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The men on the expedition felt overwhelmed by their most ancient memories in that paradise of dampness and silence, going back to before original sin, as their boots sank into pools of steaming oil and their machetes destroyed bloody lilies and golden salamanders.
(One Hundred Years of Solitude, tr. by Gregory Rabassa)

Does the bold phrase modify previous NP or denote the result of previous action?

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    This is really just Off Topic Lit Crit. There's nothing in the rules of English grammar that specifies what specific preceding noun going back to before original sin modifies. And supplementive clause (not a useful grammatical category, imho) is really just any clause containing supplementary information. Which applies to both the highlighted clause and the one following, but I can't see what use it is to know that. Jul 31, 2013 at 1:54
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    @FumbleFingers I disagree. This provides more insight into the use(fulness) of supplementive clause. I think OP is pointing to a genuine ambiguity: depending on the parsing, the clause may modify the immediately preceding NP paradise... or the subject men .., which is remote but "revived" by the their in the very next clause. Jul 31, 2013 at 11:22
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    It's the memories.
    – mcalex
    Jul 31, 2013 at 13:34
  • @StoneyB: But you and kiamlaluno have both proposed different (and credible) nouns as the object of the "supplementive clause". I've not upvoted either of them because with such tortuous phrasing (in a translation, at that) any specific choice has very little relevance to anyone except in a highly rarefied Lit Crit context. I'm sure we've had many previous questions regarding "ambiguity of preceding referent for modifying clause", but here's the first one I came across (also answered by you, and also not mentioning grammatical ambiguity! :) Jul 31, 2013 at 17:03
  • @FumbleFingers Both kiam and I have identified this as a modifier rather than a supplementive clause, which is what OP asked. In any case, it's not a question of literary criticism but a grammar question about a passage which happens to come from something upon which we bestow the honorific "literature". Jul 31, 2013 at 18:17

2 Answers 2

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It's an ordinary modifier.

According to the Biblical myth, Adam was created sinless in Paradise, the Garden of Eden, from which he was banished for eating the forbidden fruit. In Christian theology Adam's fall from grace caused all his descendants to be born in a state of original sinfulness, derived not from their actions but from their fallen state.

It is thus paradise which "goes back before original sin" and evokes the travelers' "most ancient memories" of the fall and exile.

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The highlighted phrase is referred to "their most ancient memories," which go back to before the original sin. Since there was no human beings before God created them, that is our most ancient memories.

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