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

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Fri Sep 4 11:50:05 EDT 2009


I have no quarrel at all with what you say about Adam's authority to use coercion or with your suggestion about the false analogy, but I don't agree that Eve should necessarily have followed Adam's advice.  I'm not at all convinced that his argument, taken in the context of the poem's larger discourse about temptation, is either the wiser or the better one.  He's right (in lines 9.342-75) in what he says about obedience, about the danger of false appearances, and about the good that can come from mutual minding, but I also think he stumbles significantly when he suggests that it's better to "avoid," rather than to "seek" temptation.  One could argue that there might be some danger of pride in the "seeking," but there could be zeal in that, too-a danger, perhaps, like a lot the unstable things in the narrow room of Eden, but not in itself fallen).  And in this particular story-the way Milton tells it-"avoiding" temptation is simply impossible.

In addition, the perfectly good idea that Adam and Eve could benefit from staying together to "mind" one another only makes a kind of temporary sense at this point in the narrative.  How long would that have to last?  Is it either possible or good for them to be unseparated indefinitely in their daily lives?  At some point paradise will have to allow for the impulse to be apart (that's, on Eve's part what started the whole conversation).  That impulse has its pleasures, it allows for the cultivation of certain things that constant togetherness does not, and none of these are incompatible with paradisal existence (some of these pleasures and opportunities-Eve's-have been beautifully explored, for example, by Diane McColley in her essay "Eve and the Arts of Eden").  If this reading makes any sense at all, Eve must be right that they are "secure single or combined" or their happiness is frail.  That she fails her test does not prove that she's wrong about that, unless you're willing to argue that she can't be blamed for her failure (a conclusion that one could come to, but not one that the poem argues for).  And does the text assure us that Adam would not have been deceived by whatever Satan might have thrown at him, either alone or with Eve?  Satan is a pretty resourceful antagonist, and God has let him at large to try humankind.   He was lucky on the first attempt, but who knows what he'd have come up with later?


Louis Schwartz
Associate Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Michael Gillum
Sent: Thursday, September 03, 2009 4:01 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

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.


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