[Milton-L]: "that sure was worse"

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sat May 20 13:42:53 EDT 2006

Jeffrey, I think you (and your daughter) are reading the line with the wrong
(modern) usage and emphasis, and no, I don't think Milton intended any kind
of humor whatsoever here.

The "sure" doesn't mean what it does in the modern context of "I sure I am
hungry" (difficult to translate, but something like "I'm REALLY hungry"). It
means "of a certainty": Belial is arguing that they have already experienced
what it means to suffer worse, BUT HE'S WRONG (except in human terms, where
bodily suffering--physical torture--is the worst thing we can imagine). In
_Dr. Faustus_, the title character is surprised that Mephistopheles has
"escaped" from hell because he doesn't show any of the physical (Dantean)
signs of damnation that Faustus expects to see: but the demon responds "Why,
this is hell, nor am I out of it." Eternal separation from God is the worst
any created being can suffer, as Satan himself will tell you in his
invocation to the Sun [Son] in Book IV, he suffers supremely, perhaps
because he alone understands fully and completely what he has lost: God's
"eternal wrath" translates to his own "eternal despair" of grace, his
eternal rejection from the heavenly Paradise, his eternal separation from
all that is good and right and happy. Indeed, there is "Hell within him, for
with him Hell /
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell / One step no more than from
himself can fly / By change of place" (4.20-23). Think of Claudius, with his
crown and his queen in _Hamlet_--he has everything he ever wanted, and those
things he wanted enough to commit not only murder, but fratricide to obtain
them . . . yet he cannot be happy, because in his heart, he understands the
price he has paid, is paying, and will pay forevermore.

Belial and Mammon have not yet learned to feel the torment that Satan does .
. . or to understand the futility of their machinations . . . though Moloch
unwittingly comes close: "what can be worse/
Then to dwell here, driv'n out from bliss, condemn'd/
In this abhorred deep to utter woe" is to "dwell here, driv'n out from
bliss" *understanding* the immutability of that woe--of that separation--of
that excommunicaton.

As for the question regarding the "eternall anarchie" of Chaos--I think that
should be read as "from its inception without end," rather than as deeply as
you and Salwa are trying--in good faith--to interpret it. Stanley Fish has
likened Chaos to God's Home Depot--which sounds irreverent until you think
about it. It's the place where God (being a prudent manufacturer) stores his
raw materials, elements he hasn't assembled into anything meaningful. It is
and ever shall be a place of "nothingness" in the sense of meaningful
substance, though it is more than "nothing." I don't think there's any
implication intended as to its being co-original with God. It is "eternal"
in the sense of waiting eternally in the expectation that Mr. or Ms. Right
(or Godot?) is going to come . . . not "eternal" in the sense that God is.

That's my two cents on the subject(s), anyway.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

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