[Milton-L] Abdiel, reflection, etc.

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Wed Jun 25 19:10:08 EDT 2008

This is a reply to Michael Gillum's initial posting.

First, I congratulate him for getting the Milton list 
actually to talk about the poetry.

As to the statements by Ann, they seem to me to fall into the 
kind of moralizing that disfigures much Milton (and other) 
criticism.  The mode, unfortunately, is very familiar, and it 
is not surprising (again, unfortunately) that she adopts it,  
but, like so much of such moralizing, the claims involved are  
based on sloppy reading and unexamined assertions.

Sloppy reading:  "he [Abdiel]did follow Satan initially."  
This is true, but does not in any sense cast negative light 
on Abdiel's character.  Abdiel only followed Satan under the 
impression that Satan was going to the North "there to 
receive / Fit entertainment to receive our King / The great 
Messiah" (V.689-91).  This is repeated at V.768-9, 
"[Satan]Pretending [that his troops were] so commanded to 
consult / About the great reception of thir King."  As soon 
as Satan reveals his actual motives -- to rebel against the  
new command of adoration ("Knee-tribute") imposed on the 
angels -- Abdiel protests.  He speaks up in a fury of 
righteous indignation.  I have no idea what "he is more 
zealous than brilliant" is supposed to mean.  It seems pretty 
clear that Milton intends Abdiel to be making good points 
here (whether we have to agree is a different matter).  But 
worst of all is the premise that "an interior monologue [is] 
a mark of fallen subjectivity."  No argument for this is 
given.  It is clearly simply adopted, without question, from 
other critics.  How "interior monologue" is even involved 
here, since Abdiel is presented as speaking out, is one 
question, but much more important is why Milton should be 
imagined to have thought that the capacity for reflection is 
fallen.  This is quite an astonishing claim.  God seems to 
encourage such a capacity in Adam, as does Raphael.  To think 
that Milton imagined innocence as devoid of the capacity for 
reflection is to fall into silly stuff along the "felix 
culpa" lines (psychologically).  Milton's amazing achievement 
is to have presented unfallen life as the fullest -- most 
sensually and sexually enjoyable, noble, and intellectually 
alive -- form of human life (given that initially there are 
only two people involved) that he can imagine.  The power of 
the poem, as its title asserts, is in its evocation of what 
we have lost.  Moralizing about sin before the fall is to 
miss the daring and originality and beauty of what Milton has 
done.  Or so I think.  (I apologize to anyone who has already 
said any or all of this.)

Richard Strier
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

More information about the Milton-L mailing list