[Milton-L] help interpret a line

James Rovira jrovira at drew.edu
Mon Jan 26 07:36:29 EST 2004

Thanks for the good post...response below:

Harold Skulsky wrote:

>(1) As the context requires, the fear the Tempter needs to discredit to
>succeed in his project is Eve's fear of eating the apple. His purpose
>all sublime is to get her to eat. In the quoted line he claims that fear
>of eating is removed by another of Eve's fears, viz., the fear of DEATH.
>Improving the quoted line by replacing "death" with "God" (among other
>strange inventions recently offered) is rewriting the text, not
>interpreting it. 

I would take issue with the above only on the grounds that God was the 
one who warned against death and would most likely be the instrument of 
death, and that the command was such that death is made out to be a bad 
thing, and the tree is associated with it.  So fearing death is an 
"extension" in this context of fearing God.  You're right to say, of 
course, that death isn't God.

I'm not sure how Milton handles these details, but the Genesis account 
records that the tree of life was standing next to the tree of the 
knowledge of good and evil (which brought forth death), and that the 
tree of life was not forbidden.  I think the deception works by 
confusing real options.  Satan attempts to say the options are between 
knowledge and ignorance.  I suspect the Divine point of view is that the 
choice is between life and death. 

It should be noticed that the tree is not called the tree of the 
knowledge of evil, but of the knowledge of good AND evil.  The knowledge 
communicated is the knowledge of a distinction or a difference, not any 
kind of absolute knowledge of an individual thing, either experientially 
or conceptually -- which I think Satan was presenting the knowledge as, 
in the quoted lines from Paradise Lost.  If we're going to invoke 
Augustine at this point, it probably helps to remember that he 
envisioned evil not as a thing in itself, but as a perversion or warping 
of a good thing.


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