Eve's Confusion of Tongues in Paradise Lost
I'm still investigating Eve's 'confusion of tongues' in Paradise Lost, initially broached in yesterday's post, for I think there might be something of minor interest that I can say about Milton's depiction of Eve's Fall.
In a poem of 1645, "At a Solemn Musick," Milton sings of heavenly choirs above harmonized by earthly choirs below, prior to the Fall:
That we on Earth with undiscording voiceWould the sin-occasioned "harsh din" limit itself to the notes alone . . . or overpower the 'lyrics' as well? At first blush, we might hazard that words elude the Fall's corruption, for Milton writes in The Art of Logic:
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din [ 20 ]
Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In perfect Diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good. ("ASM" 17-24)
But languages, both the first one which Adam spoke in Eden, and those varied ones also possibly derived from the first, which the builders of the tower of Babel suddenly received, are without doubt divinely given. ("The Art of Logic," in Richard Arnold, Logic of the Fall: Right Reason and [Im]pure Reason in Milton's Paradise Lost, Peter Lang, 2006, page 21)An optimistic reading of Milton's words here, however, is undercut by the words of Sin personified spoken to an equally personified Death in Book 10 of Paradise Lost:
To whom th' incestuous Mother thus repli'd.Note Sin's explicit promise to infect "words," implying that the 'lyrics' mentioned above also suffer corruption. Thus Milton's further words in The Art of Logic:
Thou therefore on these Herbs, and Fruits, and Flours
Feed first, on each Beast next, and Fish, and Fowle,
No homely morsels, and whatever thing [ 605 ]
The Sithe of Time mowes down, devour unspar'd,
Till I in Man residing through the Race,
His thoughts, his looks, words, actions all infect,
And season him thy last and sweetest prey. (PL 10.602-609)
But as to those words that are derived or composite, either their origins are to be sought in other languages ancient and now obsolete, or by their own antiquity and the usually corrupt pronunciation of the lower classes are so changed, and by the habit of writing them falsely are so obliterated as it were that a true notation of words very seldom may be had. ("The Art of Logic," in Richard Arnold, Logic of the Fall: Right Reason and [Im]pure Reason in Milton's Paradise Lost, Peter Lang, 2006, page 21)Milton reveals his hierarchy of class distinctions, but from the perspective of God, fallen human beings are all from the "lower classes," and what goes for composite words goes as well for composite grammar:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,Yesterday, with respect to these lines, I stated:
And knew not eating Death: (PL 9.791-2)
As previously noted, the use of the participle "eating" mimics the use in Greek of the nominative participle after verbs of knowing. The irony here is that Eve does not know that she is eating death . . . or that death is eating her.This 'confusion' of tongues receives emphasis in Book 12, where the Archangel Michael prophesies to a fallen Adam of fallen humanity's attempt to construct the Tower of Babel and the ensuing, large-scale linguistic "confusion" (PL 12.62) inflicted upon humanity:
We see in process a fall of language here as Eve eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, a confusion of tongues prefiguring the biblical story about the Tower of Babel, a confusion suggested by Milton in mixing Greek with English.
But God who oft descends to visit menVerse 44 of Book 12 makes explicit that these fallen human beings are intent upon building the Tower of Babel to reach up to heaven, which recalls Eve's desire to attain divinity through her own illegitimate efforts. Upon hearing of mankind's wicked ways, Adam criticizes his descendents but is reminded by the Archangel Michael that original sin is to blame:
Unseen, and through thir habitations walks
To mark thir doings, them beholding soon, [ 50 ]
Comes down to see thir Citie, ere the Tower
Obstruct Heav'n Towrs, and in derision sets
Upon thir Tongues a various Spirit to rase
Quite out thir Native Language, and instead
To sow a jangling noise of words unknown (PL 12.48-55)
Since thy original lapse, true LibertieMilton may well believe that "[t]he end . . . of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents" and "that language is . . . the instrument conveying to us things useful to be known," as he writes in his treatise Of Education, yet his very words denote that something is to be repaired, and an effort must be strenuously made for education to be "recovered from the scholastic grossness of barbarous ages." An ultimate recovery might have been Milton's educational attempt in his epic Paradise Lost, for he must recover Edenic language to present to his readers the discourse of the prelapsarian couple, but the poem is centrally about loss, not recovery, and Milton would have to acknowledge that for the vast majority of mankind (i.e., perhaps everyone but Milton himself), learning has not repaired that ruin of our first parents, and that ruin would include the confusion of language.
Is lost, which alwayes with right Reason dwells
Twinn'd, and from her hath no dividual being: [ 85 ]
Reason in man obscur'd, or not obeyd (PL 12.83-86)
Milton laments in Of Education that so much of what passes for the learning of classical languages produces little more than educated fools whose linguistic efforts are a "wretched barbarizing against the Latin and Greek idiom, with their untutored Anglicisms," actual instances of a confusion of tongues that results from fusing languages divided at Babel. The confusion of tongues at Babel is a large-scale confusion, one in which human language in its totality is confused. The plethora of languages occasions more confusion, as one language influences another, 'barbarizing' it in the process. Perhaps this is what Milton is showing in Eve's Fall:
Greedily she ingorg'd without restraint,As already noted in the discussion of the Greek nominative participle following verbs of knowing, Greek grammar influences the English used here to describe Eve's Fall, and this is a 'barbarism' possible only after Babel's confusion of tongues, but it is retrojected upon Eve's act of eating, such that Eve's Fall prefigures Babel through a proleptic confusion of languages, specifically, Greek and English. In both Book 12's confusion of tongues and Book 9's confusion of grammars, therefore, Milton presents the effects of the Fall upon language -- the mixing properly called "con-fusion."
And knew not eating Death: (PL 9.791-2)
I'm afraid that I've been far from clear myself on this matter, but that's due to the ruin of our first parents and therefore not entirely my own fault . . .