[Milton-L] Adam's better half

Jeremiah Douglas jdcommonly at gmail.com
Sat Aug 14 16:09:37 EDT 2010


The OED, under "better, a., (n.), and adv. 3.c.:

c. Hence, better half: orig. my better half, the more than half of my being;
said of a very close and intimate friend (cf. ‘the better part of me’
Shakes.; ‘meæ partem animæ,’ ‘animæ dimidium meæ’ Horace; ‘animæ
partem...nostræ majorem’ Statius); esp. (after Sidney) used for ‘my husband’
or ‘wife’; now, jocularly appropriated to the latter. Formerly also applied
to the soul, as the better part of man.

1580 SIDNEY Arcadia III. 280 [Argalus to Parthenia, his wife] My deare, my
better halfe (sayd hee) I find I must now leaue thee. [c1600 SHAKES. Sonn.
xxxix. 2 When thou art all the better part of me. 1646 BUCK Rich. III, II.
61 As if his [Richard's] body must suffer more, because they could not kill
his better part.] 1709 J. STEVENS Quevedo's Wks. 33 [A woman to her husband]
Thou dear better-half of my soul. a1720 SHEFFIELD (Dk. Buckhm.) Wks. (1753)
I. 274 My dear and better half is out of danger. 1742 R. BLAIR Grave 733 The
lag flesh Rests, in hope of meeting once again Its better half [the soul].
1842 T. MARTIN in Fraser's Mag. Dec. 241/2, I..shall look out for a
better-half.


I would have guessed, however, that the concept (if not the English phrase)
predates Sidney.

Thanks for reminding me about Plato. Do you remember what happened when the
three parts were split? Why halves and not thirds? And what happened to
the hermaphroditic?

Jeremiah

On Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 3:50 PM, Jason Kerr <aelfric at gmail.com> wrote:

> The idea of a spouse or lover as one's "other half" goes back to Plato's
> Symposium, in which one of the speakers (can't recall who at the moment)
> proposes that people were initially created in three genders (male, female,
> and hermaphroditic), but these people were too powerful, so the gods split
> them in two--whence the idea of love as the quest for one's other half. Now,
> as to when this other half became "better" (or "dearer," as Milton has it)
> perhaps another list member will have more insight than I.
>
> Jason A. Kerr
>
> On Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 3:38 PM, Jeremiah Douglas <jdcommonly at gmail.com>wrote:
>
>> Milton's Adam says of Eve in P.L. 5:95 "Best image of myself and dearer
>> half" -- so, when did all this "better half" stuff start?
>>
>> Jeremiah
>>
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>
>
>
> --
> The purpose of poetry is to remind us
> how difficult it is to remain just one person,
> for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
> and invisible guests come in and out at will.
>
>            —Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
>
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