[Milton-L] "Four-Letter Words"

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Fri Apr 18 16:38:32 EDT 2014


Salwa, I know you addressed your comments to John, but I can't resist asking (so I hope you will forgive me the intrusion): if Milton seriously intended to introduce what in some circles are still considered aberrant sexual behaviors--fellatio being after all a species of Onanism, in that it ensures that procreation will not occur--why would he have done so in Eden, and why would he have so degraded his heretofore exemplary human pair, knowing (because the pre-narrative dictates it) that they are about to be redeemed? The Satan/Sin/Death triad overtly involves incest (and so, to a far less blatant and I believe less intentional degree, does Adam's coupling with Eve); but the former is framed to evoke our disgust, whereas in the latter case, the de facto incest isn't even mentioned.

I would think that, had Milton been keen to delve into these more prurient practices vicariously, he'd have introduced them in Hell--not in the Garden.

Best to all, 

Carol Barton


From: Salwa Khoddam 
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2014 3:48 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: [Milton-L] "Four-Letter Words"


Dear John,
Thanks for pointing out Lewis's discussion in "Four-Letter Words" i.e., "obscene words," (*Selected Literary Essays)* on what he calls "the most unsavoury of all perversions" (cunnus). (I tried to avoid typing this word, but I couldn't because my meaning wouldn't be clear.)  His point is that these "obscene" words were satirized in literature up to Milton's time. His essay is prompted by a note from D. H. Lawrence  in defense of *Lady Chatterley's Lover*: "We are to-day, as human beings, evolved and cultured far beyond the taboos which are inherent in our culture. . . .The evocative power of the so-called obscene words must have been very dangerous to the dim-minded, obscure, violent natures of the Middle Ages, and perhaps is still too strong for slow-minded, half-evoked natures to-day."  So . . . why would Milton want to arouse readers' supposedly intense feelings about "fellatio" and "cunnilingus," in a culture filled with taboos about these words/acts? Professor Fleming offered an answer, that these sexual acts are "a significant part of the content and meaning of the fall." That made me think, if these connotations and puns are there in the poem (which I'm not convinced of yet), would they also be extended to apply to same-sex relationships, or just restricted between relationships of the opposite sex?
Salwa 


Salwa Khoddam PhD
Professor of English Emerita
Oklahoma City University
Author of *Mythopoeic Narnia:
Memory, Metaphor, and Metamorphoses 
in The Chronicles of Narnia*
skhoddam at cox.net
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: John K Leonard 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:11 PM
  Subject: Re: [Milton-L] An antidote . . .


   Excellent point by Louis below. It might also be relevant that "seal" was a common early modern pun for sexual penetration (Donne uses it frequently). Much more plausible than the other pun that has so distracted us.

  John Leonard

  On 04/17/14, "Schwartz, Louis" <lschwart at richmond.edu> wrote 


        For me the key and most poetically brilliant touch—and it happens to come right before we’re told that the force of the “fallacious Fruit” with its “exhilerating vapor bland” is “exhal’d” out of the bodies of Adam and Eve—is the way that Milton has the narrator call Adam’s and Eve’s taking their “fill of Love and Loves disport” both the “seal” of “thir mutual guilt” and “The solace of thir sin [italics mine].”  “Seal” and “solace.”  A pact, a union, a broken union, a consolation, isolation, impression; “seis’d” and taken largely, nothing loath.  Sole alas, unsavory of itself, but also soul, associate soul, one heart one flesh one soul.  It’s a striking bit of overdetermination (it starts with the more conventional “seal” of guilt and then branches off unchecked from the addition of “solace”—and the further roving is supported by a series of puns and echoes).   























         

       




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