[Milton-L] two small queries

Gregory Machacek Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu
Tue Dec 2 11:41:21 EST 2008

Dear Miklos,

For my students this semester, the nature of Adam and Eve's knowledge of
what Jameela Lars calls the "less-than-perfect" (and that I'll call, in a
word, evil) became a topic of intense concern.  My students began with the
assumption that one can only truly know one thing by knowing its opposite.
(So God is at fault because Adam and Eve can't really know the good they
have until they try evil, etc.)  But we spent a lot of time reflecting on
the implications of Adam's comment "whate'er death is, / Some dreadful
thing no doubt," which seemed to us to suggest that, for Milton, there *is*
a degree and kind of knowledge that one can have about one term in a
binary, even if one only has direct experience of the other term.  Our
thought experiment was to consider the question "What is the opposite of
wind?"  Well, there's no one thing, but presumably, whatever it would be,
it would be static (rather than in motion), visible (rather than
invisible), etc.  One can get a general sense (Adam's "some dreadful thing,
no doubt) about one term in an opposition by reasoning from other terms.

I take it Adam's "irksome" and "toilsome," work this way.  They are
provisional linguistic placeholders, essentially carrying the meaning of

Be well,

Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College

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