[Milton-L] "Four-Letter Words"

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Fri Apr 18 19:21:32 EDT 2014

Thank you very much, Carter. I’d be interested to know Stella's feelings on this subject, too? (I agree that he knew *of* these behaviors--but not that he ascribed them to Adam and Eve.)

Best to all,

Carol Barton

From: Stella Revard 
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2014 7:07 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] "Four-Letter Words"

John, Salwa, Carol, and all,

Milton knew Greek and Latin literature, and I assume he knew Marlowe's plays and poems (and reputation):  therefore he knew plenty about the sexual behavior that has been discussed here.  He also attended schools and Cambridge University, where I assume most of the boys knew of and some practiced or were subjected to such behavior by their masters and their fellow students.  (As an aside:  I recall Marvell's unmistakably referring to nuns getting up to, or down to, lapsarian behavior with each other in Nun Appleton, though of course his knowledge of that was not at first hand.)  As for first-hand observation, Milton mentions in 1660s London the Sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine, and of course refers to Biblical narrative's men of Sodom and Gomorrah, looking for a pretty Raphael.  

I agree pretty much altogether with John Leonard about what has been discussed in this thread, and my comment here is only to affirm that I am sure Milton, when he was composing Paradise Lost, knew fully whereof the Listers have been speaking--just as Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, Jonson, Donne, Crashaw, Marvell knew.  

On 04/18/14, John K Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote: 
  Dear Salwa, 

  I think that you are addressing this question to me, since you are replying to a post that I wrote  (below), but you should really be asking John Savoie "why would Milton want to arouse readers'  supposedly intense feelings about 'fellatio' etc.", since I am un-persuaded that there is any such pun or reference in the poem (I thought I had been clear about that, even in the post you quote, but evidently not clear enough). I would not be horrified or disgusted if John Savoie's pun were in the poem, but I just don't think it is, based on the evidence I have heard so far. My point (in the post below) is that there is quite different sexual pun, on "seal", which is a punning reference to vaginal penetration, but with legal overtones (as in Donne's "Elegy XIX" and "The Relic"). You and Carol are obviously very distressed by this topic, so maybe we should just drop it. It has probably been exhausted anyway. As for your last question about same-sex relationships, if the "fallacious/fellatious/fellatio" pun is not present for Adam and Eve's heterosexual relationship, it is not available to "be extended to apply to" any other kind of relationship--which is not to say that  "same-sex relationships" have no place in the poem (but that's another question).

  John (Leonard)

  On 04/18/14, Salwa Khoddam <skhoddam at cox.net> wrote: 

          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 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 <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 <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).   




            Milton-L mailing list
            Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
            Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

            Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/ 


Milton-L mailing list
Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
Manage your list membership and access list archives at http://lists.richmond.edu/mailman/listinfo/milton-l

Milton-L web site: http://johnmilton.org/
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.richmond.edu/pipermail/milton-l/attachments/20140418/ce539976/attachment-0001.html>

More information about the Milton-L mailing list