hskulsky at smith.edu
Tue Jul 26 01:11:38 EDT 2011
If ever, then,
Then had the sons of God excuse to have been
Enamoured at that sight; but in those hearts
Love unlibidinous reigned, nor jealousy
Was understood, the injured lover's hell.
John Leonard is quite right. Maybe a parsing and paraphrase will make
The clause structure is unambiguous. “If” introduces the elliptical
antecedent of a conditional sentence contrary to fact. “Had” ( = would
have been”) is the main (subjunctive) verb in the consequent. The
consequent helps us to what the antecedent omits.
So we have:
“If ever the sons of God (Gen. 6:1-8) had excuse to be enamored at the
sight of human women, it would have been then [“then” = the situation
in front of us, in which one such ‘son of God’ ( = angel) is beholding a
human woman ministering naked]. BUT IN FACT [that is, in contrast to the
contrafactual supposition just explored] in those hearts [in particular,
the heart of the aforementioned 'son of God,' i.e., angel], the love
that reigned was unlibidinous, that is, free of IMMORAL sexual desire
(for example, desire for another man’s wife). Adam, in short, had no
reason to fear that he would be injured (i.e., wronged; subject to
iniuria) by Raphael. And conversely, the hellish emotion that will
afflict the postlapsarian victims of that kind of “injurious” libido was
still beyond (human) understanding (because beyond human experience).”
What comes before “nor” is about angels, what comes after “nor” is
about prelapsarian lovers.
What comes after “but" spells out the difference between the non-actual
situation (brought up to dramatize Eve’s attractions) and the kind of
admiration for Eve of which the unfallen and hence “unlibidinous”
Raphael is capable.
If my paraphrase is correct, then “libido” in this context doesn’t
denote sexual desire, but inappropriate or misdirected sexual desire.
Milton follows mainstream Protestant thought in holding that sexual
desire is an intrinsic good regarded in itself and without reference to
context, but that it can be a part of postlapsarian situations (for
example, when its object is another man’s wife) that are very bad
indeed. (In an organic moral whole, the value of the whole is not a
straightforward sum of the values of the parts.)
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