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Discussion - Paradise Lost > Paradise Lost--Through Book 7

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Milton starts the second half of PL with another appeal to the muse, this time specifically to Urania, classical muse of astronomy (raising yet again the issue of his melding pagan muses into his Christian epic).

After that, we continue with the Raphael-Adam conversation. Adam asks Raphael to tell him how the world was created, and Raphael gives an account which is quite close to the Genesis account. Which might seem not to give much scope for discussion, but fear not, there's plenty in this book to raise questions.

A note on the reading schedule: it was suggested by a participant that books seven and eight hang together and maybe should be discussed together. I want to give us time for discussion of book 7 by itself, but since it's a fairly short book, I will probably open the Book 8 discussion early (perhaps over the weekend) and give more time to discuss the books together as well as book 8 itself. So keep an eye on the threads.


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments One minor thing that interested me. Milton says [131:] that it was after Lucifer fell that God initiated the creation of earth, in art to replace the fallen angels.

But in Book 2, at 345, Satan says:

There is a place
(If ancient and prophetic fame in Heav'n
Err not) another World, the happy seat
Of some new Race call'd Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence,


I'm a bit confused by this chronology. If Satan had already fallen, how did he know that God had chosen this time to go ahead and create earth and man? Was there some sort of communication between heaven and hell? If it was "about this time," does that mean that the timing of the rebellion was pre-planned all along? I'm having a bit of trouble reconciling these two passages.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Milton writes, at 21ff:

Half yet remaines unsung, but narrower bound
Within the visible Diurnal Spheare;
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
To hoarce or mute, though fall'n on evil dayes, [ 25 :]
On evil dayes though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit'st my slumbers Nightly,


Several things about this struck me.

First, what are the evil days he speaks of? He repeats this in two successive lines, which gives it very special emphasis. Is he referring to his blindness? Is he referring to the fall of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy? To both? To something else entirely? And are the evil tongues those whose testimony caused Milton to be put in prison?

Second, the visiting his slumbers at night (along with the passage in line 106 where he refers to "Sleep listning to thee") seems perhaps to refer to what I have read about Milton, that he stayed up very late at night composing lines in his head, which he would then spew out in the morning to his amanuensis (who might or might not have been his daughters).

Both proems are quite long -- much longer than in the classical epics. And both seem not to have clear and distinct endings, but to sort of morph gradually into the poem, so that it's a bit hard to say exactly when Milton stops addressing the muse and starts addressing the reader.


message 4: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: "One minor thing that interested me. Milton says [131:] that it was after Lucifer fell that God initiated the creation of earth, in art to replace the fallen angels.

But in Book 2, at 345, Satan..."


The key word here is 'prophetic.'


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments By the way, do any of our Biblical scholars see points where Milton departs from the Genesis (or other Biblical) accounts or makes great imaginative leaps, or is this part of the poem pretty close to the Biblical account?


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4550 comments Everyman wrote: "One minor thing that interested me. Milton says [131:] that it was after Lucifer fell that God initiated the creation of earth, in art to replace the fallen angels.

But in Book 2, at 345, Satan..."


A simplified chronology is available here and here. Other interesting sources can be found via Google books -- search "Paradise Lost chronology".


message 7: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4550 comments Everyman wrote: "Second, the visiting his slumbers at night (along with the passage in line 106 where he refers to "Sleep listning to thee") seems perhaps to refer to what I have read about Milton, that he stayed up very late at night composing lines in his head, which he would then spew out in the morning to his amanuensis (who might or might not have been his daughters)."

In Book 4 Satan is caught Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of Eve; [ 800 :] while she sleeps. I thought Milton might be saying something about the subconscious there, and your comment reminds me of this again. I'm not sure if there is a connection, but there does seem to be something powerful, be it for good or evil, at work while we sleep.


message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 20, 2010 09:18PM) (new)

Thomas wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Second, the visiting his slumbers at night (along with the passage in line 106 where he refers to "Sleep listning to thee") seems perhaps to refer to what I have read about Milton,..."

