[Milton-L] Directly

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Sat Jul 29 22:26:51 EDT 2006

If memory serves me rightly (and I may be wrong, since there has been a flurry of emails) it was Peter Herman who started this thread about "directly."  Peter was elaborating an argument he makes on page 123 of his recent book *Destabilizing Milton*--a fascinating and lively book, that I have just finished with great pleasure and profit, but which sometimes makes tendentious arguments.  I think that Peter's point about "directly" is one of these.  In what follows I shall try (as briefly as possible) to show why I think that Peter's interpretation of "directly" rests on a simple misreading.  The gist is this.  Peter thinks that Satan ascends the stairs that God lets down from heaven when Satan alights on the firm opacous globe of this round world, which (as others have rightly pointed out) is the universe, not the earth.  This is how Peter makes his point on page 123 of the book just mentioned:  

"Satan travels first to just outside Heaven, where stairs descend to help him up.  Then, while in disguise, he asks Uriel for directions and Uriel gives them to him.  Consequently, the unknown agent who let down the stairs must share responsibility for the subsequent events, since without the stairs Satan might not have reached Uriel. . . . Did God let down the stairs?  Why?  If not God, then who?  and to what purpose?  If one dares Satan, does one not share some responsibility for what happens when Satan takes the dare? Since that act allowed Satan access to Uriel (or at least, made it easier), doesn't letting down the stairs add yet another link in the chain of causation, another agent to the list of those who contribute in some degree to the Fall?" (*Destabilizing Milton*, p. 123)

Peter here seems to be assuming three things:  

1) Satan ascends the stairs that God (or some other agent) lowers from Heaven,
2) these stairs lead Satan to Uriel,
3) Uriel is in Heaven

I submit that all three assumptions are demonstrably false.  Peter might be innocent of the last.  I may have misunderstood an earlier sentence, at the very top of the same page, where he asks us to entertain (and reject) the hypothesis that "Satan does indeed wing his way 'directly' to Earth, that he does not go first to Heaven to ask for directions".  If I understand Peter correctly, his assumption is that Satan does in fact "go first to Heaven to ask for directions."  I have a very different understanding of the relevant lines from book 3.  I take it that Satan turns AWAY from the stairs (he does NOT ascend them, does not, in Peter's words, "take the dare").  Instead, Satan enters the universe by the hole in its outer shell, which opens directly under the stairs that Satan does not take.  If I am right, Satan does in fact proceed as "directly" as possible, just as God says.  If he had taken the stairs that are lowered from heaven "to tempt his easy ascent", he would have been distracted from his mission, but he does not in fact do this.  He knows that humankind is somewhere inside the universe (not in Heaven), so that is where he goes, eschewing the stairs either out of single-minded focus on the task in hand, or caution, or both.  The stairs "dare " him to ascend, but he declines the dare.

None of this need detract from the force of Peter's larger argument.  One might argue that God is wicked for teasing Satan, or humiliating him with a reminder of his "sad exclusion from the gates of bliss" (or words to that effect, quoted from memory).  But this is not the argument Peter makes.  He builds an intricate case about a supposed diversion to Heaven, which supposedly gives the lie to God's word "directly."  I submit that the alleged diversion to Heaven never happens.  Satan meets Uriel in the sun, not Heaven, which lies inside the universe, below the stairs.  I'm sorry to have laboured this point, but it does seem that some people on the list (not just Peter) have crucially misread this little episode, perhaps because they have taken the word "world" at the end of book two to mean "earth," not "universe," as Dennis Danielson and others have plausibly conjectured.

Best wishes to all,

John Leonard 

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jeffrey Wilson 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:20 PM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Directly

  At the risk of cluttering up the in-boxes of uninterested list members, I'll here present my summa directly.

  No one disputes the fact that Satan goes directly to the new created world. Dr. Hodges and Dr. Gillum are both exactly right that Satan goes directly to the World. The trustworthiness of the Father's claim is not an issue of cosmology, it's an issue of grammar. The issue to consider is whether or not it is responsible to read these lines as saying, "he wings his way / ... / Directly toward... / ...man..." My argument is that it's not only responsible but necessary. It may be helpful to have the complete passage in front of us:

  And now
  Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
  Not farr off Heav'n, in the Precincts of light,
  Directly towards the new created World,
  And Man there plac't, with purpose to assay [ 90 ]
  If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
  By some false guile pervert;

  The argument against my position wants to paraphrase God as saying, "Satan wings his way directly toward the world and IN GENERAL toward man." In order to do so, the antecedent for "man" in line 90 would have to be the main subject and verb of the sentence (i.e. "he wings" in line 87). But this would mean that the line reads, "he wings his way / ...Man there plac't, with purpose to assay..." which makes no sense because of the lack of a prepositional phrase (i.e. the lack of "to" or "toward").

  In order for the line to satisfy the rules of grammar, there must be a prepositional phrase, and of course there is one in "Directly toward." Now, if Milton had written, "he wings his way / ... / toward the new created World directly, / And Man there plac't, with purpose to assay..." then we would have a non-issue because the adverb "directly" would only modify the first half of the compound prepositional phrase (i.e. "directly" would only modify "the new created World" and not "and man there plac't"). But that's not what Milton wrote. Milton puts the adverb that modifies the prepositional phrase outside the phrase, indicating that it modifies the entire compound prepositional phrase. Moreover, the conjunction "and" in the prepositional phrase distributes "Directly" equally to both "the new created World" and not "and man there plac't"). 

