Friday, November 24, 2006

Prelapsarian Sex

Peter Paul Rubens, Adam and Eve (1597)
Prelapsarian sex conceivable?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Concerning prelapsarian sex in Milton's Paradise Lost (4.736-743; cf. DDD 1.4) and the potential implications of a prelapsarian pregnancy, one scholar on the Milton List recently wrote:
The main "problem" I've heard of is that of children possibly 'conceived' prior to the fall. If any such, did they inherit original sin? Didn't Defoe write on this problem?
I don't know about Defoe, but my guess is that Milton would have considered such children to be fallen as well, since all of creation fell along with Adam and Eve:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. (PL 9.780-784)

She gave him of that fair enticing Fruit
With liberal hand: he scrupl'd not to eat
Against his better knowledge, not deceav'd,
But fondly overcome with Femal charm.
Earth trembl'd from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,
Skie lowr'd, and muttering Thunder, som sad drops
Wept at compleating of the mortal Sin
Original; (PL 9.996-1004)
Of course, Milton probably had more specific views concerning embryology and how inheritance worked that would explain the particular details of how the fallenness of a fetus could occur even after conception.

Does anybody know? For that matter, how does Milton conceive of all creation falling with the fall of Adam and Eve? I presume that this has something to do with Adam and Eve being in a position of authority over creation.

And now that I reflect upon this point, it also fits with Milton's portrayal of the fall of those angels that fell, all of whom seem to have been under Satan's command.

The faithful and obedient Abdiel who rejects Satan's authority (PL 5.896-900) is the outlier here, but otherwise, the hierarchical pattern seems to fit. When those in authority fall, that which is under their authority also falls.

Incidentally, why does Milton write "Femal" rather than "Female" in PL 9.999? Is this a pun on "mal," i.e., "evil"? Would "fe" be a pun on "fée"? I've seen "fe" as a variant of "fée" and "faye" -- as in "Morgan le Fe" for "Morgan le Faye." Since Morgan le Faye practiced magic, this fit Milton's line "Femal charm." Sorry for all these wild wanderings through etymology, but this blog is Gypsy Scholar, after all.

And for the esoteric interests of Eshuneutics and Jonathan Olson, does 9.999 have any numerological significance?

5 Comments:

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

Of course, Milton probably had more specific views concerning embryology and how inheritance worked that would explain the particular details of how the fallenness of a fetus could occur even after conception.

I don't know about Milton, but it was a common view in the early modern period that the mind of the mother to some extent impressed itself on the fetus during pregnancy through a sympathetic connection. I know of at least one person (Malebranche, toward the end of the 17th century) who explicitly appealed to this to explain the transmission of original sin. The idea was that the animal spirits of the fetus were connected with the animal spirits of the mother, so that what the mother experienced, the fetus experienced as well. Because of the 'softness' of the brain tissues, most of this wouldn't stick, but very intense experiences would. I wouldn't be surprised if Milton could have appealed to some similar sort of account.

 
At 3:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brandon, thanks. That sounds like the sort of view that Milton would know about and perhaps accept as explanation. Combing through his works to see if he says anything on the issue would be a useful work for Miltonists ... and probably interesting as well.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:45 AM, Blogger eshuneutics said...

999 or 1000? A milennial number? Femal, rather like Milton's delight in "woeman" for woman? Another preferred (and misogynistic) spelling.

 
At 8:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, 999 comes very close to the millenial number, doesn't it, but falls short ... because of the evil "femal"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, 999 comes very close to the millenial number, doesn't it, but falls short ... because of the evil "femal"?

Jeffery Hodges

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