Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Important Quotations Explained
1. Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful
Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen
Seed, In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme.
2. Hail holy Light, offspring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached Light
Dwelt from Eternity, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence increate.
. . .
thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy Sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit’st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quencht thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil’d. Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Clear Spring, or shady Grove, or Sunny Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song . . .
. . .
So much the rather thou Celestial Light
Shine inward, and the mind through all powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
3. . . . though both
Not equal, as thir sex not equal seem’d;
For contemplation hee and valor form’d,
For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace,
Hee for God only, shee for God in him:
His fair large Front and Eye sublime declar’d
Absolute rule; and Hyacinthine Locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clust’ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
Shee as a veil down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevell’d, but in wanton ringlets wav’d
As the Vine curls her tendrils, which impli’d
Subjection, but requir’d with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best receiv’d,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet reluctant amorous delay.
4. What better can we do, than to place
Repairing where he judg’d us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground, and with our sighs the
Air Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sigh
Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek.
Undoubtedly he will relent and turn
From his displeasure; in whose look serene,
When angry most he seem’d and most severe,
What else but favor, grace, and mercy shone?
So spake our Father penitent, nor Eve
Felt less remorse: they forthwith to the place
Repairing where he judg’d them prostrate fell
Before him reverent, and both confess’d
Humbly their faults, and pardon begg’d, with tears
Watering the ground, and with their sighs the
Air Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign
Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek.
5. This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of Wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knew’st by name, and all th’ ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Nature’s works,
Or works of God in Heav’n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all riches of this World enjoy’dst,
And all the rule, one Empire: only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt though not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far.
Michael continues relating the story of the future of humankind to Adam. After the flood, humankind develops from a “second stock”: Noah and his family (XII.7). Humans now act more obediently to God than humans before the Flood, offering sacrifices from their flocks and fields. However, several generations later, a leader arrives with proud and ungodly ambitions. This upstart is Nimrod, a tyrant who forces many men under his rule. He constructs the Tower of Babel in an attempt to reach up to Heaven. As punishment, God decrees that men will now speak different languages and be unable to understand each other. Adam agrees with Michael that no one should have dominion over other people, who are by nature free. Michael qualifies this freedom: because of the fall, he says, men only have true liberty when they obey “right reason,” or reason tempered by conscience (XII.84). Still, Michael adds, it remains a great sin for one person to take away the liberty of another.
Continuing his story, Michael explains that God chooses Israel as the one nation to rise above the rest. He takes one person, Abraham, father of the Israelites, from a race that worships idols. At God’s command, Abraham sets off from his native land and travels to Canaan, the Promised Land. His descendants eventually move to Egypt, and become enslaved by Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. Finally, a man named Moses is born, and he eventually leads the people out of Egypt, through the plagues brought down upon the Pharaoh. Michael tells how God allowed the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea, then closed the waters around the Pharaoh’s army, which had come to recapture the Israelites. The followers of Moses must travel through the desert to return to Canaan, but they survive with the help of God.
Adam is much relieved to hear that God will bless a portion of humankind, after having it cursed for so long. But he does not understand how all the laws given to these people can possibly be obeyed, or how the Israelites are to remain just before God. Michael replies that they cannot remain just, even if they obey the law, until a greater sacrifice is made. He explains that after generations, the Israelites will turn more and more to sin, until God decides to strengthen their enemies. When they repent, God will save them from these same enemies. After many different rulers, there will come a king named David, and from his descendants will eventually come a Messiah, or chosen one. This Messiah, also known as Jesus or the Son, will once again bring together Earth and Heaven. However, he will have to suffer for it: he shall be hated by many while he lives and will be distrusted, betrayed, and punished by death. However, the grave will not hold this Messiah for long, and rising up he will defeat both Sin and Death, and bruise the head of Satan. His resurrection fulfills the prophecy about the Son finally punishing Satan through his sacrifice. Adam worries that the followers of Jesus will be persecuted, and Michael confirms that they will indeed be persecuted. However, the Archangel says, from Heaven the Messiah will send down the Holy Spirit to provide spiritual protection. But after the first followers die, corrupt leaders as well as good ones will enter the church. Thus those who genuinely follow the truth will still be prosecuted, laments Michael: the world will continue to accommodate evil and make it difficult for individuals to do good deeds. Finally, the Messiah will return a second time, to judge all humankind and reunite Heaven and Earth.
Adam is now more than comforted. He can hardly believe that out of his evil deed so much good will come. Now, however, it is time for him and Eve to leave Paradise. He comes down from the mountain with Michael. Eve awakens from her sleep and tells Adam that she has had an educating dream. Michael then leads the couple to the gate of Eden. There he stands with other angels, brandishing a sword of flame that will forever protect the entrance to Paradise. Slowly and tearfully, Adam and Eve turn away hand in hand with Michael, and wander out into a new world.
The discussion between Adam and Michael about Nimrod and the Tower of Babel provides Milton with an opportunity to express his fundamental ideas about political and religious freedom. Adam’s admonishment of Nimrod for trying to control other men is the most extreme example of Milton’s distrust of institutions and his absolute faith in the ability of the individual person to make his own decisions. Humankind’s freedom has already been restricted by the fall, but humankind can still obey reason if individuals think and act separately and for God. When individuals use reason in this way, then they possess true freedom. However, because of Adam’s sin, humankind will find it difficult to always follow reason; when an individual strays from God and from reason, he becomes a slave to passions and desires, and is thus not truly free at all, but becomes a slave to desire. This paradox is the reason why Milton did not feel that total individual freedom, within the Church for example, would result in anarchy. Each person can act separately with reason and obey God. The rest of Michael’s discourse follows the biblical accounts closely. He progresses through the Old Testament, working his way through the most significant events until he comes to the line of King David, the line from which the Messiah would come. When Milton comes to Jesus’ birth, he works more of his own personal interpretations into the biblical story. When Adam asks Michael how the Israelites could possibly follow all of the laws that God gave them, which are contained in the four books following Genesis in the Bible, Milton begins a brief discussion of the Christian view of Old Testament law. Through the vision, Milton explains that law can identify and punish wrongdoing but cannot abolish or eradicate it completely. Without a proper remedy for Adam’s sin, attempts to obey God’s law only emphasize humankind’s sinfulness, according to Christian belief. This lack of a remedy is why the Israelites failed time and again to keep their covenant with God. When a worthy sacrifice is made, when Jesus offers himself on the cross, only then could humankind be capable of doing anything pleasing to God.
Adam brings up the pivotal concept of the fortunate fall, which asserts that the fall of humankind is fortunate for several reasons. Adam and Eve’s disobedience allows God to show his mercy and temperance in their punishments and his eternal providence toward humankind. This display of love and compassion, given through the Son, is a gift to humankind. Humankind must now experience pain and death, but it can also experience mercy, salvation, and grace in ways it would not have been able to had Adam and Eve not disobeyed. While humankind has fallen from grace, it can redeem and save itself through a continued devotion and obedience to God. The salvation of humankind, in the form of the Son’s (Jesus’) sacrifice and resurrection, can begin to restore humankind to its former state. In other words, good will come of sin and death, and humankind will eventually be rewarded. This fortunate result justifies God’s reasoning and explains his ultimate plan for humankind.
Adam’s ability to perceive the fall as a fortunate one is an inherent paradox in Milton’s mixture of the human and the divine. Adam is to be judged according to what he did in his own time, and yet he is allowed to see all the future consequences of his actions in an instant. A mortal mind cannot readily accept this idea. Few Christian thinkers (certainly not Milton) would say that the sin of Adam and Eve was an unequivocally good thing. Rather, the fall and the resurrection are both intimate parts of God’s providence—he foresees them both and sees them outside of time, existing together. Humankind, on the other hand, must do its best in a temporal world, dealing with the decisions of the present. As Adam and Eve leave Paradise, they know that obedience to God and love for his creation can help humankind toward its salvation, and lead humankind toward regaining the Paradise that has been lost.
God hears the prayers of Adam and Eve, inspired by his own grace. He allows his Son to act as an advocate for humankind, and eventually pay for humankind’s sins. The Father then calls all the angels of Heaven together, and announces his plans. He commands the Archangel Michael to go down to Earth and escort Adam and Eve out of Paradise. They can no longer live in a pure place now that they are impure. But through leading a good and moral life, they may be reunited with God after their death. To make the news easier on them, God allows Michael to show Adam a vision of what is to come in the future of humankind.
Adam anticipates that God has heard their prayers. He reassures Eve that she will be able to seek revenge on Satan by being the mother of humankind. She still feels ashamed for bringing Sin and Death into the world, and does not feel that she deserves to have such a role. Nevertheless, she asserts, she will try to obey God and live peacefully in Paradise. Michael then flies down from Heaven and tells them that they must leave Paradise. This news shocks and saddens them, even though their death will be delayed so that they may live for many years. Michael comforts them with the knowledge that all of the Earth, not just Paradise, has been given to them by God and is under the eye of the Father. They are saddened to leave Paradise but know they must obey God’s command. Adam laments that he will never be able to speak with God again, but Michael explains that Adam can speak to God wherever he goes. The Archangel then puts Eve to sleep and takes Adam up to a high hill to show him visions of humankind’s future.