I'm in the middle of doing something else, so I don't have PL with me to find the relevant sections, but I've noticed several times in books 4-6, (possibly in 3 but I can't remember) that Milton uses the onset of night and the loss of the light of day as threatening and/or ominous. Milton does a lot of contrasting of light and dark in this poem, both with images and with descriptions of God and Satan, Heaven and Hell. I couldn't decide if the implied deadliness of night was part of that imagery or if it was playing to the idea that demons are abroad during the night.


message 9: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I'm having trouble reconciling the Christianity I was taught with Milton's Paradise Lost. As Everyman mentioned Milton combines "pagan" and "Christian" ideas and it seems to me like he is implying they are both true. I was taught that "pagan" beliefs were false and Christianity was the only truth.


message 10: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Everyman wrote: "Milton writes, at 21ff:

Half yet remaines unsung, but narrower bound
Within the visible Diurnal Spheare;
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
..."


I think you are right to suggest that these lines could equally refer to Milton's blindness, the fall of the Commonwealth and the Restoration but for me, because he is here the Muse, they speak to me more of his blindness and the problems he encountered at the time of the Restoration, when he was briefly imprisoned and had to go into hiding.

Yes, he thought at night and said that he needed to be 'milked' of those thoughts in the morning! Pity the daughters!


message 11: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 12:48AM) (new)

MadgeUK Dianna wrote: "I'm having trouble reconciling the Christianity I was taught with Milton's Paradise Lost. As Everyman mentioned Milton combines "pagan" and "Christian" ideas and it seems to me like he is implying..."

I doubt that, as a devout Christian, he is implying that the pagan ideas are 'true' Dianna, just that as a classical scholar he can see similarities in the stories, as all of us can who have read the Greek epics. Milton is retelling the stories in the Bible and embellishing them for the purpose of his epic, an epic being, to quote Wikipedia, 'a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to the culture of a nation'. At the time of writing epics containing stories of the pagan deities were part of popular culture and children were taught of the heroic deeds of Achilles and his like at school.

Sometimes I think it might be better for Christians here to put what they have learned about the Bible aside (suspend their disbelief) so that they can take Milton's stories on board more easily. If we renamed all the characters and looked at them as we would characters in a novel like His Dark Materials, it might be easier.


message 12: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 12:46AM) (new)

MadgeUK Kate wrote: "Thomas wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Second, the visiting his slumbers at night (along with the passage in line 106 where he refers to "Sleep listning to thee") seems perhaps to refer to what I have rea..."

I wonder how much this fixation on light/dark has to do with the onset of his blindness. It is thought that he had glaucoma which has been called 'the silent thief of the night' and the loss of sight can occur over quite a long period of time. This article gives some insight into Milton's problems with his sight and how it affected him and those around him:-

http://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/theolo...


message 13: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 03:18AM) (new)

MadgeUK I have just been listening to Professor Roger's lecture on Book 7 (sorry Roger!) and it is absolutely fascinating and well worth a listen (or a read of the transcript). His theory is that pretty well the whole of PL centres around....DIGESTION...(Milton thought bad digestion contributed to his blindness...) and he takes his starting point from Book 7 Lines 234-242

'Book 7 is about Creation...What is the Creation, after all, if not an arbitrary display of the Father's omnipotence? Milton knows that that's the case, but at the same time that he celebrates that, he's also struggling to represent it otherwise; and so he charges even the Creation itself with this same cluster of images involving digestion. Look for example at Book Seven [lines 234-242:]. I think this is one of the most -- it's puzzling, and for a lot of readers it's one of the most physiologically suggestive of all of the natural processes that seem to be described in Milton's poem....

[O:]n the watr'y calm
His brooding wings the Spirit of God outspread,
And vital vertue infus'd, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid Mass; but downward purged
The black tartareous cold infernal dregs
Adverse to life: then conglibed
Like things to like; the rest to several place
Disparted, and between spun out the air;
And Earth elf balance on her centre hung.

He writes: 'I'm going to be applying some pressure to these lines because what we have here is a moment of some metaphysical incoherence, and it's metaphysical incoherence at the very heart of Milton's account of the creation. This incoherence is announced with that wonderful word, "dregs," that Milton weighs down so much. He weighs it down with well, four contiguous adjectives: "black," "tartareous" -- what an awkward line -- "black tartareous cold Infernal dregs." I've spent a lot of time thinking about these lines, and I've also written about this problem, and so I'm going to ask that you to permit me a little digression -- not that you really have a choice, but I'm just announcing to you this fact that I will be digressing now.

What I'm going to do is give you my theory, my pet theory, of Milton's tartareous dregs. I'm convinced here that Milton is participating in a contemporary conversation involving one of his pet subjects and one of his favorite subjects, which is that of digestion. This is a debate -- and certainly it's not Milton's debate, this is one that he inherits -- it's a debate about those indigestible elements of food known as dregs in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, also known as tartar. I'm going to give you a little bit of information about the Renaissance philosophy of tartar, if you can believe it there is such a thing, because I think it provides a good example of just the kind of seemingly cockamamie contemporary philosophical world that a lot of early modern intellectuals inhabit.....'

