Cainism

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One of the most famous scenes of Genesis is the dialogue between the serpent and the woman, convinced to transgress the divine command, culminating in a declaration of eternal war between the lineages of the two: "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head and you shall crave his heel." (3: 15). Given the involvement of two descents, it is natural to think that two peoples are going to struggle, trapped ab ovo in a conflict we might call "cainism" from an ethological point of view, because the snake endowed with speaking capability can only be the totem of one offspring, while its adversary must be able of dislodging the other from the nest, as the eaglet would do with the brother. "Eagles lay their eggs several days apart, rather than all at one time. As a result, the chicks hatch at different times, and the firstborn almost always has a size advantage over its siblings. In some eagle species, the eldest uses this advantage to kill any nest mates in what is known as "Cain and Abel" behaviour, or simply "Cainism." The bigger chick repeatedly pecks at the smaller chick until the injured bird dies from its injuries, or becomes too weak to solicit food from a parent and dies of starvation. At this point, the chick's corpse is usually consumed either by the surviving chick or by its parents: To the eagles, the dead chick is nothing more than food that is not allowed to go to waste." (Grambo 2003 [1]: 32; Mainardi 2000 [2]: 66-68). Cain is an eagle, he defends himself before God who asks him where his brother is, but in fact he has taken the role of guardian, he must dominate and control as the royal bird would, which from above spies on his siblings. In the Bible Cain, this time the ancestor of the Kenites, is once associated with the nest – and therefore with birds – in a prophecy of Balaam (Num 24: 21-22). An easy paronomasia between qayin (Cain) and qen (nest) allows this saying: "And he saw the Kenite, and he took up his theme and said, ‘Staunch is your settlement, and set in the rock your nest. But Cain will be for burning, how long will Asshur hold you captive?’." [Alter]

Originally Published: April 21, 2021

Last Updated: May 12, 2021


  1. Grambo, R.L., Eagles. 2003, Grantown-on-Spey: Colin Baxter Photography.
  2. Mainardi, D., La strategia dell'aquila. Gli uccelli ci raccontano come eravamo, come siamo, come dovremmo essere. 2000, Milano: Mondadori.