[Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Thu Sep 3 12:21:08 EDT 2009


David concluded:  "Should we take Satan's argument seriously?  Is it simply 
his false premise (that the statement, "if you eat of the tree, you will 
die" equates to a tyrannical threat of force) that invalidates his 
argument, leaving the rest sustained in both places?  Do we instead grow 
uneasy about the prospect of Eve's resistance to authority in both 
places as a result of the parallel?  Do we experience both responses 
together in some measure?"

One answer to this (short version) would be to note that many readers experience both, and that this is because Satan's argument is both right and wrong in the texts own terms.  The only thing that's wrong with it, however, is that it concerns God's authority rather than some human or other creaturely authority (like, for example, Adam's or his own, or some earthly King's).  I think that this distinction is centrally important to this text (it's a difference that makes a difference), although I know that not everyone agrees.

This raises more good questions, but I'll leave it there for now (it's not like we haven't been through some of this before, after all.....).

Louis    


===========================
Louis Schwartz
Associate Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu
 
 
 
-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of David Ainsworth
Sent: Thursday, September 03, 2009 11:24 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

I thought Louis' lengthy and thoughtful post deserved a response, even 
though what I have to offer borders on the obvious.  And I'll not 
volunteer which side of the border...

I think the poem partly reflects tensions preexisting in the Genesis 
story, as well as its Christian interpretation.  The Genesis account 
could arguably be said to endorse a patriarchal structure more 
resoundingly than the entirety of the New Testament, though at the same 
time sections of the New Testament generate a more comprehensive 
patriarchy than God's judgment on Eve offers.  What interests me, 
though, is how Milton then leverages existing scriptural tensions to 
generate his own reading--a reading both drawn from scripture and yet, 
inevitably, representing a reworking of it.

I think Louis' suggestion about how Eve might legitimately resist Adam's 
authority in Book IX, had he chosen to exert it, can be fully supported 
by the text.  Lines 376-7:  "So spake the patriarch of mankind, but 
Eve/Persisted, yet submiss, though last, replied:"

The context:  Adam has just delivered a convincing argument that he 
wants Eve to stay with him out of love, not doubt, and that she would do 
best to obey as proof of her constancy, but then concluded that she had 
better leave than stay, "not free."  Calling him "patriarch of mankind" 
here would seem to endorse his position (and the patriarchy), but what's 
being endorsed is Adam's refusal to compel Eve--even to order her, 
really--to remain with him against her will, which would seem to be an 
uncommon version of patriarchal authority.  What's more, the text 
stresses Eve's submission even though she's acting against Adam's advice 
to her.   She submits to his direction, which is a conditional order to 
go if she believes that the better course.

To unpack:  Adam believes that Eve would do better to stay UNLESS Eve 
believes she would do better to go, in which case her staying in 
accordance with his order but against her will would be WORSE than if 
she simply left.

All of which is my clumsy way of substantiating what Louis suggests. 
The patriarchy on display here is of a rare sort, as is the submission 
Eve offers.  Then again, Milton's God wants Adam to argue for a fit 
companion in Book VIII and praises him for his judgment as well as 
"expressing well the spirit within [him] free" (440).  Eve's display of 
her own free spirit looks parallel to me to Adam's earlier display; the 
freedom Adam grants her demonstrates the justice of his authority, 
exercised in the image of God the Father.  Later human tyrants depart 
from this model; if husbands rule wives tyrannically, it is in 
consequence of their fallen states, not of the prelapsarian patriarchy.

A further interesting complication to the situation generally and Louis' 
reading, specifically:  Louis floats the idea that Eve might be 
justified in resisting with lethal force if Adam were to so abandon his 
own nature as to compel her by force to obey him.  In effect, Satan 
argues the same principle later in the book when he suggests that the 
threat of death proves God a tyrant, not God, and thus not justly 
followed.  (That God is therefore justly resisted follows from Satan's 
reasoning.)  Should we take Satan's argument seriously?  Is it simply 
his false premise (that the statement, "if you eat of the tree, you will 
die" equates to a tyrannical threat of force) that invalidates his 
argument, leaving the rest sustained in both places?  Do we instead grow 
uneasy about the prospect of Eve's resistance to authority in both 
places as a result of the parallel?  Do we experience both responses 
together in some measure?

David




More information about the Milton-L mailing list