'...The key figure in the science of dregs and tartar is the sixteenth-century German philosopher Paracelsus.....Milton in the seventeenth century would have called it "tooth tartar...For Paracelsus, if there's any natural substance on this planet that can be identified unequivocally with evil, it is tartar, and I mean metaphysical evil.... !!!

Prof Roger's expounds on his theory and on Milton's use of scientific theories as allegories in Book 7 in what I think is his most fascinating lecture to date. He also makes some amusing comments about Raphael. Do listen to/read it folks - he deals with a lot of the questions being asked here.

http://oyc.yale.edu/english/milton/co...


message 14: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments There's an abrupt change in the imagery that puzzles me. God sends forth Christ to create the earth, and he rides out in his glorious winged chariot, surrounding by legions of angels singing his praises, through the opening golden gates of Heaven, like some Rennaissance painting of Zeus and the Olympians among the clouds. Then starting at line 243, the language is that of Genesis 1, with "God" doing the creating by pure fiat:

Let ther be Light, said God, and forthwith Light
Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure
Sprung from the Deep, and from her Native East [ 245 :]
To journie through the airie gloom began,
Sphear'd in a radiant Cloud, for yet the Sun
Was not; shee in a cloudie Tabernacle
Sojourn'd the while. God saw the Light was good . . .

Suddenly not Christ, but God is doing the creating. What's up? I have the uncomfortable feeling Milton wrote an elaboration of Genesis 1, then spliced it into his quasi-pagan poem.


message 15: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 07:09AM) (new)

MadgeUK As Prof Rogers says: 'Milton, who is committed to the truth of the Bible and is similarly committed to the world of natural philosophy -is on shaky ground as he describes the creation....[He:] is really going out on a limb in PL as he is claiming that what is essentially the status of divine truth for thousands of lines in this poem that really have no foundation in holy scripture at all....He is relying on his new Muse to liberate him in some way from the strictures of the orthodox forms of knowledge that are sanctioned seemingly unequivocally by the Bible. Milton is struggling to balance the dominant theological discourse...with the new discourse of science or natural philosophy. So what you have in Book 7 is a really startling opposition of essentially competing forms of knowledge and competing images of authority....Look at an example in Book 7 line 387 ('and God said let the waters generate...'). Look at what Milton does with the Genesis account of creation.....Milton takes the austerity of Genesis and amplifies it with some of the lushest, most luxuriant verse in al of Paradise Lost. I urge you to read these words loud in the privacy of your homes....Milton experienced it sonically because he wasn;t able to read it on the page. [Prof Rogers explains in detail what exactly Milton did with Genesis in Book 7 and why.)


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Amanda wrote: "Am I the only one who thought Prof. Rogers was reaching a bit with this one? He lost me when he likened the image of God expelling rebel angels with digestion. Really? Or maybe it was just God expe..."

I got the impression Rogers was airing a pet theory here. There is enough ambiguity in PL that he can get away with it, but this seemed more of an academic argument than a real explanation of the text to me. Milton does seem to carry certain types of imagery through the poem and several people have pointed out his fascination with digestion, so I can see why Milton-as-author would use it as a continuing metaphor, just as he used his blindness. I think Rogers is reaching a bit to read more into it.


message 17: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 07:55AM) (new)

MadgeUK Yes, he said he was airing a pet theory although he did back it up with certain references to the poem in the context of medical history at the time. I don't think we should dismiss what he says altogether because it seems to me that a blind man who thinks his blindness was caused by his bad digestion, and was possibly an affliction from God, could in fact write some of his musings into an epic - just as he fixates on light and darkness and his opinions about the Civil War. Epics often contain many things of a personal nature. Homer (whoever he was...) messed about with the history of ancient Greece.

The rest of the lecture about Genesis has nothing to do with digestion though and makes perfect sense so don't let's throw the baby out with the bathwater:):). There is certainly more to the telling of this epic than a straightforward biblical account of the Fall and Genesis.


message 18: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 08:21AM) (new)

MadgeUK Amanda wrote: "MadgeUK wrote: "Dianna wrote: "I'm having trouble reconciling the Christianity I was taught with Milton's Paradise Lost. As Everyman mentioned Milton combines "pagan" and "Christian" ideas and it ..."

