[Milton-L] from unlibidinous to non-jealous

richard strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Tue Jul 26 02:19:22 EDT 2011

Well, we do seem to be getting somewhere in some respects.  We now seem to 
have a reasonably firm consensus that, in this context, libidiousnous is bad and 
"unlibidinous" good, and that "love unlibidinous" is not meant to eliminate 
sexual love in general.

I'm afraid I do not think the Skulsky parsing solves the issue of to whom the 
phrase is meant to apply -- the major point of current contention.

The general stucture and movement of the sentence (or whatever it is) seems to 
treat "love unlibidinous" and "nor jealousie" as more or less parallel items in a 
series, and the two phrases negating negatives seem to apply to the same 
consciousness and to be presented as variants of the same ideal consciousness 
with regard to erotics.  To see the reference suddenly shifting seems to me not 
to be following the "drift and scope" of the lines.  My suggestion is -- and I will 
reiterate it -- that we read the last part of the sentence from the ending, using 
non-jealousy to interpret non-libidinous.  But if we do this, Adam has to be 
included, since he is the only figure in the scene -- the only one of the sons of 
God (I see no reason why he can't be included in this phrase) -- who might, had 
his love not been "unlibidinous," have  felt jealousy.  So, as I suggested earlier, 
he is secure in his relation to Eve, with the full Latin sense of se cura.  So 
libidinousness, here, would have some element of graspingness and anxious 

---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 01:11:38 -0400
>From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu (on behalf of "Harold Skulsky" 
<hskulsky at smith.edu>)
>Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Unlibidinous?  
>To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
>   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 clear.
>   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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