From the highest hill in Paradise, Michael allows Adam to see nearly an entire hemisphere of the Earth. Adam sees two men offering sacrifices, and watches in horror as one of them kills the other. Michael explains that these men are Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve. Adam is shocked and dismayed at his first vision of death. The angel then shows him the other ways that death will take the lives of men: disease, war, and old age. Adam asks if there is any alternative to death, woefully declaring that he could not die too soon, but Michael advises him that obeying God and living a virtuous life can allow people to live long and fruitful lives, so long as Heaven permits.
Next a vision appears of men and women enjoying dances, games, and amorous courting. Adam assumes that this vision is a good portent, but Michael informs him that they are atheists who live for pleasure, not for God, and that they will die as well. This image is followed by the appearance of great armies, slaughtering men by the thousands and plundering cities. Michael tells how war will be praised by violent men, and many terrible conquerors will be admired as heroes. One man, Michael explains, will try to prevent these wars: Enoch. The other men shun him and threaten to kill him, until God lifts him up and brings him safely to Heaven. The scene then changes to further sins of death and dancing and sex. These scenes depict a later era in which sins of the flesh will abound. A single man can be seen, preaching to the others to repent and stop this evil way of life, but he is ignored. He goes off into the mountains and constructs a giant boat, filling it with all the animals of the Earth, and his family. A great flood then comes, wiping out all living things except those on the boat. The good man who builds the boat is Noah. Michael explains how God was angered by humankind’s sinful ways, and decided to cleanse the earth of them. He finds one virtuous man, Noah, and preserves humankind through him. The flood wipes out all human life except for Noah and his family. At the end of the flood, Adam sees a rainbow appear and God’s covenant with humankind that he will never again destroy the Earth by flood. Adam feels reassured by this story and its promise that virtue and obedience to God will continue on Earth through Noah.
The visions in Books XI and XII provide a larger context to Paradise Lost and allow Milton to “justify the ways of God to men” (I.26) and to conclude his epic poem with the message that one must live virtuously and be obedient to God. These stories, narrated as Adam’s visions, explain why God allows sin and death into the world, and why God wants us to live a certain way. Without these visions and stories, Milton could not explain God’s reasoning and his glorious plan for humankind. These visions enable Milton to transcend his focus from the first narrative in the Bible to subsequent books, so that he can discuss human history in broad terms. Part of his message is that human history should be told in terms of its sins, not its advancements in civilizations or invention. These visions expose a dangerous cycle of sins, from sloth and envy to gluttony and lust. Through these visions, Milton asserts the need for repentance and service to God.
Adam and Eve’s repentance is made possible through the grace of God. The act of repentance was necessary for salvation, and since God wanted humankind to be redeemed, he planted the seeds of repentance in the souls of Adam and Eve. This realization is appropriate to the belief that humankind, after the fall, is totally depraved. Adam and Eve cannot do anything good on their own accord without God’s guidance. God also now specifically reveals why he allows Death to come into the world. Humankind is now impure and unfit for Paradise, as well as for the kingdom of Heaven. The sacrifice of Jesus makes humankind worthy of Heaven: his sacrifice is humankind’s final remedy. The price of Jesus’ sacrifice is heavy, but the reward outweighs the cost. After death, humankind can be purified and renewed, thus restoring them to their previous position as God’s obedient children.
The whole sequence of visions contains a careful emotional balance between grief at the corruption of sin and joy at the redemption of the moral soul. Michael evokes this balance through these visions to inform Adam of humankind’s sins and punishments, as well as their sacrifices and rewards. Otherwise, he might have given up hope, and God does not want humankind to fall victim to the same despair that doomed Satan. On the other hand, Adam cannot fail to realize just how depraved humankind will become as a result of the fall—Adam and Eve’s sins will be repeated again and again by their children and their children’s children. The vision of ensuing decay through war, disease and intemperate living gives Adam a tremendous sense of worry and shame. But the figure of Enoch, the one who is saved by God, demonstrates the need to stand up for one’s moral beliefs, even if other nonbelievers will kill one for such integrity. The strength and hope in Enoch’s story gives Adam the confidence he needs to continue living obedient to God.
Milton presents Adam, along with other men from his vision, as prefigurations of Christ. The whole scene with Adam on the mountain prefigures an event in Jesus’ life. In the Gospels, Satan takes Jesus up onto a mountain and offers him all the kingdoms of the world, if he will bow down in worship to the devil. Adam’s time on the mountain is not such a test, but it does tax his courage. Likewise, Enoch’s ability to stand up for his beliefs shows the redemptive qualities of humankind. The story of Noah shows that his unwavering belief in God helps to save the virtues of humankind. Noah is given such an important place here because Milton, like many other Christian thinkers, thought of him as a Christ figure: a single man whose virtue in the face of evil saves humankind. From the stories of Enoch and Noah, Adam can recognize the power of devotion to God. These visions, and Adam himself, demonstrate the path of greatness that prefigures the salvation of humankind through Jesus’ sacrifice. These visions also demonstrate Milton’s belief that a true measure of a person, from Adam up until modern times, is his or her virtuous relationship with God.
The scene returns to Heaven, where God knows immediately that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Gabriel and the other angels guarding Paradise also know, and they fly back up to Heaven. They report that they did all they could to prevent Satan from re-entering the Garden. God tells them that he allowed it himself without condoning it, and acquits his angels of any guilt. He then sends his Son down to Earth to pass judgment on the couple.
In Paradise, the Son calls to Adam, who comes forth shamefacedly along with Eve. They are embarrassed by their nakedness. Asked if they have eaten from the tree, Adam admits that Eve gave the fruit to him to eat, and Eve blames the serpent for persuading her to take it. The Son first condemns the serpent, whose body Satan possessed to tempt Eve. He ordains that all snakes now must crawl on their bellies, never to carry themselves upright again. The Son decrees that Adam and Eve’s children will bruise the serpent’s head, while serpent will forever bite humans by the heel. As punishment for the couple, Eve and all women to follow will give birth in pain, and must submit to their husbands. Likewise, Adam and all men after him will have to labor to hunt and harvest food in cursed ground. After passing these sentences, the Son returns to Heaven.
Meanwhile in Hell, Sin and Death remain at the gate of Hell where Satan left them. Sensing that Satan has succeeded in his task, they finish the bridge linking Hell to Earth and begin to travel toward Earth to meet him. At the edge of Paradise, Sin and Death meet Satan. They congratulate him for succeeding in his mission and promise him that they will infect the Earth. Death will corrupt all living things, causing them to die, and Sin will corrupt the thoughts and deeds of humankind. They also tell Satan that his success must have allowed them to leave Hell, proving that he has established his control over humankind and Earth. Satan thanks Sin and Death for their praises and urges them to hurry on their way to conquer Earth. Satan believes that he has in fact acquired the special powers Sin and Death spoke of, when in truth God allows them to enter Earth so that the Son can conquer them when he becomes human. Now, Satan goes back down to Hell, where his followers have been eagerly waiting his return. Satan speaks to them from Pandemonium, tells them of his triumph, and expects to hear riotous applause. Instead, he hears hisses signifying scorn for him and his devastating act. The devils have all been transformed into snakes, along with Satan, who did not understand the punishment the Son foretold. A grove of trees appears in Hell, with fruit that turns to ashes as soon as the snakes try to bite it.
Sin and Death arrive on Earth and begin their work. From Heaven, God sees that they have come to Earth and tells his angels that he will allow Sin and Death to stay on Earth until Judgement Day. After then, they must return to Hell and be forever locked up with Satan and the other devils.
God now calls for his angels to alter the universe. They tilt the Earth’s axis or alter the path of the sun (the poem allows for both interpretations). Now humankind will have to endure extreme hot and cold seasons, instead of enjoying the constant temperate climate that existed before Adam and Eve’s fall from God’s grace. Meanwhile, Discord follows Sin to Earth and causes animals to war with each other and with humans too. Seeing these changes, Adam is sorrowful, and laments. He knows that the rest of humankind will suffer because of his disobedience, and wishes that he could bear all of the punishment upon himself. He curses life and wishes that Death would come at once to alleviate his misery. Instead, Eve comes to him. But Adam is angry; he blames and insults Eve’s female nature, wondering why God ever created her. She begs his forgiveness, and pleads with him not to leave her. She reminds him that the snake tricked her, but she fully accepts the blame for sinning against both God and him. She argues that unity and love can save them in a fallen world. She longs for death and suggests that they take their own lives, but Adam forbids it. Eve’s speech affects Adam. He becomes calm, consoling her and sharing responsibility for their fall. They must stop blaming each other, he says. They must live with their mistakes and make the most out of their fallen state. Remembering the prophecy that Eve’s seed would bruise the head of the serpent, he feels that there is hope for humankind and advises that they obey God and implore his mercy and forgiveness. They return to the spot where they were punished. There, they fall to their knees, confess their sins, and ask for forgiveness.