He didn't suspend his Christianity as such but he looked at other beliefs and ideas, he thought outside the box of Christianity. Just as Coleridge suggested that when we go to a play to see something fantastic (like a Midsummer Night's Dream) we often 'willingly suspend our disbelief'. This, Coleridge suggested, adds to our enjoyment of the play. We would not become believers in fairies just because we suspended disbelieve during a performance of MND any more than Milton (or anyone else) would become a sceptic/atheist because he looked at other religious ideas. Milton was, after all, one of England's foremost original thinkers and we would possibly do him a disservice if we do not try to look outside of the box with him.


message 19: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Amanda wrote: "Everyman wrote: "By the way, do any of our Biblical scholars see points where Milton departs from the Genesis (or other Biblical) accounts or makes great imaginative leaps, or is this part of the p..."

Did you put up the right link Amanda because that one only compared the KJV to a modern version of Genesis.

Later in Book 7 Milton abandons the KJV and strikes out on his own, as it were, rewriting Genesis. See Lines 399 onwards for instance, and 463 onwards. Nothing like Genesis' account of creation there.


message 20: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4550 comments Roger wrote: "There's an abrupt change in the imagery that puzzles me. God sends forth Christ to create the earth, and he rides out in his glorious winged chariot, surrounding by legions of angels singing his p..."

Milton seems to suggest that the Son goes forth WITH God (but also stays). That God "goes" anywhere when he is already omnipresent is a paradox as well.

...when at the holy mount
Of Heav'ns high-seated top, th' Impereal Throne [ 585 :]
Of Godhead, fixt for ever firm and sure,
The Filial Power arriv'd, and sate him down
With his great Father (for he also went
Invisible, yet staid, such priviledge
Hath Omnipresence) and the work ordain'd, [ 590 :]
Author and end of all things, and from work
Now resting, bless'd and hallowd the Seav'nth day,


I take this to be a product of Raphael's reduction of divine matters to "human measure." I'm not sure how else it can be squared away.

So spake th' Almightie, and to what he spake
His Word, the Filial Godhead, gave effect. [ 175 :]
Immediate are the Acts of God, more swift
Then time or motion, but to human ears
Cannot without process of speech be told,
So told as earthly notion can receave.



message 21: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I have not read Rogers but the digestion theory seems a little far fetched to me.

I do not have trouble looking outside the box of Christianity but for him to put Greek mythology side by side with Biblical accounts is kind of like telling a story about Santa Claus and his reindeer visiting the Baby Jesus in his sleigh with presents.


message 22: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments Amanda wrote: "Am I the only one who thought Prof. Rogers was reaching a bit with this one? He lost me when he likened the image of God expelling rebel angels with digestion. Really? Or maybe it was just God expe..."

Digestion? Surely this is more evidence that Rogers is full of hooey!


message 23: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 10:27AM) (new)

MadgeUK But Greek mythology also deals with Creation, Gods, and battles between hierarchies etc so doesn't that make it comparable? Many biblical stories can be found in other religious accounts, such as stories of Creation or stories of the Flood. Around 50 creation myths are detailed in this Wikipedia entry for instance:-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation...

Stories from classical Greek mythology were commonly told at this time and were (are) part of the British education system, therefore to put such stories in an epic was culturally acceptable and expected. Other epics, such as Spenser's (unfinished) Faerie Queen, which is ostensibly a panegyric to Queen Elizabeth I, also draw upon classical images. The epic of the Anglo-Saxon hero Beowolf similarly draws upon mythical images from all over Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Milton was attempting to write the first English epic in English and was drawing upon classical tradition in his storytelling by including Greek and Roman mythology. It was not a denigration of the Bible or its stories in any way, it was an example of the author's classical scholarship.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Roger wrote: "Digestion? Surely this is more evidence that Rogers is full of hooey!"

Well, not exactly. He addresses elimination as well :D


message 25: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Thomas wrote: "Roger wrote: "There's an abrupt change in the imagery that puzzles me. God sends forth Christ to create the earth, and he rides out in his glorious winged chariot, surrounding by legions of angels..."

