[Milton-L] gastroMilton and teen angels

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Tue Apr 8 14:55:05 EDT 2014

And, as John Potter pointed out when I was an undergrad first encountering Milton a hundred years ago, part of the genius of it is that the Serpent has no hands--it can't force or push you into doing anything. As you do in vampire lore, you have to invite the evil in; it can't overwhelm you without your consent.

From: John K Leonard 
Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2014 2:31 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] gastroMilton and teen angels

On 04/08/14, JD Fleming <jfleming at sfu.ca> wrote: 

        On Satan's disguises, these are typically, and often absurdly, self-defeating. (Think of the giant, phallic S of 9.) Are there other instances of adolescent angels in the poem? JD Fleming 


James, why do you think the snake disguise absurd or self-defeating? The prelapsarian snake really was 'giant' and 'phallic' (it went upright on its circular base of coils). Satan does not add these features as gratuitous embellishments to the garden's serpent. He chooses the serpent and enters its body (not quite the same as a 'disguise') in order to appropriate its natural features to his own perverse ends. It is because the serpent is so 'subtle' that its body language lends itself so well to Satan's lies. The orator simile is a tour de force where almost every word has three levels of relevance: 1) the orator's physical gestures (one can actually see Demosthenes or Cicero or Julius Caesar standing and gesturing in Athens or free Rome, using their hands; sometimes stooping, sometimes standing at full height); 2) the 'parts' of oratory (Fowler's note is excellent on the technical terms); 3) the snake's bodily movements, as it, even more than Cicero, literally grows before our eyes as it uses the 'high' style ('to highth upgrown'). Far from finding this absurd, I think this one of the poem's great triumphs. Milton makes the talking snake entirely believable within the fiction of the poem.

John Leonard


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