[Milton-L] "erotic" versus

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 21 19:42:34 EDT 2011

I wonder if any of this is related in Milton's thinking to Colossians 3:14:

TR: ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην ἥτις ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος

mGNT: ἐπὶ πᾶσιν δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην ὅ ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος

NKJV: But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

Of course this is agape, not eros, but I wonder how distinct these are in the 
unfallen world. The Greek τελειότητος (from teleiotēs), or "perfection," can 
also be translated "completeness."

Jeffery Hodges

From: Brendan Prawdzik <brendanprawdzik at gmail.com>
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Fri, July 22, 2011 8:14:14 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "erotic" versus


I'd be happy to elaborate my own understanding of the long quotation from Book 

The whole passage examines relationships between seeing, visibility, 
physicality, and passion.

At the moment when Eve perceives the trajectory of the Adam-Raphael discourse, I 
believe that most of us are surprised by perceiving Eve's presence at all.  She 
has been sitting quietly by, yet now for three books we have been immersed in a 
world seemingly shared between Adam and Raphael.  Milton surprises us with Eve's 
presence.  The evidence of intention is right there: she sits "retired in 
sight," meaning, within the visual field, yet separated as though in her own 

Our immersion into the homosocial dialogue, into these fantastic stories of 
divine creation and warring angels, is analogous to Adam's immersion into 
Raphael's speech.  (And by raising questions about the movement of solar bodies 
with Raphael, Adam is unintentionally emphasizing this discourse as a dialogue 
between Raphael and Adam, with Eve being, or feeling, as though a type of third 
wheel, not to put too fine a point on that.)  As Book VIII begins, Adam is 
entranced.  He continues to hear Raphael speak even after this mediator has 
ceased speaking.  Adam is enamored with him, with the spiritual/intellecual 
growth that he represents.  I am not suggesting anything naughty here (do what 
you will with 8.614-32), only that Adam is absorbed in Raphael, that he 
identifies intensely with him.  This detracts from the emotional and physical 
presence to be shared with Eve, that is, the cultivating of paradisal marriage.

When Eve retires because she prefers him the relater over the angel, she is 
precisely thinking of the tender physicality of their intercourse, at once 
intellectual and bodily (and I would not use the loaded "carnal").  It makes 
sense that she is thinking of this care at this moment.  She longs for Adam's 
attention, attention evidenced by the gaze and materialized in a physical 

Milton's description of the flowers shows clearly the inter-inclining of passion 
for which Eve innocently longs in her emotionally and visually diverted husband. 
 When Eve turns to her grove, that niche of nurturing that she so cherishes, we 
see between Eve and plants a model of the relation of passions and bodies shared 
between husband and wife: "they at her coming sprung/ And toucht by her fair 
tendance gladlier grew."  Many here might accuse me of fallen projection of 
impure thoughts, but I'd see this as a stubbornly close-minded reading tempered 
by a sensibility I don't share: but it seems clear to me that the plants 
represent the allure of Eve in a way that calls vividly to mind erection ~ and 
why not?  Here is a place where Eve can perform her labors and receive instant 
evidence of their efficacy and value.  The plants are physically impelled toward 
her, and made gladlier, growing by her touch.  One essential quality of the 
cultivation of paradisal marriage.  Even if we read "sprung" and "gladlier grew" 
as suggesting erection, this does not mean that it does not also suggest 
intellectual and emotional longing.

Milton next follows with an encomium of the married couple: "O when meet 
now/ Such pairs, in Love and mutual Honour joyn'd?"  There is some irony here, 
as all that precedes follows from a temporary (though possibly quite 
consequential) loosening of the bonds of passion between spouses.  Adam's 
cathects for the moment to Raphael, while Eve seeks out the grove of flowers.  I 
am not saying that the passage "foreshadows" the Fall, but that there is a 
wrinkle here to be worked over by loving hands.