If Book IX presents the climax of Paradise Lost, then Book X presents its resolution, as the punishments that the Son hands out restore some sort of order to the world. Satan and the other supporting characters disappear from the rest of the poem, eliminating the source of human temptation and thus focusing the poem on Adam and Eve’s regret. But Adam and Eve begin to redeem humankind with their repentance at the end of Book X. As a result, these characters will disappear from the story, and humankind’s predicted redemption will take precedence as the story continues, with Adam and Eve learning about their fallen future.
The devils’ punishment to live as snakes forever tempted by fruit on a glorious tree echoes Satan’s temptation of Eve. Now they must forever suffer the pains of desire without ever having hope of attaining their wishes, a punishment befitting their crime. To have the devils frozen in a state of perpetual desire and unattainable satisfaction is fit for a group of evildoers who continue to battle God through their disobedience.
Milton uses the concept of typology—the Christian belief that Old Testament characters symbolize and predict New Testament characters—to demonstrate the intimate relationship between the fall of humankind and the redemption of humankind. This relationship between the fall and the resurrection forms the base of the Christian interpretation of the Bible. Milton considers Mary, the mother of the Son (Jesus), to be the “second Eve.” As Sin and Death came into the world through Eve, the Son would conquer Sin and Death through Mary. Likewise, Milton considers Jesus to be a “second Adam” who corrects Adam and Eve’s disobedience through his resurrection. Through these comparisons between Eve and Mary, and Adam and Jesus, the fall and the resurrection become intertwined. The fall is the cause of human history; the resurrection is the result of human history.
Although Adam and Eve are ailing at the end of Book IX, they take action in Book X and separate their fate from Satan’s fate. Satan, as Milton shows, cannot allow himself to repent. His damnation is permanent since his disobedience comes from within and without repentance. On the other hand, humankind’s disobedience comes from the temptation of another. This idea helps to explain Adam and Eve’s actions and subsequent punishment at the end of Book X. Realizing the terrible consequences of their actions, they come dangerously close to rationalizing suicide, but Adam decides to beg God for forgiveness—the only right answer, in Milton’s opinion. Though the coming of the Son and the salvation of humankind had already been foretold, the couple’s decision to repent is crucial in God’s willingness to forgive them. God will show mercy when asked, but as we see with Satan, there can be no mercy without repentance. In one of the most important quotations in Paradise Lost, Milton poetically demonstrates the importance of Adam and Eve’s decision in the last several lines of Book X. Adam explains how their repentance and prayer will occur, and then as they pray, Milton duplicates Adam’s explanation as the actual action of their prayer. As Adam explains to Eve:
What better can we do, than to the place
Repairing where he judg’d us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground. . .
This moment of prayer is crucial because now humankind will not all go the way of Satan, because man produces what the devil could not: true sorrow and regret.
Milton gives Eve the ability to argue persuasively to Adam, showing her intelligence and talents after all. Eve’s displays a new humility and grace when she repents after the fall. Her strength lies in her ability to relate her feelings to Adam, feelings that Adam shares. Eve’s contemplation of suicide is a sign of weakness, but after Eve’s moving speech, Adam is able to help see—and to help her see—why they should not commit suicide. As they lose hope of Paradise, they witness the hope of their race: God’s Son, Jesus. It is this hope that prevents the couple from taking their own lives when they realize the extent of their punishment. They choose hope over despair. Milton resolves their distinguished differences through a display of unity: Eve’s loving and emotional arguments to stay together and Adam’s rational argument to repent help them begin to save humankind together. Their similarities and teamwork, not their differences and occasional parity, allow them to obey reason and survive.
Book IX, Lines 404–1189
Satan, in the form of the serpent, searches for the couple. He is delighted to find Eve alone. Coiling up, he gets her attention, and begins flattering her beauty, grace, and godliness. Eve is amazed to see a creature of the Garden speak. He tells her in enticing language that he gained the gifts of speech and intellect by eating the savory fruit of one of the trees in the garden. He flatters Eve by saying that eating the apple also made him seek her out in order to worship her beauty.
Eve is amazed by the power that this fruit supposedly gives the snake. Curious to know which tree holds this fruit, Eve follows Satan until he brings her to the Tree of Knowledge. She recoils, telling him that God has forbidden them to eat from this tree, but Satan persists, arguing that God actually wants them to eat from the tree. Satan says that God forbids it only because he wants them to show their independence. Eve is now seriously tempted. The flattery has made her desire to know more. She reasons that God claimed that eating from this tree meant death, but the serpent ate (or so he claims) and not only does he still live, but can speak and think. God would have no reason to forbid the fruit unless it were powerful, Eve thinks, and seeing it right before her eyes makes all of the warnings seem exaggerated. It looks so perfect to Eve. She reaches for an apple, plucks it from the tree, and takes a bite. The Earth then feels wounded and nature sighs in woe, for with this act, humankind has fallen.
Eve’s first fallen thought is to find Adam and to have him eat of the forbidden fruit too so that they might be equal. She finds him nearby, and in hurried words tells him that she has eaten the fruit, and that her eyes have been opened. Adam drops the wreath of flowers he made for her. He is horrified because he knows that they are now doomed, but immediately decides that he cannot possibly live without Eve. Eve does not want Adam to remain and have another woman; she wants him to suffer the same fate as she. Adam realizes that if she is to be doomed, then he must follow. He eats the fruit. He too feels invigorated at first. He turns a lustful eye on Eve, and they run off into the woods for sexual play.
Adam and Eve fall asleep briefly, but upon awakening they see the world in a new way. They recognize their sin, and realize that they have lost Paradise. At first, Adam and Eve both believe that they will gain glorious amounts of knowledge, but the knowledge that they gained by eating the apple was only of the good that they had lost and the evil that they had brought upon themselves. They now see each other’s nakedness and are filled with shame. They cover themselves with leaves. Milton explains that their appetite for knowledge has been fulfilled, and their hunger for God has been quenched. Angry and confused, they continue to blame each other for committing the sin, while neither will admit any fault. Their shameful and tearful argument continues for hours.
The ease with which Satan persuades Eve to sin paints an unflattering portrayal of woman, one that accords with Milton’s portrayal throughout the poem of women as the weaker sex. Eve allows the serpent’s compliments to win her over, demonstrating that she cares more about superficial things such as beauty than profound things such as God’s grace. Furthermore, that Eve gives in to the serpent after only a few deceptive arguments reveals her inability to reason soundly. Not only is she herself corruptible, however, but she also seeks to corrupt others: her immediate reaction upon discovering her sin is to lure Adam into her fate. Rather than repent and take full responsibility for her actions, she moves instinctively to drag Adam down with her to make him share her suffering. Eve thus comes across as an immoral and harmful being, one whose values are skewed and who has a bad influence on others.
Satan’s argument that knowledge is good because knowing what is good and evil makes it easier to do what is good wrongfully assumes that knowledge is always good. This flaw in his argument is the theological thrust of this book: though the intellect is powerful and god-like, obeying God is a higher priority than feeding the intellect. Milton believes that one cannot first obey reason and then obey God; rather one must trust God and then trust reason. Raphael’s wise argument from Book VIII about the limitations of human knowledge and the need to feel comfortable with this limited knowledge, is blatantly neglected or forgotten. If Eve had stayed to listen to Raphael and Adam’s discussion and had recognized the dangers of working separately, then she could have been safer from Satan’s temptation. Or if Adam had relayed Raphael’s warning message to Eve more thoroughly and persuasively, and if he had denied Eve’s suggestion that they work separately, then the fall might have been avoidable. Eve overestimates the powers of her ability to protect herself and to resist temptation, and Adam underestimates the need to protect Eve and share his knowledge with her. Both must suffer from each other’s shortfalls.
Adam sins not out of a desire to gain the knowledge from eating the fruit, but out of recognition that Eve has left him with little or no alternative. Adam needs even less persuading than Eve to eat the apple, and does so knowing that he is disobeying God. He knows that he could not be happy if Eve were banished, and his desire to stay with Eve overwhelms his desire to obey God. Adam’s sin of temptation is choosing Eve over God, letting physical and emotional impulses overtake reason. The wreath of flowers he makes for Eve symbolizes his love for her. When he sees that she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, he drops the wreath, symbolizing her fallen state. The dropping of the wreath may also hint at Adam’s disappointment in Eve as a spiritual lover and companion, and even his falling out of pure love with her. After Adam eats from the apple, his attraction to Eve changes subtly, and he looks at her more like a connoisseur, eager to indulge. The sexuality the two display is now perverted, their love in the dark forest more lustful and animal-like than their earlier love in the lush, bright bower. Their arguing and blaming of each other demonstrate their lack of unity and peace, and demonstrate, as does the Earth’s sighing, their fallen state.
