The opening of Chapter 12 of The Count of Monte Cristo describes a meeting between Villefort and his father Noirtier, on which a servant apparently attempted to eavesdrop. The passage (translation from Chapman & Hall 1846 with my emphasis) reads as follows:

M. Noirtier – for it was, indeed, he who entered – looked after the servant until the door was closed, and then, fearing, no doubt, that he might be overheard in the antechamber, he opened the door again, nor was the precaution useless, as appeared from the rapid retreat of Germain, who proved that he was not exempt from the sin which ruined our first parents. M. Noirtier then took the trouble to close and bolt the ante-chamber door, then that of the bed-chamber, and then extended his hand to Villefort, who had followed all his motions with surprise which he could not conceal.

What is the reference to "the sin which ruined our first parents"? I thought it might be a reference to the biblical sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but if that's the case I'm wondering what the exact parallel is between eating forbidden fruit and eavesdropping on a private conversation. Or is this a reference to a Christian doctrine in which all sin is some sort of extension of the Original Sin? Or is this a reference to something else entirely?


3 Answers 3


The sin of Adam and Eve could be stated as a desire for knowledge that did not belong to them - the tree that they ate from was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the snake tempted Eve into eating the fruit by telling her that this knowledge would give her power akin to God's. So if this is indeed intended to be a specific reference, it is probably referring to the servant trying to gain knowledge (and potentially power) by eavesdropping on a conversation that didn't concern him.


“The sin which ruined our first parents” is a reference to the first sin of Adam and Eve (which in Christian theology is a distinct idea from original sin, though the two are closely related).

So what exactly was the first sin? There is disagreement on this point among theologians. If you look at Aquinas, you’ll see that he considers and rejects arguments for disobedience, gluttony (!), curiosity and unbelief, before settling on pride. Here’s his presentation of the argument in favour of curiosity:

Further, man sinned at the devil’s suggestion. Now the devil in tempting man promised him knowledge (Genesis 3:5). Therefore inordinateness in man was through the desire of knowledge, which pertains to curiosity. Therefore curiosity, and not pride, was the first sin.

Thomas Aquinas (1274), Summa Theologiae, 2-2.163.

Curiosity is clearly the indicated sin of Germain.


In the French version, the beginning of chapter XII in volume I goes as follows (emphasis added):

M. Noirtier, car c'était en effet lui-même qui venait d'entrer, suivit des yeux le domestique jusqu'à ce qu'il eût refermé la porte; puis, craignant sans doute qu'il n'écoutât dans l'antichambre, il alla rouvrir derrière lui: la précaution n'était pas inutile, et la rapidité avec laquelle maître Germain se retira prouva qu'il n'était point exempt du péché qui perdit nos premiers pères. M. Noirtier prit alors la peine d'aller fermer lui-même la porte de l'antichambre, revint fermer celle de la chambre à coucher, poussa les verrous, et revint tendre la main à Villefort, qui avait suivi tous ces mouvements avec une surprise dont il n'était pas encore revenu.

This was just to verify whether the 1846 English translation was faithful to the original or not. The reference is obviously to the "first sin" but we don't need to go as far back as Thomas Aquinas (see Gareth Rees's now deleted answer) to find its more specific meaning. Alexandre Dumas was more likely to be familiar with the 17th-century French theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet than with Aquinas.

In Élévations sur les Mystères (Elevations on the Mysteries) Bossuet discussed, among other things, the third chapter of Genesis. This discussion often mentions Eve's curiosity. For example (italics for Bible quotes by Bossuet):

