I’ve been thinking a lot about eyelids. In the Book of Job, the King James Bible gives us a memorable phrase, “the eyelids of the morning” (41:18). Both Job and God speak this phrase, which is translated by Robert Alter as “eyelids of dawn.” A few days ago I came to the very end of the Book of Job, where we learn that Job raises a new brood of ten children. We are not given the names of the seven brothers, but we do learn the strange and lovely names of Job’s three daughters (42:14): Dove, Cinnamon, and Horn of Eyeshade.
The name of the third daughter is particularly arresting because it calls back to an earlier moment in the poem, in which Job laments —
Sackcloth I sewed for my scabs,
and I thrust my horn in the dust.
My face was reddened from weeping,Alter (16:15-16)
and on my eyelids—death’s shadow
Alter notes that the horn is a symbol of strength in Psalms and many other places of the Bible. Edward L. Greenstein, in another recent translation of Job, writes that the horn is a metaphor for pride, for example in Psalm 75:5-6, and that “Job, the victimized stag, must lower his horns in defeat.”
Greenstein gives the name of Job’s third daughter as Horn of Kohl, and he explains that Kohl, an Arabic word, means “Mascara; cosmetics were kept in a horn.”
I just think it’s a lovely way for the poet to end his book, with this gentle and almost invisible contrast between Job’s eyes (‘ap̄·‘ap·pay) as his old life was burning away and the vividly colored eyes of his daughter in his new life.
And Horn of Kohl introduces a wholly different meaning for a horn, a purpose that’s divorced from any sense of power-and-pride.
And yes, to get back to that original phrase, “the eyelids of the morning.” It is used twice in the poem, first by Job in the same dark note as above, and then by God, to refer to the morning and to something else.
First, Job wishes the night of his birth had never seen dawn (bə·‘ap̄·‘ap·pê):
Let its twilight stars go dark.Alter (3:9)
Let it hope for day in vain,
and let it see not the eyelids of dawn
Then God uses the phrase to describe Leviathan’s terrible eyes (kə·‘ap̄·‘ap·pê):
His sneezes shoot out light,Alter (41:10, or KJV 41:18)
and his eyes are like the eyelids of dawn
You can see a little of this in the eyelid of another famous reptile:
Google images of crocodiles and you see the same thing, for example here:
Out of the countless themes that one expects to find in the Book of Job, one I had forgotten, or had never expected, was its imagery of the eyes.