Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Milton's Prelapsarian Seasons?

The Four Seasons
(Image from Wikipedia)

In Book 5 of John Milton's Paradise Lost, the angel Raphael descends from heaven to warn Adam and Eve to beware of the fallen angel Satan, who intends to do them evil if he can. As Raphael initially approaches the first couple's bower, Adam spies him coming and calls out to Eve to prepare for an arriving guest a table of fruits for noontime refreshment. We are told of Eve's response to Adam's words:
To whom thus Eve. Adam, earths hallowd mould,
Of God inspir'd, small store will serve, where store,
All seasons, ripe for use hangs on the stalk;
Save what by frugal storing firmness gains
To nourish, and superfluous moist consumes . . . . (
PL 5.321-325)
Eve replies by reminding Adam that everything needed for the midday meal is amply supplied, for the ripened fruits of all seasons hangs ripe on stalks, except for what is improved by plucking and storing. Later in the same book, the narrator describes Eve's table, laden with fruits:
. . . Rais'd of grassie terf
Thir Table was, and mossie seats had round,
And on her ample Square from side to side
All Autumn pil'd, though Spring and Autumn here
Danc'd hand in hand. (
PL 5.391-395)
Here, we learn that autumn's fruits were piled upon the table. But what 'seasons' were being referred to earlier by Eve, and what 'spring' and 'autumn' are here being referred to by the narrator, for the earth had no actual seasons until Book 10, where God commands the angels to alter creation so as to produce the four seasons as part of the punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve:
Some say he bid his Angels turne ascanse
The Poles of Earth twice ten degrees and more
From the Suns Axle; they with labour push'd
Oblique the Centric Globe: Som say the Sun
Was bid turn Reines from th' Equinoctial Rode
Like distant breadth to Taurus with the Seav'n
Atlantick Sisters, and the Spartan Twins
Up to the Tropic Crab; thence down amaine
By Leo and the Virgin and the Scales,
As deep as Capricorne, to bring in change
Of Seasons to each Clime; else had the Spring
Perpetual smil'd on Earth with vernant Flours,
Equal in Days and Nights . . . . (
PL 10.668-680)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, December 2008]
Only now does the shifted celestial pole -- or perhaps the sun's altered orbit -- "bring in change / Of Seasons to each Clime" through the course of the year, so what is meant by the prelapsarian references to seasons? The narrator, being of postlapsarian times, could be speaking figuratively, having greater knowledge of such things, but how would Eve know anything of seasons?

Perhaps I'll look further into this point.

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