[Milton-L] death in Eden.
michael.bryson at csun.edu
Mon Nov 22 12:11:10 EST 2004
I don't know, Jameela. In teaching PL and PR this term, I
was even more struck than ever before by what seems to me
the remarkable evasiveness of Milton's "God" or "Father"
character. The possibility you raise of "provide" being
understandable as foresight (provideo) plays right into the
central ambiguity of the Father's discourse in Book 3. Lines
like 117-119 (if I foreknew, / Foreknowledge had no
influence on their fault, / Which had no less prov'd certain
unforeknown), which, while certainly susceptible to an
interpretation that "acquits" the Father (especially given
the interesting--and deliberately evasive--"if"), also lend
themselves to darker interpretations against which ocean
tides of critical ink have been loosed, notably from Lewis
I suspect that the phrase "provided death" was meant by
Milton to carry the weight of both foresight and
forearrangement (something like the Calvinist sense
that "God foreknew what end man was to have before he
created him [...] because he so foreordained by his decree"--
Institutes 3.23.7). I don't think Milton is trying to get
the Father off the hook quickly or neatly; quite the
reverse, by leaving open the possibility of a "Calvinist"
Father, I think he is trying to leave him dangling on the
hook for as long as possible. Choosing the word "provided"
works very nicely to that end precisely because it refuses
the absolution of the Father that so many critics of Milton
have tried to wrest from Paradise Lost (or to insist is
obvious therein if only we remain on guard against our
Leaving metrical considerations aside, "provided" (rather
than either "foresaw" or "gave") keeps the question of the
Father's responsibility open, and thus keeps open what I see
as the significant thread of accusation that runs through
the poem. (And despite the Father's insistence in Book 3
that he cannot be "justly" accused, accusation is an
important part of the project "to justify the ways of God to
>Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2004 05:25:28 -0600
>From: Jameela Lares <Jameela.Lares at usm.edu>
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] death in Eden.
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-
l at lists.richmond.edu>
>Interesting point, Michael. To what extent is
the "provide" a foreseeing
>(provideo) without associated responsibility?
>Quoting Michael Bryson <michael.bryson at csun.edu>:
>> Another thing to note, perhaps, is that at PL 11.61, the
>> Father claims that he "provided death"--death may exist
>> the "warped mind of Satan" (an old warhorse of an image
>> Milton studies to be sure), but the Father seems to have
>> difficulty regarding it and/or advertising it as his own
>> rather strange gift, as line 60 seems to suggest that it
>> provided to relieve humankind of "eternize[d] woe."
>> Michael Bryson
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