[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Sun Jul 6 19:03:22 EDT 2008

Michael Gillum asks:
A question: why does Eve in the dream feel an irresistible compulsion to eat? ("I, me thought, / Could not but taste.") Is that a normal response of Eve, the person, or of any normal person, to the S-appearances of the fruit? To me it suggests some difference between the dream-self and the proper self. If we suppose that some of her responses are being manipulated, then she is not quite herself.

Jeffery Hodges replies:
Eve, as has been pointed out (perhaps by Michael . . . I don't recall), is not quite shown eating:
So saying, he drew nigh, and to me held,
Even to my mouth of that same fruit held part
Which he had pluckt; the pleasant savourie smell
So quick'nd appetite, that I, methought, [ 85 ]
Could not but taste. (PL 5.82-86)
The "methought" suggests that Eve is unsure that compulsion would truly overcome her, but she seems to be resisting. Moreover, the dream shows 'Satan' holding the forbidden fruit to Eve's very mouth, thus -- it seems -- using force, which is not allowed in Paradise:
O Woman, best are all things as the will
Of God ordain'd them, his creating hand
Nothing imperfet or deficient left [ 345 ]
Of all that he Created, much less Man,
Or aught that might his happie State secure,
Secure from outward force; within himself
The danger lies, yet lies within his power:
Against his will he can receave no harme. (PL 9.343-350)
I warn'd thee, I admonish'd thee, foretold
The danger, and the lurking Enemie
That lay in wait; beyond this had bin force,
And force upon free Will hath here no place. (PL 9.1171-1174)

The compulsion in the dream seems forced upon Eve by 'Satan' pressing the fruit to her mouth . . . and yet, she seems to resist somewhat. Moreover, we need to recall that Eve''s reason is disengaged during sleep:
But know that in the Soule [ 100 ]
Are many lesser Faculties that serve
Reason as chief; among these Fansie next
Her office holds; of all external things,
Which the five watchful Senses represent,
She forms Imaginations, Aerie shapes, [ 105 ]
Which Reason joyning or disjoyning, frames
All what we affirm or what deny, and call
Our knowledge or opinion; then retires
Into her private Cell when Nature rests.
Oft in her absence mimic Fansie wakes [ 110 ]
To imitate her; but misjoyning shapes,
Wilde work produces oft, and most in dreams,
Ill matching words and deeds long past or late. (PL 5.100-113)
If Eve's reason is resting during sleep -- and according to Adam, it is -- then Eve is not choosing freely, so she is not responsible for her actions, though she nevertheless seems to resist somewhat, perhaps due to her sinless state (but I am not sure). At any rate, recall Adam's words on reason and free will:
Against his will he can receave no harme. [ 350 ]
But God left free the Will, for what obeyes
Reason, is free, and Reason he made right
But bid her well beware, and still erect,
Least by some faire appeering good surpris'd
She dictate false, and misinforme the Will (PL 9.350-355)
The sleeping Eve is rationally defenseless, thus lacking in true freedom of the will, and therefore not culpable for what happens to her in her dream.
(Quoted passages from: Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room, http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton, July, 2008.)
Jeffery Hodges
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