[Milton-L] The debt of gratitude

Richard A. Strier rastrier at uchicago.edu
Tue Sep 5 19:40:56 EDT 2017

Dear Alison,

I think your question is a truly great one.  I think it gets to something really deep in Milton and in the poem -- something that Milton is quite conflicted about.  I think that he feels gratitude is a duty while also knowing that it cannot logically be coerced -- or rather, that its value diminishes insofar as it is.  It may be that gratitude is only a burden to the wicked, but it is also the case that M's God seems to demand it. I tried to get at some of the issues involved in my article on "Why Eden is Better than Heaven" ("Milton's Fetters").  Originally appeared in Milton Studies 38; a shorter but somewhat updated version appears in the Herman and Sauer volume called The New Milton Criticism.

From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> on behalf of Michael Gillum <mgillum at unca.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 9:28:07 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] The debt of gratitude


Please see this good article:

 Medine, Peter E. “Gratitude and Paradise Lost: A Neglected Context.” In Milton and the Grounds of Contention. Ed. Mark A. Kelley, Michael Lieb, and John T. Shawcross. Pittsburgh: Duquesne U. Press, 2003. 115-49.

Medine explains a traditional view laid out by Aquinas: Angels and humans do owe a debt of gratitude to their creator, but it differs from other debts in that it cannot be collected or enforced, but only paid voluntarily. It is a moral obligation.

I will link (because it is not online) an article I wrote on the subject for a  volume aimed at students. It doesn't have much original scholarship.


On Mon, Sep 4, 2017 at 6:46 PM, Chapman, Alison <achapman at uab.edu<mailto:achapman at uab.edu>> wrote:
Hi All,

I’d appreciate collective thoughts about Satan’s claim in Book 4 that he did not pay—refused to pay—the “debt of gratitude.” If we assume that Satan is in error here, which of the two following forms does his error take (or is there some third that I’m not thinking of)?:

1) he’s correct that he owed God a debt—i.e., the duty to render thanks—but he’s failing to acquit that debt by “paying” thanks and praise
2) he’s fundamentally mistaken to think of that relationship as a debt in the first place—i.e., that worship/submission/praise are spontaneous and voluntary acts and thus cannot be said to be obligatory forms of duty.

Underlying this question is the larger one of to what degree Milton thought that created beings such as angels owed God worship as a kind of duty.



Alison A. Chapman, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
UAB Department of English
205-934-4250<tel:(205)%20934-4250> | achapman at uab.edu<mailto:achapman at uab.edu>

From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu>] On Behalf Of Richard A. Strier
Sent: Monday, September 04, 2017 4:47 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l at richmond.edu>>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Pass the salt.

Special context.  But I really am bowing out of this -- unless we get back to Mr. Milton.

From: milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu> <milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu<mailto:milton-l-bounces at richmond.edu>> on behalf of James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com<mailto:jamesrovira at gmail.com>>
Sent: Monday, September 4, 2017 4:19:23 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Pass the salt.

Ha. See? In Carol's context, that's a suicide wish. Or a commentary on marriage. Maybe both.

Jim R

On Mon, Sep 4, 2017 at 4:06 PM, Carol Barton, PhD, CPCM <cbartonphd1 at verizon.net<mailto:cbartonphd1 at verizon.net>> wrote:
Her husband slowly dying of hypernatremia, his poor wife knelt at his bedside and whispered, “Please . . . pass the salt.”

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