[Milton-L] swerving

John Rumrich rumrich at mail.utexas.edu
Mon Sep 24 18:31:48 EDT 2007

Let me clarify: I meant "animate" by way of contrast with Lucretius,  
for whom, as I understand it, swerve is inexplicable.  For Milton,  
matter is instinct with life and when animate has the agency to be  
able to swerve of its own volition.  It is not, as you say, inert.


On Sep 24, 2007, at 4:35 PM, Horace Jeffery Hodges wrote:

> I had a similar thought about "swerve" as being linked to the  
> "swerve" in Lucretius, but more as an indeterminacy of inert matter  
> in motion serving two functions: as the precondition of the atoms  
> departing from their straight-line free fall and coming into  
> contact to form larger associations of matter and as the  
> precondition of human free will.
> Note that I wrote 'inert'. That's my memory of Lucretius from about  
> 30 years ago. Professor Rumrich refers to "animate matter." Did  
> Lucretius's De Reum Natura assume matter to be animate? Perhaps I'm  
> conflating the earlier, Greek atomists with the Roman Lucretius?
> Either way, Lucretius introduced the "swerve" for two reasons, one  
> being the precondition for human freedom. And free will is partly  
> what the passage in Paradise Lost concerns:
> Go therefore, half this day as friend with friend
> Converse with Adam, in what Bowre or shade [ 230 ]
> Thou find'st him from the heat of Noon retir'd,
> To respit his day-labour with repast,
> Or with repose; and such discourse bring on,
> As may advise him of his happie state,
> Happiness in his power left free to will, [ 235 ]
> Left to his own free Will, his Will though free,
> Yet mutable; whence warne him to beware
> He swerve not too secure: tell him withall
> His danger, and from whom, what enemie
> Late falln himself from Heav'n, is plotting now [ 240 ]
> The fall of others from like state of bliss;
> By violence, no, for that shall be withstood,
> But by deceit and lies; this let him know,
> Lest wilfully transgressing he pretend
> Surprisal, unadmonisht, unforewarnd. (PL 5.229-245)
> Adam and Eve have been given only one command, the negative  
> prohibition concerning the tree -- neither to touch it nor to eat  
> its fruit. For all else, they must rely upon their free will guided  
> by reason not misinformed by imagination, inattention, fallacy, or  
> some other mistake that would lead them into making the wrong choice.
> Now, the Garden is such and their perfection is such that Adam and  
> Eve would ordinarily encounter no difficulty in choosing correctly.  
> Left free to their own choices, they would freely choose the right.
> Yet, they have certain inclinations that they have to be wary of in  
> Eden's changed circumstances, for an evil presence has entered  
> their world, even into Paradise. They cannot leave themselves so  
> much freedom as before. That is dangerous. Thus, when Adam admits  
> to an overwhelming love for Eve, a love that leads him to elevate  
> her to a height beyond himself, despite his knowing better, Raphael  
> advises him to take care and to judge rightly. As we know, he does  
> not do so, but allows his love for Eve to mislead him into  
> accepting the apple from her hand. Eve also 'swerves' too freely in  
> her sense of security. She wishes more latitude from Adam, less  
> constriction, more freedom to work alone, which suggests  
> dissatisfaction with being subordinated to Adam, and that  
> inclination, which would ordinarily lead to nothing evil, leaves  
> her open to temptation in the Garden's altered circumstances. We  
> know what happens.
> Adam and Eve both "swerve ... too secure," i.e., they freely choose  
> too securely in their changed circumstances, and thus freely choose  
> to act in ways that lead them to their fall.
> That's how I read this phrase "beware / He swerve not too secure."
> Jeffery Hodges
> John Rumrich <rumrich at mail.utexas.edu> wrote:
> My suspicion is that, "swerve" here deliberately recalls Lucretius's
> notion of clinamen in a context where the indeterminacy of animate
> matter in motion is a function of free will rather than of an
> inexplicable fact of nature.
> Someone else may have already said as much and I missed it. If so,
> apologies for the repetition.
> By the way, the OED lists numerous instances from the sixteenth and
> seventeenth centuries of "secure" being used as an adverb: from
> Marlow, Shakespeare, the AV, and Massinger among others.
> On Sep 24, 2007, at 1:38 PM, James Rovira wrote:
> > "Swerve" as a "metaphor for movement" could encompass the idea of
> > "turning aside" as well as other kinds of movement--because to "turn
> > aside" is to "move." But I'm not too sure I understand Michael
> > Gillum's reading. When God says that Adam should be warned that he
> > "swerve not too secure" is he saying Adam shouldn't be too secure in
> > his swerving or turning aside from...obedience? That would almost
> > sound as if the God of PL were encouraging Adam to sin carefully or
> > not too recklessly or not with too great a sense of security.
> >
> > Interesting that any reading offered so far needs to add  
> something--an
> > "ly" to transform "secure" into a clear adverb, or a comma, or a  
> great
> > many words. Might be interesting to look up other uses of the word
> > "swerve" in PL as well.
> >
> > Jim R
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> 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
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