Thursday 19 May: The Engaged Afterlife of Lilith

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 19 May

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.318

This week Jeremy Solnick introduces a discussion of the afterlife of Lilith.

Lilith Notre Dame

“Adam, Eve, and the serpent (Lilith)”, Portal of the Virgin, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Image by Rebecca Kennison, Wikimedia Commons

In Jewish mythology Lilith is Adam’s wayward first wife, an independent spirit who refused to play second fiddle to Adam and abandoned her consort, forcing God to create Eve.  References can be found to her in folk-lore as the wife of Satan and the malign spirit who haunts the dreams of young men, and steals the lives of new-born babies.  Artists and poets have been fascinated by her. She often appears as the serpent with a woman’s face in pictures of the Temptation of Eve; Keats’s ‘Lamia’ is arguably a Lilith incarnation and several ‘Lilith’ pictures were painted by adherents of the pre-Raphaelite group including Rossetti.

In the session, we will look at the biblical and possible pre-biblical origins of the Lilith figure and the way the myths around her developed in the medieval period through rabbinic and exegetical texts.  We will discuss her influence on the thinking of the Italian writer and holocaust witness Primo Levi and her current manifestation as something of a feminist icon.

Primo Levi, “Lilith”, in Primo Levi: Collected Poems, trans. by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988), p. 26.

Primo Levi, “Lilith”, in Moments of Reprieve, trans. Ruth Feldman (London: Abacus, 1987), pp. 37-45.

Poster and texts:

Lilith (poem) – Primo Levi

Lilith (short story)- Primo Levi

Optional reading:

The Dawn of a New Lilith



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