[Milton-L] Unlibidinous?

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Mon Jul 25 17:59:24 EDT 2011

I think that Emily Speller's post is very well taken.

"Unlibidinous" is a problem.  And, much as I hate to disagree with John Leonard, 
I think that she is right that it cannot be so easily disposed of.  "The Sons of 
God"  must, indeed, be the (unfallen) angels, but "those hearts" pretty much has 
to include, or directly refer to, Raphael and Adam (perhaps also Eve, but since 
the issue is how to respond to her naked service, there is some awkwardness in 
including her here).

I am not certain what to make of "unlibidinous" -- it may not be the mot juste -
- but I do think that we can get somewhere if we follow the exegetical method 
that Milton recommends (and, contra Fish, MIlton always followed) and attempt 
to catch the "drift and scope" of the passage.

Clearly this is a passage where Milton (seems fussy and unnecessary to say "the 
narrator") is fully aware of the kind of issue that we are discussing.  He has 
elaborately and quite intentionally set up the scene as one that any reader 
attracted to women would visualize as highly erotic and sexually titillating -- a 
delicious, carefully prepared picnic, with suitable "liquor," attentively served by a 
spectacularly beautiful naked woman -- but he wants to indicate that, while this 
response is inevitable, and even, to some extent, appropriate (vigorous 
enjoyment-- not being "nice" is required), it is somehow different in the Edenic 
context.  Two clues as to what Milton is up to seem to me to be:  1) the 
treatment of "liquor," where he is careful to present the lovely drink from the 
grape as unfermented, and 2) and most important, the end of the sentence.  
There seems to be a parallel between non-alcoholic liquor and unfallen sex (so 
the first fallen sex occurs as if the lovers are drunk).  But of course this tends to 
suggest that unfallen sex is bland -- like grape juice versus wine -- and this 
cannot, pace Tom Luxon, be what is intended. Grape juice that is as complex 
and interesting as wine has to be the idea.  We are now, I think, getting toward 
the complexity of what is being attempted in"love unlibidinous" -- which may 
not, I hasten to add again, work perfectly.  But the real clue, I think, is the final 
thought, on jealousy.  Adam does not feel possessive and anxious with regard to 
Eve's beauty and sexuality and the appreciation of these by others.  He is secure 
in his relation to her, with the full Latin sense of se cura.  So libidinousness, 
here, would have some element of graspingness and anxious possessiveness.  
Emily has to be right that it's a negative term, but it cannot be meant to, if I 
may coin a barbarism, desexify the scene (de-eroticize seems too bland).  The 
word might simply be being asked to do too much work, or work that is almost 
impossible, but I think that we (or at least I) can now see pretty clearly the work 
that it is being called upon to do.  I hope this helps.

Richard Strier
Frank L. Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor
Department of English
University of Chicago
1115 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

