|AUTHOR:||JOHN T. SHAWCROSS|
|TITLE:||Milton's Paradise Regain'd and the Second Temptation|
|SOURCE:||ANQ 21 no2 34-41 Spr 2008|
Milton's brief biblical epic Paradise Regain'd employs the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness in the order given in Luke 4 as "plot," thus presenting Satan's offers of lures involving concupiscentia oculorum (lust of the eyes) as the second temptation. It is traditionally a temptation by fraud. Occurring after the temptation of the flesh and before that of the Devil, it concerns humankind's position in the world, a person's relationship with community. Involved are voluptaria (sexual appetite and bodily appetite), activa (wealth, glory, kingdom), and contemplativa (intellectual pursuits). Accumulation of wealth, fame, and numerous amorous liaisons typifies the covetousness (or avarice) which this second temptation explores. The lure plays upon one's fame or renown in the world or the community, and thus includes various accomplishments or possessions: large houses, luxury goods, one's education, prestigious associates, or sexual conquests. The lure exploits the pride and boastfulness of those who succumb. Multiplicity is at the core of the temptation. Milton spreads this motif over Books 2, 3, and part of 4 (that is, from 2.121 to 4.364).(FN1) Earlier literary criticism of the poem inaccurately (and most imperceptively) disengaged the first part cited in Book 2 from the second temptation, and this last part in Book 4 has been inadequately discussed as an example of this specific temptation. Little attention has been given to the basic multiplicity raised by concupiscentia oculorum and its fraudulent argument, leading to two cruxes which have not fully been understood.(FN2) The first crux appears in 2.147-234 and 298-405, and presents voluptaria; the second, in 4.212-364, and presents contemplativa.
After Satan boasts of his success in dealing with Adam, first of Men, and his fall "by his Wives allurement" (2.133-34), Belial responds in kind, offering his "utmost aid" in seducing Jesus. He advises Satan to "[s]et women in his eye and in his walk, /... Goddesses /... Expert in amorous Arts, / enchanting tongues... Virgin majesty... [who] draw Hearts after them tangl'd in Amorous Nets" (2.153-62). He is not pointing to only a single sexual liaison, but to multiple experiences. Clearly he refers to prostitutes. Of course, Satan takes no advice from anyone (a point Milton makes clear in the debate in Hell in Book 2 of Paradise Lost, although each opinion expressed to counter the fallen angels' lot can be seen to have passed through his mind, the last being what he has implanted in Beelzebub's): "with manlier objects we must try / His constancy /... honour, glory, and popular praise" (2.225-27). These lures will make up the middle section of the second temptation, activa, and the last section, contemplativa. But first, and immediately after this, he mentions Jesus's hunger after forty days in the Wilderness, which has been presented in Book 1, and thus proceeds to produce "[a] Table richly spred,... / With dishes pil'd" (2.340-41). These rich "cates" (3.348) are many, not simply food for a hungry person -- multiplicity again. Fraudulently, they include seafood and meats prohibited for an orthodox Jew, as Michael Fixier has pointed out (513-77).(FN3) "Hast thou not right to all Created things /... nor mention I / Meats by the Law unclean, or offer'd first / To Idols" (2.324-29), he lies. Indeed, as MacKellar observes (127), Satan contradicts himself in those lines: If Jesus has "right to all Created things," then why are any foods not proper?
The psychological theory of an interrelationship between eating and sex, which has been acknowledged, can be recognized in this aspect of this traditional temptation, and Milton pursues such a relationship here, although not so overtly that it was traditionally recognized. In attendance to serve this banquet are "[t]all stripling youths rich clad, of fairer hew / Then Ganymed or Hylas" (352-53).(FN4) Gregory Bredbeck has specifically examined the homosexual implications of having these attendants to Jesus's proffered feast. But a number of significant points have not been raised. First, while Satan dismisses "the bait of Women" as lure for Jesus (2.196-224) and concludes "therefore with manlier objects we must try / His constancy" -- instancing the lures of activa -- Bredbeck's reading suggests a double, punning meaning in "manlier objects."(FN5) Accordingly, this sexual interruption subtly recalls the widespread rumor of Jesus's homosexuality, which persisted into the seventeenth century, as Milton must have been aware.(FN6) (Today, of course, this is still a taboo subject, raised from time to time.) Further, the "stately side-board," where the stripling youths stood, held "the wine / That fragrant smell diffus'd" (2.35-51), and we should thus remember that Jesus "dream'd" immediately before, "as appetite is wont to dream, / Of meats and drink. Natures refreshment sweet," although he "thought" of "the Brook of Cherith" (2.264-66). The combination of the temptation of the pretty boys and the wine (such as "publicans" drink) raises the much debated and unsettled argument created by Matthew 21.31 : "Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."(FN7) The literal reading, of course, misconstrues Jesus's meaning. The next verse, 21.32, makes that clear: "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." Lurking in the background of Milton's poem is that attempt to discredit Jesus and the religion he comes to represent. Milton soundly refutes such antipathy: Jesus does not dream of "wine" and the entire lure of such inebriation and such sexual enticement is cast in the fraudulence that is Satan.
