J.R.C. Cousland, «‘Her Flesh Was as Grass’: Vita Adam et Evae 10.1», Vol. 81 (2000) 507-510
The Vita Adam et Evae uses an unusual metaphor to describe Eve’s state when she ceases her penitential immersion in the Tigris river: ‘her flesh was as grass from the cold of the water’ (caro eius erat sicut herba). While a number of points of comparison have been adduced to explain the metaphor, including movement and texture, it is more likely to be the colour of Eve’s skin — she is as pale as grass from the cold of the water.
For when I look at you a moment, then I have no longer power to speak; But my tongue keeps silence, straightaway a subtle flame has stolen beneath my flesh, with my eyes I see nothing, my ears are humming, A cold sweat covers me, and a trembling seizes me all over, I am paler than grass (xlwro/tera de_ poi/aj e!mmi [31.14-15]), and it seems to me that I seem to be not far short of death (31.7-16 ap. ‘Longinus’, De subl. 10.2)11.
Here, ‘paler than grass’ is best taken as descriptive of Sappho’s deathly pallor 12. Certainly this is the way that ‘Longinus’ has interpreted the passage, since he comments on how fittingly Sappho describes all her faculties leaving her (pa/nq' w(j a)llo/tria dioixo/mena), her complexion (ta_j o!yeij th_n xro/an) among them13.
An echo of Sappho’s metaphor can be found later in the Greek romantic tradition in Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe14, where it is used to describe Daphnis in the travails of love: xlwro/teron to_ pro/swpon h]n po/aj qerinh=j15. Here, Daphnis’ face is ‘greener than summer grass’. While this could suggest a deep green, it is more likely, given the Lesbian locale, to refer to sere and withered grass. As Irwin remarks, ‘Longus plainly takes xlwro/j as typical of grass dried by the summer’s heat, and so no longer green but pale’16.
While these two examples are limited, they nevertheless provide an interesting point of comparison: flesh ‘as grass’ in both suggests a pathological condition. The pallor of Eve and Sappho and Daphnis is expressive of an