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

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Sun Oct 27 16:26:04 EDT 2013

I can see how you're looking at it, Jim, but what if one of the purposes here is simply make sure we fully wrestle with the idea that God knew very well what he was doing, (he never had any intention of keeping Satan in hell), and that Milton wanted us to puzzle through the complex ways in which Sin and Death (figures that in some accounts of the allegory, including my own, figure far more than merely abstract theological concepts) are woven into what is in store for humanity and how it works and will work once Satan has finished the mission they are designed to facilitate at the same time that they figure aspects of it (present and potential, then later manifest)?

The matters concerning rebellion you mention are, from my perspective, part and parcel of all that, not something to consider despite a simple narrative flaw.


Louis Schwartz
Professor of English
English Department
University of Richmond
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu<mailto:lschwart at richmond.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of James Rovira
Sent: Sunday, October 27, 2013 3:40 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Bk 3 and Jeffrey Shoulson's link

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 coming?

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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