Paradise Lost and classical ideals of pleasurable restraint
UNFALLEN ADAM AND EVE in Milton’s Paradise Lost discover in self-restraint both a moral discipline and the source of truest pleasure. Pleasurable restraint defines their mutual conversation-their shared garden labors, rests and repasts, prayers, lovemaking, separations and reunions. While discussions of Paradise Lost’s relation to the classical tradition have generally confined their attention to the poem’s poetic models,1 Milton’s depiction of the Edenic couple draws on and transforms ancient philosophical as well as poetic themes. Adam and Eve’s pleasurable restraint is indebted not only to the tradition of Ovidian erotic poetry but also to late classical symposiastic theory and to the hedonistic ethics first espoused by Xenophon and diversely appropriated by Stoics and Epicureans.2 Milton further grounds the pleasurable restraint of Adam and Eve in their virtuous self-esteem, a principle Milton articulates from a highly original synthesis of Peripatetic, Stoic, and Neoplatonic philosophic views. While recent scholarship has explored Milton’s Edenic couple in relation to scriptural and Protestant views of marriage,3 Milton’s classicizing focus on self-esteem, which crucially shapes his treatment of Adam and Eve, has been neglected. Adam and Eve corrupt their relationship by deviating in opposite ways from self-esteem conceived of as a virtuous Aristotelian mean between an excessive diffidence that idolizes the other and a self-regard that renders the other superfluous.4 Milton’s transformation of longstanding classical themes also has profoundly topical political implications. Writing during the Restoration he detested, Milton portrays unfallen Adam and Eve as bitter reminders to his countrymen that proper self-governance depends upon conceptions of pleasurable virtue that Restoration Englishmen have abandoned.
Adam and Eve’s daily alternations between labor and rest exemplify the general pattern of Edenic pleasure:
They sat them down, and after no more toil Of their sweet gardening labor than sufficed To recommend cool zephyr, and made ease More easy, wholesome thirst and appetite More grateful, to their supper fruits they fell (4.327-31) .5
Critics have emphasized the centrality of human labor in Milton’s Paradise.6 Adam and Eve’s God-given “daily work of body or mind” is a sign of their human “dignity” (4.618-19). Like Augustine, who associated Adam and Eve’s gardening with both innocent joy and self-discipline (De genesi ad litteram 8.9-10), the “sweet gardening labor” that the unfallen couple share simultaneously underscores the pleasure of their conjugal bond and the necessity of virtuous discipline. By such emblematic acts as marrying the vine with the elm (5.215-19) and pruning “wanton growth” (4.629), Adam and Eve reaffirm their union and commit themselves to moderating their own desires. Their daily labors thus underscore the fact that their innocent happiness is not a fixed state but a continuous process of achievement.
Working only as much as suffices to make rest pleasant exemplifies Adam and Eve’s virtuous and pleasing moderation. Michel Foucault has emphasized the close association in Greco-Roman thought between virtuous moderation and the art of timing, of knowing when to begin and cease any activity (2:57-59). Aristotle notes that the virtuous mean of any action or emotion requires doing or feeling “at the right time” (Nicomachean Ethics 2.6.11); explicating the Greek maxims “measuredness is best” (ariston metron) and “do nothing overmuch” (meden agan), the Latin poet Ausonius notes that all things require “the measure of timely cessation” (“optimae pausae modum,” Ludus Septem Sapientum 7, translation mine) . Edenic labor is similarly a matter of proper timing, for Adam and Eve must know when to begin as well as end their sufficient labors: in the morning Adam awakens Eve lest they “lose the prime” (5.21).
Moderate labor results in supreme pleasure: “ease” is made “more easy” and thirst and appetite “more grateful,” that is, more pleasing, because of preceding labor. Adam later describes to Raphael fruits “pleasantest to thirst / And hunger both, from labour, at the hour / Of sweet repast” (8.212-14). Carey and Fowler’s edition glosses “from labour” as either “when I come from” or “caused by” labor (826); the two meanings blend, implying that the intensification of appetite and postponement of gratification inherent in labor make ultimate fulfillment all the more gratifying.
Anthony Low (304-06; 316-17) has noted that throughout his writings Milton stresses the pleasure of alternating between labor and leisure, which, as Milton’s university speech, Prolusion 6, puts it, “banish [es] the weariness of satiety” and ensures that “things neglected for a while will be taken up again more eagerly” (Complete Prose Works 12:205). In Paradise Lost, Milton links the alternations whereby Adam and Eve avoid “the weariness of satiety” to a neglected but influential ancient ethical paradigm. The Greek moralist Xenophon expounded the view that temperate self-restraint provides the truest and strongest pleasure by making final fulfillment all the more enjoyable. In the Memorabilia, Xenophon claims that Socrates “was so ready for his food that he found appetite the best sauce; and any kind of drink he found pleasant, because he drank only when he was thirsty.” Noting that all good things come to man through toil, Xenophon’s Socrates argues that because of their preceding virtuous toil the virtuous obtain a “sweeter sleep” (hupnos . . . hedion) than the idle and that self-control (enkrateia) allows people to endure a period of hunger, thirst, desire, or sleeplessness after which eating, drinking, sex, or sleep will give the greatest possible satisfaction (Memorabilia 1.3.5; 2.1.20; 2.1.33; 4.5.9). In Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, the virtuous Persian king Cyrus similarly notes that both hunger and “labors” (ponoi) act as “sauce[s]” (ops[oil) because self-controlled, hardworking men “when hungry. . . will enjoy the most pleasant food . . . when thirsty. . . will enjoy the most pleasant drinks, and when in need of rest . . . will find rest most pleasant” (1.5.12, 7.5.80-81, translation mine). Milton’s prose writings of the 1640s express profound admiration for Xenophon’s ethical treatises (Complete Prose Works 1:719, 751, 891, 2:396); his epic adapts Xenophon’s derivation of pleasure from prior labor and the resultant increase of appetite. By claiming that Edenic labor made “wholesome thirst and appetite”-rather than eating and drinking-more “grateful” and by having Adam describe fruits as “pleasantest to thirst and hunger” rather than “pleasantest” for eating and drinking, Milton blurs by metonymic substitution the very distinction between appetites and their pleasurable fulfillment. He thus underscores how much true satisfaction depends upon the intensification of appetite through restraint.
By adopting Xenophon’s view, Milton draws near to but in a crucial respect rejects the Epicureanism revived in England during the seventeenth century. The two major competing Hellenistic ethical schools, the Stoics and Epicureans, had used Xenophon’s views as weapons in their philosophical polemics. The Stoics had found in Xenophon and his Socrates authority for their own practice of strenuous self-control. A Stoic in Cicero’s De finibus attacks the Epicureans’ avoidance of pain by citing Socrates’s view that “the best sauce [condimentum] for food is hunger and the best flavouring for drink thirst” (2.28.90), and Seneca claims hunger will make even coarse bread taste wonderful (Epistulae morales 123.2, 12-15). Renaissance texts similarly proclaim in the fashion of Xenophon and the Stoics the pleasures attendant upon toil and restraint: in Sir Philip Sidney’s immensely popular Arcadia, a work indebted to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, the hero Pyrocles notes that his heroic trials had taught him “to measure the delicacy of food and rest by hunger and weariness. “7
Yet the Epicureans also adopted part of the Xenophonic view by emphasizing the pleasure the temperate Epicurean hedonist finds in fulfilling his hunger and thirst. Diogenes Laertius records Epicurus echoing Xenophon by claiming that “bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips” (10.130-31). In the Renaissance, Erasmus also recalls the Epicurean adoption of Xenophon’s temperate hedonism. In the Adagia he commends the dictum of Xenophon’s Socrates that “hunger is the best sauce” (“Optimum condimentum fames”), and in his colloquy Epicureus he supports his own brand of Christian Epicureanism by noting that “the deliciousness of banquets does not consist in choice foods . . . but in . . . a good appetite.”8 Late seventeenth-century England witnessed a major revival of Epicureanism that drew strength both from the French philosopher Pierre Gassendi’s exposition of Epicurean views and a rekindled appreciation of ancient Epicurean texts.9 In the second volume (1656) of his four-volume History of Philosophy (1655-1662), Thomas Stanley’s sympathetic account of Epicureanism, based on Diogenes Laertius and Gassendi, notes that Epicurus claimed simple food and water are “highly pleasant if taken only when we hunger and thirst” (918). Expanding upon Epicurus’s praise of hunger and thirst, Walter Charleton’s Epicurus’s Morals (1656) claims that bread and water provide “much pleasure” to those “pressed with pure hunger and thirst” and that “a sober man. . eats his meat with ten times more delight than another, because he brings . . . with him the best of sawces, hunger” (48). In his posthumously published Christian Morals, written sometime between the 1650s and the 1680s, Thomas Browne identifies “true Epicurism” as a way of life which by “mediocrity, paucity, quick and healthful Appetite, makes delights smartly acceptable.” The Epicureans, Browne claims, found the “secret of Delight,” namely that “Temperate Minds, not pressing their pleasures until the sting appeareth, enjoy their contentations contentedly, and . . . escape the folly of excess” (389-90).
The Epicureans diverged from Xenophon and their Stoic rivals, however, in ignoring Xenophon’s praise of labor as a “sauce” for rest; the Epicureans condemned exertion and celebrated leisured retirement from the world and ataraxia, an unbroken (bodily and mental) tranquility, as the ideal human life. While celebrating the joys of temperate eating and drinking, the Epicureans placed the pleasures associated with rest and stability higher than those associated with motion. As Charleton explained, the highest, truest Epicurean pleasures were “Indolency of Body, and Tranquillity of the Mind”; such pleasures of “motion” as eating and drinking were subordinate, encouraging human beings to fulfill their appetites so that they could then experience the highest pleasure-leisured tranquility (15). In an early example of English Epicureanism, “A Country Life: To his Brother, Master Thomas Herrick,” Robert Herrick associates his brother’s Epicurean moderation (which includes knowledge that “Hunger makes coorse meats, delicates,” line 110) with restful, retired tranquility: his brother “at home, blest with securest ease / Sitt[s],” lines 69-70 (Poetry 50-53) . “Securest ease” is an Epicurean leisure free from care, apprehension or anxiety (OED, “secure,” A.I.1).
Milton’s description of the pleasures deriving from wholesome thirst and appetite is thus compatible with seventeenth-century Epicureanism, but his depiction of Adam and Eve’s enjoyment of rest after labor pointedly revives the Xenophonic Socrates and the Stoic understanding of true pleasure as based upon virtuous labor, in opposition to the Epicurean celebration of otium. In Paradise Regained, Milton’s Jesus scornfully dismisses the Epicurean view of happiness as residing in “corporal pleasure . . . and carelesse ease” (4.299). The phrase “carelesse ease” suggests that the ataraxia or tranquility sought by the Epicurean, an ease without care or worry, is also “careless” in the sense of “heedless” or “negligent,” for the lazy Epicureans neglect the God-given duty to labor.10
Milton’s anti-Epicurean celebration of Adam and Eve’s labor is especially pointed because the Epicurean quest for unbroken ease was traditionally associated with living a retired life in a garden. Epicurus rejected public life in order to live and teach in his garden, which continued as the Epicureans’ home and school after his death (Diogenes Laertius 10.17); Pliny the Elder, who called Epicurus the “teacher of ease” (“ot magister”), also claimed Epicurus was the first Athenian to live in a garden (Natural History 19.19.51). Renaissance authors often associated gardens with Epicureanism, and seventeenth-century English Epicureans followed this venerable tradition. In Epicurus’s Morals, Charleton celebrated his own garden of contented repose; Abraham Cowley’s essay and poem “The Garden” (1668), addressed to his fellow-Epicurean John Evelyn, a translator of Lucretius, celebrates retired ease and commends Epicurus for seeking “in a Gardens shade . . . Sovereign Pleasure.”11
By imagining a Xenophonic rather than an Epicurean garden, Milton rejects both the aristocratic and anti-civic implications of Epicurean idleness. Epicurean retirement commended itself to English gentlemen who despised labor and sought a retreat from civic life, especially in the aftermath of the English civil wars and Interregnum. Taking up a Ciceronian theme, 12 in his political prose Milton celebrates labor as a primary civic virtue, essential to preserving the liberty of the republic.13 In his History of Britain, Milton charts the disastrous consequences of Englishmen’s shirking “the labour, to use and maintain true libertie”; in the Second Defense, Milton argues that the English republic’s success depended upon the people’s continuing “virtue, industry, and endurance of toil” and warns of the domination that befalls “slothful” nations; and in his Readie & Easie Way, written on the eve of the Restoration, Milton declares that only “sluggards” could desire to live under a monarch, since virtuous republicans found God, their “own counsels,” and their “own active vertue and industrie” sufficient for their well-being (Complete Prose 5:131, 4:681, 7:362). In his Interregnum sonnets, Milton suggests the pleasures attendant upon republican labor. He counters the Epicurean ideal of unbroken ease by celebrating both the “task” of defending liberty (“Fairfax, whose name . . . ,” line 9; “Cyriack, this three years’ day . line 11) and the joys of letting oneself “rest” and “pause” for a “cheerful hour” (“Cyriack, whose grandsire . . . ,” lines 7,14). For Milton during the Restoration, the Epicureans’ “careless ease” no doubt seemed a philosophical rationalization of the sloth that sustained tyranny. Paradise Lost’s depiction of the “slothful” (2.117) rebel angel Belial obliquely suggests Epicureanism’s servile political implications: out of an Epicurean desire to avoid further pain or even to attain a life wholly “void of pain” (2.165-86, 215-19), Belial advises “ignoble ease and peaceful sloth” (2.227) rather than resistance to a power he wrongly considers tyrannical (God). Unfallen Adam and Eve, by contrast, regulate themselves through “daily work of body or mind” in all matters besides what they initially and rightly accept as God’s “one easy prohibition” (4.433). With their “sweet” gardening and consequently sweeter rest, they obliquely evoke, in contrast to the slothful and servile Belial, the virtuous labors and attendant pleasures of republicanism.
