[Milton-L] one more comment on 9.792

Steve Fallon sfallon at nd.edu
Tue Jul 27 18:37:18 EDT 2010


I'd like to echo Richard Strier's admiration of Harold Skulsky's erudition and add that Harold is as penetrating as he is learned.

And while I agree with Richard far more often than I disagree, I disagree about 9.792.  I've always found it a compelling line.  It is, as J B Lethbridge has pointed out, notably memorable.  I think that this has something to do with the succession of sounds as well as its compression. The alliteration of "knew not" succeeded by the consonance of "not eating" leading into the consonantal finality of "death."

I'd always taken its distance from idiomatic English as a sign of its compression, as a signal to readers to unravel meanings.  I still think that this is the case, but as Harold's comments on the structure, taken from the Greek, of the verb of knowledge followed by the accusative participial clause make clear, more was going on than met my ear.

I may have missed it the suggestion in another post, but I think that there is an additional meaning of "she . . . / . . .  knew not eating death."  Ernst Oor quotes K. Haynes' comment "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)."  I think that one can turn this around for another meaning.  If in one sense she is "ignorant for the last time," in another sense she is ignorant for the first time.  While eating of the Tree of Knowledge, she "knew not," period.  The narrator in this reading comments ironically on the aspiration to knowledge held out by Satan and picked up by Eve.  What she is ignorant of for the first time is good known in and by itself rather than in contrast to evil (or, as Milton puts it in Areopagitica, she falls into the state "of knowing good by evil").

Steve Fallon

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