[Milton-L] Re: Eve seeking temptation

David Ainsworth dainsworth at bama.ua.edu
Tue Sep 8 13:14:21 EDT 2009


The silliness of this part of Adam's argument, I think, makes Eve's 
response to Satan's argument for eating the fruit resonate with her 
response here.  She can see through the weaknesses in Adam's argument 
and she doesn't let him get away with anything.  That Eve manages the 
same initially with the serpent certainly seems implied, both through 
her responses and through Milton's "Eve yet sinless" in line 659.

The problem seems to be triggered by Satan's long (idolatrous) speech in 
praise of the tree beginning at line 679.  But why does Eve fall for his 
argument here?  Satan offers so many different attacks--does one, in 
particular, tip the balance for Eve?  Is it all at once?

In response to Arlene's suggestion that there's no reason not to believe 
the serpent, I'd say that the reason to believe or not believe must 
involve reason--which seems to be a problem in this instance, as in 
Eve's ears the snake's words seem "impregned/With reason" (737-8)--but 
that the clincher involves how one assesses God's claims.  If God is to 
be treated as another actor or agent, one as capable of deception or 
self-interest as any other, then to borrow Satan's argument here, God is 
not God.  If God makes a claim or a statement, anyone contradicting it 
must be a liar.  Eve ought to know, arguably, that the serpent is Satan 
when he moves from questioning God to contradicting him.

I'm not convinced that the rationale here is entirely faith-based, 
either.  If God declares Adam and Eve will die, and the serpent claims 
that they will not, at the very least the snake's logic must be perfect, 
given that God seems extremely powerful and has yet to lie or mislead. 
Satan's isn't, but Eve doesn't seem to notice.

In any event, even if God is an absolute tyrant, the only proof the 
serpent can offer Eve that he won't immediately kill her for eating the 
fruit is that he is still alive after doing so.  Setting aside the 
question of whether Eve might know that some animals can eat that which 
is poisonous to human beings, the snake's survival says nothing about 
God's prohibition.  God did not tell Adam and Eve that he would kill the 
serpent if it ate from the tree, or that he would kill anything eating 
from the tree.  In fact, he didn't tell them that he would kill them if 
they ate from the tree.  He said that Adam and Eve's death would follow 
as an inevitable consequence of eating the fruit.  The serpent never 
actually refutes this statement.

A fascinating point here--Satan's argument as snake that he is still 
alive after eating the fruit is a lie, because neither the serpent nor 
Satan have actually eaten the fruit.  But there's a partial truth in 
what he says:  he does yet live after having ventured higher than his 
lot.  What he omits from his thesis here is that he did not ATTAIN 
higher than his lot.  He was punished.  Adam and Eve will soon be 
punished, too.

David

Schwartz, Louis wrote:
> I think he’s unnerved by the way Eve took his first speech, and he’s 
> trying to come up with a less insulting way of framing his initial 
> argument.  This is one of the things that comes his mind, and it’s maybe 
> the weakest.  He makes some good points in the speech, and they require 
> Eve to respond complexly (the stuff about other’s aid and witnessing, 
> for example), but this one, I think, she dismantles pretty handily.  
> It’s just a silly argument, and I don’t think it can be supported by 
> anything in the poem.  Does God require that Abdiel cleanse himself of 
> taint when he returns triumphantly from HIS trial?
> 
>  
> 
> Louis
> 
>  
> 
> ===========================
> 
> Louis Schwartz
> 
> Associate Professor of English
> 
> University of Richmond
> 
> Richmond, VA  23173
> 
> (804) 289-8315
> 
> lschwart at richmond.edu <mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
>  
> 
> *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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