The link which Amanda gave says that this chariot is a 'major variation' on the Biblical Genesis so presumably this is another example of Milton rewriting part of Genesis to further a particular point he is making. There are several examples of this rewriting in Books 7 & 8. Lucy Hutchinson, a devout Puritan and Parliamentarian, wrote a poem in 1660 containing 'a veiled rebuke' of Milton's handling of the Genesis story (and his account of Eve). Some readers here might approve of her rebuke in the Preface to her poem:

'I found that I could know nothing but what God taught me, so I resolved never to search for any knowledge of him and his productions, but what he himself has given forth. Those that will be wise above what is written may hang upon their philosophical clouds, but let them take heed they find not themselves without God in the world, adoring figments of their own brains, instead of the true and living God.'


message 26: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 21, 2010 10:59AM) (new)

MadgeUK Kate wrote: "Roger wrote: "Digestion? Surely this is more evidence that Rogers is full of hooey!"

Well, not exactly. He addresses elimination as well :D"


LOL Kate! At least Rogers backs up his pet theories with quotes and textual evidence. It was an amusing interlude. I think in our day we are not used to dwelling upon something so lavatorial but the perusal of the contents of chamber pots was common enough in those and later times - has anyone seen the film The Madness of King George which graphically details the emphasis that was put then upon his 'motions'?

(And perhaps Professor Rogers has a similar problem.....)


message 27: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 05:10AM) (new)

MadgeUK But the Bible wasn't written from a trinitarian viewpoint was it? That was an Augustinian interpretation in the 4thC? So Milton might be using the words of the Bible in a pre-Augustinian way, or as I believe the Calvinists used to term it, in an 'apostolic' way. In The Reason of Church Government and other religious tracts he argued for a return to the simplicity of the apostolic church, believing that the New Testament(?) scriptures were the true source of authority, not the church.

http://www.augnet.org/?ipageid=274

If like me, you just read the Bible without knowing anything whatsoever about the doctrine of the Trinity (or presumably if you do not believe in the Trinity), you do see God, the Son and the Holy Spirit separately so God speaking to the Son seems perfectly acceptable.


message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman cites: Half yet remaines unsung, but narrower bound
Within the visible Diurnal Spheare;
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang'd
To hoarce or mute, though fall'n on evil dayes,
On evil dayes though fall'n,
and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round,
And solitude; yet not alone, while thou
Visit'st my slumbers Nightly,


It is even more than the repetition of the word fallen, the whole phrase is inverted. [What is that called in rhetoric?:]

I thought he was referring to his own fall from influence, and reiterating his commitment to his artistic endeavor.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

In addition to his alimentary diversion, Professor Rodgers comments that, yes, Milton follows the Genesis account of the creation quite closely. But he follows each passage with several lines of elaboration, which are far more vivid. I agree with him. I found myself skimming some of the derivative stuff to get to the "good parts."


message 30: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Dianna wrote: "I do not have trouble looking outside the box of Christianity but for him to put Greek mythology side by side with Biblical accounts is kind of like telling a story about Santa Claus and his reindeer visiting the Baby Jesus in his sleigh with presents."

That may have something to do with temporal distance and the (unfortunate) practice of a modern educational system which rarely teaches classics.

In Milton's day, a scholar was expected to know the classics, which included a great deal of ancient mythology, particularly that of the Greco-Roman world. Alluding to classical references was a common literary device and wouldn't have seemed strange to Milton's Christian contemporaries.


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

Aranthe: In Milton's day, a scholar was expected to know the classics, which included a great deal of ancient mythology, particularly that of the Greco-Roman world. Alluding to classical references was a common literary device and wouldn't have seemed strange to Milton's Christian contemporaries.

Perhaps this is a good time to ask a couple of very naive questions about Milton's Christian contemporaries:

1. Presumably, they found those pagan stories to be in error. If so,why were they so important?

2. Where did these 17th century Christians think the souls of these pre-Jesus people went when they died?


message 32: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Yes, he writes 'After Milton has exhausted his bald versification of the KJV, he lets loose with an entirely new representation of creation, and that Milton's 'sensual, alliterative verse [your "good parts":)] almost completely drowns out our memory of the bland King James' English.'

(Do you mean chiasmus?)


message 33: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 04:49AM) (new)

MadgeUK Zeke wrote: "Aranthe: In Milton's day, a scholar was expected to know the classics, which included a great deal of ancient mythology, particularly that of the Greco-Roman world. Alluding to classical references..."

Dante goes into this quite a lot. Some pagans were thought to be 'in error' and others were not, depending, I think, on the sort of life you had led. This little essay explains the thinking in Dante and I think this would still hold for Milton's time since it was based on the teachings of the early church fathers:-

http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=...

