[Milton-L] The War in Heaven

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 9 15:47:32 EDT 2006

Re: [Milton-L] The War in HeavenBefore I am pilloried for the implication that enlightened moderns *don't* anthropomorphize deity, let me clarify: I think that Milton goes as far as he can to distinguish the anthropomorphism (human-like shape or form) of God the Father (and the Son), without making either of them human-like in behavior or response any more than he absolutely has to do, for dramatic consistency and effect. The Father hurls no thunderbolts--comes to the deus-ex-machina aid of none of the combatants--and though one could argue that, Zeus or Jove-like, he rapes a mortal woman (in that the Virgin Mary did not know before the fact of, and therefore could not have consented to, the act of her impregnation) that is not a part of Milton's version of the story. The "wooden bore" who is the Father (quoting Irene Samuel, I think) mystifies us precisely because he doesn't behave like an angry human parent whose children have defied his edicts: he speaks in the cold judicial voice of law and justice, untempered by what will be the Son's interceded mercy, citing the crime and the statutory punishment. Attempting to understand the Almighty and his works in terms of human psychology and the laws of the physical universe is an exercise in futility, and often results in absurdities (as Empson so clearly demonstrated concerning the Father's "stacking of the deck"). I think that's part of Milton's point in Book 6: like an indulgent parent, Raphael attempts to reduce his answers to Adam's questions to a level that Adam can comprehend, so that he will understand why Satan and the reprobate angels were cast out of heaven, but a great deal of substance gets lost in the translation. 

Best to all,

Carol Barton
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