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Snakes and Women: Recognition, Knowledge, and Sovereignty

Snakes and Women: Recognition, Knowledge, and Sovereignty

(p.97) Chapter Four Snakes and Women: Recognition, Knowledge, and Sovereignty
In the Skin of a Beast
Peggy McCracken
University of Chicago Press

This chapter turns to self-sovereignty in order to interrogate the relationship between autonomy, choice, and desire, and authority over others. It begins with a study of portrayals of Eve in a variety of literary and visual texts, including the twelfth-century Jeu d’Adam (The Play of Adam), manuscript illuminations of the temptation scene, and thirteenth-century translations of the apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve. The chapter argues that medieval representations of Eve’s encounter with the serpent suggest that Eve is tempted not just by knowledge, but by a vision of self-sovereignty that promises sovereignty over others. By contrast, when snakiness and sovereignty are represented in the thirteenth-century Bel inconnu (The Fair Unknown) and Jean d’Arras’s fourteenth-century Roman de Mélusine (The Romance of Mélusine), a knight’s specular relation to a snake woman’s body produces knowledge that defines a sovereign position for the knight even as it exiles or distances the woman from a position of authority and power.

Keywords:   Jeu d'Adam, self-sovereignty, Life of Adam and Eve, Le bel inconnu, Le roman de Mélusine, snake, serpent, Eve

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