03 May 2018

Good advice

"Peace, brother: be not over-exquisite
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils;
For, grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
What need a man forestall his date of grief,
And run to meet what he would most avoid ?"
Nothing special; just posting this for myself for future reference.

The passage above, remembered from some collegiate reading 50 years ago, popped into my mind yesterday and persisted as an earworm demanding that I uncover its source and context.  I searched for perhaps half an hour, using various combinations of the keywords, without success because I had also included "Shakespeare" in the search terms.  I finally discovered it was written by Milton, not Shakespeare, as the only passages I remember from his Comus.

And here's the context: two brothers searching for a lost sister -
While alone, she encounters the debauched Comus, a character inspired by the god of revelry (Ancient Greek: Κῶμος), who is disguised as a villager and claims he will lead her to her brothers. Deceived by his amiable countenance, the Lady follows him, only to be captured, brought to his pleasure palace and victimised by his necromancy. Seated on an enchanted chair, with "gums of glutinous heat", she is immobilised, and Comus accosts her while with one hand he holds a necromancer's wand and with the other he offers a vessel with a drink that would overpower her. Comus urges the Lady to "be not coy" and drink from his magical cup (representing sexual pleasure and intemperance), but she repeatedly refuses, arguing for the virtuousness of temperance and chastity. Within view at his palace is an array of cuisine intended to arouse the Lady's appetites and desires. Despite being restrained against her will, she continues to exercise right reason (recta ratio) in her disputation with Comus, thereby manifesting her freedom of mind. Whereas the would-be seducer argues appetites and desires issuing from one's nature are "natural" and therefore licit, the Lady contends that only rational self-control is enlightened and virtuous...
The rest of the story is at Wikipedia.   I'm curious about those "gums of glutinous heat," but don't plan ever again to wade through the convoluted prose of this masque.  But those five lines are still worth remembering, so I'll just leave them here.


  1. I think "gums" in this context refers to tree sap. Comus has her literally glued to her seat.

    1. Though some scholars apparently interpret it as a reference to sperm. If you can access JSTOR, there is much scholarly analysis of the line available.


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