Book IX, Lines 1–403
With Raphael’s departure for Heaven, the story no longer consists of conversations between heavenly beings and humankind. Milton explains that he must now turn to Adam and Eve’s actual act of disobedience. The poem must now turn tragic, and Milton asserts his intention to show that the fall of humankind is more heroic than the tales of Virgil and Homer. He invokes Urania, the “Celestial Patroness” (IX.21) and muse of Christian inspiration, and asks for her to visit him in his sleep and inspire his words, because he fears he is too old and lacks the creative powers to accomplish the task himself. He hopes not to get caught up in the description of unimportant items, as Virgil and Homer did, and to remain focused on his ultimate and divine task.
Satan returns to the Garden of Eden the night after Raphael’s departure. Satan’s return comes eight days after he was caught and banished by Gabriel. He sneaks in over the wall, avoiding Gabriel and the other guards. After studying all the animals of the Garden, Satan considers what disguise he should assume, and chooses to become a snake. Before he can continue, however, he again hesitates—not because of doubt this time, but because of his grief at not being able to enjoy this wondrous new world. He struggles to control his thoughts. He now believes that the Earth is more beautiful than Heaven ever was, and becomes jealous of Adam and Eve and their chosen status to occupy and maintain Paradise. He gripes that the excess beauty of Earth causes him to feel more torment and anguish. Gathering his thoughts into action, he finds a sleeping serpent and enters its body.
The next morning, Adam and Eve prepare for their usual morning labors. Realizing that they have much work to do, Eve suggests that they work separately, so that they might get more work done. Adam is not keen on this idea. He fears that they will be more susceptible to Satan’s temptation if they are alone. Eve, however, is eager to have her strength tested. After much resistance, Adam concedes, as Eve promises Adam that she will return to their bower soon. They go off to do their gardening independently.
Milton begins Book IX as he began Books I and VII: with an invocation and plea for guidance, as well as a comparison of his task to that of the great Greek and Roman epics, the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid. Milton explains by way of this invocation that Adam and Eve’s fall is the major event that occurs in Paradise Lost. Their fall is the poem’s climax, even though it comes as no surprise. By describing the fall as tragic, Milton conveys the gravity and seriousness of this catastrophe for all of humankind, but he also situates Adam and Eve’s story within the literary conventions of tragedy, in which a great man falls because of a special flaw within his otherwise larger-than-life character. The fall paves the way for humankind’s ultimate redemption and salvation, and thus Milton can claim that his epic surpasses Homer’s and Virgil’s because it pertains to the entire human race, not one hero or even one nation.
Milton mocks the knightly romances of the Middle Ages on the grounds that they applaud merely superficial heroism. The idea of the chivalrous warrior was an oxymoron in Milton’s view. Milton presents his hero as a morally powerful person—Adam’s strength and martial prowess are entirely irrelevant. Milton voices doubts about whether his society will appreciate a real Christian hero, or whether he himself is still skilled enough or young enough to complete his literary task, balancing his confidence in his own ability with the humility appropriate to a Christian poet.
Satan’s return to the story presents him as a changed and further degenerated character. Before the temptation of Eve, we see Satan go through another bit of soul-searching. This time, however, he does not waver in his determination to ruin humankind, but only makes a cold expression of regret for things that might have been. Milton notes that Satan is driven to action by the grief and turmoil he feels inside and by his wounded sense of pride. It is clear now that Satan’s decision to corrupt humankind is final, yet he still thinks about how he would have enjoyed the beauty of Earth if he had not rebelled. Milton displays the internal agony that results from the sin of despair: Satan can clearly see, despite all his previous arguments, that it would have been better to remain good. However, he has forbidden himself from even considering the possibility of repentance. As a result, he degenerates further and further, making his mind and body his own personal Hell.
Milton has given absolute power to the reason and free will of both men and Satan, only to show that the mind can defeat itself—using reason to arrive at an unreasonable position. Satan’s thoughts are increasingly contradictory and confusing, becoming hard for us, and perhaps for himself, to follow. Satan comes to believe his own faulty logic and his own lies. In Books I and II, his ability to reason is strong, but now in Book IX he can hardly form a coherent argument. Ironically, Satan has proved the truth of his own earlier statement that the mind can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. Satan intended to make a heaven out of Hell, where he would be an evil version of God. Instead, he has brought his torture with him, and made a hell out of the earth that, but for him, would be heavenly.
After Raphael finishes the story of creation, Adam asks him about the motions of the stars, sun, and planets. Eve decides to leave them alone to converse, not because she is bored or unable to grasp the discussion, but because she prefers to hear about the conversation afterward from Adam. Adam assumes from his observations that the other planets orbit the earth, but Raphael explains how it is possible (though not certain) that it only appears this way because of the turning of the Earth on its axis. Raphael mentions to Adam that it does not matter whether the Earth moves or the universe moves around the Earth. Such broad questions often have no possible answers, he explains, because God does not intend human beings to comprehend everything about his creation. Furthermore, Raphael warns Adam that he should be satisfied with the knowledge that God has made available and to resist the urge to gain further understanding outside of the limits he has set.
After listening to Raphael, Adam tells him what he knows about his own creation. He remembers first awakening to consciousness, wondering who and where he was. He quickly realized that he could walk, run, jump, and even speak. Then God came to him and explained how and why he was created, giving him dominion over all the rest of creation, and asking in return only that he not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam surveyed his environment and met the animals of Earth in pairs of two. He had never seen these creatures before, but when God asked him to name the animals, he realized that he already knew each of their names, as God had given him this knowledge beforehand. Adam explains that he soon longed for a companion more equal to himself than the animals, a person with whom he could share his thoughts. To fulfill Adam’s desire, God created Eve from a rib in Adam’s side while he slept. Adam remembers this fact because God allowed his mind to remain aware of what was happening even while he slept. Upon seeing Eve, Adam fell instantly in love.
Raphael talks to Adam about love, recommending that he refrain from carnal passion and search for a pure love that rejuvenates and expands his mind and body. Yet Adam is worried about his physical attraction to Eve, since she is noticeably less pure than he. Raphael says that while Eve is more beautiful on the outside, she is less worthy than Adam on the inside. Her spirituality is weaker than Adam’s, her intellect is slightly less developed, and her vanity is a serious weakness. Raphael tells Adam that his love for Eve must transcend her sexual attractiveness. Adam responds by admitting his physical attraction to Eve while asserting that his love comes from her emotional and spiritual companionship. Raphael reiterates to Adam the danger that he faces with Eve and the need for both of them to avoid Satan’s temptations. Afterward, Raphael takes his leave to return to Heaven and Adam goes to sleep.
Adam’s memory of first awakening to consciousness presents significant differences from Eve’s first memories, which we see in Book IV. Whereas Eve awakens in shade, Adam does so in broad sunlight —“happy Light,” as he calls it (VIII.285). Eve is quickly drawn in by reflections and images, coming to desire an illusion of herself, and only gradually drawn by God toward Adam and the wisdom represented by the platan tree. Adam, in contrast, looks toward the sky and toward God immediately upon waking up. He quickly discovers that he knows the true names of things, so he is not deceived by mere appearances and shadows. God appears to him as a visible presence rather than merely a voice, and entrusts Adam with his commandments, all of which suggests that Adam is closer to God and to the truth than Eve. When God asks Adam why he wants a companion, given that God himself is solitary and without peer, Adam shows that he understands his own nature, arguing that he is deficient and defective, unlike God.
Adam’s account of his first meeting with Eve is somewhat different from the version Eve gives in Book IV. There, Eve says that she turned away from Adam at first because he did not seem as attractive as her own reflection. Although Adam has heard Eve’s explanation, in his explanation to Raphael he says that her turning away from him seemed to him to be intentionally designed to make her more attractive to him (whether the intention was Eve’s or God’s), as it is natural for him to pursue her rather than the other way around. This discrepancy could point to Adam’s tendency to deceive himself where Eve is concerned.
Adam and Raphael’s description of Eve illustrates Milton’s view of the inequality of men and women. Eve’s decision to leave Raphael and Adam alone, preferring to hear the conversation from Adam afterward, demonstrates her submission to Adam and her reluctance to converse with the angel herself. We get the sense that she withdraws because she acknowledges her place in God’s hierarchy. Moreover, Milton tells us that she prefers to hear the story mingled with Adam’s caresses, indicating that intellectual stimulation by itself is not sufficient for her. Her absence allows Adam and Raphael to discuss her openly, but it also implies Milton’s belief that women are either uninterested or mentally ill-equipped for intellectual pursuits. Whatever the reason, Eve’s lack of knowledge or engagement with reason allows her to remain ignorant to the dangers that lie ahead for her and Adam.
Raphael’s account of our solar system displays Milton’s knowledge of the conflicting scientific theories and beliefs of his time. Milton was well aware that the organization of the universe was hotly disputed. Some astronomers thought that the universe revolved around the Earth, and others, including Milton’s contemporary Galileo (to whom he alludes by name in Book I), felt that the Earth revolved around the sun. While Galileo’s theory was widely denounced by religious authorities, Milton does not take either side of the issue in Paradise Lost, having Raphael assert that the debate is unimportant because it concerns matters that do not pertain to humankind’s relationship with God.
