Section 1 1-99
The book opens with an invocation to Milton’s muse in the style of all great epics from Homer to Dante. He begs for help as he needs to turn his tale to tragedy and away from the domestic bliss which has dominated the central books of Paradise Lost. The language is powerful and pits “foul distrust and breach disloyal” against “Anger and just rebuke”. The latter will be be seen in Book 10. Book 9 deals with the Fall of Man.
Milton’s form here deliberately recalls the writings of Homer and Virgil and focuses on Achilles – the wrathful and short-lived hero of the Iliad, and Turnus, the honourable and equally short-lived antagonist of Book XII of the Aeneid. He claims a lack of energy for writing of wars and all the accoutrements of battle and asks for help with what is a veery English epic – one that needs its writer to be protected from cold climate or damp weather.
He introduces the narrative by turning the setting of the tale to nightfall and allowing Satan to dominate in his natural habitat. Satan is described as ”fearless” though his actions and further description might give lie to this. He is returning “bent on man’s destruction” and has no care for his own safety, yet he is cautious of day and obviously fears the angelic guard placed around Eden. Milton describes the 7 days spent chasing the night around the Earth before his return in a manner which recalls the 7 day creation phase of God’s earth. He searches the whole earth before alighting on a specific geographical location for Eden, possibly giving Milton a chance to show off his knowledge of the known globe in a time of great expansion of such knowledge. He decides to hide and chooses the serpent as a fitting vessel for this purpose. It is suggested that the serpent is already sufficiently “wily” that the presence of Satan will make little alteration to its outward appearance.
Section 2 100-191
The focus here might be on the character of Satan based on his words and actions. As the passage opens he is seeking to justify his action and focuses first on the Earth. He is convincing himself, and the reader, that he is in no way settling for second b best. T h e opening lines, complex syntax possibly suggesting the somewhat tortuous logic, make his case: as the second t o be created, after heaven, earth must b e an improvement. He will use a similar argument when flattering Eve. He sees earth as mimicking God, being at the centre of many other heavens all bearing light to benefit the Earth. To this end, he extrapolates, is placed Man at the centre of all, bearing Reason in addition to the other qualities mentioned. At this stage he seems content to recognise the beauties of Earth, but from.l 114 a new side emerges as he shows his bitterness and jealousy for all that is Good. In short, this is the Satan who acts as a precursor of ma.y Gothic villains, from Heathcliffe to The Creature. His jealousy will.lead to hatred and thence to destruction of all that is Good. As he says: “all good to me becomes / Bane. The poison is stressed by the enjambement and placed as a line opener. He is clear that he does not choose to.live on Earth, rather to make “others such as I” and is fully aware of the possible consequences. Satan speaks in long and sinuous sentences and Milton uses alliteration from time to time to add “voice” and to highlight the pleasure which he gets from his planning. Look at ll131_134 and note the repetitive W forms which lead the ready easily to the sudden shift to guttural attack as he perceives his coming Glory. In this passage Satan’s arrogance begins to show. His overweening ambition is to destroy God’s creation quickly and then to ruin his creation- “A creature formed of Earth” and who has been given “our spoils”. As his passion rises, seen in the increase of alliteration and assonance, he breaks off to ejaculate in passion “O indignity” as heperceives angels subservient to mankind. It is as though his wounded pride and ambition meet at this point to justify his action.
This moment introduces his fears. Despite his bravado he dreads the vigilance of the angels and Milton can arrange a metaphor for his evil in his attempts to evade detection. The imagery is of obscuring mist and serpent-like twists a nd turns. Evil never moves clearly or in straight lines! His disgust at needing to mid with the “bestial slime” is evident, as he sinks to slowest level yet. His rhetorical question on line 168/9 stands out and challenges the reader, especially given the historical context of the composition. He ends by a clear statement that he is aware of the propensity of revenge to harm the revenge, but he cares not: “spite then with spite is best repaid” is as clear a credo as any he has offered.
