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The Opening

Eve. Recounting the first woman: the story of stories

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03 July 2021

Never banal or predictable, Cristina Simonelli's writing always has something “adventurous” about it. This is because of the refined but never artificial language she uses, the rigorous but never linear development, and the access to ancient and recent literary sources, which she wisely interweaves so that the whole is never monotonous, but symphonic. These sources, -which come from her study of that literature traditionally classified as “patristic”-, Simonelli has learned to treat not only as written texts, but as evocations of characters and figures that interact with each other and with the reader against the immense backdrop of religious imagination and theological reflection.

In this publication, Simonelli calls on Eve, the first woman whose “story” she intends to tell, as the subtitle states, but which is nothing more than a story of stories. It has long been requested that Eve, who is “powerful” as an archetypal figure, be finally freed from the state of captivity in which centuries of “doctrinaire” thought have bound her.  In addition, that she be restored to the polychrome enamel of those mythical stories of the origins that serve as the incipit to the Book, the great biblical code. Quoting from Simonelli’s volume, “Eve is one, Eve is none, Eve is one hundred thousand: a character who unfolds in many faces and in many realities, until she is lost, but also found, in her own multiplied image” (p. 8).

There is an inescapable confrontation with Mary in this aforementioned captivity, which is so beguiling for the male symbolic order’s regulatory plan, so ambivalent, yet often ruinous for Eve as for women of all time. This sees Simonelli in the last chapter -somewhat like in the great books of fantastic adventures-, to free Eve (between Eve and Mary, God: pp. 129-156). With a courageous theological attack and so as “preserve Eve in Mary and narrate Mary with Eve”, the author chooses a “symbolic register suitable for the streets and the houses of this mixed world, imbued with spirituality far beyond the courtyards of the sacred” (p.148s).

In the four “rooms”, which at first glance recall the itinerary of the mystic's “inner castle”, is actually intended to be, as in poetry, parts of a great composition.  Simonelli jumbles the many stories about the “mother of all living things” together in a disorder that is, as Paul Claudel said in a famous maxim, “the delight of the imagination”. These rooms communicate with each other, yet do not oblige us to follow a linear and progressive course. Instead, they allow us to repeatedly cross thresholds, and enter and exit without ever finding ourselves back at the starting point.    

It is very difficult to talk about this small, precious book.  It should just be read and re-read.

By Marinella Perroni

Cristina Simonelli. Eva, la prima donna. Storia e storie, [Eve, the first woman. History and Stories]. Il Mulino