Similarly, Raphael’s message to Adam about the limits of human knowledge functions as a warning to scientists in Milton’s time. Many believed that science could yield incorrect and misleading answers to questions about the universe. Milton argues that humankind should resist making theories about the universe and other incomprehensible things, and focus rather on pragmatic issues of their daily spiritual lives. Milton believed in the necessity of scientific questionings and pursuits, but he also believed that the pursuit of truth through science would yield dangerous results. Truth, according to Milton, should only be pursued through faith and religion; humans should tend to their more Earthly practical matters and have faith that God will manage the metaphysical matters of the universe.
At the halfway point of the twelve books of Paradise Lost, Milton once more invokes a muse, but this time it is Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. Milton refers to her in Christian terms, as a source of inspiration much like the Holy Spirit. He asks Urania to insure his safe transition from relating the story of the war in Heaven back to Raphael and Adam’s conversation on Earth. Again, Milton asks that the muse inspire him through the rest of Raphael’s speech and protect him from the troublesome beliefs of others who do not have access to her wisdom.
Back on Earth, Adam asks Raphael about how and why the world was created, as well as about his own creation. Adam initially believes that he may not be allowed to hear the story of creation, so he asks cautiously, although his curiosity is overwhelming. Raphael agrees to tell him, explaining that the story of creation is not a secret to be kept from human beings. Raphael begins by picking up where he left off, with the fall of Satan and his rebel followers. He explains that shortly after the fall, the Father wished to forge a new race, partly to erase the memory of the rebellion and partly to make up for the rebels’ absence from the ranks of God’s loyal creations. Raphael believes that by replacing the fallen angels, God renders Satan unable to claim that he diminished God’s creation. By creating Earth and mankind in a nearly empty part of the universe, God shows the fallen angels that his glorious kingdom can be expanded indefinitely. For all these reasons, God decides to create Earth and humans, with the idea that Earth and Heaven will eventually be joined together as one kingdom through mankind’s obedience to God’s divine will.
Raphael says that God sends the Son down into Chaos to create Earth. The Earth is first formed out of Chaos and given light and dark, or night and day, in equal measure. Land is separated from water, and animals are created to populate both land and sea. The creation takes six days, and Adam and Eve are created last. The entire act of creation is done through the Son, who makes man in his image and gives him authority over all the animals on Earth. God gives Adam one command: he must not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which gives knowledge of good and evil. The Son, finishing with his work, hangs Earth beneath Heaven by a chain. He reascends to Heaven as the angels sing hymns and praise his work. Pleased with his work, God rests on the seventh day, which then becomes known as the Sabbath.
In the same manner as the two previous invocations of the muse, Milton’s invocation of Urania fuses classical allusion with Christian belief. Milton reconfigures Urania and likens her to the Holy Spirit, placing a corrective, Christian spin on an old mythological figure. The cumulative effect of Milton’s allusions to and corrections of classical culture is to convey the impression that Greek and Roman civilization was indeed great, but misled in its philosophy and religion. Thus Milton can claim to build upon the achievements of classical authors while replacing their religious beliefs with Christian ones. Being born before Christ, most classical authors do have a good excuse for not professing Christian beliefs. In this respect, Milton’s stance toward antiquity is not unlike that of earlier Christian poets such as Dante or Spenser, who were similarly steeped in classical literary culture.
Raphael’s account of the world’s creation closely follows the biblical account of creation in the first few chapters of Genesis. Milton takes some of his language directly from popular English translations of the Bible. By using biblical language, Milton gives Raphael’s account more authority and renders the invented details of his story more credible as well. Raphael’s extended explanations about the world and about God and Satan are lengthy, but their length demonstrates Milton’s beliefs concerning the absolute importance of conversation, knowledge, and thought. Book VII presents a curious Adam who seeks knowledge and an agreeable Raphael who disposes his knowledge in human terms. Their evolving interaction in this book differs from their interaction in earlier books, as Adam becomes more aggressive in his attempts to gain wisdom from Raphael. Throughout their conversation, the desire for knowledge is expressed through metaphors of hunger, eating, and digestion. Adam’s craving for knowledge begins to surface in this book and foreshadows his potential temptation to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.
The Son is given a more significant role in Book VII than he has in previous books, illustrating that he is the instrument through which God acts. Milton actually departs from the Bible in having the Son create the world, as Genesis says nothing about the Son. But according to Christian teaching, God and the Son are manifestations of the same entity. Milton begins with the orthodox Christian premise of a three-part God and then elaborates on the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. By having God send the Son to defeat Satan and create the universe, Milton shows how God and the Son can work separately yet still work as one God. Even though they appear as separate characters, Milton believed that the Son represents the living, active, almost human likeness of God.
Raphael continues his story of the first conflict between Satan and the Father. Again, Raphael gestures that he must find a way to relate the war in terms that Adam will understand. Raphael returns to his story with Abdiel, who confronts Satan and the other rebel angels and tells them that their defeat is imminent. He leaves the followers of Satan and is welcomed back into the ranks of God. He is forgiven by God and praised for his loyalty, obedience, and resistance of evil. God appoints Gabriel and Michael the leaders of Heaven’s army, which is justly made up of only as many angels as Satan’s army.
Shortly thereafter, the two sides prepare their armies. The two armies line up in full view of each other, waiting for the signal to attack. Satan and Abdiel square off in the middle; they exchange insults, and then blows, and the battle begins. Both sides fight fiercely and evenly until Michael, the co-leader of the good angels, deals Satan a blow with an unusually large and intimidating sword. The sword slices through Satan’s entire right side, and the rebellious angels then retreat with their wounded leader. But because angels have no bodies, says Milton, they can only be wounded temporarily, and Satan is able to regroup for the next day of fighting. Satan easily rouses himself and his followers for a second day of battle arguing that better weapons must yield better results. He plans to use a secret weapon, cannons, which the rebels spend the entire night building.
Satan’s army unveils the cannons the next day and bombards the good angels. The good angels find themselves at a disadvantage as their armor becomes a hindrance to their escape. Michael finally provides a solution: the good angels pick up mountains and move them across the battlefield to bury the rebel angels and their artillery. The rebel angels must slowly dig themselves out from underneath the mountains and reassemble. Night falls, and God decides that there will be no fighting on the third day, and that the war must now end. He sends out his Son the next day, who charges through the enemy ranks on a great chariot and drives them from the battlefield. The Son, endowed with the power of God, surrounds the rebel angels, Satan included, and drives them out of the Gate of Heaven through a hole in Heaven’s ground. They fall for nine days through Chaos, before landing in Hell.
Raphael warns Adam and Eve that Satan has begun to plot the doom of mankind. Raphael hypothesizes that Satan, in order to get revenge, wishes to make them commit sin to tarnish God’s beloved creation. Raphael adds that Satan may also want others to rebel against God and suffer a similar fate. Raphael explains to Adam that they must fear Satan and must not yield to his evil plot.
The war in Heaven is probably intended to be read as a metaphor, encapsulating spiritual lessons in an epic scenario so that we (and Adam) can understand what Raphael is talking about. The story certainly contains lessons that Raphael wants Adam to learn from. One of the morals of the war in Heaven is that disobedience leads to a person’s becoming blind to the truth. Satan and the rebel angels feel empowered by their new decision not to submit, yet their opposition to God actually renders them powerless. Satan and his army never seem to realize the futility of their rebellion. Satan rouses himself and his troops to more and more disobedience, but their continued failure and continued hope of victory demonstrate the blinding effect that their pride and vanity have wrought. Thus blinded, they are easily overcome in battle each day, by only a small portion of God’s angels actually fighting against them. Adam tries to learn the parallel between the battle between good and evil that occurred in Heaven and the battle that will occur subtly on Earth. In similar fashion, we are supposed to envision the parallel of Adam’s struggle in our own lives, as we strive to ward off evil and attain virtue.
Raphael’s narrative makes the war in Heaven seem unreal, and almost cartoonish. As Raphael explains, angels are exempt from death, which lessens the consequences of the battle and thus makes it seem that less is at stake. Satan, for instance, is grievously wounded by Michael’s sword—he is almost hacked in two—but he is ready to fight the next day. The good angels pick up entire mountains and sling them at the rebel angels. Unable to die or even be seriously wounded, the rebel angels can dig themselves out from under the mountainous rubble, dust themselves off, and plan for their next strike. The entire war comes to seem rather silly because it lacks drama. The outcome is never in doubt.
The style of battle does not resemble the warfare of Milton’s day, but rather the feudal warfare of earlier epics. Milton presents the warring factions each lining up with their spears and shields across a battlefield. The battlefield discussions between the two sides before battle are reminiscent of scenes in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. Then, amid classical style warfare, the rebel angels employ what was in Milton’s time a relatively new and dangerous weapon of war: a gunpowder cannon. Milton introduces this discrepancy in modes of warfare to allude to his society’s advancements over those of the classical age. Satan’s invention of the cannon is an unexpected development, signaling Milton’s belief that gunpowder is a demonic invention and that so-called advancements in war are futile and worthless.