Milton places his depiction of Adam and Eve’s virtuous labor and restraint as the intensifiers of pleasure within the framework of cosmic history. By sustaining or not sustaining pleasurable restraint, Adam and Eve can either ascend to even greater pleasures or fall into “all our woe” (1.3). Their patient arousal and fulfillment of lawful appetites provides the norm against which to judge their later joint “excess” (11.111) of disobedience-first Eve’s boldly plucking the forbidden fruit with a “rash hand” (9.780), gorging herself on it “without restraint” (9.791) till she is “satiate” (9.792), and then Adam’s “Eating his fill” without “thought” of consequences (9.1004-05). Every unfallen meal is for unfallen Adam and Eve a reminder of both the pleasures and necessity of moderation.
The description of Adam, Eve, and Raphael’s eating and drinking enough to have “sufficed, / Not burdened nature” (5.451-52) resembles Erasmus’s Christian Epicurean, who with temperate pleasure rises from his meal “not stuffed, but remade, not burdened, but refreshed” (“non distentus, sed recreatus, non onustus, sed refectus,” Colloquia 731). Raphael suggests an ultimate reward to Adam and Eve for continuing such pleasurable moderation: describing proper human eating and drinking as spiritual (or rather spiritualizing) acts that turn “corporeal to incorporeal” (5.413), Raphael announces that Adam and Eve’s “bodies may at last turn all to spirit, / Improved by tract of time, and winged ascend / Ethereal” (5.497-99). Such an ascent in the great food chain of being depends upon their self-restraint and patient trust in God’s long-term cosmic plan (the “tract of time”) .14
Even as he promises the ultimate dissolving of distinctions between earthly and heavenly, Raphael’s description of the angels’ meals suggests a temporary but crucial difference between earthly and heavenly repasts: “They eat, they drink, and in communion sweet / Quaff immortality and joy, secure / Of surfeit where full measure only bounds / Excess, before the all bounteous king, who showered / With copious hand, rejoicing in their joy” (5. 637-41). The angels are “secure”-both safe from and legitimately without care concerning “surfeit” or “excess”-because their only limit is “full measure”; God’s “bounds” are as “bounteous” as he is. Milton here adapts the Old Testament image of the feast of the righteous and its New Testament counterpart, the heavenly banquet: the righteous man is “abundantly satisfied” with God-given food and drink (Psalm 36:8) and “eateth to the satisfying of his soul” (Proverbs 13:25); fed by God, the blessed who “hunger and thirst after righteousness. . . shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6) and “shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more” (Revelation 7:16; cf. Isaiah 49:10). Classicizing Renaissance commentators associated this heavenly banquet with a perfect fullness that, like the Aristotelian mean, avoided both the excess of satiety and the deficiency of unfulfillment.’5 Milton similarly combines the Judaeo-Christian image of perfect abundance with a classical emphasis on the avoidance of excess.
But the angels’ “secure” state at the heavenly banquet-safe and therefore as without care as the Epicurean’s earthly life-is not yet fully shared by Adam and Eve.16 On earth, human discipline must labor to attain full measure without the excess that is so close to that fullness. Adam gratefully notes both how “fully” Raphael’s discourse has “satisfied” him (8.180) and his wish to continue the conversation. He contrasts Raphael’s discourse with fruits “pleasantest to thirst / And hunger”; while the latter “satiate, and soon fill, / Though pleasant,” Raphael’s “words with grace divine / Imbued, bring to thy sweetness no satiety” (8.212-216). Raphael’s words, which make Adam “seem in heaven” (8.210), resemble the angels’ heavenly feast, providing full satisfaction without ever risking “satiety.” In regard to human eating, by contrast, “satiate” and its cognate “satiety” slide from the positive sense of “being filled” or fully gratified to the negative sense of “glutted” (OED I and 2), a sense later applied to the fallen Eve. There is a risk of satiety’s infecting the “sweetness” of even the most virtuous and pleasant human eating, that associated with properly delayed gratification. The slippage allows unfallen Adam to seem to have both experienced and not experienced unpleasant satiety, and thus to be simultaneously innocent and experienced in his selfrestraint. 17
Yet if Milton emphasizes the risk of satiety even in Eden, he also envisages unfallen Adam and Eve avoiding it in a manner that captures some of the joyful abundance of the heavenly banquet, through the hedonistic pursuit of variety. Paradise Lost lovingly depicts the pleasure inherent in both divine and human variety. God ordained the “grateful vicissitude” of day and night (6.8), filled an Eden “of various view” (4.247) with “delicious fruit / So various” (4.422-23), “varied” Edenic “bounty . . . with new delights” (5.431). Adam and Eve’s alternations between labor and appetite, on the one hand, and rest and refreshment, on the other, are not their only means of showing their attunement to variety as a Godgiven delight. Adam and Eve also cultivate and intensify their moderate pleasures by varying their daily activities and thus avoiding satiety: they celebrate God and his varied creation with appropriately “various style / . . . / Unmeditated” (5.146,149), and Eve carefully prepares the moderate repast that “sufficed, / Not burdened nature” (5.451-52) as a meal of great and varied “delicacy” in which “Taste after taste [is] upheld with kindliest change” (5.333, 336). Milton’s epic likewise exemplifies as well as depicts the avoidance of satiety through variety, for Adam and Eve’s cultivation of stylistic variety links them to the poet whose own “answerable style / . . . / unpremeditated” (9.20, 24) depends upon the pleasing generic and rhetorical variety so often identified by Renaissance critics as the distinguishing character of epic, the most inclusive of genres.”
Milton’s celebration of variety diverges sharply from the austerity of both Stoic and Epicurean conceptions of temperate pleasure derived from restraint, which were coupled with a deep suspicion of variety as promoting excess. Eve’s culinary practice of “Taste after taste upheld with kindliest change” (5.336) encapsulates most clearly Milton’s divergence from these classical ethical systems. Seneca, who identifies a varied assortment of pleasures (“varias voluptates”) with “extravagance” (“luxuria”) (Epistulae morales 69.4; cf. De beneficiis 4.5.1), claims that to eat varied dishes corrupts rather than nourishes (Epistulae morales 2.4; cf. 108.18). Epicurus warns against seeking variety in bodily pleasures such as eating (Diogenes Laertius 10:149), while the seventeenth-century Epicurean Charleton similarly condemns “variety of Dishes” as the “Variation of Imaginary [i.e., not stable or authentic] Pleasures” (49).
But Milton’s celebration of the pleasure of variety does draw upon rival ancient traditions: rhetorical, poetic, and symposiastic theory. These discourses, which were more open to the valorization of pleasure than was ethical theory, associated variety with moderation in inconsistent but often mutually reinforcing ways: sometimes they treated variety as itself a form of moderation by which one avoided the unnatural excess of satiety, sometimes as a healthy challenge to the temperate person to exercise restraint amidst variety’s pleasures, and often as both. Milton’s God, Adam, and Eve all seem to share the view expressed by Aristotle in his Rhetoric: change is natural and pleasant, perpetual sameness an unnatural and unpleasant excess (hyperbole) (1.11.20). In a discussion that decisively shaped Renaissance conceptions of epic variety, Aristotle’s Poetics notes that epic’s narrative variety avoids satiating (pleroun) its audience with excessive sameness (to homoion) (24.7). In De oratore 3.25.98-100, Cicero notes that “excessive pleasure” (“nimia volupta[s]”) causes satiety, and therefore poems and speeches, like foods, must not be sweet “without variety” (“sine varietate”) .
Paradise Lost’s celebration of both culinary and rhetorical variety recalls in particular the praise of variety in the late classical symposiastic works with which Milton was familiar-Plutarch’s Table Talk, Athenaeus’s Deipnosophistae, and Macrobius’s Saturnales.19 Exemplifying the pleasures of discursive variety in their own encyclopedic, miscellaneous structures, these texts pretend to record the pleasantly diverse topics of conversation at symposia or drinking parties. They imply Cicero’s analogy between rhetorical and culinary variety while explicitly associating variety both with the avoidance of unnatural and unpleasant satiety and with an abundance that the temperate man can restrain through reason. In his Table Talk (1.4), Plutarch argues (to quote Philemon Holland’s Jacobean translation) that since “varietie” is natural and “very pleasing,” the competent symposiarch (head of a drinking-party) must know how (like Plutarch the author!) to mix serious and playful conversation and entertainment. By cultivating such variety, the symposiarch reveals himself “well tempered” for both “serious occasions” and “delights,” and able to adhere to “a meane or mediocrity” between excessive seriousness and frivolity (Philosophie 650-51). Later in Table Talk (4.1), Plutarch defends culinary variety as pleasurable and healthy as long as the diner refrains from excess. Macrobius similarly presents his dinner conversations in Saturnalia as a compendium of “various things” that responds to our natural liking for variety (“variarum rerum,” “variasque res,” 1.1.1-3). Following Plutarch, he provides a vigorous defense of variation in dining as pleasurable, natural because essential for the cultivation of healthy appetite, and fully consistent with temperance: a person who is “master of himself” (“sui potens”) can maintain his “moderation” (“modum”) even amidst the most pleasantly varied meal (7.5.24) .
Athenaeus and Macrobius hint at a parallel between their own generic espousal of variety and classical epic by finding the norms of healthy variety exemplified especially in epic poetry. Athenaeus argues that Homer’s depictions of heroic meals exemplify both how simplicity and moderation are necessary with respect to eating and drinking (1.15-17) and how a “complete banquet” (pandaisi[nJ)-that is, to cite the Jacobean humanist Isaac Casaubon’s gloss, a banquet with “all manner of food” (“omni ciborum genere”)-nourishes rather than “burdens” (barounta) the soul (5.1).20 In the passage most responsible for the Renaissance view of epic as an encyclopedic imitation of nature, Macrobius praises the stylistic variety of Virgil as analogous to nature’s variety (5.1.18-19). Macrobius reveals the perceived connection between such abundance and moderation in the sense of avoiding unpleasing excess by claiming that through mixing of various styles Virgil avoids all distasteful extremes, attaining “brevity without abruptness, floridity without extravagance, dryness without meagreness, richness without luxuriance.”21
Milton in turn suggests his own sense of the parallel between the two encyclopedic forms of epic and symposiastic writing by placing at the center of his epic four books (5-8), whose descriptions of a varied meal succeeded by wide-ranging post-prandial conversation encompassing dietetics, cosmic war, divine creation, astronomy, and human love recall these late classical symposiastic texts’s celebration and exemplification of variety.22 Like Plutarch, Athenaeus, and Macrobius, Milton suggests that pleasurable variety is compatible with rational restraint: as Edenic hosts and angelic guest dine temperately on Eve’s pleasantly varied meal, Raphael punctuates his delightfully wide-ranging discourse with the warning that “Knowledge is as food, and needs no less / Her temperance over appetite” (7.126-27), and Adam agrees that one must not let the “mind or fancy . . . rove / Unchecked” (8.188-89) .
