[Milton-L] what to call angelic lovemaking

Dennis Danielson danielso at mail.ubc.ca
Tue Nov 18 13:14:39 EST 2014

I prefer the term "intercourse" for reasons akin to those Greg cites for 
"conversation." It has a similar, rather delicious malleability. When 
I'm trying to illustrate to students how meanings in English have 
changed, I ask them to imagine how the sentence "John and Mary were in 
the park engaged in earnest intercourse" might have been understood in 
the eighteenth century.


On 14-11-18 10:00 AM, Gregory Machacek wrote:
> The question (below) is what *we* should call angelic cohabitation, if
> not /sex/.
> I suppose we can call it whatever we want, but Milton likely wouldn't
> have called it /sex/.
> The OED's earliest witness for /sex/ meaning
>       Physical contact between individuals involving sexual stimulation;
>       sexual activity or behaviour, /spec./sexual intercourse, copulation.
> is from 1900.  Assembling the bits that PL gives us, Milton would maybe
> call it "love expressing" (Adam asks "do you love" and "do you express
> it" and Raphael says "yes").  He might have called it "conversation"; he
> likes that word (which in English had the meaning "sexual intercourse or
> intimacy" earlier than it had the meaning "exchange of thoughts and
> words) and he likes the slippage between those two senses of that word.
> I like the slippage between those two senses of the word, so I'm going
> to call it /conversation/.
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
> -----milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu wrote: -----
> To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> From: "Stella Revard"
> Sent by: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> Date: 11/18/2014 03:28AM
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Adam ate of . . . the wrong Tree!
> Interesting question:  what should we call angelic cohabitation, if not
> sex?  Milton evidently wanted to broaden his readers's understanding of
> love and lovemaking:  in PL 8.595 ff. Adam tells Raphael how fervently
> he adores Eve, but insists that it is not only her beauty, not only the
> delights of procreation and the "genial bed," but even more "those
> graceful acts,/ Those thousand decencies that daily flow/ From all her
> words and actions, mixt with Love/ And sweet compliance, which declare
> unfeign'd/ Union of mind, or in us both one Soule;/ Harmonie to behold
> in wedded pair/ More grateful than harmonious sound to the eare."
> STELLA REVARD and many others have pointed out, Adam has previously
> emphasized Eve's "greatness of mind and nobleness" (l. 557).]  So when
> Adam then asks Raphael whether and how angels love, he really puts him
> on the spot, and Raphael answers (as we all know well) very explicitly.
> Adam asks:  "Love not the heav'nly Spirits, and how thir Love/ Express
> they, by looks onely, or do they mix/ Irradiance, virtual or immediate
> touch?"  It is a question so direct and explicit that if the bluenosed
> censors of Lady Chatterley and Ulysses had actually read Paradise Lost
> they'd probably have tried to ban it too--at least this bit, and at
> least in schools.
> Now, to return to James Rovira's question, whether we can call angelic
> lovemaking "sex" if it's not generative and doesn't require gender, my
> view is we absobloodylutely can and should.  Rafael says (622ff):
> "Whatever pure thou in the body enjoy'st/ (And pure thou wert created),
> we enjoy/ In eminence, and obstacle find none/ Of membrane, joynt, or
> limb, exclusive barrs...."  As Richard well says, it is "spectacularly
> non-genital,...recreative, intimate, and amazingly erotic, but not
> procreative."  The lines are perhaps meant to invoke Plato and Socrates,
> perhaps even, very privately, Milton and Diodati.
> Actually, I think we cannot be sure angelic lovemaking is NOT
> procreative:  perhaps those "stripling angels" are begotten not
> created?  Milton of course sensibly does not delve further into this
> matter:  Raphael points out that the sun is now parting, which is his
> signal to depart, and Adam goes back to his Bower and Eve.
> On 11/17/14, *James Rovira * <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Can we really call it "sex" if it's not generative and doesn't require
>> gender?
>> Jim R
>> On Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 9:15 PM, Richard A. Strier
>> <rastrier at uchicago.edu <rastrier at uchicago.edu>> wrote:
>>     A and E in Eden look forward to having children.  And yes, angelic
>>     sex, which is spectacularly non-genital, does seem to be
>>     recreative, intimate, and amazingly erotic, but not procreative.
>>     ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>     *From:* milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>>     <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>
>>     [milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
>>     <milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu>] on behalf of Stella Revard
