[Milton-L] O Eve, in evil hour...

Roy Flannagan Roy at gwm.sc.edu
Sat Nov 12 08:35:25 EST 2005

One thing certain about puns is that their secondary meaning can't be established with certainty unless the context establishes it.  I am uncomfortable with Ricks's reading because I can't believe that Milton would ever foist off on his reader the false etymology that "evil" is derived from "Eve."  Certainly Milton draws attention to the fact that when Eve ate she made her own evil hour, but nothing in Paradise Lost indicates that evil derives primarily from Eve, as in the "crooked rib" of monkish thinking.  Adam may be giving in to Satanic thinking when he associates Eve with evil.

It is very difficult for an editor even to try to establish the connections in a pun between what it says directly and with what other word it may lead us to.  Ricks may be wrong, unless Adam is speaking Satanically, but is Neil Forsyth wrong to play with Adam's being "dis-Eved" when Eve has eaten and he hasn't (perhaps he is, because Adam falls "not deceiv'd").  And what about the meaning of "fruit" or "mortal" in "the Fruit . . . whose mortal tast": does "fruit" mean "outcome," and does "mortal" mean "inducing mortality" or "poisonous"?  Certainly Eve is "ill" after she falls, but is her illness contained in the word "evil"?  I can't be sure.

My point is that we can speculate on the meaning of puns as long as we like, and they do add richness and something like musical overtones to Milton's language, but that their ultimate meaning cannot be established.  I do know that Satanic language is characterized by its bad puns.

Roy Flannagan    

>>> jefferyhodges at yahoo.com 11/11/05 10:23 PM >>>
Christopher Ricks cites Paradise Lost 9.1067, "O Eve,
in evil hour...", and notes that Adam puns here on
"Eve" and "evil" to "proclaim ... that the word evil
is derived from Eve, and that evil derives from her"
(Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (Oxford University Press,
1963) p. 103).

My question is this: Has anyone noted the possibility
of a double pun here?

"evil" = "Eve ill"?

Milton has used the term "ill" to mean "evil" just
twelve lines earlier, in 9.1055.

What's fascinating about this is the vicious
regression that results when one then reads "ill" as

"evil" = "Eve ill" -->"Eve evil" = "Eve Eve ill" -->
"Eve Eve evil" = "Eve Eve Eve ill" --> "Eve Eve Eve
evil" ...

The infinite regression of evil would fit with
Milton's portrayal of Satan, for example, as
ungrounded in his evil: 


Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep,
Still threat'ning to devour me, opens wide,
To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.

What do all of you think -- was this really what
Milton intended in 9.1067, namely, a double pun
resulting in an infinite regression of evil to reflect
its utter groundlessness?

Jeffery Hodges

University Degrees:

Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
(Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

Email Address:

jefferyhodges at yahoo.com 



Office Address:

Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University
136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
South Korea

Home Address:

Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
Sehan Apt. 102-2302
Sinnae-dong 795
Seoul 131-770
South Korea
Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu 
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

More information about the Milton-L mailing list