But MacKellar, who says that "Belial is rebuked by Satan for his stupidity" (2.115) and "Note that in rebuking Belial in 206-11 above Satan has rejected women as a means of tempting Christ" (2.132), has missed Milton's full examination of this sexual lure.(FN8) In case the "stripling youths" do not have the hoped-for effect, Satan has followed Belial's advice, for distant more
Under the Trees now trip'd, now solemn stood
Nymphs of Diana's train, and Naiades
With fruits and flowers from Amalthea's horn,
And Ladies of th' Hesperides, that seem'd
Fairer then feign'd of old, or fabl'd since
Of Fairy Damsels met in Forest wide... (2.353-59)
Bredbeck partially understood but also misunderstood that "homoeroti-cism in the brief epic forms a temptation for Jesus that is more than food and more than woman: it is, rather, the temptation of sexual plurality -- and, significantly," he adds,
the temptation of a plural definition of male sexuality.... Paradise Regain'd views the temptation of Jesus as an interrogation of male sexual temptation instead of as a correction of original female weakness... Milton's exegesis... uses Paradise Regain'd to interrogate the problems of male gender weakness. (213)
While he does recognize that "a system of plural options" (230) is at play in this second temptation, he slights "All these... Spirits of air. and Woods, and Springs, [Satan's, not Jesus's] gentle Ministers" (2.374-75, italics added). The temptation of women set in his eye is there to be offered, just in case. Milton sets up a full resistance to all these lures of voluptaria.(FN9)
The second crux has been created by critics who have been shocked by Jesus's rejection of Satan's offer of "Athens the eye of Greece, Mother of Arts / And eloquence" and its philosophic and poetic achievements. The rejection is read as Milton's rejection of such learning. (See MacKellar 208-10 on lines 286-384, 210-11 on lines 286-90, and 211 on line 295 for a summary and comment.) Milton is seen, persistently, as coming "in his later years... to a complete distrust of intellectual effort" (MacKellar 209). This has, of course, spawned numerous explanations and defenses: for example, "He did not think any learning indispensable. He recognized that any learning is useful only as used rightly" (Samuel 722). While many of these readings are certainly important and meaningful for the text, they all seem to forget that this is a lure, offered fraudulently, as a part of the second temptation, which deals with multiplicity, with showing off one's accomplishments for the fame that an impressionable public accords such "achievements" (Satan's "popular praise"). The episode is treated as a statement of Milton's opinions about such intellectual pursuits: "Thus Milton... has declared his preference for Hebrew lyric poetry not only on moral and religious, but also on aesthetic grounds" (MacKellar 218). A more perspicacious overview is B. Rajan's, cited by MacKellar thus: Jesus "'must refuse' to accept Greek learning in order to declare his own nature, not so much 'as perfect man' but rather 'as the historic Christ' whose mission it is to introduce 'into history a power of grace' which the light of nature can never give" (Rajan 68; MacKellar 198). Yet forgotten is the fact that Satan is trying to get Jesus to succumb to his remark that "[a]ll knowledge is not couch't in Moses Law, / The Pentateuch or what the Prophets wrote," for after all, "[t]he Gentiles also know, and write and teach / To admiration, led by Natures light" (4.225-28). He talks of "the Olive Grove of Academe," Plato, "Great Alexander," the "Lyceum," the "painted Stoa" Homer and his poem, "the lofty grave Tragoedians," "the famous Orators" and "fierce Democratie" and "sage Philosophy," Socrates, "those / Sirnam'd Peripatetics, and the Sect / Epicurean, and the Stoick severe" (244-80). "These here revolve, or, as thou lik'st, at home... These rules will render thee a King com-pleat / Within thy self" is his advice for Jesus to "extend thy mind o're all the world, / In knowledge, all things in it comprehend": "Be famous then /By wisdom" (4.283-84, 223-24, 221-22, emphasis added). Clearly this is a temptation -- it involves covetousness, it is built on multiplicity, it plays upon "fame" in this world, and it rests on the fraud that Satan can deliver these sources of "wisdom."(FN10)