You have made me wonder, Zeke, if Milton only refers to those who were termed 'virtuous pagans'. There is a partial list of them here in this description of Dante's Limbo:-

'Circle I - Limbo - The Unbaptized, Virtuous Pagans: The First Circle of Hell is made up of all those shades that were good people, but lacked the ideology of God's saviour and so must reside there for eternity. That is, all of the people in Limbo are virtuous and sinless, but who for the lack of a single ceremony cannot be admitted into Paradise; this includes everyone who had the misfortune to live before the time of Christ, all non-Christians, the un-baptised, and even infants 'stained' by Original Sin (there is an abundance of these). Virgil himself is from this circle of Hell, as he was born before the crucifixion. Dante saw some of the most famous of all Historical shades to be remembered by our modern society such as Homer, Horace, Ovid, Caesar, Brutus, Lucretia, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Democritus, Thales, Heraclitus, Euclid, Hector, Aeneas, Epictatus, Ptolemy, and Hippocrates. Great thinkers, classic poets, great men, and murderers alike are placed in the same 'punishment' simply because they do not worship the Christian God. In some interpretations, those in Limbo are excluded from the beatific vision until Christ's triumphant ascension into Heaven (the "limbus patrum").'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtuous...

Here is something about Milton's use of Dante:-

http://www.jstor.org/pss/438881


message 34: by Aranthe (last edited Jul 21, 2010 03:15PM) (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments Zeke wrote: "Perhaps this is a good time to ask a couple of very naive questions about Milton's Christian contemporaries:

1. Presumably, they found those pagan stories to be in error. If so,why were they so important?"


For much the same reason many of us consider them important today: They are part of the body of western thought that has given rise to our part of the world's civilization. One needn't believe in their mythology to acknowledge that they have something to say or that they say it well. The stories they relate tell us about the people who created them and still have the power to move us today (as I hope we're about to discover with Oresteia).


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for the link about Dante and limbo Madge. I take some sort of perverse pride in being the person to prompt us towards the first essay from an essay mill. :)

Seriously, it is fascinating to see the way Dante (and presumably others) try to work around these "logical" issues.

I'd love to read Dante with this group some day.


message 36: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I am having a difficult time trying to explain what I am wanting to say. I think Zeke's questions help.

I think we all agree that the pagan stories are myth. I have read quite a bit of them and yes they are very worthwhile reading. I have read and know more of the Bible having been brought up in fundamentalist Christianity.

If Milton believed the Biblical account to be a literal interpretation of events as they actually occurred then did he also believe the pagan myth was not just myth?

I'm sorry, but if I were trying to "justify the ways of God," interspersing "literal Biblical fact" with things that I believed to be "myth" would make my case for God somehow flawed.

I used the hyperbolic example of Santa visiting the baby Jesus but let me try to get my point accross in a different way...

I know Dawin, for example, was not trying to make an epic poem but if he interspersed his Origin of Species (which he believed to be true) with Biblical accounts of creation would that not have been confusing to the people he was trying to convince that we got here through evolution and not creation?


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

Well put Dianna. That's exactly what I am trying to understand also.

I am really enjoying the way many of us, coming from very different backgrounds, are trying to (1)understand what Milton is attempting here; (2)test how well he succeeds and why, (3) appreciate what it means to us.

Madge's link helped me see how author's may have worked around these issues in a technical way. But, like you, I am still trying to make sense of it.


message 38: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1738 comments Milton is doing something very odd, mixing different kinds of literature. Perhaps like Homer, he faithfully tells a received story, using his imagination only to fill in the gaps with likely stories. But I think unlike Homer, he fills it in with allegory-like stories that he surely knows could not possibly be true (at least, I presume that he knew that Satan really did not carry a spear and Christ does not really ride in a chariot). He hints at telling a story in likenesses adapted to human understanding, then goes out of his way to insist on the physical reality of angels. And he has the obviously allegorical figures of Sin and Death appear and dialogue with Satan. It's all very puzzling.


message 39: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 21, 2010 08:19PM) (new)

Dianna wrote: "If Milton believed the Biblical account to be a literal interpretation of events as they actually occurred then did he also believe the pagan myth was not just myth? "

That seems like a very big "If". The evidence that Milton was not a literalist seems to lie in this very poem. He takes the pieces he wants from the Bible and weaves them together with Greek classics, a smattering of allegory and his own imagination to create his own version of the fall.

