The animals that cover the central panel also evoke carnal urges. We know that fish, which crop up several times here, referenced the phallus in Old Netherlandish proverbs. The hordes of figures riding on the backs of bulls, horses, and fantastical creatures likewise allude to animal appetites and the act of sex itself. But while these figures are certainly enjoying themselves, Bosch also gestures to the ephemerality of fleshy pleasures—and to the fate that will follow.
The giant, bug-eyed owls placed on either side of the central panel hinted at evil in Bosch’s time, and as Bax and Gibson suggested, the hollow fruits dotting the landscape “signified something worthless, which was of course the way in which the medieval moralizers viewed the carnal act.” The fountain placed at the heart of the panel offers another sign that all is not well. In form, it mirrors the shimmering, crystalline wellspring seen to the left, in the Paradise panel. The surface of this one, however, is cracked, “thus conveying the idea of the ephemeral nature of earthly pleasures,” explained Silva.