When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?

Things cannot go well in England, nor ever will until everything shall be in common; when their shall be neither vassal nor Lord and all distinctions levelled, when the Lords shall be no more our masters than ourselves

John Ball, 1381


About I Am Not A Number

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders. In 2008 he was appointed as the Senior Lecturer in Recorded Media in the School Of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University. He currently presents, Agitpop, a pop & politics radio discussion programme on North Cotswold Community Radio http://www.agitpopradio.org.uk He is currently the Communications Officer for UCU at Bath Spa University and a UCU SW Regional Rep at SWTUC.
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5 Responses to When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?

  1. It looks like John Ball thought of communism long before Karl Marx. Adam and Eve talked funny and stuff.

  2. Would you please translate “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”

    • When Adam dug the earth (farmed) and Eve made clothes who was the CEO, President, King, Lord, Baron, Duke, or whatever. The point is that in the Garden Of Eden there were no bosses and no rich nor poor. This is a rhetorical challenge to the claim that hierarchical society is ‘natural’, that a small privileged elite exploiting the many is part of ‘human nature’.

      At the time the quote was written religion was the vehicle chosen to challenge the hierarchical hegemony. Today science is doing the same thing. Anthropology, Archaeology, Biology and Neuro-Science have established pretty convincingly that human beings evolved as cooperating social creatures who lived in egalitarian tribal societies for about 200,000 years. Hierarchy only arose out of settlement and accounts for only 10,000 years of human lived experience (5%). The point being that there is nothing natural about a hierarchical human society structured around a tiny privileged elite reaping the rewards of the endeavours of the masses.

      Capitalism described thus is seen as just an extension of previous aristocratic forms of hierarchy with the ‘power’ of the capitalist elite expressed through money rather than hereditary privilege based on ‘blue blood’. In both cases aristocratic or capitalist power and privilege have not arisen ‘naturally’ but ultimately rest on the threat of brute force. (See Greece today).

  3. Good explanation. Thank you for that.

  4. There is also a sexual subtext that I’m sure appealed to the “coarse peasant humour” of John Ball’s audience. In other words it was Adam’s penis that did the delving as Eve spread her legs. The joke also reinforces his political “levelling” message about humanity’s essential equality in it’s animal nature, as opposed to the aristocracy’s pretensions of being a higher order of being. It’s a bit like saying “they think their shit doesn’t stink”

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