Jesus's rejection evokes a standard concept of religious belief: "he who receives / Light from above, from the fountain of light,(FN11) / No other doctrine needs, though granted true" (4.288-90). He then talks of "[a]ll our Law and Story strew'd / With Hymns, our Psalms with artful terms inscrib'd, / Our Hebrew songs and Harps in Babylon, I... Sion's songs, to all true tasts excelling, / Where God is prais'd aright.... Such are from God inspir'd, not such from thee" (4.334-36, 347-50). For Milton, as for others, it is the Psalms -- the hymns and songs and praise of God -- that present all needed knowledge and wisdom. The expressed statement goes back most markedly to Saint Basil, who, in his prefatory statement to his homily on Psalm 1 ("Homilía in Psalmum Primum"), wrote "At quidquid in caeteris utile est, hic unus Psalmorum liber complecitur... Et uno verbo, liber hic commune quoddam est bonae doctrinae promptuarium: qui quidquid cuilibet profuturum sit, diligenter offert" (Basil the Great, column 11).(FN12) The usual understanding or translation of this remark is found twice in John Donne's sermons: "S. Basil sayes, that if all the other Books of Scripture could be lost, he would aske no more then the Booke of Psalmes, to catechize children, to édifie Congregations, to convert Gentils, and to convince Heretiques" ("S. Paul's," 5.289)(FN13) and "So that as S. Basil said, hee needed no other Booke, for all spirituall uses but the Psalmes, so wee need no other Example to discover to us the slippery wayes into sin, or the penitentiall wayes out of sin, then the Author of that Booke, David" ("Penitentiall Psalms," 5.299).(FN14)
Milton was well acquainted with the work of St. Basil. References will be found in Of Reformation (Wolfe 1.565), Apology for Smectymnuus (Wolfe 1.873, 939), Judgement of Martin Bucer (2.432), Areopagitica (2.510), Tetrachordon (2.697), Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (3.212), Eikonoklastes (3.518, 588), and most importantly in his Commonplace Book,(FN15) Here there are three entries on original pages 55, 57, 185 (Wolfe 1.381, 382, 453) where St. Basil's Opera is cited (1618), and specifically the writings on "Homilia in Psalmum 1" (dated after 1639), "De Fide, 1" and "Moralia regula LXXXI." Important for us here is the comment on p. 57, with quotation from the first homily: "Basil tells us that poetry was taught by God to kindle in the minds of men a zeal for virtue." Countering Satan's numerous examples of learning, poetry, and philosophy in this part of the second temptation, Jesus rejects this lure of the world and its predicted renown through learning by the reiteration of the Psalms as the only needed source of knowledge of God. The created crux sidesteps the temptation of covetousness, concupiscentia oculorum, its "multiplicity," and an important element in the full temptation that may beset humankind. Just as the first element of this second temptation that we have looked at links with the first temptation through "hunger," although it is significantly different, so this third element of the second temptation links with the third temptation to be presented and repulsed in the remainder of Book 4. The third temptation, of course, offers the Devil as a "God" in place of God through pride, superbia vitae, for Jesus has called himself "the Son of God" (4.190) a number of times, and Satan calls upon him to put God to the test by quoting Psalm 91.11-12 (see also Matthew 4.6-7) incompletely to see whether angels will come to save him if he casts himself off from the "highest Pinnacle" of the Tower in Jerusalem. Earlier during the contemplativa temptation Jesus had said:
Wert thou so void of fear or shame,
As offer them to me the Son of God,
To me my own, on such abhorred pact,
That I fall down and worship thee as God?
His added dismissal of Satan, "Get thee behind me," also relates to his dismissal of Satan in the third temptation: "Tempt not the Lord thy God," where ambiguity has suggested reference to both God the Father and to himself as God the Son. But both episodes that we have looked at here are parts of the second temptation only, and critical recognition of that reorients many former explications to focus on covetousness, its worldly effects, and the multiplicity of things that it denotes.
