[Milton-L] Abdiel, hypocrisy, temptation

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Fri Jun 27 15:03:21 EDT 2008

Patricia Stewart asks, ³does being tempted itself denigrate the tempted?²

Aren¹t there two meanings of ³being tempted²? Jesus was externally tempted
by Satan in PR, but I suppose he was not internally tempted. He was then not
soiled or denigrated. I would return to the point about bad ideas or
impulses needing to be judged and rejected by the reason. If they are not
approved, as Adam says, there is no ³spot or blame.² One might be made
stronger by the experience, as opposed to maintaining a fugitive and
cloistered virtue. In Comus, the Lady says, ³Thou canst not touch the
freedom of my mind² (663), freedom for Milton consisting in the exercise of
right reason. So she is externally tempted but does not approve the wrong

Patricia also refers to ³soiling.² In the case of the Lady, it seems that
she was soiled in some sense, in that Sabrina performs what looks like a
ritual of purification. I take this to be an external soiling that does not
impugn her moral purity. Perhaps it analogous (at a less intense level) to
being raped. Obviously such an experience would alter a person, as Ann Coiro
suggests Abdiel has been altered. It would not lower a person¹s moral


On 6/27/08 1:59 PM, "Patricia Stewart" <pstewart at uga.edu> wrote:

> One of the givens in PL is the inability of all creatures, save God, to spot
> hypocrisy:
> For neither man nor angel can discern
> Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
> Invisible, except to God alone,
> By his permissive will, through Heaven and Earth;
> And oft though Wisdom wake, Suspicion sleeps
> At Wisdom's gate, and to Simplicity
> Resigns her charge, while Goodness thinks no ill
> Where no ill seems:  . . . (3.682-689)
> Thus Abdiel accepts Satan's call to meet; Uriel, "sharpest-sighted spirit of
> all in Heaven" and sent to guard Earth from Satan, himself gives Satan
> directions to the new creation, and Eve fails to perceive the disguised evil
> in the Serpent  and its argument.
> Since they can't see disguised Evil once it appears, all are destined to be
> tempted at some time.  That's how the Milton universe works.
> When tempted, are they soiled?  Adam says yes.  He wishes to shield Eve so
> that she might "avoid The Attempt itself, intended by our foe, /For he who
> tempts, though in vain, at least asperses [emphasis mine] /The tempted with
> dishonor foul. . ."(9.294-297)    Eve disagrees.
> So I come back to the question:  does being tempted itself denigrate the
> tempted?  Is Abdiel less pure after facing temptation and rejecting it? is Eve
> soiled simply by the act of visiting the tree and listening to the Serpent's
> argument? 
> Patricia Stewart, UGa retired

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