Adam awakes from a peaceful sleep, but Eve appears to have been restless during the night. She relates to him the disturbing dream she has had. She explains that in the dream she hears a voice and follows it to the Tree of Knowledge. There, a creature who looks like an angel appears, takes a fruit from the forbidden tree and tastes it. The angel tells Eve that she could be like the gods if she eats too, but before she can try it, he vanishes and she returns to dreamless sleep. Adam is troubled by the dream, but assures her that it is not necessarily a prediction of what will happen in the future, because she still has the faculty of reason to control her actions. Comforted, they return to their work and praise of God.
Meanwhile, in Heaven, God calls the Archangel Raphael to his side. He does not want Adam and Eve to claim that the devil took them by surprise if they are lured into disobedience, so he instructs Raphael to tell Adam about the danger in store for him. When Raphael arrives in Paradise, the couple warmly welcomes him. They eat together, and Raphael explains the differences between heavenly food and earthly food. After the meal, Eve leaves the scene and allows Raphael to speak to Adam.
Raphael first describes the composition of the things God created on Earth. God gave different kinds of substance to all living things. The highest substance is spirit, which God put into humankind. Below humans are animals, which have living flesh but no spirit, followed by plants and then inanimate objects. Each group possesses the attributes of the groups below it; for instance, whereas animals have physical senses, humankind possesses all of the same senses plus the ability to reason. Raphael says that man is the highest being on Earth because of his God-given ability to reason, and warns Adam to always choose obedience to God. Adam wonders how any being created by God could choose to be disobedient, but Raphael explains that Adam was created as perfect yet mutable, endowed with the power to maintain his perfection but also the power to lose it. Adam desires to know more, and asks how disobedience first came into Heaven. To answer, Raphael relates the story of Satan’s fall.
When Heaven was still at peace, Raphael explains, all the hierarchies of angels were obedient to God. One day the Father announced to them that he had begotten a son, who was to rule at his right hand. While God’s announcement pleased most of the angels, one of them was angry. That angry angel lost his heavenly name, and is now called Satan. Proud to be one of the highest archangels, Satan felt that he deserved the same powers as God. Jealous of the Son, he persuaded one third of the other angels in Heaven to join him. Satan erected his own throne in heaven, and told his followers that they should not allow themselves to be unjustly ruled. One of these followers, however, disagreed. He was named Abdiel, and after arguing with Satan he faithfully returned to the side of God, braving the scorn of the other rebellious angels.
Eve’s dream, created by Satan’s whispering in her ear as she sleeps, foreshadows her ultimate temptation and downfall. God’s decision to send Raphael to warn Adam about the dangers ahead also foreshadows their fall, although the fact that it does so is paradoxical. After all, the ostensible purpose of sending Raphael is to arm Adam and Eve with knowledge, so that they won’t fall from sheer ignorance. We might expect Raphael’s visit to give Adam and Eve a fighting chance, creating more suspense and doubt as to the outcome, but this is not the case. Every Christian reader already knows that Adam and Eve will fall, so instead of creating suspense, Raphael’s words of instruction only heighten our sense of the gravity of their sin and the tragedy of their disobedience.
There is a further paradox in the fact that even as Milton foreshadows the fall and makes it seem inevitable and predestined, he strives to prove that the fall was anything but inevitable. Paradise Lost insists that Adam and Eve had free will and were protected by adequate knowledge and understanding. In fact, Milton’s poem goes much further in this regard than the Bible, which does not include Raphael’s warning visit or God’s own assurance that Adam and Eve have free will. These parts of the story are Milton’s invention, and his insistence on humankind’s free will flew in the face of what most Puritans believed. Since we know the end of the story from the first line of the poem, this emphasis on free will does not generate an impression of greater possibility, but rather informs our understanding of what Adam and Eve’s sin means.
When Raphael begins to tell Adam about the war in Heaven, he first admits that explaining these events presents a challenge, because the spiritual beings involved are beyond human comprehension, and it may even be unlawful for him to tell of these things. Raphael here describes problems that Milton himself has to confront in Paradise Lost, including how to narrate religious mysteries in a form that will be understood, but also the problem of what authorizes Milton to explain these mysteries at all. Much of Paradise Lost is based on the Book of Genesis, but much of it is Milton’s invention. Moreover, Milton presents his epic not as a fiction based on Christian scripture, but as a divinely inspired Christian document. We may well wonder why Milton, a devout Christian, thought he could presume to explain such matters as the origins of Christ and Satan and the details of life in Paradise. Part of the answer probably is that Milton truly believes that his poem is divinely inspired, and that the Holy Spirit, as the source of all creativity, speaks through him. Another part of the answer may be that Milton does present Paradise Lost as a fiction that conveys truths not literally but allegorically. Thus, he adapts his subject matter to the conventional expectations of an epic poem, thereby using a literary form that his audience was already familiar with. The truth of his poem lies in its interpretation rather than in its plot.
One way in which Milton follows the conventions of epic poetry is by having Raphael narrate the long background story of the origin and course of the war in Heaven. The great Greek and Latin epics begin by situating their characters in the middle of the story and then turning backward to recount events that occurred before the story began. This style of narration, referred to as in medias res (Latin for “in the middle of things”), allows the epic poem to begin with engaging scenes and action to immediately engage our interest and attention. When the story is underway, the narrator can confidently return to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and give us further context about the story we are reading. Milton uses a similar tactic in Book V, throwing both Adam and us, the readers, in the middle of the story. We, like Adam, have heard only about Heaven’s side of the war in Heaven and about Adam and Eve’s early days. Raphael then informs us of the world’s creation and its structures and hierarchies.
Milton uses Raphael’s story to present another of his unorthodox religious views. Milton believed that the Son had an origin and was thus not eternal. This notion challenged traditional Christian belief, which holds that the Son (Jesus) is coeternal with the Father —although they relate as father and son, there was no “birth” or starting point for the divine relationship or for either of them. Since they are two parts of the same eternal God, they must both have existed for eternity. Milton rejects this idea with his assertion that there was a specific time when the Father begat the Son. Milton certainly did not deny the divinity of Jesus, but his challenging belief in Jesus’ separate origin reminds us that he was never afraid to distance himself from conventional religion, and that he trusted his own interpretations more than those of any institution.
Satan lands atop Mount Niphates, just north of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. He becomes gripped with doubt about the task in front of him; seeing the beauty and innocence of Earth has reminded him of what he once was. He even briefly considers whether he could be forgiven if he repented. But Hell follows him wherever he goes—Satan is actually the embodiment of Hell. If he asks the Father for forgiveness, he knows it would be a false confession; he reasons that if he returned to Heaven, he still could not bear to bow down. Knowing redemption or salvation cannot be granted to him, he resolves to continue to commit acts of sin and evil. He does not notice that during his internal debate, he has inadvertently revealed his devilish nature. He is observed by Uriel, the archangel he tricked into pointing the way. Uriel notices his conflicting facial expressions, and since all cherubs have permanent looks of joy on their faces, Uriel concludes that Satan cannot be a cherub.
Satan now approaches Eden, which is surrounded by a great thicket wall. He easily leaps over it like a wolf entering a sheep’s pen. Inside he sees an idyllic world, with all varieties of animals and trees. He can see the tallest of the trees, the Tree of Life—and next to it, the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. He perches himself on the Tree of Life, disguised as a cormorant, a large sea bird. Finally, he notices two creatures walking erect among the other animals. They walk naked without shame, and work pleasantly, tending the garden. Satan’s pain and envy intensifies as he sees this new beautiful race, created after he and his legions fell. He could have loved them, but now, his damnation will be revenged through their destruction. He continues to watch them, and the man, Adam, speaks. He tells Eve not to complain of the work they have to do but to be obedient to God, since God has given them so many blessings, and only one constraint: they must not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve agrees wholeheartedly, and they embrace.
Eve tells Adam of her first awakening as she came to life and how she wondered who and where she was. She found a river and followed it upstream to its source. Her path led to a clear, smooth lake, and Eve looked into the lake, seeing an image in its surface, which she soon discovers is her own. She hears a voice explaining to her that she was made out of Adam, and with him she will become of mother of the human race. Overlooking Adam and Eve, Satan sees his opportunity. If the Father has given them a rule to follow, then they might be persuaded to break it. He leaves the two for a while, going off to learn more from other angels.
Meanwhile, Uriel comes before the Archangel Gabriel, at the gate of Eden, and tells him about the shape-changing spirit that he saw from the hilltop. They both suspect that it might be one of the fallen ones. Gabriel promises that if the spirit is in the garden, they will find it by morning. Around this time, Adam and Eve finish their day’s work. They go to their leafy bower, praising God and each other for their blissful life, and after a short prayer, they lie together—making love without sin, because lust had not yet tainted their natures.
