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

Michael Gillum mgillum at unca.edu
Mon Sep 7 17:08:03 EDT 2009


Sorry for the blank post preceding.
Emily Speller's quotations from DDC seem helpful. Obviously Milton
interprets the Special Prohibition as a "good temptation" or trial from God,
affording Adam and Eve the opportunity to show their stuff. God describes
the Tree to Adam as "The pledge of thy obedience, and thy faith" (8.325). As
Emily says, Eve does not go off to seek temptation by the Tree, but her
temptation by Satan is an extension of the same principle.

Emily asks, "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 would say the answer to the first question is
clearly "yes," on the basis of her statement to Adam.

 As to the second question, one might make a moral distinction between
desiring a test and actively seeking it (rather than waiting for God to
arrange it). On the other hand, *Areopagitica* commends the seeking, a
virtue that sallies out and sees her adversary. However, Milton does locate
that sallying in the context of fallenness: "Assuredly we bring not
innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies
is triall, and triall is by what is contrary." Since Eve was already pure,
maybe her sally was an inappropriate exposure of herself to evil. Perhaps
this point casts some light on Adam's apparently lame argument about
avoiding the "aspersion" of being the subject of an active temptation,
discussed in other posts.

Michael


On Mon, Sep 7, 2009 at 4:19 PM, Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu> wrote:

>
>
> 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:
>>>        <
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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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