[Milton-L] Re: Temptation and trial, with more questions than answers

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Sep 7 16:19:02 EDT 2009


On Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 2:01 PM, Emily Speller <emily.speller at gmail.com>wrote:

> Perhaps some small help--or further complication--could be found by
> considering Milton's chapter on Providence in *De Doctrina Christiana*(1.8):
>
> "...God either tempts men, or permits them to be tempted by the devil or
> his agents.
>     Temptation is either for evil or for good.
>     An evil temptation is when God, as described above, wither withdraws
> his grace, or presents occasions of sin, or hardens the heart, or blinds the
> understanding. This is generally an evil temptation in respect of him who is
> tempted, but most equitable on the part of the Deity" (Hughes 988, sorry not
> to have Yale or Columbia at hand)
>
> Milton refers to James 1:3, cited earlier: "let no man say when he is
> tempted, I am tempted of God..." (Hughes 985). "We are taught in the Lord's
> prayer to deprecate temptations of this kind" (988).
>
> He then continues:
>
> "A good temptation is that whereby God tempts even the righteous for the
> purpose of proving them, not as though he were ignorant of the disposition
> of their hearts, but for the purpose of exercising or manifesting their
> faith or patience."
>
> He then lists six Biblical references in which God is said to *try *humans.
> Unfortunately I don't have Milton's Latin available at this moment--perhaps
> someone on the list could confirm that Sumner's *prove* is Milton's *
> probare* and *tempt, temptare? *The former Latin word appears to be more
> optimistic than the latter in the presumed result of the test, but temptare
> can mean both to tempt or to try (prove). As for the Greek in the NT verses
> he here cites, *dokimion *in 1 Pet 1:7 means to test, examine, approve
> (but not necessarily tempt--the connotations are more pedagogical) but *
> peirasmos* in 1 Pet 4:12 and Rev 2:10 can mean temptation or trial
> (Liddell & Scott).
> *
> "This kind of temptation is therefore rather to be desired"* (Hughes 988).
>
> I presume that God's placement of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in
> the garden is a good kind of temptation. But in leaving Adam Eve does not
> necessarily expect that the tree will provide the material for the trial she
> seeks.
>
> With respect to Eve, then, I have two questions:
>
> Is Eve's desire for trial a desire for "the good kind of temptation"?
> Is *desiring* "the good kind of temptation" the same thing as actively*seeking
> * it?
>
> I acknowledge that some will consider DDC impermissible to a critical
> analysis of PL. Here are a few passages from the poem that strike me as (if
> only obliquely) relevant to our inquiry:
>
> I'm intrigued by Adam's recounting of God's admission of trying him:
>
> "Thus far to try thee, Adam, I was pleased
> And find thee knowing not of beasts alone
> Which thou hast rightly named, but of thyself...
>
> And no such company as then thou saw'st
> Intended thee--for trial only brought
> To see how thou could'st judge of fit and meet" (8.437-39; 446-48)
>
> The trial then appears at least twofold--a test of Adam's knowledge of the
> animals, most prominently exercised in his naming them, and a test of Adam's
> knowledge of himself, demonstrated through both his humility before God and
> his dissatisfaction with animals as companions. Later, Eve seems to seek a
> similar test that confirms her identity and self-knowledge.
>
> It might be further useful to remember that the character of God states:
>
> "The first sort by their own suggestion fell
> Self-tempted, self-depraved. Man falls deceived
> By th'other first: Man therefore shall find grace,
> The other none" (3.129-32).
>
> To what extent is self temptation equivalent to seeking temptation?
> To what extent is seeking temptation the same as desiring temptation?
> Is seeking "good temptation" as dangerous as desiring "bad temptation"
> Is it a sliding scale? desiring good temptation-->seeking good
> temptation-->desiring bad temptation-->seeking bad temptation-->tempting
> oneself.
>
> For Milton, where's the cut-off between appropriate and inappropriate
> dispositions, and where do these overlap?
