[Milton-L] human intellectual & moral capacity re: Strier

Bryson, Michael E michael.bryson at csun.edu
Sun Apr 6 18:24:23 EDT 2014


"Milton was attempting to replace the external moral compasses represented by the church and clerisy with an internal moral compass"

Precisely, which is why the following statement confuses me: "the whole **point** of Milton's composition of _Paradise Lost_ is to demonstrate that **the best of us--including and especially John Milton--are not Satan's intellectual match"

When we speak of "Satan," are we speaking of a literary character, given "life" in the words of John Milton? If so, I do not see how we can regard the author's character as the intellectual superior of the author. If we are speaking of something like a belief in an evil agent, for example, then we have the same problem: a believed-in (as such) has no intelligence other than that it is invested with by the believer. But if we are talking about an ontological, rather than an epistemological "fact," then we have left the realm of literary representation and have entered territory in which Milton's poetry begins to resemble scripture (which has sufficient problems of its own). 

Are we then positing that Milton's marvelously-constructed literary character "Satan" is intended to be (or was received as being), or in some sense *is* a portrait, not of a mythological character with an identifiable literary history, but of an actual supernatural being? In discussions like these, that often *seems* (with a nod toward the necessary distinction between "seems" and "is") to be the case. Assuming, for a moment, that such an appearance is accurate, how would that square with the idea of Milton moving from the external to the internal? That simply leaves us with the idea that humanity should not listen to one external source (Satan), no matter how persuasive it may seem, in favor of listening to another external source (God), no matter how arbitrary it may seem. There is precious little of conscience or choice in merely obeying authority no matter what arguments are leveled against it. Assuming, however, that Milton's characters are (and were intended to be, and/or received as) exactly that--literary characters--then I think we get a clearer picture of the movement from external to internal in terms of anything like a moral compass. Ideas, rather than personalities, come to the fore, and this is where PR is at its most profound. It is less a mini-epic than it is a philosophical dialogue in which Satan takes something like a Thrasymachan position--valuing power and wealth and privilege, even considering knowledge primarily in terms of its externals, its appearance--while Jesus takes a radically different position in which knowledge is transformative, and the only real truth or value is to be found by turning away from external authority and looking within. But Jesus can do this, while Adam and Eve could not, because he is created (by his creator Milton) more completely in his own image than were the poor children of his literary Eden.

YMMV, of course...of the discussions of poetry there is no end, and much inflexible pedantry is a weariness to the flesh...

Michael Bryson
________________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM [cbartonphd1 at verizon.net]
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 2:19 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] human intellectual & moral capacity re: Strier

I beg emphatically to differ, Professor Strier.

In my admittedly humble opinion, the whole **point** of Milton's composition of _Paradise Lost_ is to demonstrate that **the best of us--including and especially John Milton--are not Satan's intellectual match, and never will be.

Book 3 reminds us that even among the angel defenders of Eden,

So spake the false dissembler unperceivd;
For neither Man nor Angel can discern
Hypocrisie, the onely evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone,
By his permissive<http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_3/notes.shtml#permissive> will, through Heav'n and Earth: [ 685 ]

I wrote an entire dissertation (directed by Tom Kranidas) on the impact of the difference between "seems" and "is" in a world that had lost all of its discriminatory signposts. Devils no longer wore horns and carried pitchforks (perhaps the basis of legislatively-imposed stigmata), and none of the old truths, including and especially the Bible (as interpreted by the Roman Catholic church) could be trusted to be true. Look sometime at the phenomenal amount of masking, bedtricks, hypocrisy, good playing evil and evil playing good in the 18th century: hypocrisy and subterfuge had been treated in plays and literature before, but never with such frantic uniquity. Why?

Milton was attempting to replace the external moral compasses represented by the church and clerisy with an internal moral compass: follow your heart, and follow God's commandments as you understand them from the Bible. Those are the only sure ways to discern evil disguised as good.



From: Richard A. Strier<mailto:rastrier at uchicago.edu>
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 3:31 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] human intellectual & moral capacity

"Eve is not Satan's intellectual match, and neither are we."  I think this vastly underestimates Milton's belief in human intellectual and moral capacity (see "Of Education," Areopagitica, etc, etc).  As Satan says -- I think correctly -- in PR, the positions that the Son articulates in the dialogue between them show the Son to be "th'utmost of mere man both wise and good, / Not more."  For the Son to show himself to be "more," something else is required (and happens, of course).


________________________________
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] on behalf of Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM [cbartonphd1 at verizon.net]
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 2:15 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] crucifixion

No, but see my earlier post (which acknowledges that). Eve was confused by the Serpent's (Satan's) sophistry, and she had no reason to suspect the Serpent (not previously menacing) of seeking to harm her. She began the encounter by emulating Jesus in PR (himself at first given pause by the Old Man's injunction that surely God would not see anything wrong in his feeding the hungry)--but the Son-in-Jesus knows that anything contrary to what the Father has told him must be wrong, no matter how right it seems. Again--Eve is not Satan's intellectual match, and neither are we (a warning not to engage temptation by falling for attractive arguments contrary to what we know God's commandments to be, because no matter what seems, they must of necessity be specious).

From: James Rovira<mailto:jamesrovira at gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 3:06 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] crucifixion

If conscious and deliberate is not "worse," why does it matter?

We don't want to exonerate Adam and Eve too much either: they weren't deceived about the injunction. It was very simple.

Jim R


On Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 3:04 PM, Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>> wrote:
It's not that it's "worse," Jim. It's that it's conscious and deliberate--Satan is not coerced or defrauded into becoming the Adversary: it's a role he actively, intentionally chooses on his own initiative--and one that he clearly relishes ("better to reign in hell . . .").

All best,

Carol

From: James Rovira<mailto:jamesrovira at gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2014 2:45 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List<mailto:milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] crucifixion

Carol -- doesn't this reasoning continue to reinforce the notion of somehow being more "deserving" of "grace," which seems to me to be an oxymoron? If Satan's sin is the worst, what does that have to do with his being, or not being, a recipient of grace?

Jim R


On Sun, Apr 6, 2014 at 2:40 PM, Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>> wrote:
The fallen angels knew the difference between good and evil, obedience and disobedience (as Satan himself makes obvious in soliloquy). They simply (like the Royalists during the Civil Wars, and Milton during the Interregnum) followed the wrong leader, deceiving themselves into believing he would be victorious (not, in their case, because he was "right" in a moral sense--give the Roundheads at least that much--but because they didn't like the way God was running heaven)--see particularly 100-105:

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--
Dr. James Rovira
Associate Professor of English
Tiffin University
http://www.jamesrovira.com
Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety
Continuum 2010
http://jamesrovira.com/blake-and-kierkegaard-creation-and-anxiety/
Text, Identity, Subjectivity
http://scalar.usc.edu/works/text-identity-subjectivity/index

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