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

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Thu Sep 3 16:01:15 EDT 2009


It seems the ontological difference between Adam and Eve in PL is great
enough to confer authority (she ought to follow his advice) but not great
enough to justify coercion (he must allow her to choose whether to follow
his advice). They are on the same plane of being, but he is slightly wiser
and is the natural leader. Not only does Adam abjure the use of force, he
doesn't even make rules. Rules are implicit in nature and reason, except for
the Special Prohibition. Apparently, one of the rules is that an unfallen
human may not coerce another.

Eve does not rebel against Adam; rather, she makes a well-meaning error of
judgement in being overly assertive of her natural liberty. I think
separation scene defines a contrast within the apparent analogy Satan : God
:: Eve : Adam.

As Louis Schwartz implies, in Milton's view, analogies taking the form (God
: creature :: boss creature : other creature) are false analogies.

Michael


On Thu, Sep 3, 2009 at 12:21 PM, Schwartz, Louis <lschwart at richmond.edu>wrote:

> 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
>
>
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