>
>
> --Emily Speller
>
> On Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 12:23 PM, <milton-l-request at lists.richmond.edu>wrote:
>
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>> Today's Topics:
>>
>>   1. RE: Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck) (Schwartz, Louis)
>>   2. RE: Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck) (Harold Skulsky)
>>   3. RE: Is Eve seeking temptation? (Arlene Stiebel)
>>
>>
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> Message: 1
>> Date: Mon, 7 Sep 2009 12:08:04 -0400
>> From: "Schwartz, Louis" <lschwart at richmond.edu>
>> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)
>> To: "'John Milton Discussion List'" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> Message-ID:
>>        <
>> 55CC5C4EA1F0AD4DA46C1767F92B954AE6EC98C30A at UREXCHANGESCC.richmond.edu>
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>>
>> A couple of things in response to Jim's questions and comments:
>>
>>
>>
>> 1)  I don't see why a willingness or a zealous desire to be tested has to
>> be sinful.  She's not seeking the object of the temptation--she's not
>> interested in hanging around the fruit and sniffing it, for example, to see
>> if it will make her want to bite.  She's willing to expose herself alone to
>> the possibility that Satan will try her.  This is because the desire to work
>> alone is good and because there is no way in the terms of the poem that
>> trial can be either bad or avoided.
>>
>>
>>
>> 2)  I think that you're right that the passages you quote do not clearly
>> indicate that at the end she's going because she is actively seeking her
>> trial.  But in the course of the dialogue she gives more than one reason for
>> why she wants to go, why it's good to do so and to want to do so.  The
>> reasons she gives in response to Adam at the very end are not her best
>> reasons in terms of the poem's larger discourse about trial (her reasoning
>> is not "perfect" or entirely consistent; it's maturing, not matured).  The
>> first part of the speech that ends with her ideas about "exterior help"
>> articulate some important things about the positive value of trial.  It is
>> this argument and the one about "help," things that I suggested earlier she
>> has been hurt into figuring out, that win her Adam's permission by trumping
>> his objections, none of which can bind because they make less sense or only
>> temporary sense.  It's for this reason that I'm not so ready to dismiss the
>> idea that they continue!
>>  to have a positive, motivating force for her as she takes her leave.
>>
>>
>>
>> I think all of that was a trail in itself.  She didn't expect Adam to
>> respond the way he did, and she had to deal with it, drawing on what she'd
>> come to understand from Adam, Raphael, and her own experiences so far about
>> the nature of the edenic situation.  I think she passes this one.  That she
>> fails the next one is not an indication she got something wrong earlier,
>> only that in the face of Satan's deception she gets something drastically
>> wrong later.  It would have been good for her at that later point to have
>> remembered some of Adam's advice, especially the stuff about the "fair
>> appearing good."  Also, no doubt the scene would have gone differently had
>> she gone and gotten Adam to come talk with the serpent with her (remembering
>> the business about minding).  Still, how do we know it would have ended
>> happily, even then?  Adam's reason is hardly perfect yet either (he
>> certainly fails later to reason through his own moment of trial).  And as I
>> said a few days ago, what about !
>>  the next time?
>>
>>
>>
>> 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 James Rovira
>> Sent: Sunday, September 06, 2009 11:41 PM
>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)
>>
>>
>>
>> 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).
>>
>>
>>
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>> Message: 2
>> Date: Mon, 07 Sep 2009 12:28:55 -0400
>> From: "Harold Skulsky" <hskulsky at smith.edu>
>> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Eve's curls (reply to William Moeck)
>> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> Message-ID: <4AA4FC93.7D51.00DA.1 at smith.edu>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8
>>
>> Many thanks to Louis for his remarks on what I now see is a possibility:
>> that on M's showing Eve makes her separate gardening proposal with the
>> intention of "seeking" temptation — in a version of that intention
>> that leaves Eve blameless and even does her credit.
>>
>> The scare quotes around "seek" above are Louis's, and (at least for me)
>> they illuminate the complexity of what is at stake in this notoriously
>> challenging passage. The pregnant ambiguity and even paradoxicality of
>> "seeking" (i.e., "trying to find") is well known in the intellectual
>> tradition M inherits (see the *Meno*and the literature it generates).
