The Penance of Adam and Eve

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The Penance of Adam and Eve (10th century) 
by Oengus the Culdee, translated by Eleanor Hull
Published in the Saltair na Rann in the 10th century, denoting lineage to the Irish bishop Oengus the Culdee. Translation from 1912.

KING who bestowed the pleasurable earth 1. 1469

upon Adam after the fall,

he had no (reason for) displeasure towards God,

save that he should perish after a time. 1

Adam was a week yet
after his expulsion out of Paradise,
weary, without fire, without dwelling,
without drink or food or clothing.

Because they were impoverished
they went into the midst of the field,
great was the mutual reproach perpetually
between Eve and Adam.

" O Eve of the just fair form,
sorrowful are we through thy impenitence ; (?)
through thy misdeeds, through thy transgression,
alas 1 we have been cast out of Paradise.

" Much did we relinquish of good
when we vexed our High Prince ;
Paradise was ours under perfect command 2
with every reverence.

1 i.e. instead of passing in his body direct to heaven, without
dying, his days henceforth were numbered.
2 -Lit. "summons."



32 THE SALTAIR NA RANN

" Youth l and joy, by us it has been heard,
health, playfulness, delight,
bordered 2 lands, most perfect of form,
wondrous plants, harmonies.

" Noble satisfaction, singular wholesome peace,
a festival of holiness for souls,
, . . 3 many the habitations,
frequent intercourse with angels.

" Lasting life, continually at God's right hand,

for ever in the brughs of Paradise,

in which, under fair aspect,

God's creatures were doing us reverence.



" All the living things under heaven
which my faithful dear God created,
under (our) control over every high place,
we it was who used to order them.



" Fire would not burn us,

water would not drown us,

nor sharp edge . . . 4

nor (was there) pestilence nor consuming disease.



1 The word is detiu, probably ditiu ^ youth" ; L. B. has ditte
aille ocus slanti cen galar, " beautiful places and health without
sickness. ' '

2 Balthai^}. There is a word baltadh, " a border " (O'R) ; L. B.
has blathi, " blooming" or " prosperous."

  • AithHderritf 4 Ftdim f




THE PENANCE OF ADAM AND EVE 33

" There was not among the elements of dear God,
one that would come, in heaven or earth,
against our will, to destroy us,
save only the wicked Lucifer.

" Even Lucifer

could not harm us,

while we were under law (in a) perfect course

according to mandate, according to command.

" Because we wronged dear God
who gave us everything,
on every height, all creatures together,
are (now) in opposition to us.

" It is not God who has been evil towards us,
O Eve, ruddy, gentle fair one ;
it is we who have wronged the Prince,
though He provided us with lasting good."

Eve spake, for she was in distress, 1
in sorrow, after the fall ;
" O Adam, marvellous over every wild,
why do you not kill me for my sins ?

u It is I who transgressed the law,

it is I who committed the transgression,

it would then be right that thou should'st slay me,

O my Lord, O Adam !

1 Or possibly " famished,"



34 THE SALTAIR NA RANN

" Provided that I fall (just the measure)
for my sins, for my transgression,
clearly the greater mercy
will thy God shew towards thee."

" Greatly have we offended the King,"
said he, said Adam, without contempt,
" O Wife, I will not commit murder on thee,
though I be famished, though I be naked.

" I will not lift my hand

upon my own blood, my own flesh ;

how great soever thy crime,

it is from my body thou art.

" It is not fitting for us in any way

to outrage Him again ;

so that the true Prince, O wife,

may not cut us off and utterly destroy us.

" That we go not from Him a distant journey
with demons into the abyss of torment,
nor that God give us back
into the power of Lucifer."

" There is no good in our life, 1 O Adam,"
said she, said Eve ;

" without clothing, without warm dwelling,
without food, we shall perish of hunger.

" We had food, we had garments,
as long as we were without sin ;
since our fall and our going astray,
we have neither clothing nor good food.

1 Lit. ' ' gatherings "or " proceedings. "



THE PENANCE OF ADAM AND EVE 35

" O Husband, make a circuit without fail

by a pleasant path on every hand,

to learn if thou canst get as a feast (?)

of food for us something that we would eat."

Adam went on a well-marked course

near by, and far away ;

he did not find, after all,

any wholesome food but herbs of the ground.

Herbs of the soil, green their colour,
food of the senseless animals ;
they are not tender for us as a meal,
after the pleasant food of Paradise.

(ADAM speaks)

" O Eve, let us with sincerity

make lasting penance and repentance,

that we might cleanse away before the King of Justice

something of our sins, of our transgressions."

(EvE replies)

" Give me instruction about that,

O my Lord, O Adam,

because I know not before the great world *

how one should do penance.

" Instruct me clearly,

according to thy understanding, according to thy clear

sense,

that I do not exceed,
neither that I fall short in any way."

  • Lit, ' ' before every quarter " (i.e. of the world).




36 THE SALTAIR NA RANN

(ADAM speaks)

" Let us adore the Lord together
in silence, without intercourse ;
go thou into the strong river Tigris,
and I will go into the River Jordan.

" Thirty-three days
thou should'st be in the River Tigris,
myself in Jordan under correction
forty-seven clear days.

" Take with thee a firm flag of stone,

(place it) under thy sitting, under thy gentle feet,

and I shall take with me another stone

equal to it, resembling it exactly.

