In the ancient Hebrew poetry, the word “hevel” formed part of the repertory of images which, like “water”, “shade” or “smoke” were used to describe fragility and the ephemeral nature of the human condition.
Perhaps its most notable use is to be found at the beginning of the book of the Bible usually called Ecclesiastes (Qohelet I, 2). “Hevel” became embodied in the translation of the Vulgatate as “vanitas”, and thus “vanity”. Hevel Hevelym … hakol Hevel: Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas. In modern translations of the text, we find such proposals as “vacuum”, “vapour” or even “waste” (Erri De Luca: “sprecco”). From the Hebrew tradition, the Ferrara Bible (1553) translates concisely: “void of voids, absolute nothing”. Likewise, Hevel (Abel) is the second son of Adam and Eve, murdered by his brother Cain. According to the biblical story, his was the first death of a human being. The meaning of the word is expressed symbolically but clearly in his name.
It is in its use as vanitas, as void, lapse or emptiness, that “hevel” has its meaning here.