[Milton-L] the problem of hell

srevard at siue.edu srevard at siue.edu
Thu Oct 31 21:31:44 EDT 2013

Yes, it is very helpful in reading Milton's poem to know the history of the
English language.  That was the point of the Oxford University Final Honors
B.A. in English curriculum that Tolkien and others devised, whose nine
three-hour final examinations included one on Old English, one on Middle
English, and one on History of the English Language, as well as one on Milton
and Spenser in which during my years there (1952-54) we were expected to study
all of Books One and Two of Paradise Lost and prepare to answer questions about
its diction; in 1954 C. S. Lewis was one of the readers of these final exams, as
were also C. L. Wrenn (an editor of Beowulf) and Eric Dobson (whose history of
English pronunciation I had to study at Yale Grad School in my year-long
History of English Language seminar with Helge Kökeritz, who was a bitter rival
of Dobson on Shakespeare's pronunciation).

Not that the Oxonians, or the OED that was their Bible, always got Milton's
diction right.  Stella and I published a short piece about 1979 in MQ showing
that the OED had got wrong their account of Milton's AMERC'T in Book One,
"Millions of spirits for his fault amerc't/ Of heaven."  Stella had noticed,
when she was teaching Homer during her course in Greek, that the Greek verb
AMERSEIN was thought in l7th C to lie behind the English verb AMERCE, and that
this explains better the sense in which Milton used it there than does the try
etymological source, medieval French. We found, by checking back through the
critical readers/editors in 18C, that this was well understood and that the
relevant passage in the Odyssey, where the blind bard Demodocus is described as
having been "amerced" of sight while given the gift of song, was cited as it
indeed should have been by the OED editors....

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

> May I refer you to this essay of mine, based on a chapter in my biography of
> Milton, in which the issue of genders in PL is raised and discussed in
> relation to the pronouns. This is an important issue, often ignored, as my
> essay suggests by citing those who do not know the history of the language.
> By 1667, 'its' had mostly replaced the gendered pronouns, expect that Milton
> continued to use the, by now archaic, usages of his and her. The line you ask
> about is not explained, I should add, in my essay, and the line does indeed
> raise good questions, but it seems to me to fit with the other instances. See
> what you think. I look forward to hearing what you and others think.
> “Milton's Womb”. Intertextuality: Nordic Journal of English Studies 8(2)
> 2009. p. 77-89. http://ojs.ub.gu.se/ojs/index.php/njes/issue/view/42
> Neil Forsyth
> neil.forsyth at unil.ch
> On Oct 31, 2013, at 5:05 PM, Mulryan, John wrote:
> > Dear friends: I was asked a question by a student that I cannot answer
> intelligently. In book 3, line 331, why is hell described as female” (her
> numbers full). I have some theories, but await to be instructed by my learned
> colleagues Best, John Mulryan
> >
> > From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Richard A. Strier
> > Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 5:10 PM
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] the problem of hell
> >
> > Everything Steve F says seems to me quite right.  But it doesn't really
> answer the question.  The question is whether the notion of hell is morally
> intelligible -- should anyone be punished eternally for a sin committed in
> time.
> >
> > The believers in universal salvation thought that this was an abominable
> idea, as do I.  The trouble with the protestant scheme is that in eliminating
> purgatory, it eliminated the possibility of guaranteeing moral improvement --
> through whatever painful process of re-education -- for the wicked.  I know
> all the stuff about in hell the wicked re-perform their wickedness eternally,
> and therefore keep meriting their punishment, but that seems to me a nasty
> doctrine in itself.  The point is the ethically abominable status of the
> concept of hell.  A number of thinkers in the Christian tradition found it so
> (from Origen to young Thomas Browne on).  Even our penal system pretends that
> it values rehabilitation rather than mere punishment.
> >
> > To get out of the dilemma, Milton would have had to envision something like
> purgatory -- perhaps an ante-chamber to heaven in which purifying suffering
> took place (something a great visionary poet could do).
> >
> > And to answer the (supposedly) knock-down question-- do I think Satan
> should eventually be saved (in a moral universe in which this question makes
> sense-- that is, in which there is such a thing as "salvation"), my answer is
> yes.  And then, of course, there is Hitler.  Again, I'd say, after enough
> salutary pain, and reeducation, yes.
> >
> > That seems to me what Christianity should look like -- a religion truly of
> love and grace.  Punishment and vengeance are not anything special.  Love is
> (and love only for the worthy is hardly impressive).
> >
> > Best,
> > the heretic
> >
> >
> > From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Steve Fallon
> [sfallon at nd.edu]
> > Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 10:57 AM
> > To: John Milton Discussion List
> > Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Bk 3
> >
> > On Oct 26, 2013, at 6:49 PM, Richard A. Strier wrote:
> >
> >
> > Jeffery:  "Did Milton hold that all mankind would find grace?"
> >
> > RS:  He should have, but didn't.  Alas!  If he had, he could have been one
> of the heroes of D. P. Walker's wonderful The Decline of Hell.
> >
> > It all depends on what "all mankind" and "find grace" mean. I do not recall
> that Milton in his discussions of grace and predestination handles the
> question of those who have not heard of Christ, but setting that question
> aside he is clear in his opposition to the Calvinist doctrines of limited
> atonement and irresistible grace.  In other words, he is clear that grace is
> offered not only to the elect, but generally.  If the offer of grace to all
> is synonymous with all "find[ing] grace," then the answer would be that all
> do find grace.
> >
> > In the epic, the Father promises that "Man shall not quite be lost, but
> saved who will, / Yet not of will in him, but grace in me / Freely
> vouchsafed."  With this grace, "lapséd powes" are "renew[ed]."  This points
> to the partial undoing of the fall, so that "yet once more" man will "stand /
> On even ground against his foe."  After the race is enthralled to sin as a
> result of the fall, God will allow each to choose.  One might argue that God
> does not specify explicitly all persons, but given the general language the
> specification would seem more necessary if God meant to exclude anyone from
> this offered grace.
> >
> > Milton is explicit in the Christian Doctrine: "God foreknew those who would
> believe, that is, he decreed or approved that they alone would be those for
> whom in Christ he should have regard—all, certainly, if they believed " (the
> new Oxford edition, 8.1:87; my emphasis).  The point is clear in the Latin
> ("omnes utique si credidissent").  The passage is in the Yale edition at
> 6.181-82 and in the Modern Library edition—slipping in a plug here—on pp.
> 1164-65).  Milton emphasizes the universality of offered grace a few pages
> later: "[I]f God rejects no one except the disobedient and the unbeliever,
> surely he imparts grace—if not equal, yet sufficient—to all, by which they
> may be able to arrive at recognition of the truth and salvation.... The
> reason, therefore, why God does not deem all worthy of equal grace is his own
> supreme will; the reason, however, for his deeming all worthy of sufficient
> grace is his justice" (my emphasis again, Oxford 8.1:101-03; in Yale,
> 6:192-93; in MLM 1168-69).
> >
> > So if to "find grace" means to accept it and believe, then the answer is
> clearly no.  If it means to have the benefit of grace enabling one to believe
> and be saved, the answer seems clearly to be yes.
> >
> > Steve F
> >
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