[Milton-L] knowledge, freedom, law

jfleming at sfu.ca jfleming at sfu.ca
Sat Jul 5 16:15:25 EDT 2008


Michael Gillum wrote:

>Adam has a desire for
> useless
> speculative knowledge that Raphael rebukes. 

Presumably, this refers to the "question concering heavenly motions" of book
8, along with Raphael's long reply. If so, I do not see how "useless" or
"speculative" are accurate epithets for the knowledge Adam is seeking. He is
asking the question, more or less, of Copernicus and Galileo -- the
inaugural question of modern natural science. Thus the knowledge in question
is hard-nosed and empirical. The interesting thing about the exchange, it
seems to me, is that Raphael finds a number of passionate things to say
against the latter. "Rebuke," meanwhile, seems far too strong for a lecture
that begins "to ask or search I blame thee not."

>Eve has a desire to test her
> moral strength against the Adversary that Adam correctly describes as
> imprudent. 

Where, if anywhere, does Eve express this alleged desire? The closest I can
find is 9.322-341:

"If this be our condition, thus to dwell
In narrow circuit strait'nd by a Foe,
Suttle or violent, we not endu'd
Single with like defence, wherever met, 
How are we happie, still in fear of harm?
But harm precedes not sin: onely our Foe
Tempting affronts us with his foul esteem
Of our integritie: his foul esteeme
Sticks no dishonor on our Front, but turns
Foul on himself; then wherefore shund or feard
By us? who rather double honour gaine
>From his surmise prov'd false, find peace within,
Favour from Heav'n, our witness from th' event.
And what is Faith, Love, Vertue unassaid
Alone, without exterior help sustaind?
Let us not then suspect our happie State
Left so imperfet by the Maker wise,
As not secure to single or combin'd.
Fraile is our happiness, if this be so, 
And Eden were no Eden thus expos'd."

All of which seems to me, on Milton's conception of freedom (see
_Areopagitica_, and in the context of Paradise, totally correct.

>In the course of the temptation, Eve discovers a desire to be
> equal to or better than Adam and to become godlike through a magical
> shortcut. 

Surely it is after she falls, and not before, that Eve "discovers" (a very
appropriate word) these desires. See 9.795-833; compare 9.745-779.

>Reason
> by its nature follows Law; it is not antinomian. 

Very possibly. And yet one of the very interesting things about Christianity
is that it demonstrates the dialectical nature of the nomothetic imperative,
precisely as what reason has to take up as its burden. The law comes to
support, precisely because it is the law, an ever-present possibility of
identification with its own abrogation. This is the problematic of the
spirit and the letter. It is also the problematic of natural versus positive
justice. Reason, apparently, mandates exposure to this problematic, not
shelter from it. Or so it seems to Christ, and to Eve, and (I think) to
Milton. Best wishes, JDF

James Dougal Fleming
Department of English
Simon Fraser University
778-782-4713
cell: 604-290-1637

Nicht deines, einer Welt.


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