[Milton-L] Bk 3 and Jeffrey Shoulson's link

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Oct 27 15:39:47 EDT 2013

Louis --

Thanks very much for the response. I don't mean to call the entire episode
stupid. Remember, I did take pleasure in it as well. I only meant to claim
that its function as an explanation of how Satan gets out of Hell is rather
stupid. Elsewhere in PL Milton seems to be aware of conceptual problems
associated with his narrative, such as the guilt of the snake, and he
addresses them. We may or may not be satisfied with his solutions, but at
least he offers them. I've just reread the Sin and Death episode, and I
don't see a solution to what I perceive as a conceptual failing offered
here, but I do still take pleasure in the imaginative qualities of the
episode. I can see how an episode such as this one can inspire Blake and
how it would make for great film.

Here's another way that I would rephrase the problem that I see with this
part of the narrative: Is it credible that the God of PL couldn't see this


The key of this infernal Pit by due, [ 850 ]
And by command of Heav'ns all-powerful King
I keep, by him forbidden to unlock
These Adamantine Gates; against all force
Death ready stands to interpose his dart,
Fearless to be o'rmatcht by living might. [ 855 ]
But what ow I to his commands above
Who hates me, and hath hither thrust me down
Into this gloom of Tartarus profound,
To sit in hateful Office here confin'd,
Inhabitant of Heav'n, and heav'nlie-born, [ 860 ]
Here in perpetual agonie and pain,
With terrors and with clamors compasst round
Of mine own brood, that on my bowels feed:
Thou [SATAN] art my Father, thou my Author, thou
My being gav'st me; whom should I obey [ 865 ]
But thee, whom follow? thou wilt bring me soon
To that new world of light and bliss, among
The Gods who live at ease, where I shall Reign
At thy right hand voluptuous, as beseems
Thy daughter and thy darling, without end. [ 870 ]

Of course Sin feels more loyalty to Satan than to God. Do we need to be God
to figure that out?

I'm only offering one criticism of one feature of the episode, though. I
don't mean for my claim here to exhaust everything important and
interesting that can be said about the episode, which I agree would be
mistaken to attempt. I would say in fact that even the failure is
instructive, perhaps revealing something about attitudes towards authority
and towards rebellion. If I were to develop my ideas along those lines, I
may be led to say something rather interesting about this episode, but that
wouldn't mean that the episode wasn't flawed: my (hopefully) interesting
remarks would only be possible because of the flaw.

Now suppose I took back my language calling this feature of the episode
stupid and only suggested that I see a serious conceptual problem in terms
of narrative development? Milton gives Sin the keys to the gates of Hell in
keeping with the allegory, but in the process makes his God look rather
ridiculous because Sin then rather predictably lets Satan go. How might you
respond to that criticism? I realize I should reread Bk 3 as well, but I
haven't yet.

Jim R
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