The aim of this article is to analyze and interpret way in which a topos of Cain was evoked in literary works and other texts of culture in the light of the concept of transgression. An approach adapted in analysis will be inspired by comparative hermeneutics, yet not only literary contexts will be taken into consideration, but also religious, philosophical, and scientific ones. In the very structure of the topos one can discern a series of binary oppositions, which become valuated in various ways in different historical contexts. It is above all the opposition between destructive and constructive component of the theme. Interpretations of the topos in the works of George Byron, Władysław Orkan, and Jerzy Andrzejewski are discussed deeper. The analysis leads to the conclusion that in the historical development of a significant change in its valuation is taking place. Regarded as a symbol of evil in the Middle Ages, it is ennobled as a patron of rebels, reformers and creators in the twentieth century.
This article contains a bilingual, Latin-Polish, edition of a letter written by Erasmus to John Sixtin (Ioannes Sixtinus), a Frisian student he met in England. In it Erasmus describes a dinner party at Oxford to which he was invited as an acclaimed poet. In the presence of John Colet, leader of English humanists, table talk turned into learned conversation. Erasmus’s contribution to the debate was an improvised fable (fabula) about Cain who, in order to become farmer, persuades the angel guarding Paradise to bring him some seeds from the Garden of Eden. His speech, a showpiece of rhetorical artfulness disguising a string of lies and spurious argument, is so effective that the angel decides to steal the seeds and thus betray God’s trust. Seen in the context of contemporary surge of interest in the art of rhetoric, Erasmus’ apocryphal spoof is an eloquent demonstration of the heuristic value of mythopoeia and the irresistible power of rhetoric.