Milton ends the section with a description of his tortuous journey- twists and darkness being the key elements before Satan settles within the serpent to await dawn. His dawn- the dawn of destruction.
The character has all the arrogance of the early books here, but little of the winning charm. He is consumed with envy and hatred of the good which now drives him. His heuristic desire to topple God is evident, but it is driven by such obvious malignity that it does not seem heroic. However, rather as was the case with villains such as Iago, it is hard not to admire the honesty sheer chutzpah of this most villainous of villains. His language excites and his diction thrills.
Section 3 ll193-384
After the darkness and secrecy of the preceding section, Eden awakes in radiant beauty and calm. The language is filled with religious imagery of altars and thanksgiving before the “human pair” e.merge and in a synaesthetic merging of sound and smell,offer their thanks for the new day. Milton introduces their dialogue with subtlety and humour, running on the “growing work”, and their is no sense of what lies ahead.
The first dialogue displays the characters of Adam and Eve. He seems solid and unimaginative, though kind at heart, but she is harder to read and, as the key player in what is to follow, much more interesting to look at more closely. Eve opens the drama and Milton makes her straightforward and sensible. This is important as whatever faults she is later found to have, she should not mimic Satan’s mode of address. She greets Adam as an equal and states her request- a plea for limited independence. Even here though, Milton places words into her mouth which smack of the temptation to come: “wanton”, luxurious” and “wild” all carry connotations of female sexual licence. She also speaks with language derived from flower-lore: moodiness denote faithful marriage, as does ivy, but she will work with rises, symbols of transient passion. All is foreshadowed in this first speech, but there is a sense that Eve is oblivious of all she suggests.
After Adam has replied and reinforced both God’s command and the lowly place of woman in society, he continues by addressing Reason, which will become one of Satan’s prime images and also his fear for Eve. He is not unaware of the threat of Satan. He urges care and recognises Satan’s envy of their bliss as a prime threat. He concludes by stressing the balance of their relationship and stating that man should protect woman or “with her the worst endure(s)”.
The result is the start of the development of independent Eve. Her next speech is short and passionate, opening with the hyperbole of “offspring of heaven and earth, and all earth’s Lord.” She has Bern told to keep her place and it seems to rankle her spirit. She too heard the warning and is offended that Adam should believe that she might be tempted. Although the dramatic irony of what follows is clear to all, her passion wins the sympathy of the reader as she vents her feelings of dismay. Milton allows Adam to reply with “healing words”, and in doing so brings this marital squabble to life, whilst establishing Adam as something of an appeaser, rather than a man of action. His address to her as “daughter of God and Man..” is a clear attempt to apologise whilst also , incidentally, emphasising her position as the only female on Earth and the mother of mankind. His I ritual excuse is weak: it is not that she would be tempted, but rather, that the temptation itself, even when resisted, would in some way bring dishonest onto her. Of more weight us his suggestion that they are stronger together and better able to resist what he recognises is a powerful and subtle enemy. He is once again shown as “domestic” and strongly supportive of matrimony, and a little mortified, though no less determined, Eve continues her assault.
Her argument gathers strength from Adam’s fears: what type of freedom will they ever have if they are unable to separate? How can they ever be happy if they are so afraid of harm? She is confident of withstanding Satan and feels that the pair will win honour by withstanding him. This is the first real evidence of an Eve who is partly driven by ambition, as we will see later in the book. Her final point suggests that God would not have created beings who are only safe in pairs. She seems quick witted in her responses to Adam and also seems able to frame her philosophy with accuracy and passion.
At this point Adam explains the concept of freewill and thus the danger that lurks within all men. God has left humans with free will to choose their paths through life. If one is deceived, then free will allows for humans to err and therefore to fall. Free will is dictated by Reason, and it is this that is fallible- reason can be tricked. He warns her against seeking temptation and explains that Satan can deceive all, not just her. However, just as he seems to be having the last word on the matter, he relents. He tells her to “go”- an abrupt imperative- and feels that if she stays under compulsion she is “absent more”. This argument seems once again domestic, as though Adam is responding in a rather touchy feely manner, rather than as the Lord of Earth.
