[Milton-L] help interpret a line

James Rovira jrovira at drew.edu
Wed Jan 21 17:56:37 EST 2004


Carroll Cox usefully suggested:

Carrol Cox wrote:

> The problem lies in the habit of so many Milton critics (especially in the 1960s, 1970s and into the '80s) to confuse _Paradise Lost_ with the universe, and to argue on the (sometimes explicit) premise that Milton's God was God, his Satan Satan, his Adam & Eve Adam & Eve (etc), and that hence in speaking of PL we were speaking of Reality Naked as it were.

But I think it doesn't go far enough.  I would argue that Milton is
indeed speaking of "Reality Naked as it were," but I think we need to
clearly define what reality we're talking about.  So far as a
historically "accurate" representation of Adam and Eve, of course not. 
Milton's first audience, and Milton himself, wouldn't have considered
that, I don't think (although I suppose I shouldn't make too many
assumptions about audience).  

But so far as the "reality" of the -current ideas- about Adam and Eve
circulating during Milton's time (and in the past accessible to Milton),
and his undoubtedly very sophisticated manipulation of them, then I
would say Milton's Adam, Eve, and Satan do depict "reality naked," in
this sense.

So while Milton's Satan is very much his own creation, for PL to "work,"
and especially to "justify the ways of God to men," this Satan has to
have something in common with current ideas about Satan during Milton's
time.  His has to be a believable Satan to an audience already familiar
with several images and ideas about Satan that are already pretty old. 
Since part of the traditional ideas about Satan include some kind of
deception, we should rightfully expect Satan to be employing some kind
of deceit in his conversation with Adam and Eve.  

So I think Gardner Campbell's observation is probably a good direction
to start looking:

> Yes, but isn't this particular line of reasoning suspect because it can't be argued against? Satan claims that contrary evidence is actually supporting evidence. All evidence is thus supporting evidence. Neatly, the very notion of "evidence" vanishes away. An odd thing emerges: persuasive nullity.

This type of looking helps us try to trace the anatomy of Satanic
"logic" and, by extension, the logic/nature of evil as Milton presented
it to his audience.  This, I think, is a worthwhile goal.

Jim


More information about the Milton-L mailing list