[Milton-L] Paradise Lost

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 28 11:16:12 EST 2005


Felicia Weston-davies wrote:

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I was wondering whether anyone has any thoughts on ll.
7801-1 in Book VIII of Paradise Lost:

'So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat'

To mix tenses at such a key point I think may be
deliberate- however the
notes in my copy suggest that 'eat' may be a Middle
English ref. to 'et'. I
would like to propose that it is instead a purposeful
mixing of tenses, suggestive of the fact that the
moment at which she first eats will reverberate
throughout time, affecting all mankind. Any
comments/views would be gratefully received.
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My undergraduate Milton class and I were wondering
about precisely this just yesterday. Milton certainly
could have chosen "ate" (does he ever use the word in
Paradise Lost), so why didn't he do so here?

If he had wanted to use the present, he could have
simply written "she eats."

The text in my undergraduate class has the same
footnote explaining about "eat" being Middle English,
but if Milton could have used "ate" rather than Middle
English "eat" for the past of "eat," then he was
making a choice.

Did he want to render a sight pun on the present tense
(or infinitive?) "eat"? Perhaps to imply that the
eating of the fruit has an effect in the present (as
Felicia suggests)?

Or was "eat" a variant for "ate" -- did the "ea" in
"eat" have the same pronunciation as the "a" in "ate"?

As you see, I have only questions.

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

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Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
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Korea University
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