[Milton-L] Directly

Michael Bryson michael.bryson at csun.edu
Sat Jul 29 10:34:44 EDT 2006

I think the dispute over whether "world" means cosmos or Earth itself (while valuable) takes us slightly afield from the question of what "directly" might mean. When the Father says of Satan:

Through all restraint broke loose, he wings his way
Not far off Heaven, in the precincts of light,
Directly towards the new created world,
And man there plac'd (3.87-90)

it is not *simply* "a misunderstanding of the narrative" to find the word "directly" odd, even misleading, in the context of what the reader has been through in watching Satan leave the burning floor of Hell, manage to talk his way past Sin and Death (conveniently placed by a gate, with a key to the gate that Satan could otherwise not have opened), get buffeted around rather conveniently in/by Chaos, then be tempted by a stairway let down from Heaven (the Father's Heaven), then  *finally* manage to find the "new created world." Even though Satan has already found (but "directly"?) the "firm opacous globe / Of this round world" (3.418-19), it still takes some extra help for him to find Earth:

The stairs were then let down, whether to dare
The Fiend by easy ascent, or aggravate
His sad exclusion from the doors of bliss:
Direct against which opened from beneath,
Just o'er the blissful seat of Paradise,
A passage down to the Earth (3.523-28)

Of course, even then, he needs to stop and ask directions again, this time of Uriel on the Sun:

Glad was the Spirit impure, as now in hope
To find who might direct his wandering flight
To Paradise, the happy seat of Man
Brightest Seraph, tell
In which of all these shining orbs hath Man
His fixed seat (3.630-32, 667-69)

Given all this, how can we understand "directly"? Amy Stackhouse raised an interesting point when she asked whether "directly" might be understood temporally, in which case perhaps the Father's use of the word might be explained in terms of a different sense of time ("immediate are the acts of God" etc.). What for us seems like a long and perilous journey might look direct to someone like that. However, I am more inclined to read the Father's use of "directly" differently. After all, this is a character whose first words seem like what we would call "spin" today:

Only begotten Son, seest thou what rage
Transports our Adversary? whom no bounds
Prescrib'd no bars of Hell, nor all the chains
Heap'd on him there, nor yet the main abyss
Wide interrupt, can hold (3.80-84)

*Can* hold? Oh, OK. Odd, though, that there is no mention here of the way Satan seems to have been able to get off the burning floor of Hell:

So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay,
Chained on the burning lake; nor ever thence
Had risen, or heaved his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
Left him at large to his own dark designs (1.209-13)

This might, of course, be explained as a conflict between the narrator and the Father, but whose version of events is the reader to credit in that case? Cui bono? Who benefits from "spin" here? Not the narrator. It is possible that the narrator is simply mistaken--it does seem to be mistaken about the notion of "heavenly minds" being "ever clear" of ire (4.114-19), for example. But there is more. Why is there no mention of the eyebrow-raising, eye-roll-inducing fact that of all the guards to the gates of Hell (and why does Hell need gates anyway--why not simply seal the place off? Well, there wouldn't be much of a story there, I suppose...), the one chosen to sit *inside with the key* is Satan's own daughter, who delivers a speech that serves as a parody of the kind of filial obedience that the Father so wants--and seems to have such difficulty inspiring--from his own offspring:

Thou art my father, thou my author, thou
My being gav'st me; whom should I obey
But thee? whom follow? (2.864-66)

After the reader has gone through all of that, the Father's "directly" seems, to me at least, perfectly amenable to a resistant reading. From Hell, through Chaos, to within sight of the "gate of Heaven" (3.515), to the Sun, to Earth and Eden is quite a journey. Is it "direct"? (Was Odysseus' journey to Ithaca "direct"? As direct as possible perhaps, as direct as the gods would allow, maybe.) Well, as I read it, in terms of distance and direction and trouble (plus the number of stops along the way), Satan's flight has been direct, if by direct you mean the sort of itinerary that routes you through Chicago and Kansas City and Las Vegas on a flight from New York to Los Angeles (not to map LA onto Eden----anyone who has ever experienced the 405 would know better!). Winging one's way anywhere "directly" and "as directly as possible" are two different things. Many airline customers have tedious experience of that difference (ah, the layovers involved in bargain-priced "wandering" !

Michael Bryson

>Date: Sat, 29 Jul 2006 10:46:23 -0400
>From: Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>  
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Directly  
>To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>I was hoping this point would be retracted, but I guess it's 
>necessary to say plainly that the Peter Herman / Jeff Wilson 
>objection to the Father's use of "directly" was based on a 
>misunderstanding of the narrative, thinking that Satan was "headed 
>for heaven" (PCH) to get directions from Uriel or another angel, 
>whereas in fact Satan was headed for the "pendent World," inside of 
>which he discovers Uriel on the sun -- not at the gate of heaven as 
>both PCH and JW seemed to think.  JW mistakenly thought that when 
>Satan alighted on the "firm opacious globe" he was landing on Earth, 
>when obviously it was the outside of our cosmos. These 
>misapprehensions created the impression that Satan is zigzagging 
>around when in fact he is moving as directly as possible toward his 
>I appreciate Prof. Herman's direct response to Prof. Shulsky's 
>challenge, though, and I agree that the Father's lines about Satan 
>breaking loose (3.80 ff) are open to question in that they seem to 
>complain about something that God could have prevented. Granted, the 
>story requires that Satan get to Paradise, but what do people think 
>about the Father's statement of the situation? Also, are there other 
>responses to Prof. Shulsky's challenge?

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