[Milton-L] Strier, disquised departures

Neil Forsyth Neil.Forsyth at unil.ch
Fri Aug 11 21:34:17 EDT 2006

I've been following these recent threads with interest. In response 
to this particular question, I think Carl could usefully consult 
William Poole's recent book on the Fall and ideas of the Fall. He 
sheds light on several of Milton's contemporaries who had Gnostic 
leanings and moves us beyond the divine Empson's often accurate 
intuitions about Milton's sources. I reviewed Poole's book in MQ and 
the TLS recently, and it is well worth looking at.

On other related matters discussed recently, I think that God's 
'therefore' in the phrase from Book III 'Man therefore shall find 
Grace, the other none' is a fairly clear sign that Satan is necessary 
to Milton's idea of salvation, and have argued as much at some length 
in The Satanic Epic. This is one sign among many of Milton's deviance 
from orthodoxies, even if it is not quite the blasphemy that one of 
my reviewers called it, and certainly leads me to endorse the 
disquiet, not to put it any more strongly, that Carrol Cox expresses 
in relation to Milton's God. It's hard to see how any attentive 
reader of the poem would not sense Milton's own disquiet, and like 
many others, including most recently in Michael Bryson's fine work, I 
tried to show how a similar unease is to be found elsewhere, eg in 

On the question of the traditional ways of presenting evil and their 
relation to Milton, I think Mr Hodges is right to sense a tension 
between two different views within the tradition. On the one hand, 
evil is nothingness, or absence of good, as in Augustine, on the 
other it is something grand, as in the image of Satan.

I'm not sure there is anything Straussian about Paradise Lost, except 
perhaps in the ways that Christopher Hill argued he needed to pass 
the censorship that almost lost us the poem. The sons of belial 
passage is as close as he came to denouncing his political opponents, 
and it's surprising the threat to censor the poem did not focus on 
that. But then we only have one witness for the threat anyway.

Greetings to all

>Prof. Strier wrote,
>>From my point of view, it does no good to quote stuff where the 
>>poem looks or sounds like standard Christian theology (death for 
>>death, etc), since M wants the poem to look that way.  PL works to 
>>disguise M's major departures from normative Xtianity-- and he 
>>seems to have convinced his critics to see him as more orthodox 
>>than he actually was (as an Arian, mortalist, rationalist, etc). 
>>Whether M merely wants, in some sense, to have it both ways here; 
>>or whether he is doing some sort of "Straussian" devious thing; or 
>>whether he expected closed readers to notice the sham; or whether 
>>he was confused and contradictory in what he believed; or whether 
>>he did not want to own up to his lack of use for the central mythos 
>>of Xtianity-- I do not know.
>Should "gnostic" or "cabalistic" be added to this fine catalog of 
>possible _disguised departures_ in Milton?  (perhaps subsumed under 
>Separate question: are there any indications in Puritan, or Quaker 
>literature, or other Protestant permutations in Milton's England, of 
>cabalistical/gnostic/mystical interests such as would inform poetic 
>Were the Cambridge Platonists allowed under some Protestant 
>standard, or considered entirely outside the pale?
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Neil Forsyth
Professor of English
University of Lausanne
CH-1015 Lausanne
+41 21 692 29 88
FAX: +41 21 692 29 35
e-mail: Neil.Forsyth at unil.ch
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