[Milton-L] help interpret a line

Harper, D. CPT ENG David.Harper at usma.edu
Mon Jan 26 17:39:26 EST 2004

While I understand your reluctance here, I think the confusion comes
from the alternate (and yet still "grammatically correct") ways the line
may be parsed:

1.  (Your fear itself)(of Death removes the fear)

2.  (Your fear itself of Death) (removes the fear)

3.  (Your fear) (itself of Death) (removes the fear)

In either case, there is an ambiguous object for at least one of the

I see many people here, including myself, considering the first reading:
(Your fear itself) [of God / or of God's punishment] (of Death removes
the fear). 

In that case, the object of "removes the fear" is the Death that
immediately precedes "removes."

In the second possibility we end up with:  (Your fear itself of
Death)(removes the fear) [of eating the fruit]. Here, "itself" is just
padding, which is possible but makes me like the line less.

The third case might indicate that the fear has its genesis in Death. In
a sense, Death is already a reality (as we know from Death's birth
narrative that at II 800). Eve might as well eat the fruit since her
fear demonstrates she's already broken with God?

I'd like to jettison the third interpretation as just plain cumbersome,
despite some playful merits.

The problem, then, is figuring out the difference between the first two
readings. How does fear of death remove the fear of eating the fruit?
Given the lines preceding this about "not just, not God" one might break
this down to "Your fear of Death (an unjust punishment for such a petty
crime) negates your fear of eating the fruit, because God can't justly
punish you."

Looking at it more abstractly:

If Death = A and eating the apple = B, you can write interpretations 1 &
2 as:

1: Your fear of B removes the fear of A.
2: Your fear of A removes the fear of B.

The fear of the eating the apple also reduces to a fear of the
consequences (Death). But doesn't the fear of Death equate to fear of
God? Surely it seems death is a punishment threatened by God and not
outside his control (since apparently nothing is). Therefore A = B.

I end up with: Your fear of A removes the fear of A. Since "fear of
death" and "fear of eating the fruit" are the same thing (both fears
reduce down to fear of God) = Your fear of God removes your fear of God.

Why? Because fearing God [at least in relation to this "petty" crime]
proves (in Satan's twisted logic here) that he isn't God. 

Harold Shulsky writes: 

> the fear of God does not directly involve the point of the Tempter's
whole effort at this point; Eve needn't actively fear God or death
unless she eats
> --and eating is what needs to be made fear-free if the Tempter is to
get his way.

The Tempter knows, or asserts, that it precisely Eve's fear of God that
makes her hesitate. She tells him "God hath said, Ye shall not eat /
Thereof nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die." The *only* reason for her
to fear eating is her fear of God. She has made it clear that but for
this one prohibition "our Reason is our law" (654). The fear of eating
the fruit is outside Reason - it is fear based on a (seemingly)
arbitrary promise extracted by God. (I can't help but think about
Samson's vow not to get his hair cut; it is the obedience that matters,
not the act itself). We might posit that love of God (and not fear)
would prevent her act, isn't it logical that Satan he would simply
assume fear is her motivation, projecting his own inner Hell onto her?

She, by the way, causes us to suspect that she is in fact motivated by
fear when she muses, "What fear I then, rather what know to fear / Under
this ignorance of Good and Evil, / Of God or Death, of Law or Penalty?
Here grows the Cure of all..."

The kicker is that she convinces herself that she doesn't have enough
knowledge to fear. This is an idea the serpent introduced in one of his
moves of temptation. 

I'm enjoying this discussion, by the way. What a great line this is to
work with. The problem of evil in eight words.

Captain David A. Harper
Assistant Professor, Department of English
United States Military Academy
(845) 938-2643
A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its
will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Harold Skulsky [mailto:HSKULSKY at email.smith.edu] 
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2004 12:45 PM
To: milton-l at koko.richmond.edu; milton-l at koko.richmond.edu;
bradbure at wfu.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] help interpret a line

Beth Bradburn asks if Eve's fear of eating the apple is not the same as
her fear of God. The short answer is no. The fears are distinct. Eve's
fear of eating the apple is DUE to her fear of God, or rather of what
God will do if she eats.  The "fear" that is the grammatical object of
"removes" in 702 is the fear of performing the act that will promote
other fears (of God and
Death) from the status of deterrents to the status of live expectations.
(As a deterrent of course, nothing will remove the fear of God, and it
would not serve the Tempter's purpose to argue otherwise.)

Bradburn ends by paraphrasing the "literal" sense of 702 as "Your fear
of God removes the fear of death." This will not do, I continue to
think. The grammatical subject of "removes" in 702 is "Your fear itself
of Death," not "Your fear itself of God." It is simply  Pickwickian to
claim that the LITERAL meaning of the former is the latter. 

Playing fast and loose with the literal meaning of the much-abused
adjective "literal" is one the disastrous consequences of the late
Donald Davidson's malign influence on thinking about trope. I suppose
(given Gresham's law) that we will have to live with this for the

Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu

More information about the Milton-L mailing list