When Adam Delved

Edward Burne-Jones, When Adam Delved, 1888. Woodcut illustration for the first book edition of William Morris' A Dream of John Ball, University of Toronto John M. Kelly Library.

“When Adam delved” is the beginning of a common English saying from the Great Revolt of 1381. One of the leaders of the revolt, John Ball, was a social and religious revolutionary who popularized the couplet:

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

meaning back when our righteous forefathers worked, who among them would have been better than the other, who would have observed any class distinctions? Edward Burne-Jones created this woodcut for William Morris’ 1888 novel A Dream of John Ball that describes a time travel encounter between the medieval and modern worlds, contrasting the ethics of medieval culture and nineteenth century culture. In this block print Adam delves or digs into the earth and Eve spans or spin thread for cloth.

Edward Burne-Jones, When Adam Delved, 1888.

"The revolt of the Jews against the Roman Empire between 66 and 73 C.E.,
the result of which was the destruction of Jerusalem and the second
temple."

Of or relating to the Middle Ages, generally from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. and overlapping somewhat with late antiquity.

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