Saturday, July 30, 2011

"Naked" in John Milton's Paradise Lost

Adam and Eve
Mural of Abreha and Atsbeha Church, Ethiopia
(Image from Wikipedia)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "nude" in the sense of "unclothed" enters fairly late into English:
B. n[oun].
1. a. Chiefly Art. A painting, sculpture, photograph, etc., of a naked human figure; a figure in such a painting, etc. Also: a naked person.
[1699 M. LISTER Journey to Paris 28 Such [statues] as were made Nudae are miserably disguised.] 1708 E. HATTON New View London II. 824/2 A Nude or Nudity, is a naked Figure painted or sculpted, without Drapery (or Cloathing).
Unsurprising, then, is the fact that Milton nowhere uses "nude" to describe the unclothed state of Adam and Eve, nor does he use "nude" in any other sense -- the word does not occur even once in his long poem.

He does use "naked" in Paradise Lost, and this term had entered English rather earlier:
A. adj. I. 1. Unclothed, having no clothing upon the body, stripped to the skin, nude . . . .
c 850 O. E. Martyrol. (Herzfeld) 26, pa het he hi nacode laedan to sumum scandhuse. . . . c 1369 Chaucer, Dethe Blaunche 125, Hyr women . . . broghten hir in bed al naked.
We see that the term in the sense of "unclothed" appeared as early as 850 (nacode) and was clearly used in its sexual sense by Chaucer's time, around 1369 (naked).

Milton thus had no choice but to use "naked" to describe Adam and Eve, but he makes a distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian nakedness, as we can see by looking at all instances of the word "naked" in Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost 4.285-294 gives us our first glimpse of Adam and Eve through the eyes of none other than Satan himself:
. . . the Fiend [ 285 ]
Saw undelighted all delight, all kind
Of living Creatures new to sight and strange:
Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,
Godlike erect, with native Honour clad
In naked Majestie seemd Lords of all, [ 290 ]
And worthie seemd, for in thir looks Divine
The image of thir glorious Maker shon,
Truth, wisdome, Sanctitude severe and pure,
Severe but in true filial freedom plac't;
Despite seeing with Satan's eyes, we perceive their "naked Majestie" and see that they were unashamed before God or Angel a bit further on, in lines 319-324:
So passd they naked on, nor shund the sight
Of God or Angel, for they thought no ill: [ 320 ]
So hand in hand they passd, the lovliest pair
That ever since in loves imbraces met,
Adam the goodliest man of men since borne
His Sons, the fairest of her Daughters Eve.
The scene even becomes somewhat erotic in lines 492-504, but are we seeing with the devil's eyes?
So spake our general Mother, and with eyes
Of conjugal attraction unreprov'd,
And meek surrender, half imbracing leand
On our first Father, half her swelling Breast [ 495 ]
Naked met his under the flowing Gold
Of her loose tresses hid: he in delight
Both of her Beauty and submissive Charms
Smil'd with superior Love, as Jupiter
On Juno smiles, when he impregns the Clouds [ 500 ]
That shed May Flowers; and press'd her Matron lip
With kisses pure: aside the Devil turnd
For envie, yet with jealous leer maligne
Ey'd them askance, and to himself thus plaind.
Eventually, in lines 705-715, they seek privacy and are hidden from Satan's eyes, but not from ours:
. . . In shadie Bower [ 705 ]
More sacred and sequesterd, though but feignd,
Pan or Silvanus never slept, nor Nymph,
Nor Faunus haunted. Here in close recess
With Flowers, Garlands, and sweet-smelling Herbs
Espoused Eve deckt first her Nuptial Bed, [ 710 ]
And heav'nlyly Quires the Hymen├Žan sung,
What day the genial Angel to our Sire
Brought her in naked beauty more adorn'd
More lovely then Pandora, whom the Gods
Endowd with all thir gifts,
After implied but undescribed lovemaking, they sleep in lines 771-775:
These lulld by Nightingales imbraceing slept,
And on thir naked limbs the flourie roof
Showrd Roses, which the Morn repair'd. Sleep on
Blest pair; and O yet happiest if ye seek
No happier state, and know to know no more. [ 775 ]
Paradise Lost 5.376-385 shows the naked pair in the presence of Raphael:
. . . So to the Silvan Lodge
They came, that like Pomona's Arbour smil'd
With flourets deck't and fragrant smells; but Eve
Undeckt, save with her self more lovely fair [ 380 ]
Then Wood-Nymph, or the fairest Goddess feign'd
Of three that in Mount Ida naked strove,
Stood to entertain her guest from Heav'n; no vaile
Shee needed, Vertue-proof, no thought infirme
Alterd her cheek.
Lines 443-450 continue the scene:
. . . Mean while at Table Eve
Ministerd naked, and thir flowing cups
With pleasant liquors crown'd: O innocence [ 445 ]
Deserving Paradise! if ever, then,
Then had the Sons of God excuse to have bin
Enamour'd at that sight; but in those hearts
Love unlibidinous reign'd, nor jealousie
Was understood, the injur'd Lovers Hell.
How different, then, their postlapsarin nakedness, first noted in Paradise Lost 9.1052-1064:
As from unrest, and each the other viewing,
Soon found thir Eyes how op'nd, and thir minds
How dark'nd; innocence, that as a veile
Had shadow'd them from knowing ill, was gon, [ 1055 ]
Just confidence, and native righteousness
And honour from about them, naked left
To guiltie shame hee cover'd, but his Robe
Uncover'd more, so rose the Danite strong
Herculean Samson from the Harlot-lap [ 1060 ]
Of Philistean Dalilah, and wak'd
Shorn of his strength, They destitute and bare
Of all thir vertue: silent, and in face
Confounded long they sate, as struck'n mute,
Adam laments their shameful nakedness in lines 1070-1076:
. . . since our Eyes [ 1070 ]
Op'nd we find indeed, and find we know
Both Good and Evil, Good lost, and Evil got,
Bad Fruit of Knowledge, if this be to know,
Which leaves us naked thus, of Honour void,
Of Innocence, of Faith, of Puritie, [ 1075 ]
Our wonted Ornaments now soild and staind,
They try to cover themselves in lines 1110-1120:
. . . Those Leaves [ 1110 ]
They gatherd, broad as Amazonian Targe,
And with what skill they had, together sowd,
To gird thir waste, vain Covering if to hide
Thir guilt and dreaded shame; O how unlike
To that first naked Glorie. Such of late [ 1115 ]
Columbus found th' American so girt
With featherd Cincture, naked else and wilde
Among the Trees on Iles and woodie Shores.
Thus fenc't, and as they thought, thir shame in part
Coverd, but not at rest or ease of Mind, [ 1120 ]
Adam blames Eve for their shameful condition in lines 1134-1139:
Would thou hadst heark'nd to my words, and stai'd
With me, as I besought thee, when that strange [ 1135 ]
Desire of wandring this unhappie Morn,
I know not whence possessd thee; we had then
Remaind still happie, not as now, despoild
Of all our good, sham'd, naked, miserable.
Paradise Lost 10.116-123 describes the encounter of Adam and Eve with God after their fall into sin:
I heard thee in the Garden, and of thy voice
Affraid, being naked, hid my self. To whom
The gracious Judge without revile repli'd.