Eve leaves, aware of the warning, but confident that Satan will not seek her trial. After all, she reasons, she is the weaker and he has little to gain from that!
Section 4 ll385-493
The section opens with a deeply touching description of the parting of the couple. Their deep love is clear, particularly that of Adam for Eve as they leave. The irony of Eve’s promise to return by noon is clear. The opening g line repeats with alliterative h patterns the image of the two letting slip their hands:” from her husband’s hand her hand / soft she withdrew”. The repetition focuses on the joined hands and the beautifully placed adverb emphasises the love that is shared. Adam’s behaviour is well known to anyone who has ever seen a loved one off on journey- he wishes Eve well, “desiring more her stay”. Simple, beautiful and powerful. In lines 385ff Milton uses the first of many similes which mark out this section of the narrative. In this first he equates Eve with a sequence of Classical nymphs and dryads, each seduced, and stresses their innocence at the time of their fall.
Before describing Satan’s approach, Milton interrupts his own narrative to address Eve directly in “apostrophe”. The rhetoric is heightened here as he describes the “event perverse” without making his syntax clear: whether he refers to the separation or the planned return or the seduction is not clear. Somehow, he seems to use the phrase to encapsulate all three. She is deceived, failing and hapless. The last word probably meaning “luckless” . It seems clear that the narrative has reached her tragic moment.
Satan approaches within the serpent, bent on destruction and secrecy. He has indeed sought her on her own and now finds her working. The flower-lore shows us that she is working with feminine fidelity mind, but is bereft of male support- thus her work is irredeemably weakened. Notice that he wishes his”hap” might find the “hapless” Eve. She is surrounded with symbols of transient love and luxurious colour- this will only end in one way… a storm is coming.
As Satan approaches, Milton uses a 20 line epic simile comparing his sensations to those of someone experiencing fresh air after incarceration, but more importantly, to one who spies a virginal countryside passing and who determines to exercise his droite du seigneur over her. His excitement at seeing Eve, behind to undo him. She is described in purest terms- heavenly, angelic- and ironically her “rapine sweet” serves to dilute his evil. So.pure is she that she steals away his malice and leaves him “stupidly good”. For a moment. He recalls his purpose and plans his approach “gratulating”. He is utterly err lyon self obsessed and his inward purpose is clear.
When he speaks, his language is serpentine and tangled. He comments again that he is driven by a pleasure found in destruction and then that he fears Adam both for his intellect and his physical strength and immortality. He is weakened and resents it. That Adam is perceived as being intellectual might surprise, based on what we have read. Eve seems much quicker witted, but she is so ambitious and eager for change. This will be her undoing. Her willingness to undermine the status quo has been noted already. Milton is happy to let the reader decide the degree of culpability she should carry.
Section 5 ll494-631
This section begins with the treatment of Satan’s progress toward Eve. It has already been noted that he travelled through a phallic dorset in the previous section before spotting Eve, now his movement and appearance are closely described. The descriptors used to describe his erect figure are telling: “tower, burnished, verdant gold, spires, crested aloft, turret crest, sleek, enamelled…” no wonder Eve falls for his charms! He has stated that he fears Adam based on Adam’s overt masculinity, but here is his response- strong, glorious and utterly tempting. A brief simile of Classical snakes accompanies him and we notice that reference is also made to his folds rising like a “surging maze” and once again see reference to the fact that evil will never be clearly seen. He even travels “obliquely” and ‘side-long”. Another short simile likens him to a boat being skilfully sailed and there is further reference to temptation in the use of “wanton” to describe his body, also called a “wreath” which presumably foreshadows death. The final clue to his modus operandi comes in the description of him “fining” and “licking the ground”. Satan knows that the key to Eve’s heart is to flatter her sense of ambition and thwarted equality.
