[Milton-L] The War in Heaven

jfleming at sfu.ca jfleming at sfu.ca
Wed Jul 12 12:01:09 EDT 2006


On Tue, 11 Jul 2006 19:54:55 -0400 milton-l at lists.richmond.edu wrote:
> Adam invents fire when bad weather begins after the Fall 
> (10.1070-85). This is after Adam has absorbed Eve's idea of 
> repentance and begun to think there may be a point to carrying on 
> with life.
> 
> Michael Gillum

Granted. But (1) this is a response to the fall, helping to throw the fall
(with its temperature control, uncooked dinners, and guiltless tools) into
relief. (2) even here, A does not "invent" fire, in the modern and
technological sense. Perhaps we could say that he "invents" it in the
early-modern, rhetorical sense. But perhaps it would be simpler to note that
"invention" and its cognates, with all of their problematic associations,
are absent from the passage (cp Satan's gunpowder speech in 6).

Fire is not a capability that Adam discovers where it was unapparent -- as
Satan discovers gunpowder beneath the green fields of Heaven. Neither is
fire something that A proffers as a startling or new possibility, or
anything that stretches vocabulary in the manner of new technologies --
compare Raphael's stammering attempt to describe cannon in 6. Rather, the
possibility of fire is something that Adam identifies as apparent in his and
E's experience, and available for imitation precisely because it is
established and intelligible:

		   as late the Clouds
Justling or pusht with Winds rude in thir shock
Tine the slant Lightning, whose thwart flame driv'n down
Kindles the gummy bark of Fir or Pine,
And sends a comfortable heat from far,
Which might supply the Sun: such Fire to use,
... He will instruct us praying (10.1073-1081)

It is hard to imagine a less Promethean, or less Satanic, account of the
matter. Not only has God been giving fire, even when it wasn't needed, all
along; A also assumes, correctly, that _prayer_ is the way to figure out how
to use it. If A identifies a _techne_ in this passage, it is prayer. But
this is hardly technological. Something is at stake here for M. 

JD Fleming


James Dougal Fleming, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English,
Simon Fraser University,
(604) 291-4713
cell: 778-865-0926

Laissez parler les faits.


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