[Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?

Kim Maxwell kmaxwell at stanford.edu
Sat Feb 27 16:06:41 EST 2010


But I think you make the point that makes mine.  Milton wants a comparison, a direct physical comparison.  Prelapsarian man had perfect digestion, absorbing everything he or she eats.  The only outcome is a non-noxious, completely bland vapor, wafted away harmlessly by the morning air.  This provides a perfect foil for all the other instances of flatulence and postlapsarian indulgence with odoriferous outcomes.  I don't see why it doesn't work (we may not like the scatological references, but I think John Leonard among others has argued effectively that Milton uses them, as jokes, but at times as earnest efforts of meaning).

This is slightly off the point, but if Adam and Eve have perfect digestion, and the garden is constructed by God the Son to have an automatic irrigation system, and it is in perfect harmony with its surroundings, why does it grow to excess, a suggestion of imperfection?  Or is that just how Adam and Eve see it?

Kim Maxwell

From: Carol Barton <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Sat, February 27, 2010 12:49:14 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Hellish flatulence?

Kim, why must "vapors" necessarily 
refer to flatulence? His sleep is "from pure digestion bred, /and temperat 
vapors bland"--i.e., not the indigestion of overeating, or of eating anything 
bad for the body, and not from breathing in anything toxic (such as the 
sulfurous fumes of hell, or the modern pollutions of carbon dioxide and other 
harmful gases).
We sleep restlesslessly when we eat 
anything too spicy, or too gaseous, or too rich, or too alcoholic, or too 
sugary, or too fatty, or in too great an amount (and are liable 
to be nauseous, flatulent, dehydrated, and a variety of other versions of 
uncomfortable as a result). As opposed to their consumption in moderation of 
healthy food in temperate amounts prior to Book IX, Adam and Eve gorge 
themselves after the fall, and pay the price in physical disorder, the "grosser 
sleep / Bred of unkindly fumes, with conscious dreams / 
There they thir fill of Love and Loves disport
Took largely, of thir mutual guilt the Seale,
The solace of thir sin, till dewie sleep
Oppress'd them, wearied 
with thir amorous play.[ 1045 ]
Soon as the force of that fallacious Fruit,
That with exhilerating vapour bland
About thir spirits had plaid, and inmost powers
Made erre, was now exhal'd, and grosser sleep
Bred of unkindlyfumes, with consciousdreams[ 1050 ]
Encumberd, now had left them, up they rose
As from 
unrest, and each the other viewing,
Soon found thir Eyes how op'nd, 
and thir minds
How dark'nd;
Apples are known to cause 
flatulence (and other digestive issues) in people not used to eating 
As someone else suggested earlier, 
we have to be wary of seeing things that aren't there, and of reading too much 
into the things that are. Milton isn't being scatalogical here--nor is he 
indulging in absurdity. He's making a clear and valid distinction between the 
effects of a health diet in moderation prior to the fall, and the effects of the 
lethal diet of excess after it--the bloating (with or without flatulence) that 
is the result of gluttony.
Best to all,
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