HIs “glozing” is based on this. He welcomes her with high adoration, calling her “sovereign mistress” and going on to suggest that she is the “fairest resemblance” of God, the maker, and that she should be widely recognised and worshipped. However, trapped in Eden, this will never happen. She should be a “goddess among Gods”. The fact that she is not, is clearly implied to be deeply unfair.
Eve’s brief response is focused not so much on the message as the messenger. She is intrigued and demands explanation which Satan is only to happy to give. He states that though he once was like all other animals, thinking only of food and sex – Milton places “or sex” on a new line following enjambement to intensify the potential of the phrase and its implications to shock, he chanced upon a tree bearing fragrant apples. The sense are invoked here to help to increase the vividness of the vision. Satan describes himself winding about the trunk in a parody of the flower-lore from earlier in the passage – this is no woodbine suggesting female fidelity! Once sated (another sexual term) he describes a growing sense of Reason and the emergence of a voice before he started to think about the world around him. His story here suggests a chance encounter with Eve whom he flatters once again by rating her as having a “divine semblance”. His language in this passage has lost its sinuous complexity. His message needs to be given with clarity if Eve is to understand it. The syntax is straightforward and the vocabulary direct, suited to his “gentle dumb expression”. Although Milton refers to him regularly as “sly” or “guileful”, Eve is utterly absorbed by his tale.
She asks where the tree is, and Satan, flattering still (Empress) tells her to follow him beyond a bed of myrtles, symbolising faithful marriage. The message is clear, she is about to transgress. In a half-line designed to emphasise the sheer gravity of the moment, Eve gives herself in Satan’s power “Lead then”. She has been flattered and has had her latent curiosity entranced.
Section 6 ll631-838
Satan leads the way and so complete is his trickery that he makes the “intricate seem straight” before being described as swamp gas, leading travellers from the true path at night. The images relating to darkness, obfuscation and sin are clear to read. Milton describes Eve here as “our credulous mother”, using the first person to increase the link between the reader and Eve and also showing certain disdain – “credulous” is not a kind word. There is a suggestion of being too easily won over here. He also enjoys a pun on “root of all our woe” referring to the tree itself and the fall which is about to occur. When Eve gives a brief refusal, even making a pun on “fruitless” as she sees the tree, Satan is ready. Seizing upon Eve’s defence to Reason, he outlogics her in this passage. He calls upon all the training of the orators of old and pretends to be moved by the perceived injustice of the prohibition. He pulls himself up to his full height (of phallic significance here) and blasts Eve with the power of his sophistry.
There are six sections to his argument:
1. 684-92: eating the fruit will not kill
2. 692-702: God will be impressed by your courage and is too just to kill you
3. 703-9: the fruit has been forbidden to prevent mankind from becoming Gods
4. 710-17: the fruit will work in proportion to the powers already present in the eater
5. 718-25: the tree is more powerful than God
6. 725-30: It can not be an offence to eat the fruit.
Satan confuses Eve’s reason with all the rhetorical flourishes he can muster. This speech will be examined more closely later, but I want to draw attention to a range of elements. He uses direct lies and logical fallacies (702) to win over Eve, whilst also diminishing her belief in God as omnipotent. Milton chooses to use references to gods rather than to God throughout the speech as Satan plays down the importance of the Deity. Indeed, by establishing God as envious of mankind and worried of the threat to his position should the fruit be eaten, he further feeds Eve’s ambition and takes the reader back into the world of Books 1&2 and to the scenes explaining the fall from Heaven and the subsequent rallying of the lesser devils. As he finishes Milton notes that his words “replete with guile” find “too easy” entry to Eve’s heart. She is hooked and Milton seems to be putting some blame onto Eve. She has been won very easily. Note that in Lines 483ff Milton has made Satan fear Adam’s intellectual ability. Eve, for all her delightful passion and ability to think quickly when faced by as open a soul as Adam has proven no match for the evil and the deceiving.