Later, as if to temper his own epic celebration of Eden’s healthy and pleasurable variety, Milton provides a kind of palinode when he has Michael describe to Adam a post-lapsarian culinary restraint more austere than that enjoyed by the unfallen pair: “The rule of not too much, by temperance taught, / In what thou eat’st and drink’st, seeking from thence / Due nourishment, not gluttonous delight” (11.531-33). Contrasting the strict standard of “due nourishment” with “gluttonous delight,” Michael leaves unclear just how much room remains in the post-lapsarian world, outside the epic heterocosm of Paradise Lost’s paradise, for the healthy, temperate delight of Edenic variety, that paradoxically exuberant form of restraint.
Yet the associations of pleasure with both variety and restraint are also central to Milton’s conception of the erotic bond between unfallen Adam and Eve. While libertines like the John Donne of “The Indifferent” equated “love’s sweetest part, variety” (line 20) with promiscuity,23 Milton locates pleasurable variety within the marriage bond between Adam and the wife he calls his “ever new delight” (5.19). Milton’s first description of Eve links the couple’s erotic pleasure with their virtuous restraint:
She as a veil down to the slender waist Her unadorned golden tresses wore Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied Subjection, but required with gentle sway, And by her yielded, by him best received, Yielded with coy submission, modest pride, And sweet reluctant amorous delay. (4.304-11 )
In a clear parallel with his treatment of labor and rest, appetite and fulfillment, Milton suggests the pleasures that arise from “coy”-i.e., shy, reserved-“submission” and “sweet reluctant amorous delay.” As William Kerrigan and Gordon Braden have noted, Milton here draws upon the longstanding Roman and seventeenth-century English Cavalier poetic advocacy of restraint for the intensification of erotic pleasure. Milton diverges from his poetic predecessors, however, in giving genuine ethical weight to the concept of amorous delay.24
With mischievous abandon Ovid and his Roman and English poetic disciples applied the notion of pleasurable restraint that we have seen in the classical ethical tradition to extramarital erotic pleasures, pleasures that were by both conventional Roman and early modern ethical standards necessarily intemperate. Fowler (632) compares Milton’s “sweet reluctant amorous delay” to a passage from Ovid’s Art of Love “the pleasure of love must not be hastened, / But instead gradually lured on by slow delay” (2.717-18, translation mine). Like Ovid, Martial emphasizes the erotic pleasure of delay by asking that a mistress “refuse” (“nega”) but not “too long” (“nimium . . . diu,” 4.38) and “refuse” (“negare”) but not “refuse for ever” (“pernegare,” 4.81). English Cavalier poets embraced this theme of a mistress’s enticing delay. In “A complaint against Cupid . . . ,” Thomas Randolph asks for a mistress who is “coy, / Not easily wonne, though to be wonne in time” (80, lines 150-51). In “A Song of Dalliance”-a call for “dalliance” in the sense of both “flirtation” and “idle [but enticing] delay” ( OED, “dalliance,” 2, 4)-William Cartwright advises a mistress to give and withhold favors for the greater pleasure of her lover: “Give a grant, and then forbear it; / Offer something, and forswear it” (467-68) .
From Ovid onwards, poets cheekily linked this celebration of strategic restraint in love to the ethical norm of moderation and the “golden mean.”25 Ovid’s couplet on delay, complemented by a later warning against delaying too much (2.731-32), is part of the elegiac poet’s overall recommendation that lovers avoid both “excess” and “deficiency” in their erotic strategies. He advises a lover to absent himself from his mistress with a “short . . . delay” (“mora . . . brevis,” 2.357, translation mine) in order to increase her desire but not be gone too long lest she become indifferent or unfaithful (2.349-372). He similarly counsels a mistress who wishes to incite her pursuer’s desires to avoid the two extremes of excessively eager granting and overly harsh refusal of favors: “Neither promise yourself easily to him who entreats you, / nor yet deny out of hardness what he asks.”26 Following Ovid, Martial associates the enticing delay-tactics of a mistress with the golden mean: “I dislike one [a mistress] who’s too easy, and one who’s too difficult. / The mean [“medium”] between the two we approve:/ I don’t want what torments me, nor do I seek what cloys.”27 An epigram of Ausonius similarly calls for a mistress who has mastered the “art of a moderate Venus” (“mediae veneris . . . artem”). Ausonius proclaims (to quote Thomas Randolph’s early seventeenth-century version): “Inticements offer’d I despise, / And deny’d I slightly prize. / I would neither glut my mind, / Nor yet too much torment finde./ Twice girt Diana doth not take mee, / Nor Venus naked joyfull make mee.”28
Seventeenth-century Cavalier poets continued this libertine praise of the ideal mistress as one who avoids the unpleasant extremes of excessive compliance and harsh refusal through strategic delay. Ben Jonson introduced-and distanced himself fromthe theme in Poetaster by having the ludicrous singer Hermogen recall both Ovid and Martial in imagining an ideal mistress who was “Neither too easy, nor too hard” so that she would neither “cloy” nor “annoy” (2:148-49, II.ii.152, 168-69). Jonson’s Cavalier disciples wholeheartedly espouse the theme. One of John Suckling’s poems, “To his Rival” (42-43), argues that a mistress’s strategic mixing of denials and grants is necessary to keep amorous fires burning, which die if they “flame too high” or “cannot flame” at all (lines 7-8). Alexander Brome’s “Advice to Caelia” modifies the traditional carpe diem argument against refusal with a complementary argument against giving in too easily, urging a decorous avoidance of extremes: “Be kind but wise, / Doat not, nor proudly use denying / . . . / There is a knack to find loves treasures: / . . . too nice, too free, too slow, destroys your pleasures” (1:109). St. Evremond, a seventeenth-century French exile in England who touted the supposed refinements of aristocratic hedonism to an admiring circle of Restoration courtiers and intellectuals, glossed this libertine poetic tradition when he sententiously observed that both excessive delay and “Hurry” are inconsistent with pleasure because “there’s a certain Nick of Time, a certain Medium to be observ’d” in order to avoid both an “imperfect Enjoyment” and “a Surfeit of Pleasure.”29
Distancing himself from both these Roman and contemporary hedonists, Milton suggests the moral seriousness of the erotics of delay by placing it within the context of Scriptural and Protestant marriage ideology. The special significance of “sweet reluctant amorous delay” for Milton emerges in his stress on a conjugal moderation that is ethical-an expression of virtuous characterrather than merely strategic. The entire passage on Adam and Eve’s “sweet” interactions, while intensely erotic, concerns proper gender relations in general rather than sexual acts in particular.
Eve’s hair, though enticingly wanton, is the “veil” or Pauline covering that “implies” her submission to her husband (1 Corinthians 11:15). Bodies and their interactions are signs of emotional and moral relations, and “coy submission” and “sweet reluctant amorous delay” refer not simply to Eve’s slow yielding of her body but rather her overall “submission” and “subjection” to Adam; as Adam later declares, “all [Eve’s] words and actions, [are] mixed with love / And sweet compliance” (8.602-03).3o “Submission” and “subjection” evoke the repeated key terms for a wife’s relation to her husband “in all things” in the scriptural passages cited in the Book of Common Prayer and constantly invoked in Protestant marriage treatises: “Ye women submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord . let the wives also be in subjection unto their own husbands in all things. . . Let the wife reverence her husband . . . Ye wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is convenient in the Lord. Let wives be subject to their own husbands. “3′ Milton thus suggests that in all their virtuous interactions, the first married couple attain a pleasure as superlatively “sweet” as the physical pleasure celebrated by Ovid and the Cavaliers.
Milton’s depiction of Adam and Eve tries to reconcile two very different models of ideal conjugal relations, one based on gender hierarchy and one based on egalitarian partnership.32 Milton seeks to reconcile the two models by depicting both Adam and Eve bridging the hierarchical gap between them through moderation of their wills and desires in honor of each other. Adam’s “gentle sway” over Eve evokes Protestant doctrine that the husband should rule his wife moderately rather than tyranically.33 According to William Averell a man should “governe” his wife by “mildnesse” and let “authority of wordes . . . be mingled with gentlenesse of speech”; William Gouge likewise notes that a “husbands authority. . . .must be with . . . mildness and moderation tempered.”34 By elsewhere applying the term “gentle” to Adam and Eve as a pairMilton earlier describes the “gentle purpose” (4.337) of the “gentle pair” (4.366), while Satan compares them to “gentle fawns at play” (4.404)-Milton suggests that Adam’s “gentle” behavior toward Eve helps overcome the distance between superior and inferior so that they can be united in “one flesh, one heart, one soul” (8.499).
Unfallen Adam and Eve’s combination of “gentle” hierarchy and communion closely mirrors the paradoxes of the entire cosmic hierarchy in Paradise Lost, which properly functions only when superiors and inferiors are happily united by the spirit of equal fellowship.35 Adam’s gentle sway over his inferior partner Eve is part of the sweet cosmic hierarchy in which Adam’s superior, the angel Raphael, is “gentle” to him (8.648). Throughout the cosmos, inequalities of rank are real but less important than the fundamental equality of free, virtuous creatures. Thus the lower angels rightly show “honour due and reverence” to “superior spirits” (5.737-38), but all unfallen angels know that they have-as the fallen Satan himself ruefully notes-the “same free will” (4.66) and that they share in “God’s free love . . . equally” (4.68). Adam rightly treats Raphael with “submiss approach and reverence meek, / As to a superior nature” (5.359-60), but “gentle” Raphael himself declares that angels regard human beings as “fellow servant[s]” rewarded with God’s “equal love” (8.225, 288).36 Adam’s “gentle” relations toward Eve are similarly based on his recognition that he and his wife, though “Not equal” (4.296) in rank, are equal as virtuous images of God. Their shared daily activities of labor, recreation, and prayer embody their fundamental equality as human beings, which allows Adam to find in Eve that “harmony or true delight” he could not find among the beasts, his “unequals” (8.383-84).
Unlike a term such as “moderate,” “gentle” can be used both of physical and non-physical forces, and the term thus underscores how much Adam and Eve’s bodily interactions convey their moral relations. Adam’s “gentle sway” is literally embodied in later passages in Eve’s experiences (or imaginings) of his “gentle” hand, voice, and facial expressions (4.488, 5.37, 10.919). Eve’s description of Adam’s initial pursuit of her suggests paradoxically that even as he physically overpowered her he won her acquiescence through an underlying physical-and moral-gentleness: “thy gentle hand / Seized mine. I yielded” (4.488-89). In a famous passage hailing “wedded love,” Milton celebrates, but decorously shies away from detailed description of, Adam’s and Eve’s “rites / Mysterious of connubial love” (4.736-75). The poet frames Book 4’s celebration of wedded love, however, with sensuous cosmic analogies to Adam’s conjugal rites that together hint how Adam remains “gentle” amidst his forceful lovemaking: in Book 3 a phallic sun “gently” warms the female earth and “With gentle penetration . . . / Shoots invisible virtue” (3.583-86), while in Book 5 the “mounted sun / Shot down direct his fervid rays to warm / Earth’s inmost womb” (5.300-02).
The fact that Eve’s “subjection” is “required with gentle sway” (emphasis mine) further underscores the gentleness of male authority in Eden. “Required” can mean not only “demanded” but also “requested” and “begged” (OED 2, 4, 5) .s7 The ambiguity suggests that within the ideal hierarchy of Eden, male authority must be responsive to female desire. Adam’s “sway” primarily refers to his “dominion” or “rule” (OED 6); but coming shortly after the description of how Eve’s “wanton ringlets waved,” the word “sway” underscores that Adam’s power is not a matter of rigid command but rather a kind of guiding, balancing counter-sway to his wife’s own swaying movements. The very assonance and rhyme of “waved,” “sway,” and “delay” further links Adam’s “gentle” sway to his wife’s movements.