1. Citations of Milton's poetry are from John T. Shawcross, ed., The Complete Poetry of John Milton (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971), revised edition.
2. For a brief summary of critical positions on these two cruxes, see Emily Bab-cock, who links physical and intellectual (as well as spiritual) hunger to Satan, and explores the relation of "the temptation of Athens as a counterpart to the banquet scene in terms of imagery of hunger" (39). Jesus's hunger is, as she says, "not a kind of hunger that Satan can understand" (40).
3. In A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton, editor Walter MacKellar explains that since "Christ" has come to abrogate the Mosaic law, such argument is meaningless for him. Like so many others, MacKellar misreads the poem and scripture by calling Jesus -- who is a human being at this point in his life -- "Christ." His anointing does not occur until after the temptation has been thwarted, thus enabling his ministry to begin. "The ordeal, through which he at once passed, was the test of his vocation, and proved him superior to the various diabolical proposals.... So true is the temptation narrative to the whole character of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels that it provides the key to the beginning of his ministry...." See also The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.
4. Ganymede was exceedingly beautiful and taken by the gods as their cupbearer; he thus becomes a symbol for homosexual passion. Hylas, a favorite of Herakles, was drawn into a spring by water nymphs, enamored of his beauty. Interestingly, Milton had cited both in "Elegia septima," written in May 1630; but to Cupid he pleads, "Take away, at least, my passions, yet do not take them... Only grant, courteous one, if hereafter any maiden is to be mine, / that a single point shall transfix the two in love" (21, 24, 99, 101-02). Compare Claude J. Summers, esp. 53-54 and notes 6 and 9.
5. Summers implies this pun (54): "Satan's decision to try the Messiah's constancy with "manlier objects" than the female courtesans proposed by Belial is meant quite literally as well as metaphorically."
6. Summers cites references to this allegation; see 60-61 and notes 10 and 11. 7. See also Matthew 11.18-19 and Luke 7.33-34. All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version. 1611.
8. MacKellar also comments: "The youths at the side-board and the nymphs under the trees, who after all are only 'waiters and waitresses,' are described in such exaggerated terms that the description becomes 'almost... parody'" (129). (The phrase "almost... parody" is quoted from Donald Daiches.) "Many young and beautiful attendants are a common feature of the banquets described in [various sources]" (131). Summers likewise does not recognize the potential of the traditional presence of the beautiful women lurking under the trees.
9. There have been a few further significant discussions of this temptation scene. Philip Rollinson opposes the thrust of Bredbeck's essay by stressing the classical and Renaissance literary tradition of "male and female servers" at banquets. He cites an example, not noted by MacKellar, from Cicero's banquet of Dionysius for Damocles with "beautiful male servers with unmistakable homosexual overtures" (31). (See Cicero's Tusculan Disputations.) A major concern of this note, and most of the others on both temptations discussed in this essay, is to argue that Milton's banquet and rejection of Greek learning are not unusual and certainly not original. For Rollinson (basically viewing the banquet temptation as part of the first temptation) it is the centerpiece since it is "not just the deadly sin relating to hunger (gluttony) but includes two others as well (lust and sloth)" (33). See also Summers for some additional publications pertinent to the full study of the banquet scene temptation and its homosexual relationship: "In rejecting the banquet, Jesus rejects a temptation to idolatry and to gluttony, both of which encompass sexual excess" (53). Alinda Sumers relates the lure of the rich foods offered in this banquet to a rejection of Puritan censorial principles of a more simplistic life and avoidance of pleasurable things, a lure that Jesus/Milton easily dismisses. She extensively reviews the contrast between the sumptuous feast and the frugal "table" that appears in much literature of the period. Her first note, 273-74, also reviews a number of previous discussions of this scene.
10. Timothy Miller finds the rejection of the temptations, including learning, traditional. The temptation of learning, as when Jesus refutes the doctors in the Temple (Luke 2.46-47), evokes the "tradition in which the Holy Spirit was a guide superior to reason or learning" (14). Evidence for these conclusions is offered from John Everard in his sermon "The Star in the East, Leading unto the true Messiah."
11. Compare Ashraf A. Rushdy's discussion in The Empty Garden. See also H. R. Swardson's Poetry and the Fountain of Light.
