[Milton-L] No antidote

Carol Barton, Ph.D., CPCM cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sun Apr 20 15:54:28 EDT 2014

Louis--and John--just to clarify: I don't disagree that a pun on seal is impossible here, or even that the "sealing" could have a sexual valence (and yes--it's a much better pun than fallacious/fellatious); I just don't see it as necessary here, at arguably the most tragic moment of PL. Eve has "sealed" her doom by eating the Fruit, then coercing (successfully or not) Adam to commit the same forbidden act. Adam has "sealed" his doom by proclaiming his need for the flesh of his flesh to be more compelling than his faith (or trust) in God--and yes, in that sense, he "seals" his damnation with a kiss. They together "seal" their pact by forming a union (the closest union two human beings can experience) against God, a joint separateness from the Unity that is the rest of the cosmos, just as the devils did--but the act of intercourse is not the "seal" of their fate, the disobedience is; it's the symptom, not the cause, if you will.

My response (about it being a "guy thing") may have been more flippant than the argument called for--but it wasn't meant to be dismissive.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

From: Schwartz, Louis 
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 2:26 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List 
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] No antidote

" 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants."


Thank you, John, for this beautifully phrased formulation.  I continue to be puzzled by people's resistance to hearing the sexual valence of "seal" in this context, and the way the phrasing "seals" the sexual and the legal senses, not to mention the way it seals the solace and the sin.  There's nothing "low" about the imagery or the conceptual content here.  What I find compelling and moving and intellectually interesting is the mixed affective quality of the language.  It's one of those moments that makes me think of Thenot's characterization of Colin's elegy at the end of Spenser's "November:"


Ay franke shepheard, how bene thy verses meint

With doolful pleasaunce, so I ne wotte,

Whether rejoice or weepe for great constrainte




Louis Schwartz

Professor of English

English Department

University of Richmond

28 Westhampton Way

Richmond, VA  23173

(804) 289-8315

lschwart at richmond.edu





From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of John K Leonard
Sent: Sunday, April 20, 2014 1:44 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: [Milton-L] No antidote


 Dismissing my case for a 'seal' pun, Carol Barton writes 'It must be a guy thing, John'. Oydin Uzakova then chimes in:


  I consider the word "seal" here as a legal term of their being mutually bound in the original sin

Of course 'seal' is a legal term. I stated explicitly that the legal sense is primary. The question is whether there is a sexual sense in addition to the legal one (in a context that is clearly sexual). Several posters seem to assume that my point in arguing for a pun is to bring the tone down to a gutter level ('a guy thing, John'). The assumption behind such comments is that the legal and sexual spheres are entirely distinct and can never meet in wordplay that accords with epic decorum. I would certainly agree that the tone of Milton's lines is very different from Donne's elegies (at least the narrator's tone is different). But this moment in the poem is still a meeting of the legal and the sexual. Saint Augustine held that original sin passed from parent to child through the father's semen (a sexually transmitted disease). 'The seal / The solace' occurs at the legally and sexually sealing moment of first transmission. Adam seeks solace with Eve in the very moment that he imprints and oppresses all his future descendants. As he says in the next book:



All that I . . . shall beget

Is propagated curse. O voice once heard

Delightfully, Increase and multiply,

Now death to hear! For what can I increase

Or multiply, but curses on my head?

Who of all ages to succeed, but feeling

The evil on him brought by me, will curse

My head, Ill fare our ancestor impure.


Impure semen is 'a guy thing', but it infects the daughters too.




John Leonard





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