By claiming that Eve’s hair “implies”-but does not dictatewhat her entire relationship to Adam should be, Milton suggests her freedom to act (or not act) as her nature dictates she should. With her “modest pride” Eve is, like Adam, a self-moderating being who tempers her sense of self-worth (“pride”) with humility vis-a-vis her superior spouse (“modest”). While stressing her “subjection” to her husband, Protestant marriage theorists nevertheless contrasted a wife’s proper role as fit “helpmate” with that of a mere servant or slave. John Dod and Robert Cleaver proclaim a wife “not a slave or servant” but a “companion” (149); Gouge noted a wife should behave and be treated as “yoke-fellow” rather than “maid-servant” (188-89); while even Gouge’s contemporary William Whately, who approved husbands’ beating refractory wives with “gentleness” (!), noted that a husband should not be “too imperious” nor a wife “too servile” (106-07). As the ideal wife, Eve is neither proudly disobedient nor servile. The oxymoronic phrase “modest pride” underscores that Eve possesses the proper tempering of contrary qualities that are traditionally associated with a virtuous mean. “Modest” can mean not only “humble” but also “moderate” (OED 4), a secondary meaning that re-enforces the sense that Eve’s “pride” is not excessive because it is tempered by its opposite.
Eve’s “modest pride” contains the first positive use of a term that heretofore in the epic has denoted the sinful “pride” of Satan (1.36, 1.58, 1.527, 1.572, 1.603, 2.428, 4.40). Both the echo and the paradoxical adjective implicitly contrast Eve’s virtuous because moderate self-regard, which is based on accepting her rightful place in the divine hierarchy, with the pride of Satan, which leads him to rebel against that hierarchy. While Satan’s pride is evident in his vow “never to submit or yield” (1.108) and his “deign[ing] subjection” (4.50), Eve’s “modest pride” is associated with her slow yielding to Adam “in all things.”ss In yielding she distinguishes herself not only from rebellious Satan but also from those fallen women who upset the gender hierarchy by assuming the roles of “proud fair[s]” who forever scorn the entreaties of “starved lover[s]” (4.769-770).
The phrase “modest pride” also recalls the love poetry of Milton’s major English poetic predecessor, Spenser. Milton draws on Spenserian descriptions of the virtuous woman’s proud humility vis-a-vis her two masculine superiors, her husband and God. In Amoretti 6, Spenser defends his beloved’s pride as that virtuous sense of self-worth which causes her to delay assenting to his suit but will also-so the poet is certain-eventuate in true love and conjugal fidelity. In Amoretti 13, Spenser claims his beloved mixes “pride” and “humbleness” in a “goodly temperature,” i.e., a balanced, tempered mean that attests to her proper sense of worth; she is proud because she knows that as an image of God she to “heaven may clime” (line 10), but she is humble because she remembers her “mortalitie” (line 7). In the Epithalamion, Spenser celebrates his bride’s awaiting him with the “proud humility” (line 306) of a self-consciously worthy but deferential helpmate (Poems 604, 608, 674) . Milton’s Eve is also both properly proud as a virtuous human being and appropriately modest as a helpmate who acknowledges Adam “her guide / And head” (4.442-43). Eve’s “sweet . . delay” is thus not simply a coy tactic for increasing erotic pleasure, but an expression of her properly calibrated sense of selfworth. It is the sign that Eve, like the virtuous angels who “freely . . . serve” God because they “freely love” (5.538-39) him, chooses to “yield” herself to Adam.
Adam interprets Eve’s initial reaction to him in terms of the “modest pride” that the narrator describes as her proper attitude toward Adam:
. . . though divinely brought, Yet innocence and virgin modesty, Her virtue and the conscience of her worth, That would be wooed, and not unsought be won, Not obvious, not obtrusive, but retired, The more desirable, or to say all, Nature herself, though pure of sinful thought, Wrought in her so, that seeing me, she turned; I followed her, she what was honor knew, And with obsequious majesty approved My pleaded reason. To the nuptial bower I led her blushing like the morn. . . (8.500-11)
As many critics have noted, this passage ascribes to Eve psychological reactions to Adam’s wooing very different from those Eve ascribes to herself when describing the same event (4.478-80). They cannot be read, therefore, as the final truth about Adam’s first encounter with Eve. With its clear parallels to the narrator’s own description of Eve’s “modest pride” as a wife, Adam’s account of Eve’s first responses to him appears as a heavily retrospective interpretation in which he endows her from the first with the “modest pride” that as a wife she has come to evince toward Adam. His account thus registers as both an inaccurate remembrance of the past, a problem to which I will return, and a sincere account of Eve’s current state. Eve’s “virtue” and the “conscience of her worth” once more recall but significantly differ from Satan, who “With monarchal pride / Conscious of highest worth” (2.428-29) leads the rebel angels. The self-respect of Eve, whose proper mingling of a sense of “worth” (high but not highest!) and “modesty” causes her to delay but not deny her yielding, is once more measured against the excessive pride of Satan, who falsely believes in his “highest worth” and therefore refuses ever to submit to his superior.39
As I have already mentioned, Adam’s claim that Eve’s reluctance reveals her desire to be “wooed” and renders her the “more desirable” to him recalls the Roman and Cavalier poets, who often discuss how male desire is increased by feminine withholding. Unlike these poets, however, Adam avoids reducing female worth to the coy pleasure women give men: by suggesting that Eve’s “modesty” and her own “conscience of her worth” cause her to behave in the more desirable way, Adam clearly distinguishes elusive causes and their evident effect: Eve’s worth and self-consciousness, on the one hand, and her enticing desirability to him, on the other.
Adam’s confused syntax registers his bewildered admiration for his wife, but “Virgin modesty / Her virtue and the conscience of her worth” can be read as a kind of inadvertent hendiadys, reinforcing the sense that Eve’s “modest pride” is a paradoxical but precise definition of Eve’s feminine self-esteem. “Modesty” was a virtue traditionally regarded as particularly suitable for (passive) females as opposed to (active) males.40 In Paradise Lost, while the more active Adam is “gentle,” only the more passive Eve is described as “modest.” In De doctrina christiana, Milton defines “modesty” (“verecundia”) as “temperance that avoids obscene words and lascivious behavior” (“temperantia a verborum obscoenitate et gestuum lascivia”); he proceeds to exemplify the virtue with the specifically “womanly modesty” (“mulierum verecundia”) of Penelope (Odyssey 1.333) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:15) who hold themselves back from men’s regards (Works 17:220; Complete Prose 6: 726-27 [translation modified]). Virtuous modesty, exemplified in the temperate self-inhibition of women who seek to maintain their honor, is in Milton’s view inseparable from true feminine self-respect or pride. Adam’s memory of the “retired” (8.504) virginal Eve, who initially turned away from her wooing bridegroom, and Eve’s behavior as a hostess who sits “retired in sight” (8.41) when there is company, are instances of such female modest pride. So is Eve the wife’s “reluctant amorous delay.”
While Milton’s insistence on gender inequality qualifies the picture of Adam and Eve as fellow republicans, Milton’s emphasis upon Eve’s proper sense of self-worth as the foundation of her dignity and freedom within the conjugal bond has a republican resonance. Since the Romantics, it has been a commonplace that Milton’s characters are to greater and lesser extents projections of aspects of Milton himself. Despite his reliance on traditional hierarchical gender categories, Milton imbues his portrait of Eve, whose self-respecting subjectivity distinguishes her “coy submission” to Adam from the tactical coyness praised by Ovidian and Cavalier poets, with aspects of his own most cherished notions concerning himself as a free, self-respecting being. Both Satan, who is “conscious of highest worth,” and Eve, with her “conscience of her worth,” recall Milton’s public self-portrait as a stout defender of the Puritan revolution. Milton consoled himself concerning his blindness with both the “conscience” of having lost his eyesight “In liberty’s defense, my noble task” (“To Mr Cyriack Skinner upon his Blindness,” lines 10-11) and the “conscience of my good deeds” (“facti mei conscientiam”) on behalf of English liberty; when attacked by political opponents, he proudly claimed that the good man entrenched himself within “the impregnable consciousness of righteous deeds” (“invictam recte factorum conscientiam,” Works 8:215, 8:271 ) . Milton’s self-descriptions here echo his major republican role model, Cicero, who obsessively consoled himself and his republican allies with the “consciousness of a right purpose” (“conscientiam rectae voluntatis,” Epistulae ad familiares 6.4.2) or “consciousness of highest resolution” (“conscientia optimae mentis,” Brutus 250) and who in his philosophical writings describes the good man as rejoicing in the “consciousness of a life well spent and the memory of many deeds worthily performed” (“conscientia bene actae vitae multorumque bene factorum recordatio,” De senectute 3.9).4′ Milton’s Ciceronian republicanism informs his belief that a consciousness of self-worth was the foundation of virtuous self-governance: in a 1660 plea that his countrymen maintain a free commonwealth, Milton claims that only degraded Englishmen “conscious of . . . unworthiness” would accept the “thraldom of monarchy” (Complete Prose 7:482-83). While the military rebel Satan in some sense purges some of Milton’s proud ambitions concerning the Good Old Cause by projecting them onto a tyrannic figure,42 unfallen Eve provides implicit proof that an unwavering sense of one’s own self-worth, such as Milton possessed even as he wrote Paradise Lost amidst the Restoration, remains the bulwark of proper self-governance and cannot at all be equated with sinful pride.
Milton’s republican self-consciousness seems in one sense much closer, of course, to Satan’s masculinist, heroic sense of self than to Eve’s feminine “modest pride.” With its celebration of the “better fortitude / Of patience and heroic martyrdom” (9.31-32), however, Paradise Lost problematizes even as it deploys the division between active male and passive female virtues; Eve’s retiring “modest pride” indeed recalls and celebrates an aspect of Milton’s longstanding sense (or idealization) of himself that emerged in his earliest years as a public figure.
Recent criticism has explored Milton’s intense identification with female figures. In Comus, Milton expresses his own deep attachment to sexual purity in the figure of the Lady.43 In his prose writings, Milton synthesizes from diverse classical views a highly original notion of self-restraint based on self-respect that is strikingly “feminine” by the norms of early modern gender ideology and that strongly prefigures the portrait of retired Eve with her “modest pride.” In his An Apology for Smectymnuus (1642), Milton attacks the conventional sexual double standard by arguing that both men and women must obey the strictest laws of chastity. Declaring his own adherence to the strictest notions of chaste love, Milton describes how he was restrained from defiling himself with prostitutes and even “lesse incontinencies” by “a certaine niceness of nature, an honest haughtinesse, and self-esteem either of what I was, or what I might be, (which let envie call pride), and . . . modesty” and “a certain reserv’dnesse” (Complete Prose 1:890, 892). Given the frequent association of “honest” in seventeenth-century England with the humble, unostentatious virtues of the good but not (socially) great,44 “honest haughtiness” is a quasi-oxymoron that prefigures Eve’s “modest pride.” Moreover, with his striking association of a “self-esteem” that could be mistaken for “pride” with sexual “modesty” and reserve, Milton portrays a feminine sense of self that prefigures the virtuously “retired” Eve in Paradise Lost.
