[Milton-L] Milton's artistry

Hannibal Hamlin hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
Wed Jul 21 15:09:16 EDT 2010


It doesn't seem to be the "eating Death" that troubles, but the space
between it and the preceding verb "knew not." Milton is not original in the
notion of "eating Death." The separatist John Everard, in his *The Gospel
Treasury Opened* (1657), whose title interestingly refers to "the mystical
divinity of Dionysius the Areopagite spoken of Acts 17:34," writes that
before being born again and regenerated, "we could not *safely* be
conversant, no not in the Sacred Scriptures themselves, without eating *
Death* from God and his word." The phrase to "eat Death" is used of Adam and
Eve and original sin by several authors before Milton, including Sebastian
Franck (*The Forbidden Fruit*, 1640), and Jacob Boehme, and Richard Baxter,
as well as Everard. As for Milton's specific "And knew not eating Death," I
wonder if it seems awkward at first reading or second? When we read it the
first time (if we can imagine that -- doing a virtual I.A. Richards here),
do we not assume the syntax is normal, the phrase meaning something like
"and knew not how to eat death" or that she didn't know "eating Death" (the
concept thereof, or the "character" we have met earlier in the poem)? Only
after pausing and puzzling, I suspect, do we reinterpret it as "she knew not
that she was eating Death," which is when it seems awkward, missing the
necessary prepositional phrase. Like Enna, I am impressed by the semantic
(and theological, cosmological) density here. But I also wonder whether the
awkwardness might not be intentional -- I'm always inclined to give Milton
the benefit of the doubt in matters of prosody -- slowing us down at this
critical moment, forcing a pause, so we work out what's actually going on?
I'm not sure if this is relevant, but I'm reminded of the kind of violence
done to the English language by Bible translators in the Tyndale-KJV line,
producing for instance "Adam knew Eve his wife," which must have seemed
bizarre to its first readers, since the product of this knowledge was a baby
boy. Might readers of Genesis 1-4, or Milton's rewriting of it, have been
unsurprised by occasionally unfamiliar syntax or usage?

Hannibal



On Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:50 PM, Ernst Oor <eoor at planet.nl> wrote:

> I shall not comment on Richard Strier's first remark - I leave it to
> others,
> if any are willing,  who are better qualified than I am to do so.
>
> As for the line, which is my real point, I can give an analysis:
> "' And knew not eating Death" by simply reading it the first time may
> poetically not sound very attractive, yet the fact that it may have four
> different meanings as explained, makes it very suggestive; by reading it
> more times the reader may become aware of all the possibilities and may be
> fascinated because he can project his own opinion.
> I can illustrate this by taking a painting as an example. It is my
> experience that when one looks at a (good) painting he/she perceives more
> that he/she actually sees. What you see may be clear at first sight but one
> may have the impression that there is more to it and that is where
> fascination begins.
> It is the art of the poet/painter to tell as much as possible in a limited
> space - this can be done by suggestion.
> What Milton does in the above line is in my opinion very artistic and part
> of PL's fascination if taken together with all other instances in lines
> created in the same way. That after so many years we still discuss the real
> meaning of any line in PL is partly due to this phenomenon.
>
> Best regards,
>
> Enna Martina
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "richard strier" <rastrier at uchicago.edu>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>  Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 4:55 PM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Milton's artistry
>
>
> > That Milton worked in PL to "prevent paradise even from being imagined,
> > except on condition of its imminent loss" seems completely and utterly
> wrong to
> > me.  Much of the achievement of the poem -- and much of its uniqueness --
> > comes from the extraordinary and sustained evocation it provides of
> developed
> > LIFE in Eden before the fall (relationships, work, sex, companionship,
> picnics,
> > story-telling, discussions, etc.).
> >
> > I am also willing to go on record thinking that "knew not eating Death"
> is
>  quite a
> > bad line, only perhaps justified by Death being thought of as the agent
> of
> > "eating."  Seeing at as a "grecism" [sic] does not seem to me any sort of
> poetic
> > justification.
> >
> > RS
> >
> > ---- Original message ----
> > >Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 16:00:24 +0200
> > >From: "Ernst Oor" <eoor at planet.nl>
> > >Subject: [Milton-L] Milton's artistry
> > >To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> > >
> > >   Dear List Members,
> > >
> > >   Some time ago the list members discussed poetry and
> > >    art in connection with the various interpretations
> > >   of some passages in Paradise Lost.
> > >
> > >   I am reading Kenneth Haynes book English Literature
> > >   and Ancient Languages  (Oxford University
> > >   Press, 2003) and on p. 79 of his book Haynes gives a
> > >   scholarly explanation showing, in my opinion,
> > >   Milton's artistry.
> > >   I quote:
> > >
> > >       Take a famous grecism from Paradise Lost. Eve
> > >   plucks the fruit, eats
> > >       (9.791-2):
> > >
> > >                          Greedily she ingorg'd without
> > >   restraint,
> > >                          And knew not eating Death:
> > >
> > >       Greek may use a participle after verbs of
> > >   knowledge or perception,
> > >       and the line, modelled after greek, means 'and
> > >   knew not that she
> > >       ate Death'. But the unusual syntax is not
> > >   limited to its Greek model;
> > >       rather it concentrates several meanings in the
> > >   line: Eve did not know
> > >       (that is, she was ignorant for the last time)
> > >   while she was eating
> > >       death; she did not know what she did (she ate
> > >   death); she did not
> > >       know the eating, devouring power of death...
> > >
> > >       [further down]
> > >
> > >       His [Milton's] most powerful writing insists on
> > >   the loss of paradise, to
> > >       prevent paradise even from being imagined,
> > >   except on condition of its
> > >       imminent loss. Imitations of Greek and Latin
> > >   syntax and vocabulary
> > >       provided Milton with one means to accomplish
> > >   this...
> > >
> > >   Though Haynes' book is not about Milton, his poetry
> > >   is often discussed and the book may be
> > >   interesting to  Milton scholars who have not yet
> > >   read it.
> > >
> > >   Best regards,
> > >
> > >   Enna Martina.
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
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-- 
Hannibal Hamlin
Associate Professor of English
Editor, Reformation
Organizer, The King James Bible and its Cultural Afterlife
http://kingjamesbible.osu.edu/
The Ohio State University
164 West 17th Ave., 421 Denney Hall
Columbus, OH 43210-1340
hamlin.22 at osu.edu/
hamlin.hannibal at gmail.com
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