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

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Sep 6 23:41:07 EDT 2009

Louis -- once you've identified the object of Eve's seeking as
"temptation," which can only be to something wrong or immoral, haven't
you already stacked the deck as to motive?  To fail at a trial is not
necessarily to sin, but to demonstrate weakness.  To fail in resisting
temptation is always to sin.  I'm going to very briefly argue below
that temptation and trial are equivalent in the text of PL, that Eve
did not seek temptation, but that her willingness to be left alone
proceeded from other motives / reasons.

Ultimately, Eve's desire to be left alone is an expression of her
faith in God, not her faith in herself:

And what is Faith, Love, Vertue unassaid [9:335 ]
Alone, without exterior help sustaind?
Let us not then suspect our happie State
Left so imperfet by the Maker wise,
As not secure to single or combin'd.
Fraile is our happiness, if this be so, [ 340 ]
And Eden were no Eden thus expos'd.

Or, rather, her faith in herself is an expression of and follows from
her faith in God.  And note that both Adam and Eve have to validate
the perfection of God's creation to validate the perfection of God:

To whom thus Adam fervently repli'd.
O Woman, best are all things as the will
Of God ordain'd them, his creating hand
Nothing imperfet or deficient left [ 345 ]

As a result, a fall can only proceed from deception, not from a
misdirection of the will or improper desire:

Least by some faire appeering good surpris'd
She dictate false, and misinforme the Will [ 355 ]

And, of course, the text itself equates temptation with trial:

Seek not temptation then, which to avoide
Were better, and most likelie if from mee [ 365 ]
Thou sever not: Trial will come unsought.

But perhaps temptation is a species of trial rather than equivalent to it.

Ultimately, we see in the passage below that Eve leaves Adam because
she believes:
1. That because they are expecting to be tempted at any time, the
temptation won't come -- she expects it to come when they are not
expecting it.  I am taking the words "when least sought" here to mean
"when least expected and least prepared," which I think is justified
by the context of her conversation with Adam.
2. That Satan will tempt Adam before he tempts Eve, because he is
proud and she is the weaker partner -- it would be a more humiliating
failure to fail to tempt Eve.

With thy permission then, and thus forewarnd
Chiefly by what thy own last reasoning words
Touchd onely, that our trial, when least sought, [ 380 ]
May finde us both perhaps farr less prepar'd,
The willinger I goe, nor much expect
A Foe so proud will first the weaker seek,
So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse.

So Eve is willing to be left alone because she trusts her Creator, is
not expecting to be tempted when she is ready for it, and because she
believes Satan is too proud to tempt her first.

Jim R

On Sun, Sep 6, 2009 at 10:51 PM, Schwartz, Louis<lschwart at richmond.edu> wrote:
> 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).

More information about the Milton-L mailing list