The autobiographical passage in the Apology recalls a passage from another pamphlet written earlier the same year, The Reason of Church-Government (1642), that further reveals Milton’s longstanding investment in the notion of a retiring self-esteem. After noting the classical belief that “shame, or to call it better, the reverence of our elders, our brethren, and friends,” was “the greatest incitement to vertuous deeds and the greatest dissuasion from unworthy attempts,” Milton describes
a more ingenuous and noble degree of honest shame, or call it if you will an esteem, whereby men bear an inward reverence toward their own persons…. this pious and just honoring of our selves . . . may be thought as the radical moisture and fountain head, whence every laudable and worthy enterprise issues forth. And although I have giv’n it the name of a liquid thing, yet it is not incontinent to bound it self, as humid things are, but hath in it a most restraining and powerfull abstinence to start back, and glob it self upward from the mixture of any ungenerous and unbeseeming motion, or any soile wherewith it may peril to stain it self . . . he that holds himself in reverence and due esteem, both for the dignity of Gods image upon him, and for the price of his redemption . . . accounts himselfe . . . a fit person to do the noblest and godliest deeds, and much better worth than to deject and defile [himself] . . . with sin . . . he dreads and would blush at the reflection of his own severe and modest eye upon himselfe, if it should see him doing or imagining that which is sinful though in the deepest secrecy. (Complete Prose 1:840-2)
Prefiguring Eve’s “modest pride,” Milton imagines the virtuous man mixing “shame” and “modest[y],” on the one hand, and “[self-]esteem” and “[self-]reverence” or legimitate pride, on the other. Despite the third-person formulation, the deeply personal tone of the passage supports Arthur E. Barker’s claim (36) that Milton’s arguments are very largely the expression of his own selfesteem. With his denial that honest shame is a “liquid thing. . . incontinent to bound it self” and his reference to such shame’s preventing sins even “in the deepest secrecy,” Milton seems to associate (perhaps unconsciously) self-esteem with (his own) successful resistance to the temptation to masturbate. The passage thus suggests once more Milton’s fervent investment in chastity and his related unwillingness to celebrate a traditional, unequivocally active sense of “male” virtue: while he declares self-esteem a source of heroic action, his emphasis and figural flourishes fall upon self-esteem as a source of self-restraint.
Reason of Church-Government argues that self-esteem is essential for empowering the Christian laity to reclaim their religious rights and responsibilities from a “usurping Clergy” (Complete Prose 1:843). Milton’s position is anomalous. Despite the pamphlet’s explicit support for a Presbyterian system of church government, Milton’s commitment to the virtuous, self-esteeming layperson has more radical implications that will ultimately lead to his belief that a true Church can consist of one Christian.45 His idiosyncratic focus on self-esteem reveals, furthermore, his deep non-Calvinist commitment to human merit long before his explicit rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of grace in De doctrina christiana. 46 Milton may have invented the English term “self-esteem” as a positive alternative to such negative early modern terms as self-love and selfregard; his usage predates the first OED citation of “self-esteem” in a (Catholic!) meditational work of 1657. While some critics have sought to derive Milton’s conception of self-respect from within the Protestant tradition, Milton’s treatments of “self-esteem,” “honest shame,” and “inward reverence” in fact owe more to classical philosophy than to Protestantism.47 In particular Milton derives his position from synthesizing various classical treatments of the complexly resonant Greek words aidos (respect for the feelings or opinions of others or one’s self, hence shame, modesty, reverence, self-respect) and aischune (sense of shame or honor); their counterparts in Roman ethical discourse, “verecundia” (modesty, reverence) and “pudor” (shame, self-respect); and their various cognates.48 Milton’s move from shame before others to a higher form of internalized shame is based on an idiosyncratic mingling of Presocratic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and Neoplatonic themes into a unique amalgam.49
Milton begins his discussion of self-esteem in Reason of ChurchGovernment by noting the inadequacy of a traditional notion of masculine, outer-directed heroic virtue based on the quest for honor or fame. He cites Hector’s refusal to retreat from battle because he feels ashamed (aideomai) of what the Trojans would say (Iliad 22.105) as ethically inferior to the highest form of shame, “inward reverence.” Here Milton draws upon famous criticisms of Hector by post-Homeric classical authors. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 3.8.2-3 distinguishes Hector’s feeling as civic courage rather than true courage because it is based on a “sense of shame” (di aidos); “shame” (aidos) is for Aristotle an emotion, a fear of others’ opinions, rather than a virtuous disposition, which pursues the “noble” for its own sake (2.7.14, 4.9). The Roman Stoic satirist Persius begins his programmatic first satire by rejecting Hector’s concern for the Trojans’ opinions (lines 4-5) on the grounds that one must “look to no one outside yourself” (“nec te quaesiveris extra,” line 7) for evaluating one’s actions. Milton had cited Persius’s jab at Hector to signify his own nonchalance regarding his audience’s opinions in his First Cambridge Prolusion of 1624 (Complete Prose 1:219-20) .
While Aristotle himself does not distinguish between different kinds of aidos, Milton’s move from fearing others’ opinions to an internalized sense of shame follows the recommendations of several other ancient philosophers-Presocratics, Peripatetics (who deviate from Aristotle in this regard), Stoics, and Neoplatonists. The doxographer Joannes Stobaeus’s Apophthegmata or Sententiae, a late classical collection of philosophical sayings that Milton uses elsewhere in his prose of the 1640s and 1650s (Complete Prose 2:399, 4:438), contains several relevant aphorisms in the chapter “Peri aidous,” translated into Latin in the Renaissance by Conrad Gesner as “De Verecundia et Pudore.” The Presocratic philosopher Democritus bids one “learn to reverence or feel shame before [aischunestha] yourself much more than other people”; Aristotle’s pupil Theophrastus exhorts one to have “reverence for [aidous ] one’s self”; and the Stoic Musonius Rufus, teacher of Epictetus, claims that “you will be worthy of the respect of all if you first begin to reverence [aideisthai] yourself.” In another chapter on proper governance and self-governance that was especially relevant to Milton’s concerns when writing The Reason of Church-Government, Stobaeus quotes Democritus’s claim that “one should not reverence [aideisthai] other people to any greater extent than one does oneself.”50
The Stoics in particular stressed the necessity of self-respect, and Milton’s claim that the man of true self-esteem would “blush” at his own “reflection” were he to do evil even in “deepest secrecy” recalls various Stoic treatments of virtuous aidos. Epictetus often refers to aidos in the sense of self-respect as the central virtue. He writes that the wise few, who feel proper shame or self-respect [aido] “cherish no mean or ignoble thoughts about themselves” (Discourses 1.3.4). Treating blushes not as mere signs of shame before others but as outward manifestations of inward aidos, Epictetus claims that the uniquely human disposition to blush shows that humans know what is shameful and are self-respecting or aidemones (Discourses 3.7.27). In his Stoicizing treatise De legibus (1.18.50), Cicero similarly argues that virtuous blushing stems from inner modesty (“verecundia”) and self-respect (“pudor”) rather than from a concern with one’s external reputation. Seneca treats true self-esteem as an internalization of the aidos one feels before others. Seneca’s Epistulae morales 11 begins by commending blushes as the sign of a young man’s modesty (“verecundia[m]”) in public. Exploiting the etymological connection between “verecundia” and “vereor” (“to revere”), Seneca ends by advising that one internalize such modesty by imagining oneself continually observed by a virtuous man whom one “reveres” (“vereatur”). By imagining this moral witness, one will become “worthy of reverence” (“verendus”) one’s self, even in the “secret place” (“secretum”) of one’s soul (Epistulae morales 11.1, 9-10, Loeb translation modified). In a later epistle, after noting that a person with the shame (“pudor”) to blush at his own wrong-doing is capable of moral improvement, he argues that one must at first live as if one were constantly watched by a virtuous man before whom one would be ashamed to commit wrong; only when one has truly learned (i.e., internalized) “reverence for yourself” (“tui reverentia”) can one dismiss such an imaginary witness in order to become the witness of one’s self (Epistulae 25.2, 5-6). Milton’s trope of blushing at one’s own self-reflection synthesizes Epictetus’s and Cicero’s conception of the blush as arising from self-respect with Seneca’s notion of the self-respecting person as witness of himself.
The well-known pseudo-Pythagorean Carmen Auream and its fifth-century A.D. commentary by the Neoplatonist Hierocles were published in Greek with a Latin translation in the late sixteenth century and reprinted as well as translated into English in the midseventeenth century. These works similarly recommend such an internalized sense of shame as a guard against evil. 5′ After calling for chastity and sobriety, pseudo-Pythagoras bids the reader, “In front of others or oneself do not do anything shameful; and above all else feel ashamed before or reverence one’s self [aischuneo sauton].”52 Hierocles’s gloss notes that “self-shame” or “self-esteem” (heautou aidos), or what John Hall renders as “reverence to a mans selfe,” produces “a hatred of base things” (Commentarius 80, Golden Verses 48). Milton cites the 1654 edition of Hierocles’s commentary in his marginalia on Euripides (Works 18: 305, 307); given his early fascination with the life and teaching of the austere “Samian master” (as Milton called Pythagoras in his 1629 “Elegia Sexta”), however, it is likely that Milton was familiar with the earlier edition of the famous poem and commentary when he wrote Reason of Church-Government in the mid-1640s. Milton’s claim that those who properly esteem themselves avoid “any soile” and cannot “deject and defile” themselves with sin suggestively resembles a passage from Marsilio Ficino based on the Pythagorean verses and commentary: Ficino claims that out of “shame and modesty [“pudorem verecundiamque”] we wisely revere [“vereamur”] not only the regard of other men . . . but also the conscience of our own mind, as Pythagoras teaches; the wise man accordingly thinks it a sacrilege to defile [“temerare”] the august majesty of his mind . . . with vile thoughts and earthly filth [“terrenisque sordibus”].” 53 Though Milton might have been familiar with Ficino’s Theologica Platonica, it is more likely that he and Ficino are independently responding in similarly fervent ways to the austere teaching of the Golden Verses.
Syncretizing the classical and the Christian in humanist fashion, Reason of Church-Government relates the notion of “self-esteem” or “self-reverence” to the Scriptural identification of humanity with the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).54 While the Genesis passage was the central prooftext of patristic and Renaissance Christian glorifications of humanity,55 Milton may well have derived the link between proper self-esteem and God’s image from the pagan Hierocles. Just as Milton links shame or esteem to man’s status as an image of God, Hierocles claims (in Hall’s translation) “he that reverences himself, watches over himself, least at anytime he fall into any vice” because he regards whatever “defaces. . . the Divine Image” (homoious theauton) in him as the greatest damage to himself (Commentarius 156-262; Golden Verses 87). Closely following Hierocles, Ficino claims that Pythagoras teaches one to venerate one’s conscience “as the face of God,” “tanquam faciem Dei” (2:275). By also alluding to man’s redemption as a source of proper self-esteem, Milton guards against the suspicion of pelagianism inherent in his heavily classicizing emphasis on self-esteem. For ancient thinkers as for Milton, treating an inward sense of aidos as the central human virtue blurs conventional gendered distinctions between male, active virtues and female, passive ones. The Stoics’ treatment of aidos as the fundamental virtue goes hand-in-hand with arguments that the virtues are the same for men and women. Musonius, who calls aidos the greatest good and claims that both males and females must be trained to feel aidos, argues that men and women possess the same virtues.56 When his student Epictetus claims women are properly honored not for feminine beauty but for being modest and self-respecting (“aidemones,” Encheiridion 40, Loeb translation modified), he assigns the typically female virtue of modesty its Stoic, gender-neutral significance. While St. Paul confines aidos to the purely feminine virtue of modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), the Greek Church father Clement of Alexandria infuses Christian thought with the Stoic’s gender-neutral understanding of aidos as a fundamental human virtue. In his Paedagogus, a work Milton cites approbatively in his commonplace book (Complete Prose Works 1:392), Clement declares that men and women are endowed with the same “church, temperance, and self-respect [aidos]” (Book 1, chapter 4 ).57 The simultaneous appeal to, and blurring of, gender distinctions appears in the treatment of Eve’s modesty in Paradise Lost. For the Stoics, as we have seen, blushes are the outward signs of the human capacity for internalized aidos. When Eve slowly proceeds to her nuptial bower knowing the “honour” (8.508) of marriage but “blushing like the morn” (8.511), her blush reveals not only a bashful, modest reaction to Adam’s wooing ministrationsa conventionally feminine response that Adam (and Milton) find charming58-but also her inner sense of the “honest shame” and self-reverence befitting a worthy spouse of either gender. While the description of Eve but not Adam as blushing seems tacitly to confirm conventional gender distinctions, Raphael’s blush as he discusses the genderless lovemaking of angels-“Celestial rosy red, love’s proper hue” (8.619)-suggests that aidos is in fact a characteristic of virtuous creatures more fundamental than gender.
Milton’s early treatments of self-esteem help clarify the temptations and falls of both Eve and Adam in Paradise Lost. Adam and Eve’s gorging upon the forbidden fruit is the originary example as well as cause of the disordered appetite that arises, as Michael tells the fallen Adam, whenever post-Edenic human beings deviate from proper self-reverence as images of God: with “ungoverned appetite” the fallen “pervert pure nature’s healthful rules / To loathsome sickness” because they do not “God’s image . . . reverence in themselves” (I1.517, 523-25).