" Dispose the stone in the river,

bathe thyself on it ;

thou wilt be chosen as thou hast strength to endure

until the water rises to thy throat.

" Thy locks spread luxuriantly on every hand,
upon the stream on every side ;
be thou silent with grief and special sadness,
thy keen eyes towards the heavenly ones.

" Lift thy two hands every canonical hour 1
towards the heavenly Lord of the nine grades ;
pray . . . , even at the beginning,
forgiveness for thy transgression.

1 Like the mention of "cross-vigil" later on, the mention of
anonical hours is a quaint anachronism in the history of Adam
and Eve.



THE PENANCE OF ADAM AND EVE 37

" We are not pure to converse with God,
since (our) transgression, since (our) impurity,
for our false, polluted mouths
are not clean, stainless, bright.

" Let us beseech the whole of the creatures
formed by God through His pure mysteries,
that they implore with us to the King of Justice
that our transgression be forgiven.

" Perform in this manner thy good work,

and beseech the true Prince ;

until He determine clearly

do not stir thyself, do not move."

Forty and seven days without woe
was Adam in the River Jordan ;
thirty and three days was gentle Eve
in the stream of the River Tigris.

Angels of God each day from heaven
from God to succour Adam,
instructing him, as was permitted,
to the end of nineteen days.

Then Adam sought a mighty boon

upon the River Jordan ;

that it would " fast " with him upon dear God,

with its multitude of creatures.

The stream stood still
in its course, in its onward motion ;
the kingly stream paused from its flow
that He might give forgiveness to Adam.



38 THE SALTAIR NA RANN

Then the stream gathered together
every living creature that was in its womb,
until the whole number of the living creatures
were around Adam.

All of them prayed,

Adam, the stream, and the multitude of animals ;
mournfully they poured forth their noble lamentation
to the perfect host of the nine holy grades.

That all the grades, openly,
might beseech their Lord on their behalf
that God should give full forgiveness,
and should not destroy Adam. 1

The nine grades with their array
prayed to God who controls them
for forgiveness now for Adam
for his peril, for his sin.

God gave to His grades

full pardon for the sin of Adam,

and the habitation of the earth at all times

with heaven, holily noble, all-pure.

And He pardoned after that
their descendants and their peoples,
save him alone who acts unrighteously
and transgresses the will of God unlawfully.

1 Or possibly " without stint to Adam " ; but the reading
above seems better to bear out the meaning.



THE PENANCE OF ADAM AND EVE 39

When the black Devil heard

that forgiveness had been bestowed on Adam,

(he said) " I will go in a distinguished brilliant form

to Eve again.

" That I may bring her out of the stream through

weakness,

that I may put her on a course of death ;
so that I may drown, (i.e. destroy) something of her work
and disturb her devotion."

Lucifer went with joyful speed,

the fierce, astute wolf,

like a swan, in the shape of a white angel,

to Eve in the River Tigris.

The angel who destroyed them spake with her,
in pity for her, as it seemed to her,
" O modest Eve of the bright form,
long hast thou tarried in the River Tigris.

" Ah Woman, though bright was thy beauty,
thou hast grown pale 1 in the rough stream ;
without vigour ... , it is evident
thou hast slain thyself, thou hast destroyed thyself.

" O Woman, come out for the sake of thy God,

remain no longer in the cruel river ;

thy valiant King sent me journeying,

from Him have I come to show pity to thee."

1 Lit. "thou hast changed thy complexion in the rough
stream."



4 o THE SALTAIR NA RANN

Then comes Eve out of the river,
and was on the shore, drying herself ;
a cloud (i.e. a faintness) fell on her then,
so that she was almost dead without life.



Bright Eve did not recognise
Lucifer with his manifold snares ;
the matchless woman was perplexed, 1
her mind was in doubt.



(LUCIFER speaks)

" O Eve, what has come to thee ?
greatly art thou considering ;
clearly I came to thee from heaven,
at the command of the steadfast God.



<k Let us go hence to Adam.
O Woman ! do not be wavering ;
we have all prayed to dear God
to pardon you for your sins."

Then they went vigorously
as far as the River Jordan,
to Adam, chief of tribes ;
noble Eve and Lucifer.

1 Lit. " it was difficult to the matchless woman.



THE PENANCE OF ADAM AND EVE 41

When Adam perceived from the river

Eve and Lucifer,

trembling took hold upon him, (though) he was

courageous,
horror of the Devil's countenance filled him.



" My grief ! O wandering Eve,

thy guide is betraying thee ;

the man who comes journeying with thee here,

it is he who deceived thee in Paradise.



" Ah, sad Eve, without dear form, 1
what brought thee from the River Tigris
without the warrant of the King of Justice,
without a pure accompanying angel ? "

When Eve heard that,

the reproaches of Adam,

she fell to the ground,

she came near to speedy death.

(A long conversation follows between Adam and the
Devil ; Adam demands why the Devil pursues them with
such perpetual hatred and, in reply, Lucifer recounts
his fall from heaven, which he says was caused by his
refusal to obey the command of God that he should
worship Adam. This command he refused, because he,

1 i.e. "whose form has been changed by her sojourn in the
river."



42 THE SALTAIR NA RANN

as the first-created, felt it unworthy of him to adore
Adam, the youngest-born of created things. He details
his present miseries, and his determination to take
revenge on Adam and Eve. The poem or canto ends
with the coming of Adam out of the river, and the
history of their children, Seth, Cain, and Abel.)