[Milton-L] improving paradise lost

Duran, Angelica A duran0 at purdue.edu
Wed Oct 23 21:34:16 EDT 2013

Dear all,

Well, if Neil Forsyth is asking for more, let me add just a little bit.

In the Spanish, the Sin and Death allegory calls attention to itself or is set apart because the word for "Death" is feminine, "La Muerte," and the word for "Sin" is masculine, "El Pecado." The translator of the first and still most-used Hispanophone verse version of Paradise Lost (1812), Juan Escoiquiz, makes the choice to render "Sin" as "La Culpa," which is closer to "Fault," thus deflating the scene. I still remember coming upon the famous lines in my first English reading of the poem at U.C. Berkeley in which the "Portress of Hell" reveals her identity…

amazement seis'd
All th' Host of Heav'n back they recoild affraid
At first, and call'd me Sin (2. 758-60 )

I was surprised, close to amazed: I might have even immediately re-read the preceding lines to see if she made sense as Sin. The prose "Argument" at the beginning of Book II is complicit in the surprise because it does not name Sin and Death (Escoiquiz's "Argument" is similarly vague).  Years later, I was disappointed when I read the Escoiquize version of Sin's disclosure, which reads more like "Fault/Blame was the name that Heaven gave me" ("La Culpa el nombre fué, que me dió el Cielo"). That disappointment helped me appreciate the original a bit more.

As for Death, translator Escoiquiz mentions in his preface that there is no adequate substitute for "La Muerte," thus justifying his use of "La Muerte" for the male character. Even with that warning — and of course not all readers read prefaces -- when Sin recounts how upon the birth of  Satan's "only son" (2.728), she  cried out "La Muerte!" (2.787), she sounds crazed, unable to keep even gender straight. I have always found Milton's rendering of "Hell" as feminine in this passage and echoing back "Death" (2.788, 789) a bitter moment of sisterhood. So, I was again saddened, though I understood the linguistic constraints, by Escoiquiz's rendering of Milton's feminized Hell as the masculine "El Abismo" ("El Infierno" would have been no better in terms of gender). But, if I may give Escoiquiz a compliment: he made the wise choice of avoiding "Grim Death my Son" (2.804): "Nefesta Muerte mi hijo" would have just required to much readerly work.

Diana Benet Treviño's talk on the origin of evil and Sin's account of her origin was powerful. I too am glad about this Milton-l conversation since it lets me think about what she shared and the topics more generally  even more and from different angles. (Ha! I typed "angels" the first time, rather than "angels." ¡Adios, angels!)

Angelica Duran
Associate Professor, English and Comparative Literature
Director, Religious Studies (2009-2013)
Purdue University, 500 Oval Drive - Heavilon Hall
West Lafayette, Indiana 47907 U.S.A.
<duran0 at purdue.edu>

From: Neil Forsyth <neil.forsyth at unil.ch<mailto:neil.forsyth at unil.ch>>
Reply-To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
Date: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:12 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] improving paradise lost

Dear colleagues

I rarely contribute to the Milton list, though I try to stay more or less up to date as lurker. But I must say this thread, animated by a brilliantly witty discourse about Milton's 'impropriety' by Gregory Machacek and sustained by a splendidly grumpy Richard Strier's Johnsonian objection to Sin and Death as allegory, has revived my appreciation. Keep it going if you can (I have nothing to add myself). It is indeed liberating to be invited to excise hundreds of lines from the poem as in bad taste, or aesthetically inconsistent... I had never quite got that far before, even when reading Addison and Johnson. Rewrite the damn poem! Defend it if you can. Enjoy the extraordinary imagination of the womb of Sin, those dogs and the poor woman's pain, and then link it to Chaos as womb. The mind reels. 'Perhaps her grave'. Brilliant.

The reference to Vergil's Fama makes an eloquent comparison but surely leaves Milton's 'inventio' streets ahead, if that's the game we are playing. I wish i had read through this exchange when writing my new piece on Satan for Louis Schwartz's volume. And I would have been as uncertain as ever on how to evaluate the Satanic family, the only one fully present in the poem (Milton is not Dickens after all.. by which I mean the Dickens who constantly invents non-biological families as critiques of the ones in which the social norm operates: eg Daniel Peggotty's houseboat versus David's disfunctional parents, birth and step). Sin, I think, is there before we meet Eve in order to modify and deflect some of the traditional misogynist reactions to Eve. But in any case I'll save the whole exchange to steal for something else I'll write later. Many thanks to all.

Neil Forsyth
neil.forsyth at unil.ch<mailto:neil.forsyth at unil.ch>

On Oct 24, 2013, at 12:27 AM, Gregory Machacek wrote:

Well, I have dinner before prep, so I haven't looked at the text yet, but I've started playing it through in my mind generally, and this immediately occurs to me.  We're going to lose our only other female character.  That's going to feel like a loss.  A lot of stuff for Eve not to resonate with any more (problematic resonances in their own way, I know, but still, poetically, resonances)


Greg Machacek
Professor of English
Marist College
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