>>
>> The ambiguity is intensified where what one is trying to find is not a
>> person, place or thing,  but an event or experience (in the current
>> case, "temptation"; or, in the *Meno*, "knowledge"). What is it to
>> "find" temptation? For that matter, what is it to TRY to "find"
>> temptation? What is it, above all,  for Eve, as M presents her to us
>> here and elsewhere in PL, to do these things?
>>
>> I am not free to pursue these questions at the moment. But I look
>> forward to Louis's argument. And it now seems to me that I was overhasty
>> in my original posting.
>>
>>
>> ------------------------------
>>
>> Message: 3
>> Date: Mon, 07 Sep 2009 10:22:15 -0700
>> From: "Arlene Stiebel" <amstiebel at verizon.net>
>> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Is Eve seeking temptation?
>> To: "'John Milton Discussion List'" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>> Message-ID: <0KPM0034R2X7GLU4 at vms173015.mailsrvcs.net>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
>>
>>
>> Poor Eve. No one has ever lied to her before, and she doesn't yet have
>> the experience to determine when someone (the father of lies) does.
>> Certainly she has the strength to "stand" but lacks the perspicacity to
>> discern temptation when it presents itself.  (It's easy for Jesus in the
>> desert -- he knows what he's looking at.)
>>
>> How sadly ironic that only having the wisdom provided by the fruit of the
>> tree could have provided her the knowledge needed to withstand the
>> "temptation" to eat the fruit of the tree. Her innocence makes her
>> credulous, not proud nor disobedient.  Carol might "know" not to eat
>> chocolates, but Eve has no concept of temptation. If she had recognized
>> it,
>> she probably would have been able to resist.  Who among us has not been
>> lied
>> to by someone we thought we could trust -- and acted on it.  If we want to
>> "blame" someone, blame the God who created her innocent and then
>> instituted
>> a prohibition she was not equipped to maintain.
>>
>> Try as he might to "justify", Milton cannot get around the old origins of
>> evil argument.  And so, it seems, neither can we.
>>
>> --Arlene
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of
>> srevard at siue.edu
>> Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 6:21 AM
>> To: John Milton Discussion List
>> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Is Eve seeking temptation?
>>
>> I do not deny that the question of temptation comes into the
>> argument, but I still think it is a mistake to say that Eve
>> is seeking temptation when she separates from Adam. What she
>> is countering after Adam brings up the question of temptation
>> is the question whether she, should a tempter appear, would
>> be strong enough to resist him.  She says she would be, and
>> further argues that both must be sufficient, whether together
>> or alone, to resist temptation, should it come.
>> That to me is not to seek temptation--even that is what Adam
>> accuses her of doing.
>> Indeed, when she goes off to prop up those rose, the whole
>> notion of temptation or a tempter goes right out of her head.
>> She should not have forgotten Adam's warnings, but she does.
>> If she were seeking temptation, she should have been more
>> alert when the serpent starts to spin his arguments.
>> She has the opportunity to resist temptation, as she says
>> she would do, and she blows it.
>>
>> Stella Revard
>>
>> Quoting John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca>:
>>
>> > Stella says that "Eve is not seeking trial," to which Gardner replies "I
>> > think she is."  When two very fine Miltonists disagree on a question as
>> > fundamental as this, we can sure something interesting is happening in
>> the
>> > text.  My own view is halfway between Stella and Gardner.  I do not
>> think
>> > that Eve is initially seeking temptation when she proposes to work
>> > separately.  She just wants to get the work done more efficicently.
>>  Satan
>> > is not even on her mind in her first speech (9.205-225).  But when Adam
>> > suggests that she might be wiser to stay by his side. . . . THAT is the
>> > turning point.  Eve is hurt:
>> >
>> > But that thou shouldst my firmness therefore doubt
>> > To God or thee, because we have a foe
>> > May tempt it, I expected not to hear. (9.279-81)
>> >
>> > >From this moment on Eve is seeking temptation.  But she wasn't before.
>> >
>> > John
>> >
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>>
>>
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