On L 354 Adam has warned against “Evil seeming Good” and now his concerns are proved justified. Eve is led by her “appetite”, the word carrying sexual overtones and being often used in a derogatory manner against women, and is tempted by the tree itself which “solicited her longing eye” just as a suitor might entrap an unwary girl. eve begins by addressing the tree itself, but moves swiftly on to an internal debate about God’s motives and her position as she seeks to justify her forthcoming transgression. She clearly believes Satan’s story about the gaining of a voice, and adds a point of her own:
1. God calls the tree the Tree of Knowledge
2. Knowledge of Good AND Evil is a good thing (the one helps to recognise the other)
3. Therefore the prohibition is senseless and caries no weight since God is forbidding the humans to be good and wise
Furthermore, she deduces that since the snake has not dies by eating, then the punishment of death must apply solely to mortals. She holds the snake up as an ironic paragon of virtue, wisdom and friendliness to mankind and is driven by her lust for “wisdom” to ignore the threat of death. Milton shows the precise moment of the fall by the single iambic units at the end of line 781 “she plucked, she ate:”
As she does so Earth is convulsed in pain, akin to birthing pains as she prepares to allow death to enter the world. Milton gives power to the moment into the half line before a caesura: “that all was lost” After the pause allowed by the full-stop, the snake slinks away, his job complete and leaves Eve to eat. She is clearly described as eating in sexual terms – “Greedily she engorged without restraint”, indeed she seems drunk on her excess as she addresses the tree for a second time.
She addresses the tree in worship and promises to serve it above all others. God is forgotten in this paean to knowledge, indeed he appears as “the forbidder” as Eve’s powers of self deception lead her to ever greater hyperbole. She is clear that Experience shall be her guide and that the pair have lost out by not being prepared to follow this path. He rethought then turn to Adam in a passage crucial for those considering Eve’s character as presented by Milton. She has to consider what, if anything, to share with her husband. She sees benefit in keeping silent and raising herself, and all womankind to a position not just of equality but even occasional superiority over men. Her question “for inferior who is free?” seems to hit at the social question prevalent in 17/18thC England as well as her predicament. She also shows a jealousy that should she die as a result of eating, she would lose Adam to living his life out with “another Eve”. This seems to be her driving motive, although she does turn it round to suggest that she could face death only if Adam were with her. She give obeisance to the tree and departs to find her husband.
Section 7 LL 839-915
Adam has been waiting for Eve and has cut her a garland. The image is clear – flowers and innocent growth cut down in their prime to mask a garland – or a wreath. In his innocence, Adam is utterly unaware of what is about to befall him.
Eve meets Adam near the tree and milton suggests that her face has developed some of the same rhetorical tricks associated with Satan as she seeks to encourage Adam to share the Fall. Her speech is “bland’ and her “countenance blithe” but she is given away by “distemper” suggestive a blushing and sexual heat. In her speech, the words “I / Have also tasted” are discreetly hidden away amongst justification and narrative retelling of the powers of the Tree. What is evident is her excitement for her new state, based on “growing up to godhead”. She says that she wants to be joined with Adam in all things and begs him to eat. He is astonished and drops the garland – “down” placed as a line opener connotes the descent to Hell much more than a simple dropping of the flowers. The roses now are “faded” – love is transient and is now dying is the suggestion. For the first time he gives her greeting of a similar level to that of Satan, but moves swiftly to regret, emphasised by the knelling D alliteration of “Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote?” He sees at once that she has been deceived, but is equally quick to declare his intention of dying with her and never to stand her loss even if given another Eve. “flesh of flesh/ Bone of my bone thou art.”
Section 8 LL916-989
Adam shows some admiration for his “adventurous” wife and his comments echo those that Satan suggested would come from God.
