[Milton-L] Re: "tasteless" Milton (response)

Nairba Sirrah nairbasirrah at msn.com
Fri Dec 17 01:59:03 EST 2010

thank you James...hopefully I started a healthy discussion. Because - and I don't think this is a matter of interpretation or opinion - my assertion is that Milton didn't just add embellishment to Christian tradition: he changed absolutely everything. All the fundamentals are completely re-invented.
A basic breakdown of Milton's timeline runs thus:
1. In the beginning, God created the universe, then Heaven, then the millions of archangels, then his "Son" then Earth...but he only created Earth after Satan made more than 30 percent of the angels revolt. The revolt happened because God announced to the angels that he is retiring and has just "begotten" his only son, and that all the angels must now take orders from "Him" (Jesus) instead of "Him" (God). Satan doesn't understand why the angels aren't his sons too, nor why being subserviant is necessary. Milton vaguely suggests that Satan was even God's first angel/son. Satan declares war, and loses the battle to Jesus and Michael and is damned to Hell.
2. God creates Eden and Adam and Eve, and then watches with Jesus as Satan breaks out of Hell and flies to Earth to corrupt mankind. Divine foreknowledge is introduced, as well as the concept of free will and fate, clearly pointing out that these elements cannot possibly co-exist without canceling out each other's virtue.
3. Raphael swoops in to Heaven to warn Adam, while Eve cleans the pre-lapsarian kitchen.
4. Satan possesses the serpent, convinces Eve to eat the fruit.
5. Adam eats the fruit as a pledge of loyalty to Eve.
6. Jesus comes to Eden and speaks all the Biblical sentences otherwise ascibed in the Bible to God.
7. Michael comes to banish Adam and Eve, and pretty much ruins the whole point of human tribulation by quickly predicting to Adam every human event that is going to happen over the next 3000 years.
Anyhow, none of any of that is how it reads in any form of Judiasm or Christianity. Much of what Milton did was against the law in 1667. The reality that Paradise Lost was approved for publication by the office of the Bishop of Canterbury is astonishing.
Milton basically changed all of God's reasons for doing everything, and made an epic mockery out of every divine and human decision.
Essentially saying "if god forsees the future, then there was no chance that Eve had a choice...so why forbid her from doing something fate dictated she wwas going to do anyway."
I realize the Pandora's Box this opens. But again, in defense of my point, Milton's reworking of the essential narrative is quantum and, I dare say, wrong. He might as well have just made up a whole new religion. At what point does a Milton emmendation become too ridiculous? Saying Raphael warned them is HUGE. Why not say Adam ate the fruit first?
The license Milton took is too far out of bounds. The main reason it's not talked about is hardly anyone ever reads the whole poem.

Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Re: "tasteless" Christmas greetings, etc.
From: jamesrovira at gmail.com
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2010 01:23:48 -0500
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu


Milton's PL has seemed to me to function something like Christian midrash--an imaginative filling in of the gaps left by the Biblical narrative to respond to pressing theological and moral issues.  As such, it is a reflection of the Christianity of the period, not necessarily a reinvention of it, at least not one as radical as you suggest.  PL is part a long tradition of acceptable, imaginative retellings of Biblical stories--Mystery plays, Jewish midrash, etc.  

As such, PL is not so much scandalous as a great work of imagination.  Being a great work of imagination, however, it is subject to a number of readings.  Absolute orthodoxy does not inhere in the text any more than absolute Satanism or scandalous heterodoxy.  At some point, we are readers who interpret it, usually exaggerating some elements and neglecting others.

James Rovira
Assistant Professor of English
Tiffin University
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety

On Dec 16, 2010, at 11:57 PM, Nairba Sirrah <nairbasirrah at msn.com> wrote:

It was a little upsetting to sign on and see all the recent negativity on here. Jim Meakim felt compelled to speak on behalf of the whole group and insult me, while felt compelled to call Terrance Lindall's Christmas message tasteless.

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