In book one of The Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce, it is written:

But all ingenuous men will see that the dignity & blessing of mariage is plac’t rather in the mutual enjoyment of that which the wanting soul needfully seeks, then of that which the plenteous body would joyfully give away. Hence it is that Plato in his festival discours brings in Socrates relating what he fain’d to have learnt from the Prophetesse Diotima, how Love was the Sonne of Penury, begot of Plenty in the Garden of Iupiter. Which divinely sorts with that which in effect Moses tells us, that Love was the son of Lonelines, begot in Paradise by that sociable and helpfull aptitude which God implanted between man and woman toward each other. The same also is that burning mention’d by S. Paul, whereof mariage ought to be the remedy; the Flesh hath other naturall and easie curbs which are in the power of any temperate man.

What easie curbs are meant here? I can't think of any other than fasting mentioned in this chapter.

1 Answer 1


Milton is arguing here that the true burning that drives human beings to marry is not lust but loneliness. He presents sexual desire as an excess: that which the plenteous body would joyfully give away. By contrast, the desire for a soulmate is cast as a lack: that which the wanting soul needfully seeks.

Since sexual desire is the result of excess, it can be controlled by leading a life without excess, i.e., by exercising moderation. Milton has enumerated the easie curbs to physical desire earlier in the chapter:

As for that other burning, which is but as it were the venom of a lusty and over-abounding concoction, strict life and labour, with the abatement of a full diet may keep that low and obedient enough.

According to Milton, it is within any person's capabilities to lead a regulated life of hard work and sparse diet, and thereby overcome sexual yearning. But the yearning for companionship is not as easily overcome. A disciplined person who engages in physical labor and eats a moderate diet will master the desire to mate physically, but will nevertheless feel the desire for a soulmate.

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