---- Original message ----
>Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2011 19:12:24 -0500
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of Emily Speller 
<emily.speller at gmail.com>)
>Subject: [Milton-L] Libidinous?  
>To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
>   On Thu, 21 Jul 2011 17:58:55 -0400, John Leonard
>   wrote: “Adam and Eve are libidinous, and so is
>   Milton, and so are his fit readers.”
>   Fascinating. I think I agree with Professor Leonard
>   in spirit but object to the letter.
>   I’m pondering the potential meanings and
>   connotations of “libidinous,” which leads me to
>   consider the potential meanings and connotations of
>   “lust.” “Libidinous” and its early modern
>   variants  (including a new favorite for me,
>   “libidinosity”) almost always carry unpleasant
>   connotations in the OED. At least, I wouldn’t care
>   to be called a “most foul libidinist,” and the
>   Ship of Fools informs us that Sardanapalus “for
>   his lechery and lybydynosyte fell in too helle.”
>   And then Milton of course (also quoted in OED), has
>   some strong words for “libidinous and ignorant
>   Poetasters” in the Reason for Church Gov’t....
>    But perhaps in PL 5 Milton is recovering (as he
>   often does) a meaning of the Latin word from which
>   the English word is derived. Lewis & Short inform me
>   that the Latin libidinosus can mean “passionate,
>   full of desire, willful, sensual”--and Adam and
>   Eve are all that, or at least, they are passionate,
>   full of desire, willful, and sensuous, though
>   passion become another complicated affair. Yet the
>   Latin word can also mean “licentious, lustful,
>   voluptuous” [one thinks of Sin in PL 2.869], and
>   yes, “libidinous.” The Latin noun
>   libido--“pleasure, desire, eagerness, longing,
>   fancy, inclination” seems to fare better, but the
>   participle appears to be primarily used for
>   inordinate or unlawful lusts:
>   http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?
>   Excellently lusty youths and maidens aside, I would
>   not consider lust or libidinosity a mark of
>   rectitude or of innocence, and I would suggest that
>   Milton did not intend his Adam and Eve to be
>   “libidinous”. I hope I don’t come off as
>   prudish. I’m all for hailing wedded love,
>   questions that make angels blush, etc--and who bids
>   abstain but our destroyer? I’m sure you all recall
>   Coleridge on the distinction Milton generally makes
>   between “sensual” and  “sensuous,” the
>   latter his coinage. (Perhaps one acknowledging no
>   difference between “naked” and “nude” might
>   equate these two adjectives as well, but I submit
>   that Milton generally did intend a distinction
>   between “sensual” and “sensuous,” if only
>   present in connotation, and that this difference
>   lies in the will or the disposition of observer or
>   possibly of person observed.) I think arousal,
>   sexual and otherwise, is an important part of
>   Milton’s prelapsarian spaces, but we would do well
>   to consider the occasion, situation, and reason for
>   this arousal before condemning or condoning it. This
>   is not to say that Milton never intends the
>   reader’s arousal.
>   But to return to the context of the word
>   “libidinous” in PL: I don’t quite see how
>   “Love unlibidinous” mustn’t include Adam and
>   Eve. The scene includes three beings, two humans,
>   one angel: “at Table Eve / Minister’d naked”
>   in the presence of Adam and Raphael (5.444-45).
>   “Sons of God” immediately refers to angels like
>   Raphael -- but the qualifying phrase “if ever”
>   and comparison with PL 11.622 and PR 2.178-181
>   (Belial is one of the “fleshliest” incubi)
>   complicate our understanding of Milton’s allusion
>   to Genesis 6. If “those hearts” in which “Love
>   unlibidinous reign’d” are only angelic, why is
>   the demonstrative pronoun plural, when there are no
>   other angels around? If “those hearts” belong to
>   the “sons of God,” why is the verb in the past
>   tense, as if a change to libidinosity is
>   approaching, when the fall of the rebel angels has
>   already occurred? Milton usually uses the present
>   tense when referring to qualities of angels, good or
>   bad, that persist (“...can either sex assume”...
>   “All heart they live, all head...”) One might
>   object that Milton believed that good angels remain
>   so due to their obedience, and not because they are
>   upheld by extraordinary grace (PL 5.535-537; book 1,
>   chap. 9 in DDC), and consequently some of the
>   faithful angels could possibly fall from grace on a
>   later occasion. I think this fascinating support for
>   Professor Leonard’s reading, as I understand it,
>   but I am not yet convinced. The narrator’s
>   nostalgic interjection, “O innocence deserving
>   Paradise!” seems to me to apply especially to
>   unfallen Adam and Eve, and the phrase after the
>   passage in question-- “nor jealousy / Was
>   understood, the injur’d Lover’s Hell”--could
>   apply to Adam’s freedom from suspicion as well as
>   to Raphael’s freedom from unjustly coveting such a
>   wife as Eve.  
>   Speaking of darts of desire, John Alvis has pointed
>   out in “Philosophy as Noblest Idolatry in PL”
>   (Interpretation 16.2) that “neither Raphael nor
>   Adam moves to detain Eve and neither alludes to her
>   departure as the philosophic conversation resumes."
>   Eve rises with “grace that won who saw to wish her
>   stay”--but there’s no proof that Adam or Raphael
>   take any notice (PL 8.43). This is where the
>   suspenseful music begins but the main actors just
>   can’t hear it. I also read dramatic irony as Eve
>   “shot darts of desire / Into all eyes to wish her
>   still in sight.” The scene has changed; Eve has
>   already left. Brendan, I greatly enjoyed your
>   comments on the separation scene, a significant
>   dramatic event that is not yet entirely clear in my
>   mind. What does Eve hear? What does Eve not hear?
>   What does Eve overhear? Why does she say she
>   overheard  Raphael’s parting words about an Enemy
>   that seeks their ruin (9.274-279), even though
>   Raphael’s parting words are more about an internal
>   struggle, the subjection of passions to reason? Why,
>   when Raphael does talk about Satan, does he say to
>   Adam, “warn thy weaker!” though Eve is already
>   attentive (6.908, 7.50)? I love Milton’s inclusion
>   of the Raphael discourse, but don’t presume to
>   entirely understand it.
>   By the way, there’s an intriguing article on
>   Milton and Genesis 6 coming out in the next issue of
>   Ramify, a multidisciplinary graduate journal
>   published by the University of Dallas. Chris Schmidt
>   seeks to reconcile the disparate accounts of the
>   interaction between “sons of God” and
>   “daughters of men” in Milton’s works:
>   http://ramify.org/issues.php#twoone
>   If anyone is interested in a copy of the article,
>   let me know.
>   Best,
>   Emily E. Speller
>   University of Dallas
>   (and, within a month, Houston Baptist University)
>     --------------------------------------
>     Message: 7
>     Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2011 17:58:55 -0400
>     From: John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca>
>     Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "erotic" versus
>     To: John Milton Discussion List
>     <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>     Message-ID:
>     <3E4187B31BC140BE85541964CC98C431 at John>
>     Content-Type: text/plain; CHARSET=US-ASCII;
>     format=flowed;
>            reply-type=original
>     I'm with Richard on this.  Of course YES is the
>     right answer.  One would
>     have to be dead not to feel the erotic power of:
>                  but Eve
>            Undecked, save with herself more lovely
>     fair
>            Than wood-nymph, or the fairest goddess
>     feigned
>            Of three that in Mount Ida naked
>     strove,
>            Stood to entertain her guest . . .
>     "Strove" there comes directly from Marlowe's Hero
>     and Leander ("Venus in her
>     naked glory strove / To please") an unabashedly
>     erotic poem that also
>     provided Milton with "naked glory."  A little
>     later we get:
>                                    O
>     innocence
>            Deserving Paradise! if ever, then,
>            Then had the sons of God excuse to have
>     been
>            Enamoured at that sight, but in those
>     hearts
>            Love unlibidinous reigned.. . .
>     Sister Mary Corcaran in 1944 lifted "Love
>     unlibidinous" from context and
>     quoted as if it were a reference to Adam and Eve.
>      Others have since done
>     the same and concluded that Adam and Eve do not
>     make love.  This is a
>     crucial misreading.  "Those hearts" are in
>     angelic breasts ("the sons of
>     God").  Human hearts throb.  Adam and Eve are
>     libidinous, and so is Milton,
>     and so are his fit readers.
>     John Leonard
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