[Milton-L] Abdiel (thought-sins)

Kim Maxwell kim-maxwell at sbcglobal.net
Mon Jul 7 17:46:35 EDT 2008

To Michael Gillum

About confusion in Adam's first speech.
  Adam’s first speech on first reading does seem quite clear.  He seems to understand God’s power, the order, at least the name of its consequences, his role relative to the rest of nature, his freedom, and his georgic duties.   But some things are not quite right.  (1)  The first sentence comprises twelve incomplete clauses, a semicolon following the odd locution “no doubt” referring to a confession of ignorance, followed by a real sentence (“God hath pronounced”), followed by another set of dependent clauses.  It feels distended and digressive, like Eden’s rivers.  The sole command is surrounded with grammatical awkwardness.  (2) He articulates his sense of equality between himself and Eve.  Eve immediately denies this, and we know from the end of  Book 8 that Adam knows he is supposed to be her master, but cannot do it;  and we are just over 100 lines from “He for God only, she for God in him.”  (3)  He claims Eve came from dust; when she really came from his rib (which
 of course he knows).  (4)  He omits Eve’s other purpose on earth, to propagate, one of his arguments with God in Book 8.  (5)  He uses the word “know” relative to Eve but makes a subtle error in his characterization of the order. God only applied the order to Adam.  Raphael only applies the order to Adam.  It is Adam who generalizes the sole command.  As God changes the punishment anyway, we have no evidence one way or the other about God’s intentions for Eve.  Adam must believe this of course to justify his later decision, but we (the reader) have no warrant for his view.  (6) Adam ascribes the Garden to God’s bounty, but then declares its work “toilsome” were it not for Eve.  (7) He seems to translate obedience to the sole command to ritual, unthinking praise, allocating “choice” to the rest of their endeavors.  We are told repeatedly in the poem that reason and choice are bound together, and God requires Adam and Eve to choose obedience.   
  I think these are signs of confusion.  That most link to Adam’s manifest confusions later in the poem helps the point.
Kim Maxwell
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