My voice thou oft hast heard, and hast not fear'd,
But still rejoyc't, how is it now become [ 120 ]
So dreadful to thee? that thou art naked, who
Hath told thee? hast thou eaten of the Tree
Whereof I gave thee charge thou shouldst not eat?
In lines 209-223, God clothes the naked couple:
So judg'd he Man, both Judge and Saviour sent,
And th' instant stroke of Death denounc't that day [ 210 ]
Remov'd farr off; then pittying how they stood
Before him naked to the aire, that now
Must suffer change, disdain'd not to begin
Thenceforth the form of servant to assume,
As when he wash'd his servants feet so now [ 215 ]
As Father of his Familie he clad
Thir nakedness with Skins of Beasts, or slain,
Or as the Snake with youthful Coate repaid;
And thought not much to cloath his Enemies:
Nor hee thir outward onely with the Skins [ 220 ]
Of Beasts, but inward nakedness, much more
Opprobrious, with his Robe of righteousness,
Araying cover'd from his Fathers sight.
And those are all the instances of "naked" in Paradise Lost. Make of them what you will. I have too little time this morning to analyze them in any depth.

All quoted material from Milton's poem comes courtesy of Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, July, 2011.

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At 3:14 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Technology in Eden:

Apple provided the Hope-Rating Sin-Stem.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hope and change . . . pocket change.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:30 PM, Anonymous JoeN said...

"naked" also has the advantage of being a crisply two syllable word. For a poet as alert to the nuances of sound as was Milton, it's something of a gift.

One can't help wondering too what "naked" really meant to a seventeenth century Puritan, living life on the run from the plague and after an apparently rocky marriage to a younger girl.

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks Mr. Joe N. (not Joe Namath, I presume).

I wonder how the word "naked" was pronounced in Milton's time.

By the way, Milton had remarried happily after his first wife died, and relatively happily after his second wife died, if I recall.

Jeffery Hodges

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