[Milton-L] prohi-BITS / Keys to heaven and hell

Margaret Thickstun mthickst at hamilton.edu
Fri Mar 19 09:45:24 EDT 2010


I think Milton has God give Sin the keys to the Gates of Hell because 
resisting Satan's blandishments would be her opportunity to transcend 
her nature and become a "human being."  After all, Milton also gives her 
a long speech rationalizing what she is doing by arguing that her 
obedience to her father trumps her obedience to God.  It's weird to make 
an allegorical character named "Sin" and then have her rationalize the 
way that Satan and Adam and Eve--characters who are "sufficient to have 
stood, though free to fall."  Perhaps Sin has the capacity to stand back 
up?  I've made this argument twice in print.

Her rationalizing also offers another example of how a sinful mind work 
through a problem and so offers the same kind of cautionary lesson that 
Satan's and then Eve's and then Adam's soliloquies about why they did or 
are going to do the thing they know they should not do offer.   Her 
situation, forced to choose between religious and domestic authorities, 
mirrors the situation of many women during this period.

But here's a more straight-forward explanation for why Sin holds the 
keys: "sin" is how a person gets into Hell and "sin" is what keeps a 
person locked in it.--Margie

On 3/19/10 9:21 AM, Samuel Smith wrote:
> Indeed, this invariably puzzles my students and puts any success of Milton's theodicy in question: why would God entrust the key of Hell's gates to Sin?
>
> My favorite student response (though with little interest in truly exonerating God): "well, Satan seduced her and left her, and even befouled her; isn't this her opportunity for some sweet revenge?"  Or perhaps the student who suggested (in retrospect, when we read Dalila's excuses for shearing Samson) that perhaps God thought Sin, enamoured with Satan, would want to keep him captive in Hell instead of risking his loss if she let him venture out?
>
> Note, however, the key difference: Peter receives ONLY "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16.19, NRSV), while Milton's Sin receives ONLY the "powerful Key" of the 'kingdom' of hell (PL 2.774).  Sin receives no key(s) to the kingdom of heaven, and Peter receives no key to the kingdom of hell.  So different keys in question here.
>
> Of further interest: only a few verses after awarding Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus turns on Peter, identifying him as an adversary: "Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me" (Matthew 16.23, because Peter has argued against Jesus' decision to suffer, be killed, and rise "on the third day').
>
> Samuel
>
>
>    
>>>> Dario Rivarossa<dario.rivarossa at gmail.com>  03/19/10 3:11 AM>>>
>>>>          
> When Jesus "gave" the keys to Peter, he was just speaking
> metaphorically, but everywhere in art history they have been shown as
> real objects, handed by the Lord to the first Pope.
>
> All right, sure Milton did not like that symbol of the Church's power.
> But what strikes me in PL is the fact that _God_ himself (who will
> entrust Peter) gives the keys to --- Sin !!
>
> On the other hand, in Bk 12, Peter's keys and power will not be
> mentioned at all. Indeed, the disciples will be mentioned for the
> first time only in v. 438, almost incidentally, after Jesus'
> resurrection. Milton simply writes that Christ "to them shall leave in
> charge / To teach all nations" etc.
>
> So, God gives those keys to Sin --- and to nobody else than her. And,
> instead of keeping "the gates of hell" under control, as Peter's
> should, Sin's keys will not prevent Satan from invading the Earth.
> This Milton chap is definitely a rascal.
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-- 

Margaret Olofson Thickstun

Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English

Hamilton College

198 College Hill Road

Clinton, NY 13323

(315) 859-4466

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