[Milton-L]: "that sure was worse" and "Eternal Anarchie"

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Sat May 20 17:02:41 EDT 2006


I have written Jeffery offline to apologize for the missing "e"--but this is
my response to his most recent public post:

It's important, I think, to remember that Book II mirrors the counsels of
war in the _Iliad_ and _Aeneid_: it's high seriousness, and Milton's
subversion as noted may be to point out the futility of ALL human/demonic
strategizing: unless God allows it, no matter how concerted an effort we
make to thwart him and control our own destiny, it isn't going to happen.
(Think of Jocasta and her husband cunningly "defeating" the oracle by
sending Oedipus off to the mountains to die, and Oedipus cleverly
"defeating" the oracle by silencing Aegisthus and Tiresias every time they
try to tell him the truth.) One of the demons wants to hide from God's sight
(as Eve will) and thinks they can get away with it; another wants to meet
him head on, in the hope that he will destroy them outright; but all of them
are missing the point. The only thing that is going to change God's mind is
obedience and supplication (but "to bow and scrape on bended knee" is the
one thing Satan won't--and by implication won't let any of the others--do).

In the meantime, Julie Guernsey-Shaw has suggested that "There might
nevertheless be humor in the fallen angel's reduction of  damnation to a
purely material state--a dramatic irony whereby readers realize his
ignorance."---

I'd agree that there is high irony here, but not comedic: the demons
underestimate God as if he were a Ulysses or an Agamemnon, and
anthropomorphize his projected reactions according to the only gauge they
(we) have: the behavior of mortal generals in the great epics. The whole
point is for us to recognize (as the demons don't) that--even for wily
Odysseus--there is no outsmarting God (see above).

Julie also comments, "But at the same time, I think there is another sort of
irony that  suggests God is not being merciful at all.  God looks on from
heaven
with a cold and calculating gaze, planning to let Satan 'Heap on himself
damnation' in order to show him once more God's absolute sovereignty."---

On the contrary: in the same address to the Sun, Satan explains that what
seems God's cold calculation is actually mercy: "But say I could repent, and
could obtain / By Act of Grace my former state; how soon / Would highth
recall high thoughts, how soon unsay /
What *feigned submission* swore [emphasis mine]: ease would recant / Vows
made in pain, as violent and void. / . . . So should I purchase dear / Short
intermission bought with double smart. / This knows my punisher; therefore
as far / From granting hee as I from begging peace . . . ." (4.93-105).

God knows that Satan cannot make complete contrition (the prerequisite of
grace): he can, like a victim of the Inquisition, sign any document they
thrust at him in the agony ("violent" emotion) of torment to ease his pain,
but he can never mean what he says, because his pride won't let him. Thus,
God's "coldness" is kind.

Best to all,

Carol Barton



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