[Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)
hskulsky at smith.edu
Sun Sep 6 13:08:54 EDT 2009
The available evidence does not show that Eve is seeking to be tempted,
only that she is seeking to do something she thinks is worthwhile —
something that carries with it the danger of being tempted. There is a
difference between refusing to cower from temptation and actively
seeking temptation out. Eve's actual encounter with the serpent shows no
sign that she is expecting, much less eagerly expecting, the appearance
of a tempter.
As to the charge of hubris in Eve's debate with Adam, it is baseless.
Her approach to the debate is marked by "sweetness," "austerity," and
"composure," not pique. She stands her ground against arguments that are
filled with gaping flaws, which she exposes systematically. She stands
ground; Adam, to his credit, progressively gives ground.
If PL presupposes that A&E require each other's presence to resist
temptation, then their eventual failure is due to weakness of will and
not to freedom of will, in which case their Creator's verdict on their
fall is not only unjust but disingenuous (in creating them, he created
their dispositions). In a work designed to help us reach the
diametrically opposite conclusion, allowing this presupposition is
authorial incompetence on (pun intended) an epic scale. Milton is a
logician and philosopher of some attainment; a sophomoric pratfall of
this magnitude, at this crucial stage in his Great Argument, would seem
to be out of the question. At the very least, the poet is entitled to
the usual presumption of innocence.
Regrettably, the naively motive-hunting novelistic language in which
20th-c. treatments of PL 9 are typically couched does scant justice to
the constraints imposed on the poet by a rigorous pursuit of the Free
There is a detailed treatment of the relevant passage in my *JM and the
Death of Man*.
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