>>     [srevard at siue.edu <srevard at siue.edu>]
>>     *Sent:* Monday, November 17, 2014 6:32 PM
>>     *To:* John Milton Discussion List
>>     *Subject:* Re: [Milton-L] Adam ate of . . . the wrong Tree!
>>     Thanks Arlene!  and Richard, I think you are right--though I can't
>>     recall any PL texts confirming it--that if they had remained
>>     obedient, Adam and Eve, and all the other creatures, would have
>>     reproduced in Eden.  When we first "see" them in Book 3, they are
>>     "reaping immortal fruits of joy and love," and when we next see
>>     them, in Books 4 and 5, they are not turning from each other in
>>     their Bower of Bliss, so we surely would expect this to be a
>>     fruitful union--though I believe their first-born, Cain, was
>>     likely conceived during the post-Knowledge orgy, and their
>>     second-born, Seth, only in their snake-stomping days after they
>>     had relocated from Eden. I don't recall any PL text about whether
>>     or when humans if they had remained unfallen might have spread
>>     beyond Eden; Milton answered a great many questions but did not, I
>>     think, address that one.
>>     As for angelic sex as described by Raphael, am I wrong to infer
>>     that it was not for purposes of reproduction, but for
>>     pleasure--recreation, not procreation?  Milton tells us that Satan
>>     disguised himself as a "stripling" angel, so it does seem that
>>     there were younger angels and older ones, whatever we are to make
>>     of that.  And they did sleep, as witness "Sleep'st thou?" though
>>     I'm not sure whether Satan and his "mate" were sleeping "together"
>>     in that sense....
>>     Carter
>>     On 11/17/14, *Arlene Stiebel *<amstiebel at aol.com
>>     <amstiebel at aol.com>> wrote:
>>>     Yes.  And may we also keep in mind that the forbidden tree was
>>>     the one prohibiting Knowledge of Good and Evil -- not /all/
>>>     knowledge, but specifically that of a certain kind to which Adam
>>>     and Eve were not supposed to have access.  One may infer that any
>>>     other knowledge except for that "of good and evil" was available
>>>     to our mutual parents, as they were continually being schooled in
>>>     things appropriate to their status.
>>>     On Nov 17, 2014, at 3:29 PM, "Stella Revard" <srevard at siue.edu
>>>     <srevard at siue.edu> <srevard at siue.edu <srevard at siue.edu>>> wrote:
>>>>     I think we should all read again, very carefully, Book Three.
>>>>     There, Milton's God and his Son make it perfectly clear that God
>>>>     can do ANYthing (he could for instance create all the parking
>>>>     spaces humans may need--Noo Yawkers take note!), that he has
>>>>     begotten his Son and promoted him to head of all the angels,
>>>>     that the angels understand this is a new way for them to be
>>>>     raised in knowledge and heavenly joy and brought closer to God,
>>>>     that the angels (like Adam and Eve  when they are created) are
>>>>     free to accept or reject this gift, that some angels will reject
>>>>     it, and that God will will presently create the Universe for a
>>>>     race of new beings (human and animal plus ???).  In short, the
>>>>     angels are continually learning more about themselves, about
>>>>     Heaven, about God, about the Son; and their response, like that
>>>>     of Adam and Eve as they voice their morning prayers and psalms,
>>>>     is to sing, to put new knowledge into song, to celebrate their
>>>>     new knowledge of Everything past and present and to come, to
>>>>     understand more fully the power and mercy and justice of the
>>>>     Creator.  It is not a static place, Milton's Heaven, not one
>>>>     inhabited by passive or changeless beings, but a place where (as
>>>>     we first see and hear God, the Son, and the angels speaking) we
>>>>     see fierce and continual action, mysteries suddenly becoming
>>>>     clear, unimaginable happenings:  past, present, and future are
>>>>     put into words and we view all of history from the begetting of
>>>>     the Son through the rebellion of some angels, the creation of
>>>>     the Universe and the fall of its new human beings, then the
>>>>     judgment of them by the Son and the promise that he will redeem
>>>>     them (till one greater man restore them, and regain the blissful
>>>>     seat, as we had been told in the poem's opening sentence).
>>>>     We need to keep in mind also that this portrayal of angels in
>>>>     PL 3 is not something just worked out by Milton while writing
>>>>     the poem; he had portrayed angels in /Lycidas/ as beings whose
>>>>     songs gave heavenly solace and higher status to a human being:
>>>>     "There entertain him all the Saints above,/ In solemn troops,
>>>>     and sweet Societies,/ That sing, and singing in their glory
>>>>     move,/ And wipe the tears forever from his eyes."
>>>>     And so it goes.  Best to all the List Folk.
>>>>     Carter

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