[Milton-L] queer milton?

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Tue Feb 20 09:25:35 EST 2007


These are good, relevant responses and I appreciate them.  I tried to
emphasize in my post that I was working off the top of my head.  Sin
sprang forth, initially, from Satan's head -- which seems to me to
emphasize asexual reproduction -- but Satan's coupling with Sin to
produce Death is certainly sexual in nature, as is Death's repeated
coupling with Sin to produce her continuing offspring.

I don't think I need to say that this passage is primarily an allegory
of this passage from James 1:

 13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God
cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is
tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin,
when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

It seems to me that the sexual nature of Satan's reproduction here is
subordinate to its function as an allegory representing these
interrelationships between desire, sin, and death.  James used a
sexual allegory without believing these were real persons involved in
real sexual relationships: Milton simply dramatized this allegory,
having Satan stand in for desire.

It also seems to me that angels in PL are rough equivalents to the
Greek gods: human form, hunger, sex, sexuality are all -optional- and
occur most typically in their interactions with human beings.  Again,
if angelic sexuality can be easily switched back and forth, and
perhaps dropped altogether, it is hardly the basis of angelic
identity.

Probably more optional for Milton's angels, in fact, than for the
Greek gods, but recall Zeus impregnated Daphne (again, working from
memory) in the form of a golden shower, Leda in the form of a swan,
etc.  Emphasizing the "reality" of Zeus' sexual being in these cases
causes us to miss the allegory, which does teach us about sex, but
human sexuality and its rich emotional contours.

God's "begetting" the Son is hardly sexual.  The Son is "eternally
begotten" of the Father, according to the creeds.  It is possible, of
course, that Milton didn't share this belief, but if I recall, even
within the context of PL Christ was the "Son of God" prior to his
birth from Mary.  We human beings have only the language of the earth
to describe heavenly realities, so only the language of sex to
describe the reproduction of living beings.

I don't think I need to work very hard to defend the idea that human
physicality and, by extension, human sexuality was subordinate to and
served the purposes of reproduction throughout most of western
history.  The current teachings of the Catholic Church against birth
control is just the most recent expression of a very long tradition.
Even in Plato, while homosexual desire was accepted apparently without
guilt and appreciated, marriage was reserved for men and women to
serve reproductive purposes.  Of course there are exceptions to this
very general rule, but that doesn't change the nature of the rule.

This certainly does exclude homosexuality as a legitimate form of
human sexual expression and is certainly offensive to modern
sensibilities, heterosexual or homosexual.  But we can't change this
history by wishing it away.  I would hope we can be  honest about the
past without being so threatened by it that we resent its very
mention.  Milton was himself embedded in this tradition.

It seems we have a new sin that cannot be named...

Jim R


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