Naked Eve

Naked Eve

In Brief

Having followed the "strandentwining cable of all flesh" back to Eden, Stephen spends one paragraph in Proteus thinking about the First Woman. An assortment of literary texts informs his meditation on "naked Eve." Here and again later in the chapter, he thinks also of Adam before the Fall. He returns to his thoughts about Eve in Oxen of the Sun, and in Wandering Rocks he again recalls a passage from Thomas Traherne's Centuries of Meditations that inspires his thinking about Edenic perfection.

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He might have found in many different texts the notion that "She had no navel." It is not in Genesis, but many theologians have argued that, since neither Adam nor Eve was born in the usual way, they would not have possessed belly buttons. When Michelangelo put a belly button on his Adam in the Sistine Chapel, some theologians accused him of heresy. Thomas Browne devoted an entire chapter of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica to the "vulgar error" of painters who depict the First Couple with navels. Most painters through the ages, however, have rejected the smooth-belly hypothesis. The canvas shown here is a relative rarity. Stephen prefers to think of such a "Belly without blemish," and in Oxen he thinks again of Eve's body undistorted by the familiar processes of gestation and birth: "A pregnancy without joy, he said, a birth without pangs, a body without blemish, a belly without bigness."

Thornton hears in "whiteheaped corn" an echo of the Song of Solomon: "Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies" (7:2). Stephen, however, changes "wheat" to "corn" (a word which meant simply "grain" before the modern era): "no, whiteheaped corn, orient and immortal, standing from everlasting to everlasting." This word allows him to pivot to a passage from Thomas Traherne's 17th century prose Meditations. Section 3 of the third Century rapturously recalls a vision of Edenic perfection that the author had when he was a child: "The Corn was Orient and Immortal Wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting." In this lovely passage, Stephen gets as close as he will to the mystical gazing on perfection that is apparently driving his meditation ("That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. . . . Gaze). But, as William York Tindall pointed out in A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (1959), Stephen could not actually have made such an allusion in 1904, because the Centuries were not published in a modern edition until 1908 (148).

"Heva" approximates early Hebrew versions of Eve's name: Cheva/Chawwah, derived from chawah ("to breathe") or chayah ("to live"). Eve is described as "Spouse and helpmate" of Adam in Genesis. "Adam Kadmon" is a phrase from the Kabbalah meaning "original man." Thornton notes that "He includes all of the ten Sephiroth or intelligences which emanated from the En Soph." Gifford speculates that Joyce may have taken the phrase from its theosophical elaboration in texts like Helena Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled (1886), but there is nothing in Stephen's sentence to indicate any particular theoretical intention.

Later in Proteus, Stephen recalls Edenic perfection one last time when he thinks of "Unfallen Adam rode and not rutted." As Gifford puts it, "According to tradition, before the Fall sexual intercourse was without lust."

JH 2015
Jan van Scorel, Adam and Eve in Paradise, 16th century painting that depicts the first humans as lacking navels. Source:
Adam Kadmon, in Isaac Myer's Qabbalah (1888). Source: Wikimedia Commons.