In Paradise Lost, book 9, the tragic tension of the Fall is punctuated by black comedy as a newly fallen Adam, jocular and slightly tipsy, praises Eve’s sagacity, wishes that for one forbidden tree there had been ten, and eyes his comely bride with new interest:
For never did thy Beautie since the dayI saw thee first and wedded thee, adorn’dWith all perfections, so enflame my senseWith ardor to enjoy thee, fairer nowThen ever, bountie of this vertuous Tree.1
As scholars have sometimes noted, Adam’s speech echoes an equally memorable moment in the Iliad, when a smitten Zeus propositions a seemingly reluctant Hera, who has in fact intentionally come perfumed, decked out, and armed with the girdle of Aphrodite to distract her husband from the battlefield of Troy.2 Like Zeus, Adam boasts of his newfound ardor, although unlike Zeus he does not praise his wife by cataloguing the other beautiful women who have aroused his desire and produced his numerous illegitimate offspring. This would not normally be the best way to flatter the jealous Hera, but she turns a blind eye, keeping her focus on getting Zeus into bed and, with the aid of Sleep, put away for the night.
The humorous and parodic intertext of the duped and deceived Zeus and the scheming Hera helps to distinguish between the [End Page vii] Miltonic scenes of prelapsarian and postlapsarian lovemaking that C. S. Lewis famously objected were too much alike: “[Milton] has made the unfallen already so voluptuous and kept the fallen still so poetical that the contrast is not so sharp as it ought to have been.”3 The Olympian and Edenic husbands take their eye off the ball, so to speak: for Zeus, the field at Troy where Poseidon has come to the aid of Hera’s beloved Greeks, pinned back against their ships, and for Adam, the goal of obedience about which he has repeatedly reminded Eve, as well as the goal of being Eve’s guide and head. Neither marital pair retires decorously, whether to Olympus or to the Edenic bower; Zeus and Hera embrace atop Mount Ida, covered by a golden cloud, while Adam and Eve head for the nearest shady bank. This moment of heightened desire for Adam and Eve is also a moment of heightened intertextuality, of overlapping stories and storytellers, of breaking boundaries between sacred and profane spaces, of transgressive bodies and excessive desire. The episode serves in miniature to highlight some of the current topics in Milton scholarship with which the contributors to this volume engage.
In this issue of Milton Studies, our authors bring fresh and probing insights to Milton and storytelling, embodied experience and transgression of boundaries, divine and human relations, and intertextual echo, allusion, and appropriation. The Milton that they examine is fully immersed in literary, cultural, and religious history: shaped by, appropriating, and reworking humoral physiology, monism, classical and medieval philosophy, Reformation theology, classical epic, religious and political polemic, and the Book of Common Prayer. The Milton explored in these essays looks back to the Bible, Homer, Virgil, Aristotle, Augustine, and Lucretius; his works jostle alongside those of such contemporaries as Swiss reformer Johannes Wollebius; tolerationists Lord Brook, Henry Robinson, and William Walwyn; and King Charles I himself; and they resonate forward to the writings of nineteenth century African-American women and of modern-day postsecularism. These Miltonic texts imitate, reprise, and challenge, but they are also marked by process, ambivalence, tension, and inconsistencies, [End Page viii] by angelic stories that do not add up, by gendered song that both expresses and endangers chastity, by boundaries meant to be transgressed, by inclusion that necessarily excludes, by iconoclasm that both tears down and builds up. Like the Homeric gods, the Miltonic narrative can move from reverence, dignity, and power to the absurd and satiric and back again.
Opening our first section, “Storytelling and Authorship,” N. K. Sugimura looks at differing, even conflicting, models of causation, as the stories that angels tell in Paradise Lost move between a time-based, linear causation and an alternative Augustinian model of extratemporal causality. Timothy M. Harrison examines the...