[Milton-L] Unlibidinous?

Horace Jeffery Hodges jefferyhodges at yahoo.com
Tue Jul 26 01:33:34 EDT 2011

Thanks, Professor Skulsky, for the very useful parsing and paraphrase. One 
question, however, concerning this:
. . . If ever, then,
>Then had the sons of God excuse to have been
>Enamoured at that sight
I read "had" as meaning "would have had" (rather than "would have been") so 
could the paraphrase be:
If ever there were excuse for the sons of God to have been enamored, then the 
sons of God would have had excuse at that sight.
Would that fit?

Jeffery Hodges

From: Harold Skulsky <hskulsky at smith.edu>
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Tue, July 26, 2011 2:11:38 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Unlibidinous?

                                                       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 this 

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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