[Milton-L] Nature of evil cont...

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 12 18:53:38 EDT 2006

I think it does, Mike. Milton deviates from the Dantean concept of evil (the cloven-hoofed, horned red anthropomorph with the pointy tail and the pitchfork, easily recognizable when he appears) to something far more subtle--in some ways like Spenser's Archimago and Bunyan's Despair, but much less easy to discern: the good-seeming ill, the hypocrite, the con man who convinces us that what we want is what is right (and thus, in the words of Walt Kelly's Pogo, "we have met the enemy, and he is us"). In _Paradise Lost_, it is not the Serpent who seduces Eve; he merely intuits what is dearest to her heart, and affirms what she already wants to believe, that there is some way in which she can make herself equal to Adam. Neither is it the Woman who seduces the Man: she merely offers what he has already decided to accept. Both are wrong, of course, and both rely on what "seems" rather than what they know for certain "is": no matter what entices them to do otherwise, God has expressly commanded that they not eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Milton's point throughout both of the epics and the Dramatick Poem is that it is *we* who seduce ourselves, *we* who rationalize putting our will above God's, our "now" above his kairos, our yearning above our faith in him--and that when we do so, just as Satan did, we make it easy for evil to enter our lives.

To Milton, evil is separation from the unity that is the universe, such that Eve's prelapsarian breaking away from Adam in the Garden hints at her fall before the fact: the willfulness of her action countermands everything God (through Raphael) and Adam have said to her, and is not the act of independence/self-empowerment that some might consider it to be today, but an act of self-indulgent disregard of what she knows to be wiser benevolent authority: God is her Creator, Adam her source, and both, in a sense, are her fathers.

This seems to me to be a deviation from the accepted version of the Genesis story that still prevails today (that the serpent seduced Eve, and Eve seduced Adam, and that, as in the Greek myth of Pandora's box, women are responsible for the evil in the world), and a deeply psychological view of the nature of temptation and self-deception far beyond any other work of the period in its insights.

I hope that's helpful.


Carol Barton

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Mike Selby 
  To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu 
  Sent: Saturday, August 12, 2006 4:14 PM
  Subject: [Milton-L] Nature of evil cont...

  Actually, it began to enter my mind as I was reading what Tom Shippey wrote about Tolkien's work and 'the nature of evil'. He writes "..the concept of the Ring, which itself embodies two distinct and competing these about the nature of evil, the one officially accepted (but hard to credit), the other threateningly heretical (but all too easy, in modern circumstances to accept). Tolkien not only poses questions about evil, he also prides answers and solutions----one of the thing which has made him unpopular with the processionally gloomy or fashionably nihilist."

  So this led me to wonder about Paradise Lost, being it is Milton's epic. Shippey also noted that "The Lord of the Rings was written by a devout and believing Christian, and has been seen my many as a deeply religious work, yet it contains almost no direct religious reference at all"

  And this led me to ask if a religious as work as Paradise Lost would of contained any other concepts of evil not apparent in the biblical / Christian explanations and / or sources. 


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