the City of Ladies and the Letter of the God of Love, and in doing so she engages robustly with the traditional authorial instinct to condemn her, which for Christine is fundamentally contrary to Christian belief: as Flood notes, she is 'amazed that anyone could find fault with a work of God' (p.

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