  In sum, "toward" is a necessary grammatical feature in order for "Man" to make sense, and "Directly" necessarily governs "toward" and everything in the prepositional phrase that "toward" introduces. 

  Thus, the paraphrase that adheres to the grammatical structure of these lines is, "Satan wings his way directly toward the world and DIRECTLY toward man." Directly is used here as a description of how Satan moves spatially, as Dr. Herman pointed out in his original post, "according to the OED, 'directly' is not one of these words with a multiplicity of meanings. Basically, it means moving 'In a straight line of motion; with undeviating course; straight' (def. 1.a.) or 'not obliquely' (def. 2)." I also agree with Michael Brysen that "Winging one's way anywhere 'directly' and 'as directly as possible' are two different things."

  The conclusion I draw from analyzing the content and syntax of God's speech and then comparing that analysis with the events in the poem is that God is somewhat loose with the Truth in this instance.

  Jeff Wilson

  P.S. I am by no means a grammarian - my above analysis is at about the level of freshman composition - and if someone with more expertise in this area has an alternate take or any qualifications to my analysis of the grammatical construction of these lines I'd be sincerely interested to hear another close reading.

  On Jul 29, 2006, at 12:07 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote:

    I haven't yet seen the force of the argument that the
    word "directly" implies that God the Father, speaking
    in PL 3.89, is either dishonest or mistaken.

    We last saw Satan in PL 2.1034-1055:

    But now at last the sacred influence
    Of light appears, and from the walls of Heav'n [1035]
    Shoots farr into the bosom of dim Night
    A glimmering dawn; here Nature first begins
    Her fardest verge, and Chaos to retire
    As from her outmost works a brok'n foe
    With tumult less and with less hostile din, [1040]
    That Satan with less toil, and now with ease
    Wafts on the calmer wave by dubious light
    And like a weather-beaten Vessel holds
    Gladly the Port, though Shrouds and Tackle torn;
    Or in the emptier waste, resembling Air, [1045]
    Weighs his spread wings, at leasure to behold
    Farr off th' Empyreal Heav'n, extended wide
    In circuit, undetermind square or round,
    With Opal Towrs and Battlements adorn'd
    Of living Saphire, once his native Seat; [1050]
    And fast by hanging in a golden Chain
    This pendant world, in bigness as a Starr
    Of smallest Magnitude close by the Moon.
    Thither full fraught with mischievous revenge,
    Accurst, and in a cursed hour he hies. [1055]

    [Borrowed from

    We take leave of Satan as he hies toward the pendant
    world, i.e., the created cosmos hanging by a golden
    chain, but he still has some distance to go, for the
    world is far enough distant that it appears no bigger
    than a star.

    We next hear of Satan, as described by God in PL
    3.70-92, closely approaching the world:

    ... [The Almighty Father] then survey'd
    Hell and the Gulf between, and Satan there [ 70 ]
    Coasting the wall of Heav'n on this side Night
    In the dun Air sublime, and ready now
    To stoop with wearied wings, and willing feet
    On the bare outside of this World, that seem'd
    Firm land imbosom'd without Firmament, [ 75 ]
    Uncertain which, in Ocean or in Air.
    Him God beholding from his prospect high,
    Wherein past, present, future he beholds,
    Thus to his onely Son foreseeing spake. 
    Onely begotten Son, seest thou what rage [ 80 ]
    Transports our adversarie, whom no bounds
    Prescrib'd, no barrs of Hell, nor all the chains
    Heapt on him there, nor yet the main Abyss
    Wide interrupt can hold; so bent he seems
    On desparate reveng, that shall redound [ 85 ]
    Upon his own rebellious head. And now
    Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
    Not farr off Heav'n, in the Precincts of light,
    Directly towards the new created World,
    And Man there plac't, with purpose to assay [ 90 ]
    If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
    By some false guile pervert;

    [Borrowed from

    As some have noted, "world" at that time was the usual
    term for "cosmos." Given that Satan is "Coasting the
    wall of Heav'n on this side Night / ... and ready now
    / To stoop with wearied wings, and willing feet / On
    the bare outside of this World," then the Father seems
    accurate in maintaining of Satan that "now / Through
    all restraint broke loose he wings his way / Not farr
    off Heav'n, in the Precincts of light, / Directly
    towards the new created World." At this point, Satan's
    movement is direct. He has had the newly created world
    in his sights since first spying it in PL 2.1051ff,
    where it appeared about the size of a star, knows from
    the 'rumor' in heaven that he will find mankind there,
    and has been hieing his way toward it since the moment
    that he first spied it.

    At the time that God describes Satan in flight, he is
    winging his way directly toward the newly created
    world, i.e., the cosmos, if we assume that "World" in
    PL 2.74 has the same referent as "World" in PL 2.89,
    which seems to me a safe assumption.

    Thus, "directly," as descriptive of Satan's words at
    this moment in his flight, looks accurate to me.

    Jeffery Hodges

    University Degrees:

    Ph.D., History, U.C. Berkeley
    (Doctoral Thesis: "Food as Synecdoche in John's Gospel and Gnostic Texts")
    M.A., History of Science, U.C. Berkeley
    B.A., English Language and Literature, Baylor University

    Email Address:

    jefferyhodges at yahoo.com



    Office Address:

    Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
    Department of English Language and Literature
    Korea University
    136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu
    South Korea

    Home Address:

    Dr. Sun-Ae Hwang and Dr. Horace Jeffery Hodges
    Sehan Apt. 102-2302
    Sinnae-dong 795
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