It's like he's taking the sum of his knowledge, his faith, his experience and he's laying it out as a puzzle that all has to come together and make sense. An apt analogy would be Einstein who struggled at the end of his life to create a Unified Field Theory, which he "knew" to be true, yet could never quite prove.

ETA: So yeah Dianna, I think maybe he is trying to somehow stick evolution and creation together and make it sound reasonable.


message 40: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Re: the heavenly chariot. This is referred to twice in the Bible in relation to the prophets Elijah and Elisha.

1. Elisha saw his mentor Elijah go up to heaven in a chariot of fire (or he saw a chariot of fire in the sky and then Elijah went up in a whirlwind).
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?...

some art of this dramatic event: http://www.google.com/images?hl=&...

2. Later, Elisha's servant was afraid because the king of Syria was threatening Israel with his great army. Elisha, to show his servant that Israel had more than human strength on their side, said, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."

And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. 2 Kings 6:16-17: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?...


message 41: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 12:07AM) (new)

MadgeUK Zeke wrote: "Thanks for the link about Dante and limbo Madge. I take some sort of perverse pride in being the person to prompt us towards the first essay from an essay mill. :)

Seriously, it is fascinating to..."


Sorry about the essay mill Zeke but it was the shortest reference I found about the topic and as I have read Dante I knew that the essay was along the right lines.

Perhaps Laurel, who is a Dante buff, can find something more authoratitive.


message 42: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 04:43AM) (new)

MadgeUK I am not sure whether we could call Milton a 'literalist' because in his other religious tracts he queries many things about the Bible and religious doctrine in general, which was common at this time of religious turmoil. There were over 200 sects in England then, all with different interpretations of the Bible. However, I don't think there can be any doubt that Milton thought these Greco-Roman tales were myths and as Aranthe has pointed out:

'In Milton's day a scholar was expected to know the classics, which included a great deal of ancient mythology, particularly that of the Greco-Roman world. Alluding to classical references was a common literary device and wouldn't have seemed strange to Milton's Christian contemporaries.'

Milton was also writing the first English epic in English and to have credence with his contemporaries he would have had to include these stories from the classics. He would have looked upon them as myths and his contemporaries would have accepted them as such, so there was no confusion. Also, some of them referred to 'virtuous pagans' (as explained elsewhere) and so deserved inclusion in a story of the Fall. Although, as we have seen from Lucy Hutchinson's 'rebuke' above, some of his contemporaries disagreed with parts of his 'faction' because they preferred unadulterated stories from the scriptures.

Darwin is a different case, he was writing a scientific treatise not an epic or a story but even suppose he had included some mythological comparisons as to what ancient people thought about evolution, that would not have detracted from the facts he was presenting (assuming you think they were facts). Sometimes serious authors introduce stories to lighten the narrative and Milton digressing from 'the bald versification' (and already well known) version of the KJV's Genesis was perhaps such a case.

Many authors mix fact with fiction - nowadays we call it 'faction' - so I don't see the problem, There is also the fact that in setting himself the task of writing an epic along Homeric lines in English, he had taken on a huge literary task which was bound to cause stylistic difficulties.

I like Kate's analogy of a puzzle that Milton is trying to piece together. We are only at Book 7 so presumably in the next 5 books gaps will be filled in and his 'justification' will complete the picture he has been painting - or not, as the case may be:).


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

@Madge re. 45: I was just kidding about the "essay mill." I did find the link a quick and helpful read.

You are the wizard of links! How do you do it?


message 44: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 05:57AM) (new)

MadgeUK Thankyou. I have a lot of spare time on my hands to look up stuff and I enjoy doing it:).

The subject of 'virtuous pagans' reminded me that in Southern Ireland (Eire) and elsewhere, until recently, unbaptised babies were buried in fields outside of church grounds because they could not be buried in consecrated ground. This caused parents a lot of grief and petitions were made to the Pope to change this cruel medieval ruling:-

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29128411/

http://www.museumsofmayo.com/clogher4...

(Readers of Tess of the D'Urbevilles may remember that she had to bury Sorrow, her illegitimate child, outside of the church grounds because she couldn't get him baptised. And I have a stillborn grandson so buried.)


message 45: by Alina (last edited Jul 22, 2010 09:43AM) (new)

Alina | 28 comments Regarding the 'virtuous pagans' - consider the following from Romans 2:

12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.


