The Tempter's Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature

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Why was the story of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent so important to medieval literary culture? Eric Jager argues that during the Middle Ages the story of the Fall was incorporated into a comprehensive myth about language. Drawing on a wide range of texts, Jager shows how patristic and medieval authors used the Fall to confront practical and theoretical problems in many areas of life and thought—including education, hermeneutics, rhetoric, feudal politics, and gender relations. Jager explores the Fall's meaning for clergy and laity, nobles and commoners, men and women.Among the works Jager discusses are texts by Ambrose, Augustine, the early Christian poet Avitus, and scholastic authors; Old English biblical epics; Middle English spiritual writings; French courtesy books; and the poetry of Dante and Chaucer. Examples from the visual arts are included as well. Jager links medieval interpretations of the Fall to underlying cultural anxieties about the ambiguity of the sign, the instability of oral tradition, the pleasure of the text, and the many rhetorical guises of the tempter's voice. He also assesses the modern and postmodern legacy of the Fall, showing how this myth continues to embody central ideas concerning language.The Tempter's Voice will be essential reading for scholars and students in such fields as medieval studies, literary theory, gender theory, comparative literature, cultural history, and the history of religion.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This thoughtful, carefully argued, and well-written book studies 'the Fall as a central medieval myth about language, particularly about doctrine, hermeneutics, and eloquence.'"—Gene Vance, Bryn Mawr Medieval Review, May 1994

"A very valuable addition to the many studies of both the Fall and how language can be manipulated to clarify or confuse a given issue."—Choice

"While working with the traditional conceptual framework that brings allegory, typology, and exegetical models to bear on the interpretation of medieval vernacular literature, Jager also manages to bring those subjects into harmonious and productive discourse with contemporary literary theory, new historicism, gender theory, and psychoanalytic theory. . . . The Tempter's Voice makes a significant contribution to medieval studies."—Lawrence Besserman, Speculum

"This book benefits from wide-ranging structuralist, poststructuralist, and feminist interest in Augustinian theories of language and the Fall. . . . Jager has identified and developed many important issues . . . and has offered many perceptive observations."—Norm Klassen, Medium Aevum

Engulfing a temporal span from Ambrose and Augustine to Dante and Chaucer, Jager (English and comparative literature, Columbia U.) says that the story of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent was so important during the Middle Ages because it was incorporated into a comprehensive myth about language that was brought to bear on a wide range of practical and theoretical problems in such areas as education, feudal politics, and gender relations. He also shows how the modern and postmodern legacy of The Fall continue to embody the central ideas about myth. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801480362
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 7/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Note on Biblical Citations
Introduction 1
Pt. 1 Augustine's Garden
1 The School of Paradise 23
2 The Genesis of Hermeneutics 51
3 The Garden of Eloquence 99
Pt. 2 The Medieval Garden
4 The Old English Epic of the Fall 145
5 The Seducer and the Daughter of Eve 191
6 The Carnal Letter in Chaucer's Earthly Paradise 241
Epilogue: Signs of the Fall: From the Middle Ages to Postmodernism 299
Bibliography 307
Index 325
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