Now things get particularly interesting.  As the ideal of the pair "in Love and 
mutual Honour joyned" is celebrated at the moment of a physical separation 
(corresponding to a temporary parting of the passions), Milton has Eve's body 
send out "darts of desire/ Into all Eyes to wish her still in sight."  These 
darts register a desire for Eve that correlates with a sense of lacking her. 
 These darts do not merely shoot into the eyes of Adam and Raphael, who may or 
may not be looking (though if I were to make a movie of this I would not 
hesitate to show a somewhat surprised, somewhat disconcerted Adam's gaze on the 
departing Eve), but into all Eyes.  Including the eyes of the reader, who was 
surprised by discovering Eve "retired in sight" after three books of 

So, we have several analogous relationships of sight and passion, if not touch:

Adam --> Raphael
Eve --> Adam
Eve --> flowers
Adam --> Eve
Reader --> Eve

Add or detract as you will.  Raphael may be looking too.

These relationships cover a wide range of affections, yet on the whole they show 
an intellectual and emotional longing closely linked with physical desire ~ and 
again, why not?  Adam's investment in Raphael is, at the very least, one of 
homosocial amity, of reverence for a superior (but similar) being.  The 
relationship between Eve and Adam is one of love, of friendship, and of sexual 
desire.  That between Eve and the plants is similar: the affection, purely 
innocent, takes a form of sexual desire, as a type of (innocent) erection.  The 
darts of desire shooting into all eyes to wish Eve still in sight seems directly 
to engage the reader's experience of Eve.  The desire that we feel to wish her 
still in sight interacts with our initial surprise that she was even there to 
begin with.  As she departs, do we, fallen, respond like the plants do at her 

I'm not saying that the passage is intended to cause sexual arousal on the part 
of any or all readers, but I am saying that here is one more instance where 
Milton is playing with the idea of Eve's sexual allure, an allure that is not 
prurient in itself, but is integral to the loving sociality between the married 
couple that is a basis for human communion, both before the Fall and after.

Milton places the reader in a particularly privileged perspective here.  We get 
an opportunity to see multiple consequences of a deferred interspousal 
intercourse.  We learn to understand an emotional distance that opens up, that 
needs addressing, reformation, tendance.  We will see a version of Eve's 
experience here in Adam's description of Eve as a walled garden placed under 
angelic guard, the loveliness of which he but "approach[es]" (8.540-59).

How do we see Eve here, as she departs?  What is the nature of this "desire"? 
 What does the reader (and esp. the male reader) learn from the surprisal of 
Eve's presence and the desire (darts!) to keep her still in sight?  This might 
provide an opportunity to engage with Julia Walker's introduction of Laura 
Mulvey to the discussion ...

So that's my take.

Brendan Prawdzik

On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 2:38 PM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>wrote:

I've been posting a bit too much today, so this will be my last
>response for the day, though I continue to enjoy the discussion.  Many
>thanks to Richard and Brendan for their responses to me today.
>Those words weren't intended to frighten.  While I have indeed
>vacillated between the sincere and tongue-in-cheek in my responses to
>you, that specific question was not intended to be a "knock-down."
>That just doesn't sound like the Milton that I've read.  I would be
>interested in reading an argument on behalf of this idea developed out
>of a close reading of Milton, however.
>Brendan's supposition that Milton was aware of the possibility of
>sexual arousal on the part of his readers is very different from
>saying that Milton consciously intended to sexually arouse his
>readers.  This response is similar to Coleridge's response to Blake's
>"Little Girl Lost":  he wasn't worried about a lack of innocence in
>the poem, but in the readers.
>I can see how these lines may support your point:
>Then had the Sons of God excuse to have bin
>Enamour'd at that sight; but in those hearts
>Love unlibidinous reign'd, nor jealousie
>Was understood, the injur'd Lovers Hell.
>But they seem to me to be more descriptive of possible angelic
>responses to the physical sight of Eve than readerly responses to
>Milton's description of her.  I'm not sure what you intended us to get
>out of the long quotation from Book VIII, however -- can you
>Thank you both again,
>Jim R
>On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 5:20 PM, richard strier <rastrier at uchicago.edu> wrote:
>> Just to be clear, and to continue to be "outrageous" (and consistent), my 
>> to your "rhetorical" question (clearly meant to be a knock-down) -- "Do you
>> really think Milton consciously intended his audience to be sexually aroused 
>> parts of PL?" -- my answer is YES.
>> I'm afraid that the words "consciously intended" don't frighten me.
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