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

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Sun Sep 6 22:51:37 EDT 2009

I think that Harold may be conflating two different arguments here.  One concerns whether or not Eve can be said to be "seeking" temptation or trial at the end of the dialogue with Adam.  The other concerns what it means if she can be said to have that motive.  I say this because I believe that it is possible to accept the first without jumping to the conclusion (as Bell did in the essay Caroll Cox has recently mentioned) that this motive is "fallen."  The presence of such a motive--or at least a version of it--need not be, in other words, a violation of the poem's theological logic (its presentation of the free will defense).

I'll have more to say about this once I've sorted out some of the details (and this will include the possibility that the sttatement "Eve is seeking trail at the end of the dialogue" might need some modification in light of what Harold says about the difference between "refusing to cower from temptation and actively seeking temptation out"--although I do not think the statement will have to be withdrawn).

In any case, I wanted to say at least that much now.  I think that the distinctions I mention in the first paragraph(above) are important ones for us to keep in mind or this conversation is likely to collapse into a lot of cross talk.  And I say that because I'm looking forward to seeing where the real agreements and disagreements will stand in the end.


From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Harold Skulsky [hskulsky at smith.edu]
Sent: Sunday, September 06, 2009 1:08 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)

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
Will Argument.

There is a detailed treatment of the relevant passage in my *JM and the
Death of Man*.
Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/

More information about the Milton-L mailing list