Monday, December 05, 2005


Shame in Paradise

Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (New York: William Morrow, 1996), in a section entitled Augustine and the Invention of Shame, writes (p. 168):
The very organs of sex, the genitals, were called by Augustine pudena, from the Latin pudere, "to be ashamed."
Pudena is of course a misprint for pudenda, the neuter plural gerundive from pudere, with membra understood (parts to be ashamed of). If Gomes implies that no one before Augustine ever used this word with this meaning, then he is incorrect. Lewis and Short cite earlier examples.

Seneca, Ad Marciam De Consolatione 22.3 (tr. John Basore):
To this add fires and falling houses, and shipwrecks and the agonies from surgeons as they pluck bones from the living body, and thrust their whole hands deep into the bowels, and treat the private parts at the cost of infinite pain.

adice incendia ruinas naufragia lacerationesque medicorum ossa vivis legentium et totas in viscera manus demittentium et non per simplicem dolorem pudenda curantium.
Serenus Sammonicus 36.681:
We must also say what is the medicine for the private parts.

dicendum et quae sit membris medicina pudendis.
Yesterday I gave the title Paradise Regained to a blog post about William Blake and his wife reading Milton's Paradise Lost while naked, with the implication that there was no shame concerning the naked body in Paradise.

C.S. Lewis, in A Preface to Paradise Lost, chapter XVII (Unfallen Sexuality), has an interesting discussion about sex in Paradise. St. Augustine (City of God 14.26) thought that Adam and Eve did not have sexual relations in the Garden of Eden. But Milton (Paradise Lost 4.304-324) thought that they did:
She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved
As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous delay.
Nor those mysterious parts were then concealed;
Then was not guilty shame, dishonest shame
Of nature's works, honour dishonourable,
Sin-bred, how have ye troubled all mankind
With shows instead, mere shows of seeming pure,
And banished from man's life his happiest life,
Simplicity and spotless innocence!
So passed they naked on, nor shunned the sight
Of God or Angel; for they thought no ill:
So hand in hand they passed, the loveliest pair,
That ever since in love's embraces met;
Adam the goodliest man of men since born
His sons, the fairest of her daughters Eve.
Milton here says that Adam and Eve felt no guilty or dishonest shame, but Lewis asks if they felt any other type of shame and concludes that they did:
People blush at praise -- not only praise of their bodies, but praise of anything else that is theirs. Most people exhibit some kind of modesty or bashfulness, at least at the beginning, in receiving any direct statement of another human being's affection for them, even if that affection is quite unrelated to sex or to the body at all. To be valued is an experience which involves a curious kind of self-consciousness. The subject is suddenly compelled to remember that it is also an object, and, apparently, an object intently regarded; hence, in a well-ordered mind, feelings of unworthiness and anxiety, mingled with delight, spring up. There seems to be a spiritual, as well as a physical, nakedness, fearful of being found ugly, embarrassed even at being found lovely, reluctant (even when not amorously reluctant) to be found at all. If this is what we mean by shame we may, perhaps, conclude that there was shame in Paradise.

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