Night falls, and Gabriel sends search parties into the Garden. Two of his angels find Satan, disguised as a toad, whispering into the ear of Eve as she sleeps. They pull him before Gabriel, who recognizes him, and demands to know what he is doing in Paradise. Satan at first feigns innocence, as they have no proof that he means harm. But Gabriel knows him to be a liar, and threatens to drag him back to Hell. Enraged by this threat, Satan prepares to fight him. The two square off for a decisive battle, but a sign from Heaven—the appearance in the sky of a pair of golden scales—stops them. Satan recognizes the sign as meaning he could not win, and flies off.
As Book IV opens, Milton presents Satan as a character deeply affected by envy and despair. Earlier in the poem, Satan seems perfectly confident in his rebellion and evil plans. His feeling of despair at the beauty of Paradise temporarily impairs this confidence. While in Hell, Satan tells himself that his mind could make its own Heaven out of Hell, but now he realizes that the reverse is true. As close to Heaven as he is, he cannot help but feel out of place, because he brings Hell with him wherever he goes. For Satan, Hell is not simply a place, but rather a state of mind brought on by a lack of connection with God. Satan’s despondent recognition of this fact corresponds with what Milton sees as the worst sin of all: despair. If even this beautiful new world cannot make Satan forget Hell, then he can never hope to seek forgiveness and return to Heaven. As the Bible says, the one sin that cannot be forgiven is despairing of forgiveness; if one cannot even ask for mercy, it cannot be granted. Satan realizes this, and decides that the only course of action is to enjoy his own wickedness, and pursue it with all his strength. Milton preempts the crucial question of whether Satan could have successfully repented back in Book III. There, God said that he would give grace to humankind because Satan would prompt humankind’s sin. But he would not help the fallen angels, and especially Satan, because their sin came out of themselves and from no other source.
Satan’s continuing process of degradation is reflected in his use of progressively despicable, lowly disguises. Through these first three books of Paradise Lost, Satan’s physical presence takes many different forms. In Book I, he is a monumental figure so large that the largest tree would seem a paltry wand in his hand. In Book III, he disguises himself as a cherub, but his inner turmoil ultimately ruins this benign-seeming appearance. Satan is later described as leaping over Eden’s fence like a wolf into a sheep’s pen. While he does not exactly take the form of a wolf, he continues to be compared to and associated with wild, predatory animals. He takes the shape of a bird atop the Tree of Life, then morphs into a toad to whisper temptation into Eve’s ear. Satan’s shapes become progressively less impressive and stately. Once an imposing figure, he shrinks himself to become a lesser angel, then a mere bird, and finally a much less appealing animal: a toad.
In this book, we are presented with Eve’s first memories of awakening to consciousness, though we have to wait until Book VIII to see Adam’s first memories. Eve’s account subtly underscores her distance from God and need for guidance. She awakens in shade rather than daylight, suggesting her separation from the light of God’s truth. Almost immediately, she finds herself captivated and deceived by an image—her reflection in the water, which she does not recognize as merely an image. She admits that she would probably still be by the water’s edge, fixated there in vain desire, if it wasn’t for God’s calling her away. This image recalls the story of Narcissus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a story that Renaissance poets such as Petrarch used to show that erotic desire is based on visual images that are inherently vain and deceptive. Milton’s allusion to Narcissus makes a similar point: human beings, especially women, need God’s help to escape the trap of desire based on images. Significantly, it is the voice rather than the visual image of God that calls her away. Also noteworthy in this context is the fact that in his first speech to Eve, God says that Eve is herself an image—the reflection of Adam.
After God leads Eve away from her reflection, she first encounters Adam under a platan tree. Platan is the Greek name for plane tree, and by giving the name of the tree in Greek rather than English, Milton alludes to Plato, the Greek philosopher, whose name is etymologically linked with that of the plane tree. The most well-known of Plato’s arguments is the thesis that reality consists of ideal forms that can only be perceived by the intellect, in contrast with the deceptive shades or reflections of these ideal forms that human beings perceive in everyday life. Milton associates the platan tree, or Plato, with Adam, suggesting that he is closer to the ideal forms or essences of things, whereas Eve is more part of the world of images, shade, and illusion, and is led away from illusions only reluctantly.
Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve was controversial in his time. Milton paints an idyllic picture of an innocent, strong, and intelligent Adam, whereas Christian tradition more typically emphasizes Adam’s basically sinful nature. The Puritans, like many other Christians, viewed the sexual act as inherently sinful—a necessary evil that cannot be avoided precisely because man has fallen. Milton, in contrast, makes a point of noting that Adam and Eve enjoy pure, virtuous sexual pleasure without sin: they love, but do not lust. Milton implies that not only is sex not evil, but that demonizing it goes against God’s will. He persuasively argues that God mandates procreation, and that anyone who would advocate complete abstinence (as St. Paul does in the New Testament) would be an enemy to God and God’s magnificent creation. Furthermore, Eve’s story about seeing her reflection in the water hints that her vanity may become a serious flaw—and weakness—later on. Her curiosity is sparked by her lack of understanding about who she is and where she is. She traces the river back to its source just as she wishes to trace herself to her source, through emotional self-reflection, in search of answers to her difficult questions. Also, her willingness to listen and believe the voice she hears, which tells her about her identity, also foreshadows that she will trust another voice she will hear later—Satan’s.
Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve is controversial in our own time because the discourse between Adam and Eve strikes many modern audiences as misogynistic. Milton portrays Adam as her superior because he has a closer relationship to God. The idea that Adam was created to serve God only, and Eve is created to serve both God and Adam, illustrates Milton’s belief that women were created to serve men. The narrator remarks of Adam and Eve that their difference in quality was apparent—“their sex not equal seemed” (IV.296). Milton implies that she is weaker in mind as well as body than Adam. Eve herself freely admits her secondary and subordinate role. When she explains her dependence on him she explains to Adam that she is created because of him and is lost without him. Having Eve herself possess and verbalize these misogynistic, submissive views adds a peculiar and somewhat disturbing power to the conversation. Milton’s views on the relations between men and women were certainly common, if not dogmatic, in his time. Milton’s reading of the Bible dictated that in marriage the woman is to obey the man, and that he is her ruler. The relationship between Adam and Eve, though unequal, remains perfectly happy, because they both in the end live in praise of God. Eve accepts her role as Adam does his own, and God loves both equally.
Book III opens with a second invocation to his muse, this time addressed to “holy light” (III.1). Milton asks that the heavenly light shine inside him and illuminate his mind with divine knowledge so that he can share this knowledge with his readers.
The scene shifts to Heaven, where God has been watching all of the events in Hell with his Son sitting at his right hand. He sees Satan flying up toward the new Earth and the parents of mankind. At the same time, he sees everything that will happen because of it, perceiving past, present, and future simultaneously. He sees that man will fall, of his own fault, because God gave him free will—yet without that will, man would not be capable of sincere love. Man would merely go through the motions. While it would be just to punish man for his own actions, God determines that he will act primarily out of love and mercy. The Son, full of compassion, praises God for his kindness toward man, but asks how mercy can be given without destroying justice. God answers that a suitable sacrifice must be made: someone worthy must offer to die to pay for man’s sin. The angelic choirs are silent, but the Son immediately offers himself. He will become mortal so that God can yield to Death and conquer Hell. God is overjoyed, even though he will be giving up his son, because he knows that it is good to sacrifice his son for the salvation of the human race, in order for justice and mercy to be served. Those that have faith in the Son will be redeemed, but those who do not accept grace will still be doomed to Hell. The choirs of angels now break into a song of praise extolling the goodness of both Father and Son, which will turn a sorrowful deed into greater glory for both God and man.
The story returns to Satan, who lands on Earth in what is now China. There are not yet any living things there, or any of the works of man that will eventually distract man’s mind from God. At length, Satan sees a high-reaching structure in the distance, an enormous kingly gate in the sky with stairs leading all the way down to Earth. This gate guards Heaven, which was at that time visible from Earth. Flying over to it, Satan climbs up a few steps to get a better view. He sees the new creation in all its glory, but can only feel jealousy. He does not stay put for long, though: he is drawn by the golden sun, hanging above the green and lush land, and flies toward it. There he sees an angel standing on a hill. To deceive him, Satan changes to a cherub, or low-ranking angel. Recognizing the other angel as the Archangel Uriel, Satan approaches and addresses him. Satan claims to have just come down from Heaven, full of curiosity about the new world he has been hearing so much about, and curious about its inhabitants. Satan’s transformation and his speech are so flawless that even Uriel cannot see through the subterfuge. The Archangel is pleased that a young angel is showing so much zeal to find out about the world that God brought out of the Chaos from earth, air, wind and fire. He happily points out the way to Paradise, where Adam lives. After giving his due respects, Satan flies off with dark intentions.
As the narrative of Paradise Lost shifts from its sustained focus on Hell and Satan and begins to present glimpses of Heaven and God, we may feel that the story loses some of the intense interest and appeal that it began with. The discussion in Heaven is moving and theologically interesting, but the parts of the poem treating the evil designs of Satan are written with more potency and rhetorical vigor. The characters in Heaven play a relatively passive role, watching the story unfold, while Satan actively and endlessly devises his evil machinations. Moreover, the sinful, evil characters hold our attention more easily than the pure and virtuous ones. Satan appears to be the active hero, struggling for his personal desires, and God may seem rather dull. These observations, however, are beside the point that Milton hopes to prove to his readers: God’s reason and grace rule the universe and control all of those who live there.