Yet Milton also deploys classical conceptions of self-esteem to mark the hierarchic differences between the sexes.S9 The problem of proper self-esteem is central to the puzzling discrepancy between Adam’s description to Raphael of Adam’s first encounter with Eve and Eve’s own previous recounting to Adam of their first moments. 60 Eve describes to Adam her Narcissus-like “vain desire” (4.466) for her watery image until she is led away by the divine voice to Adam; her initial turning back to her own image (which she now knows to be her own) because Adam seemed “less fair” (4.478) than that image; and her final acquiescence as Adam’s “gentle hand” (4.488) seizes hers. Recounting the same events, Adam omits all reference to Eve’s preceding absorption in her reflection; explains her initial reticence in terms of her virgin “modest “conscience of her worth,” and desire to be won; and converts his gentle seizure of Eve into “pleaded reason” (8.510).
Adam omits both Eve’s initial “vain desire” (4.466) for her own image and her subsequent turning back partly, one must assume, out of a laudable, charitable regard for his wife. Eve’s account reveals an instinctive, “unexperienced” (4.457) tendency toward sterile self-absorption, a self-regard that Satan’s flattery will pervert at the fall into a sinful desire to be “a goddess. . . adored” (9.547). But Eve recounts her tale to Adam to show how she learned to discipline her own instincts and acknowledge him her “guide / And head.” 61 Collapsing Eve’s original and final states of consciousness, Adam converts Eve’s initial self-absorption and subsequent hesitation into something wholly praiseworthy in order to endow Eve from the beginning with the appropriate moral attitude and consequent behavior-the “modest pride” and “sweet reluctant amorous delay”-she learned by accepting him. Yet by obscuring-to Raphael and perhaps to himself-the role of both the guiding divine voice and his own “gentle” but firm hand in turning Eve away from her “vain desire,” Adam reveals himself too eager to forget that Eve ever was-and therefore could become once more-as autonomous in her desires as a “proud fair” and that his own authoritative intervention was necessary to redirect her desires away from her own image to himself as her proper consort.
While Eve recounts to Adam how she felt an excessive self-regard that needed correction, Adam reveals to Raphael that he himself suffers from deficient self-esteem vis-a-vis Eve. In Adam’s conversations with the angel, Milton implies that proper self-esteem is a kind of mean by having Adam continually invoke the language of deviations from a mean to describe his relation to Eve. Adam’s request for Eve arises from a correct sense that he is ontologically deficient without a partner: revealing his knowledge that it is not good for man to be alone, he characterizes himself with the related terms “deficience,” “defect,” “defective” in his speech requesting a helpmate (8.416, 419, 425).62 God grants and Adam receives Eve as Adam’s “other self” (8.450) and “other half” (4.488) who will complete and complement Adam and make them “one flesh, one heart, one soul” (8.499). Yet as he confesses to Raphael, Adam worries that he and Eve are not complementary parts of one whole (as God has declared) but defective and excessive deviations from virtuous wholeness. He speculates to Raphael that “nature failed in me, and left some part / Not proof enough” (8.53435) against his uxorious passions, or that “from my side subducting, took perhaps / More than enough; at least on her bestowed/ Too much of ornament” (8.536-37). Instead of feeling truly united to Eve, he worries that he is both ontologically and morally deficient and that Eve not only embodies excess but also has increased Adam’s own deficiency. After the fall, Adam’s outburst that Eve is a “fair defect / Of nature” (10.891-92) derived from a crooked rib “supernumerary / To my just number” (10.887-88) revealingly seeks to shift all blame onto Eve by treating her as the very embodiment of both deficiency and excess. The fallen Adam’s misogynistic application of the Aristotelian identification of women as defective males (Generation of Animals 1.20,4.1) ironically represses Adam’s own earliest feelings-articulated so passionately to Raphael-of being an ontologically and morally defective male himself.63
Adam further reveals his sense of deficiency to Raphael by confessing his feeling-which he knows full well to be invalid-that Eve has no need of, and is superior to, him: “So absolute she seems / And in herself complete, so well to know / Her own, that what she wills to do or say, / Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best” (8.547-50). The very oscillation between Adam’s regarding Eve as excessive and as perfect reveals his emotional confusion, and his self-conscious hyperbolizing, complete with the tongue-twisting, extrametrical “virtuousest,” underscores his inability to know quite what to do or say with regard to Eve and his feelings for her. Raphael responds that Adam has (at least temporarily) forgotten the proper gender hierarchy because of his failure to maintain proper self-esteem: Eve, lectures Raphael, is “worthy well / Thy cherishing, thy honoring, and thy love, / Not thy subjection: weigh with her thyself/Then value: Oft-times nothing profits more / Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right / Well-managed; of that skill the more thou know’st, / The more she will acknowledge thee her head / And to realities yield all her shows” (8.56875). By stressing the desirability of Adam’s esteeming himself properly and Eve’s consequently “yielding” more, Raphael reminds Adam that his authoritative guidance of Eve, her “yield[ing]” to him, and their consequent union is a continuous, dynamic activity rather than an achieved state; Eve’s movement from excessive, Narcissus-like absorption in her own image to the realities of conjugal commitment is an ongoing process to which Adam must forcefully contribute as head and guide. When Adam follows fallen Eve into sin, God will charge Adam with having forgotten Raphael’s distinction between authoritative love grounded in proper self-estimation and “subjection” to Eve: “She [Eve] was . . lovely to attract / Thy love, not thy subjection . . . / Unseemly to bear rule, which was thy part / And person, hadst thou known thyself aright” (10.152-53, 155-56).
Raphael’s call for Adam to “weigh,” “value,” and “esteem” both Eve and himself aright so that “shows” can give place to “realities” reveals the classical roots of Milton’s view of self-esteem. Raphael is adopting the Stoic view that our passions are incorrect judgments mired in appearances that can only be countered with rational judgments grounded in reality. Proper self-esteem requires accurate judgments concerning both ourselves and others. Raphael’s language closely echoes Seneca in particular, who equates wisdom and virtue with the ability to “value/esteem” (“aestimare”) or “weigh” (“perpendere”) correctly both the world and one’s self: properly “esteeming the value of each thing” (“aestimans quanto quidque dignum sit”) is the “most profitable” (“maxime utilis”) ethical activity (Epistulae morales 89.14); the wise man “has weighed” all things “with a true estimation” (“vera aestimatione perpendit,” Epistulae 90.34); to lead a proper life, “above all it is necessary for a man to esteem himself correctly” (“Ante omnia necesse est se ipsum aestimare,” De tranquillitate animi, 6.2). In order to “esteem” (“aestimare”) and “weigh” (“perpendere”) both one’s self and others correctly, Seneca notes, one must disregard all external appearances (Epistulae 80.9-10) .64 Milton’s treatment of Eve and Adam as exhibiting the potential for excessive and deficient self-esteem respectively is an example of syncretic classicism. Seneca warns against both insufficient selfrespect (Epistulae 25.6) and estimating one’s own abilities too highly (De tranquillitate animi, 6.2), but he does not explicitly treat proper self-esteem as a virtuous mean poised between two opposite dangers. By contrast, Aristotle in his inconsistent treatment of aidos denies that aidos (as shame before others) is a true virtue while claiming that the man of proper aidos adheres to a virtuous mean between excessive modesty and shamelessness (Nicomachean Ethics 2.7.14; cf. Magna Moralia 1.29). Proper self-esteem forms the psychological core, furthermore, of Aristotle’s virtuous mean of magnanimity: the magnanimous man rightly “esteems himself worthy” ( axion) of much honor, while the vain man deems himself worthy of more than he deserves and the small-souled man deems himself worthy of less than he deserves (Nicomachean Ethics 4.3). Given Aristotle’s own account of virtue as the pursuit of the “noble” for its own sake, his magnanimous man’s concern with external honor rather than simply his internal worthiness creates difficulties for Aristotle and his commentators that Milton avoids by treating inner “self-esteem” itself as a virtuous mean.65
Milton’s discussion of magnanimity in De doctrina christiana as a mean between pride and pusillanimity is indebted to Aristotle (Complete Prose 6:736-37); in other prose works he draws closer to Paradise Lost, figuring self-esteem itself as a virtuous mean by characterizing its opposite as a paradoxical combination of excess and deficiency. In Of Reformation . . . in England ( 1641), Milton contrasts the true Christian’s self-esteem with a “humility” towards God that is really “fleshly pride,” an “arrogant . . . humility” (Complete Prose 1:523-24). In Reason of Church-Government, he contrasts self-esteem with “an unworthy and abject opinion” of one’s self in relation to God that issues in “slavish fear” regarding “holy duties” and “familiar boldness” regarding “unholy doings” (Complete Prose 1:843). Milton’s combination of “slavish fear” and “familiar boldness” recalls the Aristotelian discussions of deviants from the mean of courage as “rash cowards” (thrasudeloi) who exemplify the general rule that vicious men often combine opposite extremes because they lack virtuous self-consistency (Nicomachean Ethics 3.7.9, Eudemian Ethics 3.7.13-14). Milton’s opposition between proper self-esteem and rash cowardice with respect to religious devotion also associates self-esteem with the mean of true religion, situated according to Plutarch’s influential account between the extremes of cowardly superstition and reckless atheism or irreligion.66 In his 1660 call for the maintenance of a “free commonwealth,” Milton claims that monarchy befits “proud people” and that Englishmen will accept monarchy only by “despairing of our own vertue” and thence becoming “conscious of our own unworthiness” to be governed better (Complete Prose 7:482-83). Whereas the Scholastics had adapted Aristotle to Christian concerns by treating pride and despair as the opposite extremes of the mean of Christian hope in salvation,67 Milton the republican, replacing Christian hope in the afterlife with the virtuous self-esteem that could perfect earthly life, treats pride and despair as the collapsed opposites of what is once more implicitly featured as the virtuous mean, proper self-esteem. In Paradise Lost, Satan’s soliloquy renouncing “hope” (4.108) recalls the Scholastic formulation in more traditional fashion: it begins with his recalling the “pride” (4.40) that led him to rebel and ends with bravado that reveals his “despair” (4.115). Without the virtuous mean of hope, Satan vacillates between the two opposite extremes of pride and despair. In the epic’s depiction of Adam and Eve, by contrast, Milton reveals his abiding personal concern with self-esteem as a virtuous mean essential for human dignity and freedom. Splitting the dangers of excess and deficiency along gender lines, he represents the inferior woman as most vulnerable to self-aggrandizement, the superior man to self-debasement. Both tendencies must be disciplined to preserve the ongoing dynamic of Eve’s virtuous and pleasurable yielding to Adam.
Unfallen Adam and Eve display the pleasures of a restraint based on appropriate self-respect not only in their shared tasks, recreations, and lovemaking. Their moments of separation and return come to partake of the same joy and further reveal how Milton grounds the pleasures of “sweet . . . delay” in proper selfesteem. The couple’s first meeting features Eve’s separation from and return to Adam, and Eve’s decision to return to Adam instead of her watery image becomes the basis of their later joy in separations that they now both know will end in harmonious returns. While Adam and Eve learn the pleasure of delay in such virtuous separations and returns, they eventually destroy their unfallen relationship by forgetting such pleasures.
The first two separations of the wedded pair emphasize the value of Eve’s separate, feminine sphere of action: Eve first goes off to prepare a wonderful meal for Raphael and then goes off to tend to the flowers she has named. Her activities, which complement Adam’s role as host to Raphael and his dominion over the animals he has named, suggest that the pair thrives on their partial separations. Both these separations, furthermore, are dedicated to increasing the pleasure of her shared life with Adam. Her preparation of a meal “upheld by kindliest change” is an apt symbol of what she herself brings to Adam. Her departure from Adam when he begins discussing with Raphael “studious thoughts abstruse” (8.40) exemplifies even more clearly the virtuous pleasures of momentary separation:
With lowliness majestic from her seat, And grace that won who saw to wish her stay, Rose, and went forth among her fruits and flowers
. . . they at her coming sprung And touched by her fair tendance gladlier grew. Yet went she not, as not with such discourse Delighted, or not capable her ear Of what was high; such pleasure she reserved, Adam relating, she sole auditress; Her husband the relater she preferred Before the angel, and of him to ask Chose rather; he, she knew, would intermix Grateful digressions, and solve high dispute With conjugal caresses, from his lip Not words alone pleased her. . .