Comme il vit qu'Ève était éblouie de la nouveauté, et que déjà elle entrait dans la doute qu'il voulait suggérer, il en garde plus de mesures et lui dit sans ménagement: (...) Et alors, dit-il, par une si belle connaissance, vous deviendrez si parfaits, que vous serez comme des dieux. De cette sorte, il flatte l'orgeuil, il pique et excite la curiosité. Ève commence à regarder ce fruit défendu, et c'est un commencement de désobéissance : (...).
(...) Le tentateur ne manqua pas de joindre la suggestion, et pour ainsi dire, le sifflement intérieur à l'extérieur; et il tâcha d'allumer la concupiscence, qu'Ève jusqu'alors ne connaissait pas. (...)
L'orgeuil entra avec ses paroles : Vous serez comme des dieux. Celles-ci : Vous saurez le bien et le mal, excitèrent la curiosité. (...) Voilà les trois maladies générales de notre nature, dont la complication fait tous les maux particuliers dont nous sommes affligés; et sain Jean les a ramassés dans ses paroles : N'aimez pas les monde, ni tout ce qui est dans le monde, parce que tout ce qui est dans le monde est, ou la concupiscence de la chair, c'est-à-dire manifestement la sensualité, ou la concupiscence des yeux, qui est la curiosité, ou enfin l'ambition et l'orgeuil! répandu dans toute la vie, qui est le nom propre du troisième vice dont la nature et la vie humaine est infectée.
(...) Adam crut donc qu'il saurait le bien et le mal, et que sa curiosité serait satisfaite.

My (somewhat free) translation (emphasis added):

As he [the serpent] saw that Eve was dazzled by the new [information] and that she was already sinking into the doubt that he wanted to suggest, he no longer held back and told her outright: (...) And he [the serpent] said, by this great knowledge you will become so perfect that you will be like gods. In this way, he flatters her pride and arouses her curiosity. Eve begins looking at that forbidden fruit and it's the beginning of disobedience: (...).
(...) The tempter managed to combine the [power of] suggestion with, in a manner of saying, the internal whistling/hissing with the external [whistling/hissing] [a]; and he tried to stimulate her concupiscence / sexual desire, which Eve did not know yet. (...)
He added pride to his words: You will be like gods. These words: You will know good and evil aroused her curiosity. (...) These are the three general maladies of our nature, which together cause all the particular evils that afflict us; and Saint John brought them together in his words: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for all that is in the world, or the lust of the flesh, in other words obviously sensuality, or the lust of the eyes, which is curiosity, or at last ambition and the pride of life, which is the proper/suitable name of the third vice by which human nature and human life are infected.[b]
(...) Adam therefore believed that he would know good and evil, and that his curiosity would be satisfied.

[a] Sifflement literally means "whistling" but in the case of a serpent it can also mean "hissing" (see Larousse). In the French Bible sifflement only occurs twice, with meanings that don't match well with what Bossuet probably intended. "Sifflement" probably refers to feeling of temptation that initially only exists in the mind and that is subsequently turned into action.

[b] These words are quoted from I John, 2 (i.e. the First Epistle of John, Chapter 2) but Bossuet added "or" ("ou") and left out some other words.

In the context of Dumas' novel, where Germain is caught eavesdropping, curiosity is obviously the "sin" that the author had in mind.

Update: It has been pointed out (in a now deleted answer) that the "first sin of Adam and Eve" and "original sin" are two related but distinct concepts. I do not consider this distinction relevant to this answer because it is a theological subtlety that goes right over the head of most believers. The "first sin" is the mythical event described in Genesis 3. "Original sin" is the presumed state of sin into which every human is born as a consequence of Adam and Eve's first sin. If you didn't grow up learning the catechism, you would probably not be aware of this distinction. For an explanation, see the article on The Fall in the catechism, which points out that:

Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin".

  • "Le tentateur ne manqua pas de joindre la suggestion, et pour ainsi dire, le sifflement intérieur à l'extérieur; et il tâcha d'allumer la concupiscence" = "The tempter didn't omit to combine a hint, or so to speak, an internal hissing, to the external; and he tried to arouse her lust." The serpent's external hissing (what he says) is the temptation to eat the forbidden fruit. Combined with that, his internal hissing (what he doesn't say explicitly, but what he suggests/implies) is sexual temptation. Hopefully this clears up your point [a].
    – verbose
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 9:37

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