The encounter between Satan and Uriel demonstrates Satan’s capacity for deception and fraud, as he subverts Uriel’s role as a guardian by disguising himself as a cherub. Uriel is unable to recognize Satan in part because he does not believe it possible that Satan would be lurking around. As a devout and virtuous angel, Uriel is unable to recognize evil even when it presents itself right in front of him. Through Satan’s deception of Uriel, Milton shows the significance of the sin of fraud, or hypocrisy. Fraud is an especially damaging sin because it is invisible to others, hurting them in ways they are not even aware of. In the Inferno, Dante maintains that fraud is the worst of all man’s sins. Milton goes almost as far in showing that leading innocent people to evil is much worse than leading yourself to evil.
Milton reveals his own personal theological positions in Book III. Through God’s initial speech, for example, Milton discards the orthodox Calvinist position of predestination. Omniscient God, seeing the fall in the future, says that men cannot blame God for their fate, or for acts of evil or bad luck, insisting that man possesses free will, even though God can foresee what they will do. God’s speech here contradicts the Calvinist belief, held by most of Milton’s fellow Puritans, that the fate of every man’s soul is decided before birth. Milton refuses to abandon his belief in free will, insisting that man must have free will in order to prove his sincere love for God. This balance between free will and virtue is a paradox—man is free to choose, but only truly free when he chooses the good.
Milton had to confront certain problems inherent in any attempt to represent beings and events outside of time and human understanding. To have God and the Son appear as separate characters in a work of fiction poses particular problems and risks in terms of logical consistency. There may not be a completely coherent way to represent God and the Son as characters who are both independent and human-like, but at the same time consubstantial, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. It was extremely ambitious of Milton to risk heresy by putting words in God’s mouth, and he lessens this risk by incorporating numerous biblical allusions into the speeches of God and the Son.
By making God and the Son two different characters, Milton asserts that they are essentially separate but equal entities. Milton did not believe in the Holy Trinity completely, and believed that the Son was created after God, not coeternally. The relationship between God and the Son is not fully revealed. Appearing as separate characters with separate comments, they may still share a mind. Some actions, like God’s plea for a volunteer, and the Son’s subsequent volunteering, argue that they do not share a single mind. God asks for a volunteer, yet he must know ahead of time that his Son will be the only volunteer. The precise nature of the relationship between the two remains mysterious.
Satan opens the debate in Pandemonium by claiming that Heaven is not yet lost, and that the fallen angels (or devils) might rise up stronger in another battle if they work together. He opens the floor, and the pro-war devil Moloch speaks first. Moloch was one of the fiercest fighters in the war in Heaven, and he anxiously pleads for another open war, this time armed with the weapons of Hell. He reasons that nothing, even their destruction, could be worse than Hell, and so they have nothing to lose by another attack. Belial speaks up to contradict him. He eloquently offers calm reason to counter Moloch’s fiery temper, and claims that God has not yet punished them as fiercely as he might if they went to war with him again. After all, they are no longer chained to the fiery lake, which was their previous and worse punishment; since God may one day forgive them, it is better that they live with what they now have. But peace is not really what he advocates; rather, Belial uses his considerable intelligence to find excuses to prevent further war and to advocate lassitude and inaction. Mammon speaks up next, and refuses to ever bow down to God again. He prefers to peacefully advance their freedom and asks the devils to be industrious in Hell. Through hard work, the devils can make Hell their own kingdom to mimic Heaven. This argument meets with the greatest support among the legions of the fallen, who receive his suggestion with applause.
Quiet falls upon the crowd as the respected Beelzebub begins to speak. He also prefers freedom to servitude under God, but counsels a different course of action than those previously advocated. Apparently, he says, rumors have been circulating in Heaven about a new world that is to be created, to be filled with a race called Man, whom God will favor more than the angels. Beelzebub advises, at Satan’s secret behest, that they seek their revenge by destroying or corrupting this new beloved race. The rest of the devils agree and vote unanimously in favor of this plan. They must now send a scout to find out about this new world, and in a feat of staged heroics, Satan volunteers himself.
While the other devils break into groups to discuss the outcome of the debate and to build other structures, Satan flies off to find Hell’s gate. When he approaches, he sees that it is actually nine gates—three each of brass, iron, and adamantine—and that two strange shapes stand guard in front. One looks like a woman down to her waist, but below has the form of a serpent, with a pack of howling dogs around her waist. The other is only a dark shape. Satan chooses to confront the shape, demanding passage through the gates. They are about to do battle when the woman-beast cries out. She explains to Satan who she and her companion are and how they came to be, claiming that they are in fact Satan’s own offspring. While Satan was still an angel, she sprang forth from his head, and was named Sin. Satan then incestuously impregnated her, and she gave birth to a ghostly son named Death. Death in turn raped his mother Sin, begetting the dogs that now torment her. Sin and Death were then assigned to guard the gate of Hell and hold its keys.
Apparently, Satan had forgotten these events. Now he speaks less violently to them and explains his plot against God. After Satan’s persuasion, they are more than eager to help him. Sin unlocks the great gates, which open into the vast dark abyss of night. Satan flies out but then begins to fall, until a cloud of fire catches and carries him. He hears a great tumult of noise and makes his way toward it; it is Chaos, ruler of the abyss. Chaos is joined by his consort Night, with Confusion, Discord and others at their side. Satan explains his plan to Chaos as well. He asks for help, saying that in return he will reclaim the territory of the new world, thus returning more of the universe to disorder. Chaos agrees and points out the way to where the Earth has recently been created. With great difficulty, Satan moves onward, and Sin and Death follow far behind, building a bridge from Hell to Earth on which evil spirits can travel to tempt mortals.
Just as Book I may be seen as a parody of military heroism, the devils’ debate in Book II can be read as a parody of political debate. Their nonviolent and democratic decision to wreak the destruction of humankind shows the corruption of fallen reason, which can make evil appear as good. Milton depicts the devils’ organization ironically, as if he were commending it. Satan, for example, diplomatically urges others “to union, and firm faith, and firm accord,” making Hell’s newly formed government sound legitimate and powerful when it is in fact grossly illegitimate and powerless (II.36). It is possible that Milton here satirizes politicians and political debates in general, not just corrupt politicians. Certainly, Milton had witnessed enough violent political struggles in his time to give him cause to demonize politicians as a species. Clearly, the debate in Hell weighs only different evils, rather than bringing its participants closer to truth.
This scene also demonstrates Milton’s cynicism about political institutions and organizations. The devils’ behavior suggests that political power tends to corrupt individuals who possess it. Even learned politicians, as Belial is here in Book II, who possess great powers of reason and intellectual discourse, have the power to deceive the less-educated public. In his other writings, Milton argues that political and religious organizations have the potential to do evil things in the name of order and union. After the debate in Hell is concluded, the object of parody shifts to philosophers and religious thinkers. Following the debate, the devils break into groups, some of which continue to speak and argue without any resolution or amenable conclusion. Similar debates over the sources of evil and of political authority were fiercely contested in Milton’s time. Milton calls the devils’ discussions “vain wisdom all, and false philosophy,” a criticism which he extends in his other writings to the words of the religious leaders of his time (II.565).
After Beelzebub takes the floor, it becomes clear that the caucus has been a foregone conclusion. Satan lets the sides rhetorically engage each other before he announces through Beelzebub the plan he had all along. Satan and Beelzebub conspire to win the argument, and do, without any of the other devils recognizing the fraud. Satan’s volunteering to be the scout then silences all possible dissent, since he is heralded as the leader of Hell. Here again is a parody of Hell mimicking Heaven: Satan offers to sacrifice himself for the good of the other devils, in a twisted imitation of Christ. The parallel is made even more blatant when Sin cries out to Satan at the gate of Hell: “O father, what intends thy hand . . . against thy only son?” (II.727–728). Sin’s statement foreshadows how God will send his only Son to die, for the good of the humankind. Satan believes he is free, and both Belial and Mammon celebrate the freedom of the devils even in Hell, and yet we see that they have no power to do anything except distort Heavenly things, twisting them into evil, empty imitations.
Satan’s encounter with Sin and Death is an allegory, in which the three characters and their relationships represent abstract ideas. Sin is the first child of Satan, brought to life by Satan’s disobedience. Since Satan is the first of God’s creations to disobey, he personifies disobedience, and the fact that Sin is his daughter suggests that all sins arise from disobedience and ingratitude toward God. To those who behold her birth, she is first frightening but then seems strangely attractive, suggesting the seductive allure of sin to the ordinary individual. Sin dwells alone and in utter torment, representing the ultimate fate of the sinner. That Death is Sin’s offspring indicates Milton’s belief that death is not simply a biological fact of life but rather a punishment for sin and disobedience, a punishment that nobody escapes.