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Noah’s Ark’s Influence on Western Art

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Noah's Ark

Noah's Ark

Noah’s Ark's Influence on Western Literature

Noah’s Ark is one of the most popular stories in the Bible. Its readership transcends adults because it is also read by and for kids. Aside from being a major story in the holy text among believers of the Bible, it is also an exciting story, even by just focusing on it as a mere literary text.

With the story’s popularity and the Bible itself, it is believed that it has influenced Western literature, art, and film to the point that it is no wonder that there are often concepts or references to the Great Flood in contemporary art.

The Impact of Noah’s Ark

The story behind Noah’s Ark is the creation of the giant ark made to save people and animals during the Great Flood. This story can be found in the book of Genesis, where the flood is the punishment of God to all sinners at that time. God told Noah to build an ark that would save him, his family, and the creatures in the ark.

The people noticed Noah as he was creating this ark, yet the perverse generation then saw that it was for no good reason, and they did not believe in this flood but instead mocked him. Following God’s instructions, Noah brought two kinds of living creatures during the flood. All the sinners have washed away, and only his family and the creatures they brought with him survived the rain.

The significant elements in the story are the Great Floods, the ark, the new life, and Noah himself. Biblically speaking, this is highly important, especially in the Old Testament, since it marked the promise of God that He will never destroy the earth again that way, but more than that, it also offers a rich text to us. Given that, its elements, most specifically the Great Flood, have influenced Western Literature in various ways.

Rhetorical Devices in the Story

In this story, symbolism is embedded, which can give a rich interpretation. Symbols are images used in literary texts to depict a significant meaning in the text. A symbol is a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which suggests a range of references beyond itself (Tyson, 2006). It is also possible that these influenced Western literature.

One of the significant images in the story is the flood. It was mentioned that “the waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days” (Gen. 7:24 New International Version). This flood symbolizes new life, change, and cleansing from sin. Water, in its simplest sense, is related to life and refreshment. In this case, it can be considered that a flood can serve as a symbol of new life and change since it will wash away all the sins of the world.

The same goes for the dirt on any part of the human body. If someone wants the stain cleaned, he could wash it with water. It is the universal solvent meant to cleanse everything. If a person wants to clean a dirty object, the quickest thing to do is to clean the dirt off with water. In this story, the water is meant to clean all of the dirt/sins of the people. It showed that the sinfulness of the people was beyond control. According to Genesis, ‘now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence (Gen. 6:11 New International Version). Only water was seen as a form of cleaning. In alignment with this, this sense of cleanliness is also associated with water in terms of baptism in the other stories in the Bible.

Given this, several stories in Western Literature associate water as a cleansing agent, just like in The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, where the sinners are submerged in the water for them to be partially cleansed. This concept is parallel to the idea of the cleansing of the sinners during Noah’s time. It signifies change and conversion just as it symbolizes water in baptism. In the Catholic faith, baptism is a new life where water is poured on the head of the person being baptized, and he is announced to be free from his original sins, which he got from Adam and Eve.

There were also allusions to the Great Flood in Beowulf, where it is believed that the God who brought the Great Flood of the past was the same God in the account of Noah’s Ark. It can also be related to how Scyld was depicted in the story. When he was still an infant, he was found on the ship with weapons of war coming in the middle of the sea. This concept of new life related to a ship in the middle of a body of water can be connected to the Great Flood and new life, as shown in the story of Noah’s Ark.

Aside from that, the ark is also a symbol of an agent for change and protection. It goes with the flow of water. It housed the animals and protected them for the entire duration of the days of the flood. Without it, there would not be any creature or individual who would survive in the Great Flood. It is stated that “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark- you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you” (Gen. 6:17-20 New International Version). Its representation of a house is depicted since it is meant to save all of the creatures and be kept in that ark. The combination of the agent for change and movement is also meant to hold the essential creatures that are meant to be protected in the Flood.

This impact is also evident in contemporary art forms like paintings and films. Modern rewritings of the Great Flood can be seen in movies like Water World and The Day After Tomorrow. These films have concepts of the cleansing of the world where a lot of people have to die because of too much abuse of natural resources that only a few should survive.

In Water World, the entire movie is depicted by submerging the entire earth in water. In this case, people had to survive on their motorboats and ships. They spent their entire lives finding dry land. This is quite parallel to the story of Noah, where they had to wait for an extended period to find a dry piece of land. Similar to the film, both ended up living on dry land just as humans should.

The Day After Tomorrow is an environmentally inclined movie where a great flood cleans the people who abused the environment, followed by a shallow temperature. It washed away a lot of people as well. Like the aforementioned stories, the people had to wait for a time before returning to a normal state of living.

Aside from these, paintings were also influenced by the idea of the Great Flood. Schönfeld’s The Flood and Dore’s The Great Deluge illustrate artists’ interpretations of the Great Flood. In both artworks, there would always be the depiction of struggle among people as they fight for their lives in the flood. The primary element in these paintings should be focused on is the water. In flood, the water is seen as a cleansing agent as it goes along with other elements of the painting, like the people and the animals, which clearly illustrates the artists’ interpretation of The Flood.

The same goes for Dore’s The Great Deluge. Although there are fewer creatures in this painting, the illustration of struggle can portray the graveness of the situation compared to Noah and his family as they witnessed other people being washed away. These paintings could capture the scenery that could have been seen if The Great Flood had transpired before our eyes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood are elements that have been used even in Western literature, not only in texts but also in art forms. Setting aside the religious inclination and concentrating on the Bible story as a literary masterpiece, it can be argued that because of its popularity, its concepts are used in films, art forms, and, most importantly, literary texts.

References

Classy Lit. (2012). Modern Allusions to Noah and the Ark. Retrieved October 8, 2014, from http://lit321w2012.blogspot.com/2012/06/modern-allusions-to-noah-and-ark.html.

SparkNotes Editors. (2004). SparkNote on The Divine Comedy. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/

Tyson, Lois. (2006). Critical Theory Today 2nd Ed., Routledge.https://mahollandela.weebly.com/uploads/5/4/9/5/54951553/critical-theory-today__1_.pdf

© 2019 Professor S

Comments

Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 14, 2019:

Thank you for your interest and comment Lorna. I hope to write and post more blogs/articles.

Lorna Lamon on May 14, 2019:

This is a very interesting and thought provoking article which I enjoyed. Thank you for sharing.