12. A most nonliteral translation is that by Sister Agnes Clare Way, C. D. P. in Saint Basil Evegetic Homilies: "Now, the prophets teach one thing, historians another, the law something else, and the form of advice found in the proverbs something different still. But, the Book of Psalms has taken over what is profitable from all. It foretells coming events; it recalls history; it frames laws for life; it suggests what must be done; and, in general, it is the common treasury of good doctrine, carefully finding what is suitable for each one." MacKellar, not mentioning Basil but referencing De doctrina Christiana. Book 1, Chapter 30, writes: "That Holy Scripture is superior to all the writings of the pagans is a common Christian conviction which necessarily follows from the antecedent conviction that Scripture is divinely inspired, and that it alone contains the doctrine necessary for man's salvation" (220).
13. "Preached at S. Pauls," on Psalms 90.14, was first published in LXXX Sermons (London: Printed for R. Royston and R. Marriot, 1640), no. 79.
14. "Preached upon the Penitentiall Psalmes," on Psalm 51.7, was first published in LXXX Sermons, no. 6418.
15. References are to Complete Prose Works of John Milton. This concept from St. Basil may also be an influence in Animadversions (1.686), Apology (1.898), and Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, edition 2 (301).
Babcock, Emily. "Physical and Metaphorical Hunger: The Extra-Biblical Temptations of Paradise Regained." Milton Quarterly 26 (1992): 36-42.
Basil the Great. Patrologiae Cursus Completus... Series Gräeca... Accurante J.-P. Migne, Tomus XXIX: S. Basilius Caesariensis Episcopus (Seu Petit-Montrouge, 1857), column 211.
Bredbeck, Gregory W. "Milton's Ganymede: Negotiation of Homoerotic Tradition in Paradise Regained." PMLA 106 (1991): 262-76. Revised in Sodomy and Interpretation: Marlowe to Milton. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991). 190-231.
Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Tusculan Disputations. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press; and London: Heinemann, 1945, ed. and trans. J. E. King, revised edition). Daiches, Donald. Milton. London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1957. 223-24.
Donne, John. "Preached at S. Pauls." Sermon 14. The Sermons of John Donne. Ed. George Potter and Evelyn Simpson. Vol. 5. Berkeley: U of California P, 1959. 289.
Donne, John. "Preached upon the Penitentiall Psalmes." Sermon 15. The Sermons of John Donne. Eds. George Potter and Evelyn Simpson. Vol. 5. Berkeley: U of California P, 1959. 299.
Everard, John. "The Star in the East, Leading unto the true Messiah." Some Gospel Treasures Opened. London, 1653, 1657, 1659.
Fixler, Michael. "The Unclean Meats of the Mosaic Law and the Banquet Scene in Paradise Regain'd." Modern Language Notes 70 (1955): 573-77.
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962. 2.891.
MacKeller, Walter, ed. A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton. New York: Columbia UP, 1975. Vol. 4, "Paradise Regained."
Miller, Timothy. "Paradise Regained: John Everard's Precedent and the Temptation of Learning." English Language Notes 28.4 (1991): 13-15.
Rajan, B. "Jerusalem and Athens." Th'Upright Heart and Pure. Ed. Amadeus P. Fiore. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1967. 61-74.
Rollinson, Philip. "The Homoerotic Aspect of Temptation in Paradise Regained." English Language Notes 33.2 (1995): 31-35.
Rushdy, Ashraf A. The Empty Garden: The Subject of Late Milton. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992. 256-59.
Samuel, Irene. "Milton on Learning and Wisdom." PMLA 64 (1949): 708-723.
Shawcross, John T., ed. The Complete Poetry of John Milton. Rev. ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1971.
Sumers, Alinda. "The Banqueting Scene in Paradise Regained: Milton's Temptation to the Anti-Puritan Appetite." Praise Disjoined: Changing Patterns of Salvation in I7th-Century English Literature. Ed. William P. Shaw. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. 273-302.
Summers, Claude J. "The (Homo)Sexual Tradition in Milton's Paradise Regained." Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture. Ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain. New York: Haworth, 1997. 45-69.
Swardson, H. R. Poetry and the Fountain of Light: Observations on the Conflict Between Christian and Classical Traditions in Seventeenth-Century Poetry. London: Allen and Unwin, 1962.
Way, Sister Agnes Clare, C. D. P. "Homily 10: A Psalm of the Lot of the Just Man (On Psalm 1)." Saint Basil Exegetic Homilies. The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Vol. 46. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1963.