Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women is a poem by Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645) that comes from her work Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum and when I first read it I was fascinated – the poem basically makes an argument that blaming all women for Eve’s sin is silly, and that if she is to be blamed then Adam is just as at fault. She also makes a defense for Eve’s actions.
Lanyer is very bold with this work and that’s what I like about it. She turns societal notions about women upside down by using them in her argument.
Here are some excerpts from the poem:
“Till not your indiscretion sets us free,
And makes our former fault much less appear;
Our mother Eve, who tasted of the tree,
Giving to Adam what she held most dear,
Was simply good and had no power to see;
The after-coming harm did not appear:
The subtle serpent that our sex betrayed
Before our plot had laid”
Here, the speaker argues for Even’s innocence – she was ignorant of the consequences and only offered Adam the apple out of love for him.
“But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame.
What weakness offered, strength might have refused;
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame;
Although the serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame;
For he was lord and king of all the earth,
Before poor Eve had either life or breath,”
So, basically Adam is more at fault because he should have known better. Still, it could be that the speaker’s goal is to show if you’re going to blame one, you can blame the other. The conclusion should be that either both are punished for their actions or no one takes the blame for what another committed.
“Whom, if unjustly you condemn to die,
Her sin was small to what you do commit,
All mortal sins that do for vengeance cry
Are not to be compared unto it;
If many worlds would altogether r try
By all their sins the wrath of God to get,
This sin of yours surmounts them all as far
As doth the sun another little star
The speaker’s argument turns to discussing how it was men who betrayed Jesus — the greatest sin of all.
“Then let us have our liberty again,
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty.
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
If one weak woman did offend,
This sin of yours hath no excuse nor end.”
Again, this emphasis that men have committed a greater sin – and that if women are to be punished for there’s then men should be punished as well.
This poem is a pretty harsh one but I didn’t really get “punish men” out of it, I got the idea that entire groups shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a biblical figure. I imagine this was a radical idea in Lanyer’s time.