Sunday, December 20, 2020

Adam, Where Art Thou? The Humiliation of Prometheus


 Detail of a Fresco by Masaccio (1401 –1428) in the Church of S. Maria del Carmine, Florence. This painting, just like many others depicting the same scene, shows Adam covering his face when chased away from the Garden of Eden. Other paintings show Eve covering her face, or both her and Adam's face. Where they trying to hide from God? Of course not. They were hiding from themselves. 


One of the most dramatic moments of the Genesis, perhaps of the whole Bible, is when God searches for Adam and calls him saying, "Adam, where are you?" It is so dramatic because it is obvious that the omniscient God of the Bible knows very well where Adam is. And you can almost feel the surprise of God in seeing his creature hiding from him in a bush.

It is Adam who doesn't know anymore where he is. He has lost his bearing. He has lost his dignity and he is now ashamed of himself. So much that in most pictorial representations we have of the scene, we see Adam (or Eve, or both) covering their faces with their hands. They were ashamed of showing themselves to God for what they were. They didn't have face masks or veils, but if they had had them, they would have shown themselves to God with their faces partly covered.

This scene of the Genesis is part of the human cycle. We tend to see ourselves sometimes as Gods, sometimes as earthworms. It is there, in the Bible: Adam and Eve are the jewel of the creation, but they fail to live up to the expectations of their creator. They ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but it was not what they knew that doomed them, it was what they thought they knew. It was lack of humility that led them to true humiliation. 

The opposite side of the cycle is the Promethean exaltation. The fire bringer, the Titan God who who represented human striving for scientific knowledge and embedded in a single cycle the success and the failure of the attempt. Here is how the proud Prometheus of the Rockefeller Center, in New York, sees his own doom, humiliated in a scene that brings much more meaning than those who performed the act probably intended. (Image source).

And there we stand: ridiculous as it may be to force a mask onto a lifeless piece of statuary, it is not so bad as doing that to a real human being. A creature created in the image of God as the true jewel of creation. But look at how this poor creature is reduced: 

Doesn't this woman remind you of Eve running away from Eden? She is ashamed to raise her glance to the sky, ashamed to look at her fellow human beings, afraid to touch anything and anyone. A sad, humiliated larva, an earthworm, a snake. Yes, the Biblical snake was nothing but ourselves. 

I think the best depiction of this contradiction -- man as a jewel and a snake at the same time -- comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, in the widely known speech "What a piece of work is man". 

What a piece of work is a man!
How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculty!
in form, in moving, how express and admirable!
in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god!
the beauty of the world!
the paragon of animals!
And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?


 (on Prometheus, see also this post by Miguel Martinez)


  1. Hello Again Ugo
    I am actually posting this in response to your Hydrogen post in your other blog that I can't comment on.
    Since you seem to know quite a bit about airplanes, I thought you would be interested in plan to "float to orbit" with huge airships. The link below
    JPAerospace details their approach . Airships that can never come down to land and depend on "balloons"to lift people and freight up and down.
    BTW Do you prefer first name or Dr. Bardi or Professor?

    1. Why can't you post on Cassandra's Legacy? You are not banned. BTW, google blogger doesn't permit banning, even if an administrator wanted to.

    2. Not only can I not comment, I can't even view comments on Cassandra's Legacy .I am on a Samsung tablet (android) running Firefox and haven't been able to see comments since you last changed your theme many months ago. The Holobants and this blog both work fine. The joys of technology. Yes, I used Blogger a while back too. Anyway,I hope you and yours are well and seriously wondered how I should address you. My wife (a PHD also) only uses her Dr. title professionally aanduses only her first name online, but USA and Italy are very different cultures.

    3. That's strange. I even looked for your comments in the spam, but I didn't find anything that I could attribute to you. I don't know what to say. Maybe you should register with some kind of name on Google, then it should work.

      Then, about cultural uses, Italy is a province of the Global Empire, so don't worry, you cannot offend a provincial subject by addressing him or her as you would address any citizen of the empire! The reverse might not work, but this is not the case.

      Finally, yes, we are all fine here. Thanks for asking, and I hope it is the same for you.

      Ah... about airships, interesting story. I am afraid that those things look very flimsy, but might even work. Not something for the near future, though.

  2. I have had many issues like this with blogger over the years. I used several Google names unsuccessfully Sigh. Anyway your Hydrogen post reminded me of the airships and if the drag is low enough and lift strong enough they make a great prop for a SF story. A week long, slow climb to the dark sky stations provides an environment like a locked room mystery. "Murder on the Orient Express" comes to mind. And they have miles of space for solar panels on the "wings".