[Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Mon Sep 7 16:55:47 EDT 2009

Yes, Louis, I think you're exactly right. Before I say why that's so, I should explain (for those who don't already know) that I see PR/SA/PL as three phases (in that order) of Milton's attempt to "justify the ways of God" to those fallen creatures who have difficulty apprehending them on their own. He starts (conceptually, at least, in this paradigm) with the Son--who is too perfect, too wise, and too incapable of sin to be a plausible role model for us sinners--not that we shouldn't aspire to his glory, but that we can never expect to achieve it. He moves to Samson--who is too superhuman and in some ways too flawed to be Everyman--and arrives at last at Adam and Eve, who are literally Everyman, and capable of as much saintliness and as much sin as the rest of us. That's the reason why I keep raising PR and Samson as "mirrors" to PL.

So: Satan's taunts ("if you're really the Son of God . . .") and his thunderstorm and his incessant parade of temptations are all part and parcel of the same inducement to sinful action--the cleverest of which is his appeal to Jesus to turn the stones into bread, and engage in the ostensibly charitable act of feeding the hungry. But as Stanley Fish pointed out years ago, Jesus understands that even doing seeming good at the Devil's bidding is a bad thing (and after all, numbered among the "hungry" that Satan wants him to feed are his fellow devils), and he doesn't rise to any of the taunts, responding in effect, "Sorry, but I don't do miracles for the entertainment of the devil." Adam and Eve may not be that sophisticated, on an ethical plane, but (as Milton goes to great lengths to emphasize) both Adam and Eve know one key fact: GOD SAID NO.

The "comforts" offered to Job by his friends (which amount to taunts) are a species of the same kind of trial, which Job passes by not internalizing them, just as Samson's response to Harapha's taunts and the guard's summons are evidence of his failure: he lets the enemy force him into rash and foolish behaviour the origin of which is emotional, not intellectual, and which is inimical to his proper service to God. That's what Satan hopes to accomplish with Jesus, and what he does at last achieve with Eve. 

I responded to Jeffery privately (not wanting to overstay my welcome on the list proper) concerning Arlene's question with this analogy: 

Suppose you, as a loving father, tell your 15 year old daughter that she is not to go out with the 21-year old man who's had his eye on her. Does she need to know your reasons for the prohibition, to understand that if she goes anyway, she is doing something wrong? Like Eve, in her adolescent know-it-all-ness, if you tried to tell her that she wasn't emotionally ready for what would be likely to happen on such a date, she'd probably argue with you, and tell you how nice the guy was, and what a gentleman, and how she was certain she had nothing to fear from him--and pout that you didn't trust her, and you thought she was stupid, or lacked judgment, and so on.

As her father (an adult dealing with a child) you could simply forbid her to go.

But if you were having an analogous argument with your wife, all you could say about her intended action is what Adam says--then go, and don't blame me if you get into trouble!

That said, I haven't seen Gardner's essay, but I will try to get it. (My access is limited, these days.) But I would certainly agree that "more and much better can be learned, according to the poem, by not eating the fruit than by eating it": Eve seeks to accelerate kairos, to speed things up by taking matters into her own hands, and succeeds in retarding it--by who knows how many millennia? One need only look at the innocent joys of a very young child to apprehend what knowing good without knowing evil means--and I am not including fallen ignorance in that equation. To delight in the beat of a butterfly's wings--to approach one's "work" with joy and enthusiasm--to love without fear, and accept love without qualification, to have everything one needs and everyone one loves accessible and available . . . and to know nothing of war or debiliating disease or the ravages of age and death and destruction or treachery or desertion or famine  . . .

If  one must know evil to know good, why do we try so hard to protect our children from evil, and wish them a world in which it doesn't exist?

Best to all,

Carol Barton  

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Schwartz, Louis 
  To: 'John Milton Discussion List' 
  Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 3:37 PM
  Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation

  Carol, thanks for that observation!  I should have noted myself that the Father, in his praise of Abdiel, calls the reproach of the rebel angels "far worse to bear/ Then violence" (6.34-5).  So Adam is correct about the negative force of the "aspersion."  But this is all part of the nature of this sort of trial, no?  The insult is-or should be-merely a spur to proving the insult wrong by resisting the offered temptation (that's Eve's response, I think).  On the other hand, maybe the really interesting thing here is that it might be tempting to believe such an insult, thereby giving oneself the exact excuse that Milton's poem wants to argue out of human hands.  Ultimately the insult itself can do no more harm (or less harm) than any other aspect of a trial.  And if such pains and dangers exist in the Eden of Paradise Lost (and they do), they must have their positive valences.





  Louis Schwartz

  Associate Professor of English

  University of Richmond

  Richmond, VA  23173

  (804) 289-8315

  lschwart at richmond.edu




  From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Carol Barton
  Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 2:40 PM
  To: John Milton Discussion List
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation


  I think that rather than actually "tainting" his intended victims, Nancy and Louis, Adam is saying that the Adversary, by the mere assumption on his part that they *can* be tempted, casts aspersions on their presumed integrity. If you think about it in the context of Satan's very unsubtle (and ultimately almost comic) attempt to "woo" Jesus with women, the nature of the "aspersion" is pretty clear--he insults the Son's integrity *and* his intelligence (as well as his piety, temperance, and so on) by the mere assumption that such a stupid bribe will work. Adam has already assured Eve that evil may come into the mind unbidden without tainting the person to whom the thought (or dream) occurs. Satan doesn't defile the object of his seductions by the mere fact of his attempt--but he does imply that they're capable of being tempted.


  Best to all,


  Carol Barton



    From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Nancy Rosenfeld
    Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 1:26 PM
    To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
    Subject: [Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation


    Dear all,


    Any comments on the following remark made by Adam in his attempt to convince Eve not to go off alone? 


    For he who tempts, though in vain, at least asperses

    The tempted with dishonour foul, supposed

    Not incorruptible of faith, not proof

    Against temptation (IX.296-9).


    The above sounds to me like a claim on Adam's part for the validity of a sort of "guilt by association," i.e. even if one successfully resists temptation, the very fact of having been seen by the enemy as a possible victim in some way sullies one. Of course I haven't lost sight of the identity of the speaker: Adam may be giving expression to his own idea--one which Milton may not have found acceptable. 


    In Adam's defense we might note that although disturbed by Eve's narration of her dream of yielding to Satan's temptation in Book V, he explains to her at some length why: 


    Evil into the mind of god or man

    May come and go, so unapproved, and leave

    No spot or blame behind: which gives me hope

    That what in sleep thou didst abhor to dream,

    Waking thou never wilt consent to do (V.117-20).


    So why does Adam attempt to play the "aspersion" card in the opening of his debate with Eve in Book IX? Has he (or Milton) rethought the issue? Or is he trying to bring forward as many arguments as possible, hoping that one of them will convince Eve? 


    All the best,

    Nancy Rosenfeld.


    Nancy Rosenfeld, PhD.

    English Studies Unit

    Max Stern College of Jezreel Valley, Israel. 




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