Monday, 28 March 2016

A New Kind of Hero- Dr Sean McEvoy

Between 1642 and 1650 nearly 200,000 died from famine and plague in the Civil Wars between the Crown and Parliament. The combined population of England and Scotland was only about 6,000,000 in 1640.

By the time he came to write PL in the 1660s he lamented that despite 'God proclaiming peace':

"Yet live in hatred, enmity and strife,
 Among themselves, and levy cruel wars,
Wasting the earth, each other to destroy" 

In Book 9 came the rejection of the code of military heroism

Flawed but Free Heroes

His heroes are not the vengeful, honour obsessed warriors typical of Homer's Illiad or Virgil's Aeneid bu out common ancestors, a man and a woman commit a tragic and fatal error of judgement in human history.

The mistake is not out of self- regard or vindictive anger. They fall because they think honestly for themselves as free-beings and out of love. Like classical heroes, Eve is able to take responsibility for her actions but unlike Greek forbears, their suffering is not catastrophic.

Their disobedience leads to repentance which will merit a loving God's self-sacrifice in human form.

Testing Virtue and Truth

This is the situation in which God has placed mankind by giving him free will to choose between sin and virtue. It is an argument echoed in Milton's political tract 'Areopagitica'  in 1644 against government censorship.

During the marital debate Adam sees that Eve's personal integrity requires personal freedom and concedes:
"Go, for thy stay, unfree, absents thee more"

Rejecting Classical Learning

As Eve departs she is compared to the chase hunter-goddess Diana but is like us for she is only armed with gardening tools lol,  As a result she will only have human wit to defend her.

Here, heroic classical rhetoric sis here the work of the devil. Milton is able to use high-status classical learning only to reject its values.

Eve's Choice- Free Will 

Satan tells Eve that he has tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and it has given him speech and intelligence beyond a serpent. Shifting into the discourse of the classical world he asserts it will make them 'gods'. Eve is confused by the argument but still succumbs out of free choice.

After the Fall in them nature does not seem to blame humans for the terrible and irreversible environmental damage caused by Eve's mistake:

"Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat.
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe
That all was lost" 

The Motive of Love

The fallen Eve's motive to make Adam eat the fruit are mixed but not wicked. She reflects that if God has seen her transgression and she does die than Adam will be granted a new woman in her place so jealously motivates Eve.

"So dear I love him, that will all deaths/
I could endure, without him live no life.! 

Adam sees what is going on and the garland he holds made from 'choicest flowers' withers and dies. In Book 18 of Iliad- the hero Patroclus is about to die, the helmet Achilles has lent him falls to dust. Milton echoes this but Adam's demise is not about fighting soldiers and glory but out of love.

Adam follows Eve's disobedience as he can't live without her:
"Loss thee/
Would never from my heart"

Modern Responsible Heroism 

Adam is 'fondly overcome with female charm' . As Adam eats, 'nature gave a second groan' as a new sinful world is born. Fallen Adam invites Eve to make love with him which recalls the seduction of Helen by the hero 'godlike' Paris in the Iliad.

Classical heroism is part of the fallen world. But unlike Patroclus or Paris who will not live to see Troy fall, A + E survive expulsion from Eden, wiser and repentant confident of God's grace and of the importance of their own freedom in the fallen world beyond the gates.

"They hand in hand with wandering steps and slowly,/
Through Eden took their solitary way"

Modern heroism is not to fight and kill but to take responsibility for one's actions in an imperfect but shared world to continue to love and to maintain hope in the prospect of a better world to come.

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