This supports the concept of "virtuous pagans," but probably does not extend the meaning of the term so far as to include the classical, pagan, and/or hellenic writers en masse.


message 46: by MadgeUK (last edited Jul 22, 2010 10:05AM) (new)

MadgeUK I don't think Milton uses the term 'virtuous pagans' (or 'pagans' for that matter). I was answering a query from Zeke at 35 above. This passage from the Romans does not seem to include the virtuous pagans in the Limbo Patrum defined by Aquinas?

I am not at all sure that Milton would 'approve' of the idea of virtuous pagans in Limbo as it is a catholic idea. In Book III he calls Limbo the Paradise of Fools and in lines 440-65 he satirises this catholic belief in what he then calls the Limbo of Vanity.

Milton use of some of Dante's ideas may just have been because he admired Dante and because the poem was already well known in England. Dante seemed particularly keen to place some pagan poets, like Virgil and Homer, in Limbo, thereby saving them from Hell, and perhaps the poet Milton had some sympathy with this idea without necessarily taking on board the catholic doctrine. Just a thought.


message 47: by Alina (last edited Jul 22, 2010 09:48AM) (new)

Alina | 28 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I don't think Milton uses the term 'virtuous pagans' (or 'pagans' for that matter). I was answering a query from Zeke at 35 above. This passage from the Romans does not seem to include the virtuou..."

I'll have to check on that a bit later, Madge, but my suspicion is that this passage is the evidence that is used to support the concept.


message 48: by Aranthe (new)

Aranthe | 103 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I am not sure whether we could call Milton a 'literalist' because in his other religious tracts he queries many things about the Bible and religious doctrine in general, which was common at this time of religious turmoil. There were over 200 sects in England then, all with different interpretations of the Bible."

To help visualize how much was going on, here's a link to a time line chart from the Wiki article on the Reformation—and it shows only the main Protestant branches:

Chart of Protestant Branches


message 49: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 22, 2010 04:56PM) (new)

Milton uses a telling metaphor to describe Adam's response to the things Raphael is telling him:

as one whose drouth
Yet scarce allay'd still eyes the current streame,
Whose liquid murmur heard new thirst excites,
Proceeded thus to ask his Heav'nly Guest.


But we also know that he fully intends to be obedient. As a few lines later:

Divine Interpreter by favour sent
Down from the Empyrean to forewarne
Us timely of what might else have bin our loss,
Unknown, which human knowledg could not reach: [ 75 :]
For which to the infinitly Good we owe
Immortal thanks, and his admonishment
Receave with solemne purpose to observe
Immutably his sovran will, the end
Of what we are.


Notwithstanding Adam's assertion that he wants more knowledge only to better praise God, God, if not Raphael, must know where the thirst to know more will lead. It leaves me wondering whether in some sense God is not really the primal tempter instead of Satan.

One of my favorite passages of all time is in the book All the King's Men. For those who are not familiar with it, this is a mid-twentieth century novel by a southern American writer named Robert Penn Warren. Ostensibly meditation on a famous American demagogue governor during the depression. In reality, it is also deeply about the Fall of Man; a key locale is an Edenic place called Burden's Landing, and a key character is named Adam.

The passage that has stayed with me occurs early in the book. I can't type it out in full, but I encourage people to use Amazon's search inside the book feature to read the extended metaphor. It includes an envelope found under the door late at night, an "eye" that can see through walls, and the "clammy, sad little foetus you carry inside yourself." The "eye" knows what's inside the envelope, but you don't.

What do you do?

This is the conclusion of the amazing paragraph:

The end of man is knowledge, but there is one thing he can't know. He can't know whether knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed all right, but he can't know whether he will be killed because of the knowledge which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn't got and which if he had it, would save him. There's the cold in your stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, for the end of man is to know.

Perhaps a believer might say that God wants his creation to be this way. If so, perhaps that would explain why He has His agent tempt Adam.

In fairness, I must refute my own earlier speculation and Wonder whether Warren's metaphor is actually more responsive to this warning that Raphael passes along a bit later:

But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns
Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Winde.


Another, better, food metaphor.


message 50: by [deleted user] (new)

Milton asserts that much of what God does is necessarily only communicated to humans by way of metaphor.

Immediate are the Acts of God, more swift
Then time or motion, but to human ears
Cannot without process of speech be told,
So told as earthly notion can receive.


I like this because it "explains" God's creation of the world in six days. It also seems to me to create a convergence for believers and Darwinians. I wonder what the USA school board members who insist the earth is 6,000 years old would say about it.


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