With goddess-like demeanor forth she went. (8.42-59)
Eve’s departure is important not only for the narrative plotAdam must be alone to discuss Eve with Raphael-but also for establishing the relationship between moments of separation and conjugal pleasure. The use of traditional epic ring composition”went forth” answered by “forth she went”-gives the moment epic dignity, and suggests, like “lowliness majestic,” that Eve’s apparently lowly, unimportant act is in another sense high and crucial. Both her “lowly” preference for her husband’s discourse over the angel’s and her tending of her garden in fact evince the kind of virtuous “lowly” wisdom that Adam himself is about to learn from Raphael-“Heaven is for thee too high / To know what passes there; be lowly wise: / Think only what concerns thee and thy being” (8.172-74)-and thus proleptically suggests how far modest Eve falls when she seeks to know higher things. Furthermore, in yet another version of “amorous delay,” both virtuous and pleasant, Eve “reserv[es]” or defers-and thereby increases-her conjugal pleasure. Separation will make reunion all the more sweet: her departure is based on her knowledge that Adam will pleasantly mingle-and thus appropriately “lower”-“high dispute” with “caresses” and kisses. The identification of Adam’s amorous play with “grateful digressions” recalls the frequent Renaissance praise of literary digressions for their pleasant variety.68 Eve’s fostering of “grateful digressions” thus suggests that she is increasing the pleasant variety upon which the unfallen couple’s marriage and Milton’s own aesthetic depend. Since a “digression” is literally a “departure” or “separation,” an implicit pun reinforces Eve’s conception of mutual conjugal play: she digresses from Adam so that Adam will later digress to her.
Book 9 equates Eve’s fall with a separation without return: “Much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve, / Of thy presumed return! Event perverse!” (9.404-05). Though Eve literally returns to Adam (9.850), she does so as a radically different, fallen creature, so that her return is truly perverse, that is, a turning to the opposite (evil) direction. In their fateful argument concerning separation at the beginning of Book 9, Adam and Eve begin the corruption of their relationship that culminates in the fall by each ignoring in different ways the virtuous pleasures of their separations and returns.
Eve argues that Adam and she should work separately because their companionship prevents them from working efficiently. She claims that their “pleasant” God-enjoined “task” of tending the garden is frustrated-and therefore presumably rendered unpleasant-by their inability to subdue Edenic nature, which “grows, / Luxurious by restraint” (9.208-09). The negative connotations of “luxurious by restraint” hint that Eve is forgetting the innocent joys of restraint and delay. For her, all mutual intercourse now merely hinders efficiency:
Looks intervene and smiles, or object new Casual discourse draw on, which intermits Our day’s work brought to little, though begun Early, and the hour of supper comes unearned. (9.222-25)
What “intervene [s]” and “intermits” are the “grateful digressions” between Adam and Eve and the delightful variety of “object[s] new” that undergirds their ever new relationship.
Adam’s reply seeks to remind Eve of how much their relationship depends upon the rhythms of delay:
Yet not so strictly hath our Lord imposed Labor, as to debar us when we need Refreshment, whether food or talk between, Food of the mind, or this sweet intercourse Of looks and smiles, for smiles from reason flow, To brute denied, and are of love the food, Love not the lowest end of human life. For not to irksome toil, but to delight He made us, and delight to reason joined. (9.235-43)
“Talk between” is conversation “between” in two senses: between moments of labor and between Adam and Eve. Adam’s “between” affirms the connection between their interpersonal relationships and Edenic temporality, in which various refreshing pauses from labor-physical replenishment and the analogized replenishment of talk and sweet intercourse-make pleasurable their shared life. Yet in a crucial turn from dissuading Eve from departure to a half-yielding to her plan, Adam reveals his own deviation from a proper understanding of Edenic digressions and returns: But if much converse perhaps Thee satiate, to short absence I could yield. For solitude sometimes is best society, And short retirement urges sweet return. (9.247-50)
Adam’s pithy, sententious claim that “short retirement urges sweet return” extrapolates a general truth from the everyday rhythm of Edenic delay and fulfillment and hopefully recalls the pleasurable pattern of Eve’s departure and return of the day before. At the same time, Adam’s intense anxiety that Eve will not return to him is evident in the repetition of “short” (9.248, 250); this recalls Ovid’s warning that only a “short” (“brevis”) absence from a mistress is “safe” (“tuta,” Art of Love 2.357) lest she become indifferent or unfaithful. Adam’s anxiety stems primarily from his own lack of self-esteem. Adam suggests, gratuitously, that Eve does not really want to labor more efficiently, as she claims, but simply to converse with him less. Perhaps recalling that first Narcissus-moment of self-absorption on Eve’s part that he had earlier repressed, Adam now worries that Eve is bored with him. Even while celebrating their mutual conversation as “Food of the mind,” Adam worries that too much interaction between them might have “satiate[d]” her. Thus he imagines Eve’s intimacy with him as more like corporeal food (which always threatens satiety) than like angelic discourse (which fulfills without ever satiating), as if he were an inferior rather than superior being. With this supposition, Adam has now begun the process, which he continues throughout the conversation, of ironically providing Eve with new motives to leave. With the crucial word “yield,” Adam reverses the pattern whereby Eve is supposed to “yield” to his superior wisdom (4.310, 4.489, 8.575); he cedes more than necessary to Eve because he esteems himself-and fears Eve esteems him-insufficiently.
Instead of emphasizing the joys and advantages of communion, Adam reveals his own intense sense of dependence. Arguing that the pair can withstand dangers better together than alone, Adam claims that “shame, thou looking on, / Shame to be overcome or over-reached / Would utmost vigour raise, and raised unite. / Why shouldst not thou like sense within thee feel / When I am present” (9.312-16). Confessing his need for Eve while worrying whether Eve feels the same need for him, Adam’s professed reliance upon his “shame” vis-a-vis Eve as an incentive to virtuous action suggests that he remains trapped (to use the distinction in Milton’s Reason of Church-Government) in “shame” before others because he lacks the internalized “honest shame” that Milton identifies with selfrespect. Adam’s even weaker argument-that Eve should not risk being tempted by Satan alone because a tempter “asperses / The tempted with dishonour foul” (9.296-97)-reveals a shallow, external view of honor as dependent upon others’ false estimations. Eve’s acute reply that “foul esteem . . . / [Satan’s] foul esteem / Sticks no dishonour on our front” (9.328-30), especially with her repetition of the phrase “foul esteem,” reminds us of Raphael’s Stoic rebuke concerning Adam’s lack of internalized (self-)esteem. The echo suggests that Adam’s lack of self-esteem, first evident in his sense of Eve’s superiority, is behind his perverse equation of human honor with Satan’s foul and false views. Indeed Eve’s rebuke reminds readers that Satan was the only figure in Paradise Lost hitherto for whom shame before others was a central motivation, he who in the war in heaven felt “shame / To find himself not matchless” (6.340-41) and could not submit to God because of “dread of shame / Among the spirits beneath” (4.8283). Thus instead of demonstrating his moral strength to Eve and thereby revealing what she has to gain by willingly staying with him, Adam confesses his weakness and suggests that Eve and he should depend upon shame before others rather than mutual respect grounded on self-esteem. His sending Eve off with a repeated “Go”(9.372-73), despite his strong foreboding that this time she would not return (9.399-400, 843-46), similarly bespeaks his fearful unwillingness to exert his authority-his penultimate failure of self-esteem before his fateful decision to follow Eve into disobedience and mortality.
Yet Milton’s epic holds out the possibility that ordinary fallen men and women can regain some of the joys of Eden by reclaiming the self-restraint and self-esteem of Adam and Eve at their most harmonious. In his classic study of the epic tradition, Thomas M. Greene (404-18) argues that Milton’s focus on interior consciousness rather than the military heroism of traditional epic spells the ending of the epic vision and looks forward to the major genre of the succeeding bourgeois centuries, the novel. While the republican contours of Milton’s vision were largely ignored, his depiction of the virtuous pleasures possible for self-respecting, self-disciplining men and women indeed became part of the domestic ideology of middle-class England. Conduct books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, found in Paradise Lost models of proper courtship (Yeazell 69-70). Greene explains Milton’s break with epic tradition in terms of his Puritanism, but Milton’s use of ancient philosophic motifs is also paradoxically at the heart of his anti-epic, modern focus on the virtuous delights and vicious perils of ordinary, domestic life.
1 For recent studies of Paradise Lost’s relation to classical poetic traditions, see Martindale; Porter; and DuRocher.
2 For discussions of the relationship between Adam and Eve and the tradition of Ovidian erotic poetry, see Kerrigan and Braden 191-218, particularly 200-206; and James 125-26.
3On the scriptural and Protestant contexts for understanding the relationship of Adam and Eve in Eden, see especially Turner.
4 I am indebted to Quint’s discussion of self-esteem in Paradise Lost (283-99). Quint does not treat, however, the classical philosophic contexts that inform Milton’s treatment of the theme.
5 All citations of Milton’s poetry are from the Carey and Fowler edition.
6 See especially Low 310-322.
7 New Arcadia 244. On Sidney’s praise of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and his debt to it in the Arcadia, see Robertson’s introduction to her edition of Sidney, Old Arcadia xxiv-xxv. On Milton’s familiarity with Sidney’s romance, a work which he cited approbatively in his commonplace book years before his (qualified and tactical) dismissal of it in Eikonoklastes as a “vain, amatorious poem” though “in that kind full of worth and wit,” see Complete Prose 1:371-72, 463-64, 3:362-66.
8 Opera Omnia 2:634; Proverbs 23r; Colloquia 731; and The Colloquies 548.
9 On seventeenth-century English Epicureanism, see Jones, chapter 8; Kroll; and Mayo.
10 I have discussed Donne’s similar punning on “careless with reference to Epicureans in “The Medium is the Message,” 488-90.
11 Charleton 50; Cowley 420-428. On Renaissance humanists’ association of gardens with Epicurean retirement, see the note in Surtz, SJ. and Hexter, eds., Utopia 395. Sir William Temple’s The Gardens of Epicurus (1685) continues the association: “Epicurus passed his Life wholly in his garden . . . and indeed, no other sort of abode seems to contribute so much to both the tranquillity of mind and indolence of body which he made his chief ends” (Five Miscellaneous Essays 10).
12 For Ciceronian praise of his own and others’ “labors” on behalf of the republic, see, e.g., In Catalinam 3.1, Pro Sulla 9.26, 11.33; Pro Sestio 68.143; Pro Balbo 22.51.
13 Compare Low 300-03. For a recent discussion of Milton’s Ciceronian republicanism that complements my own, see Dzelzainis.
14 On “delay” and eschatology in Paradise Lost, see Parker, Inescapable Romance, chapter 3.
15 Antonio de Barga, for example, notes the heavenly banquet’s “fullness without satiety” [“satietas sine fastidio”] and “abundance without deficiency” [“abundantia sine defectus”], while Lorenzo Valla claims that “We shall never be satiated” with the heavenly banquet, which “will not permit hunger and thirst to return, but will leave . . . a continuous sweetness” (“Hic non saturabit umquam, non famem sitimque redire patietur, sed continuam dulcedinem . . . relinquet”); see Trinkaus 1:224-226 and Valla 300-301.
16 “Secure” is, as Fowler notes (875), a key term throughout the epic. God has bidden Raphael to warn Adam of Satan’s plots lest Adam “swerve” by being “too secure” or careless (5.238); having been warned, Adam rightly tells Eve that their “happy state secure” is “Secure from outward force” but is not fully secure from dangers “within himself,” i.e., Satan cannot harm them unless they allow him to (9.347-49). Edenic life is sufficiently “secure” or safe, but only if Adam and Eve are not excessively “secure” but instead sufficiently vigilant.
17 Milton’s belief that like the (fallen) Christian soldier the unfallen Adam must in some sense experience evil in order to combat it is most memorably expressed, of course, in Areopagitica; see Complete Prose 2:527-28.
18 On Paradise Lost as “encyclopedic epic,” see Lewalski, especially chapter 1.
19 Jeanneret notes the pursuit of variety, both culinary and rhetorical, in symposiastic writing (164). Milton’s prose reveals his interest in Athenaeus’s and Macrobius’s texts as well as his deep admiration for Plutarch’s Moralia, of which Table Talk is a part (Complete Prose 1:694, 880, 2:384, 396-397, 496, 4:577; Works, 18:226).
20 See Athenaeus 185; and Casaubon 327.
21 “nec praeceps brevitas, nec infrunita copia, nec jejuna siccitas, nec laetitia pinguis (Saturnalia 5.1.14-15, translation mine).
22 Lewalski argues that Raphael’s and Adam’s conversation on love in Book 8 recalls the ultimate ancestor of these late classical symposiastic texts, Plato’s Symposium (214-18); but the four books as a unit structurally recall the more various symposiastic texts of late antiquity.
23 See Donne 61. Compare Ovid, Amores 2.4 and the Donnean or Donne-influenced elegy “Variety” (Donne 119-22).
24 Kerrigan and Braden 204-05. They note that Eve’s “flirtatious venery” is consonant with Milton’s overall “moral vision-patient resistance in the service of ideal consummation” (205). I seek to elucidate both the sources and ethical implications of Milton’s “moralization” of Ovidian erotic tradition.
25 For a more detailed account of this development in erotic poetry, see my “The Pleasures of Restraint.”
26 “Sed neque te facilem iuveni promitte roganti, / Nec tamen e duro quod petit ille nega” (Art of Love 3.475-76).
27 “Nolo nimis facilem difficilemque nimis. / illud quod medium est atque inter utrumque probamus: / nec volo quod cruciat nec colo quod satiat” (Epigrams 1.57, Loeb trans. modified).
28 ‘Ausonii Epigram 38, in Randolph 144. Ausonius’s original reads: “oblatas sperno illecebras, detrecto negatas:/ nec satiare animum, nec cruciare volo. / nec bis cincta Diana placet nec nuda Cythere.”
29 St. Evremond 45-46. For a discussion of St. Evremond’s hedonism which ignores, however, its poetic roots, see Mayo 84-88.
30 Kerrigan and Braden therefore read the final line too narrowly as concerned, like its Ovidian model, simply with “the slowpoke game” that leads to physical “consummation” (205).
31 Book of Common Prayer 298. The passages cited are Ephesians 5:22, 24, 33; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1. On “subjection as the wife’s proper disposition in Protestant marriage ideology, see Halkett 86-87 and Asmussen 42-45.
32 For penetrating recent discussions of the tension between hierarchy and equality in the relations of Adam and Eve, see Turner 281-89; and Schoenfeldt, “Gender and Conduct” 310-38. For a more benign reading of the reconciliation between hierarchy and equality in their relations, see McColley, Milton’s Eve 34-48 and passim.
33 Asmussen provides a good discussion of the tensions within Protestant marriage theory concerning the “unequal partnership” of marriage (38-47).
34 Averell, n.p.; Gouge, “Of Domestical Duties,’ 214. For further discussions of the husband’s moderation and “mildness,” see Whately 156-63.
35 For another discussion of the treatment of cosmic hierarchy in Paradise Lost, see Schoenfeldt, “`Among Unequals What Society?'” Schoenfeldt underplays, in my view, the importance for Milton of the moral equality of the various ranks of angels and of human beings as possessors of free will and God’s love.
36 The Son’s relation to both his superior, God the Father, and his inferiors, the angels, provides a more complicated-because theologically vexed-example of the way that hierarchical relations are ideally fused with the fellowship of equals. While the Son shows “filial obedience” (3.269) to the superior Father throughout the poem, the Father responds by having the Son be “Throned in highest bliss / Equal to God, and equally enjoying / God-like fruition” (3.305-07). According to Abdiel, the elevation of the Son to “head” of the angels makes the angelic hosts more “United” (5.831) and “reduce[s]” the Son to “one of our number” (5.843): the Son becomes primus inter pares, his hierarchical superiority an instance of fellowship. Adam’s position as Eve’s “head” (4.443) similarly undergirds Adam and Eve’s union as one flesh and one soul.
37 See also James 125.
38 Eve’s “modest pride” vis-a-vis Adam may be contrasted not only with Satan’s rebellious pride but also with his craven servility. Gabriel claims that Satan is a “sly hypocrite” who “Once fawned, and cringed, and servilely adored / Heaven’s awful monarch” in order “To dispossess him” (4.95i, 959-61). Satan collapses the vicious extremes of servility and sinful pride, while Eve’s “modest pride” mediates between them.
39 Quint notes the echo but stresses the resemblance between Eve as conceived of by Adam and Satan (290); the differences seem to me more important. For a discussion of the afterlife of both Satan’s and Eve’s modes of self-conscious worth in the eighteenth century that also briefly notes the differences between the two, see Hagstrum 3-28.
40 See Maclean 51; for discussions of the complex relationship between genderneutral versions of modesty and specifically female forms, see White.
41 For more Ciceronian examples, see Epistulae ad familiares 5.7.2, 6.1.3, Epistulae ad Atticum 14.11.1.
42 For a sensible discussion of how Milton both compares himself with and distances himself from Satan, see Riggs 15-45. For the complex political implications of Satan as rebel and tyrant, see Hill 365-75.
43 For a wide-ranging recent discussion of Milton’s sense of himself as feminine, see Lieb 83-155; for a brilliant treatment of Milton’s identification with the Lady in Comus, see Maus 198-209.
44 discuss the resonances of “honest” in seventeenth-century England in English Poetic Epitaph 140-63.
45 On the anti-Presbyterian implications of Milton’s early pamphlets, see Barker’s classic discussion (35-42).
46 One may contrast Milton’s celebration of self-esteem with Calvin’s insistence that Christian humility requires relying wholly upon grace rather than upon any false “consciousness of excellence” (“excellentiae conscientia”); see Calvin 2: 24 (III.XII.6).
47 Hill (255-57) provides a convincing portrait of Milton’s intense self-esteem and its role in his conception of virtue but errs in finding its source primarily in his Puritan upbringing; Barker (41-42) similarly treats Milton’s emphasis upon self-esteem as a direct outgrowth of the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Quint’s important discussion of self-esteem in Paradise Lost (283-99) contextualizes Milton’s thought on self-esteem within the late 1650s debates between Calvinists and Arminians, rather than as a longstanding classicizing preoc
cupation of Milton’s. Guillory’s recent analysis of Miltonic self-esteem, which came to my attention after completing this essay, argues for the concept’s modernity by minimizing its classical roots and by concentrating instead upon the striking differences between Miltonic self-esteem and what Guillory misleadingly treats as its major conceptual precursors: the Christian vice of pride and the feudal, aristocratic virtue of glory (see especially 217-18, 225)
48 Cairns provides the most thorough discussion of the use of the Greek terms and concepts from Homer to Aristotle; for a briefer but philosophically acute discussion of the complex interaction between “outer-directed” and “inner-directed” shame in Greek literature from Homer to Euripides, see Williams 75-102.
49 Scholars have largely neglected post-Aristotelian developments in ancient conceptions of shame. In a fascinating recent discussion of “Renaissance concepts of shame,” Gundersheimer claims that (1) Aristotle provided the overriding locus classicus for early modern treatments of shame, because ancient philosophers after Aristotle “manifested little or no interest” in developing the concept (Gundersheimer 37); and (2) the early modern period witnessed a “new” focus on “enlightened self-esteem” as an alternative to shame before others (Gundersheimer 52). Milton’s debt to various later Greek and Roman sources for his conception of self-esteem as internalized shame calls both these claims strongly into question.
50 Stobaeus 210, 310. Unlike these passages in Stobaeus, the Platonic texts cited by the Yale editor as the source of Milton’s conception do not contain the notion of a self-directed aidos (841, n. 84); Cairns’s careful reading of the Platonic corpus finds such a concept implicit in various texts, but he notes that Plato nowhere clearly identifies a self-directed aidos (370-92). Stobaeus’s chapter on aidos includes the one Platonic passage Milton clearly alludes to, the Euythphro’s discussion of the relationship between “shame” before others and “fear” (Milton, Complete Prose 1:841, Euthyphro 12, Stobaeus 210). Stobaeus also includes Homeric citations concerning outer-directed aidos (Stobaeus 210; Iliad 3.172, Odyssey 18.184). Probably Milton began his consideration of self-esteem by consulting Stobaeus’s anthology and then proceeded to consult other relevant classical passages.
51 Joannes Curterius’s edition of the poem and commentary was first published in Paris in 1583 and reprinted in London in 1654.
52 I translate from the opening text of the poem in Hierocles, Commentarius, n.p. Stobaeus includes a shortened version of Pythagoras’s command (p. 191).
53 I cite and translate the text in Ficino 2:275. Ficino’s editor Raymond Marcel cites the pseudo-Pythagorean Golden Verses, lines 12, 42-46 as Ficino’s source (2: 274) .
54 Compare Milton’s glossing of Genesis 1:27 as a rebuke to those who have “a servile sense of their own conscious unworthinesse” in Tetrachordon (Complete Prose 2:587).
55On patristic and medieval invocations of Genesis 1:26-27, see Gilson, chapter 11; on the Renaissance tradition, see Trinkaus 1:173-321, 2:461-551.
56 Lutz 38-49, especially 42, 48. Regarding Musonius’s arguments that the virtues are genderless, see Nussbaum 320-34.
57 On Clement’s debt to Stoic treatments of gender, see Broudehoux 143. Clement’s treatment of aidos may be directly indebted to Musonius, whom Clement closely echoes elsewhere in the Paedagogus (Spanneut 107-12).
58 One might compare Spenser’s equally charmed evocation of the way his bride, “governed with goodly modesty,” blushes as she pledges troth (Epithalamion 235-39 in Spenser 671).
59 Guillory argues that for Milton self-esteem is proper for males, “selfdisesteem” proper for females (226). While brilliantly probing aspects of Milton’s gender hierarchy, Guillory ignores Milton’s valorization of Eve’s “modest pride.’
60 For recent discussions of the divergences, see Parker, Literary Fat Ladies 19597; Quint 290.
61 For important feminist discussions of Eve’s submission to Adam in the Narcissus scene, see Froula; and Nyquist 119-23.
62 On Adam’s “deficiency,” see also Parker, Literary Fat Ladies 191-201. Parker does not treat the relationship between deficiency, excess, and the mean in Paradise Lost.
63 On the Renaissance reception of Aristotle’s views on women, see Maclean 710. Aristotle uses unrelated words to describe the ontologically deficient female and ethical deficiency as a deviation from the mean, but their association is made possible by the frequent translation of both Aristotelian concepts with the Latin “deficiens” and its cognates.
64 Diane McColley attempts to qualify Raphael’s critique of Adam’s deficient “self-esteem” by citing Paul’s exhortation “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3); see her essay, “Milton and the Sexes” 160. Though one could add Paul’s similar celebration of Christians “in honor preferring one another” (Romans 12:10), such scriptural citations to my mind reveal not that Raphael is wrong but rather that Milton’s essentially classical view of self-esteem diverges significantly from Pauline assumptions.
65 On Aristotle’s problematic treatment of magnanimity, see Cooper and Hardie.
66 See Plutarch, Of Superstition (Moralia 164E-171F); Joseph Hall’s contrasting Plutarchan characters, “The Superstitious” man , “servile in fear,” and “The Profane” man, “without feeling of love, of fear, of care,” in his Works 6:107-08; and the discussion of sixteenth-century English adaptations of Plutarch’s distinction in my ‘Mediocrities’ and ‘Extremities'” 120-21. Milton’s Of Reformation also associates the lack of virtuous self-esteem with the collapsed opposites of superstition and atheism: he notes that the superstitious man,” who worships God with “Servile . . . feare” instead of with the “cheerefull boldnesse” of the self-esteeming Christian, is “in very deed . . . by his good will . . . an Atheist” (Complete Prose 1:522) .
67 See Aquinas, Summae Theologiae 2-2, quaestiones 20-21; and W. J. Hill’s discussion of Scholastic treatments of hope in Aquinas 175-76.
68 See Weinberg 1:411, 417, 434-435, 439, 480, 491, 2:761.
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