1. 925 6 No one can undo the eating, not even God
2. 927-36 You might not die since the serpent might have altered the fruit by eating it first and he has not died, he has actually improved his position, as might they
3. 938 -951 God is unlikely to wish to destroy all tha the has created and holds dear, especially if the “Adversary” is given an opportunity to gloat and to develop his influence as a result.
As he repeats his affirmation to stay with Eve, her relief is evident in the cry of gratitude to Love which opens her speech on Line 961. She seems momentarily to recognise her deed as a “crime” but moves away swiftly to confirm his actions. Denying her inner thoughts at L 827ff she claims that she would never ask him to share her guilt if death was going to be the result. She seems to be deceiving him here, in the manner of Satan and it is one of the signs for the reader that this eve is not the same innocent and audacious girl that started the book. Milton is able to show Experience gained in this way.
Section 9: LL990- end
There is little doubt that Milton wants the Fall of Man to be seen as stemming directly from Eve. In Lines 998-9 it is clear that Adam is fully aware of what he is doing but is “overcome with female charm”. This could be seen as indicative of man’s weakness when faced by woman’s sexual advances, but certainly at the time of writing links much ,ore closely to the power of the seductress, be it Delilah or the Sirens. The Earth again suffers the birth pangs of Original Sin, but Adam and eve take no notice; they “fancy” that they feel “Divinity”, but fall prey to lust immediately – he is “carnal”, she “lascivious” and a new seduction ensues.
Adam claims that he only now recognises her beauty, the Fall has created an awareness of sexual attraction, and leads her away to make love, with none of the chaste passion shown in book 4. Instead the language is that of sexual heat and licence – “ he forbore not glance or toy of amorous intent” suggests as wide a range of sexual pleasure as on eight wish to imagine. The flowers surrounding the bowers are short lived or even signifiers of death – asphodel lilies and hyacinths. Their post-coital rest gives no release, however. Post lapidarian Adam and Eve are wracked with guilt and an new awareness of shame. They are restless and given to bad dreams before awaking and dealing their nakedness. They sit in guilty silence until Adam blames Eve: “O eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear/ To that false worm…” and thus equates Eve’s name with the concept of Evil itself. Despite the fact that he ate of free will an din knowledge of the act, he seems unwilling to accept any share. He bemoans the fact that he will never be able to look on God again without being blinded and longs to live on in hiding, protected from any spying eye. He suggests that the pair cover their shame and leaves are found to tie around their waists. Milton digresses here to show a link to the recently discovered tribesman of the Amazon or of America who although unaware of the customs of the “civilised” world found it necessary to hide their genitals from view. It is clear that all descendants of Adam have inherited his sin.
The pair now are left in the final lines of the book to a life of bickering and squabble. Gone is the harmony of the opening of book 9, replaced by an angry and sullen mood, shown clearly by 1123ff. Milton claims that “Appetite” has replaced “Reason” and suggesting Adam to be “Distempered” when he speaks. This is a significant shift from the measured voice he has used earlier in the book. He blames Eve for her wanderlust and she is sparked to challenge him, suggesting that all might have happened had he been present or had Satan approached him alone. Indeed, she reminds him, he had agreed to let her go in the first place and begs to know why he had not “forbidden” the act. This question is key to an interpretation of the Fall. To have forbidden her, Adam would have been entrapping her and with no freedom there is no happiness, but had he done so, the Fall may not have happened. Wa sAdam weak and himself prey to feminine wiles when he agreed to he departure in line 372? Or is Eve simply trying to pass off the blame. After all, her ambition to be equal and to attain Divinity is what allowed Satan to prosper so quickly and so easily. Certainly Adam is clear: he did all he could. His warnings could not have been clearer and Eve was the one who, led by a wish to find “matter of glorious trial”, has allowed Satan to triumph. He ends with a warning to all men: If you indulge women’s wishes, they will not allow any restraint and then seek to blame others for their transgressions. The book ends on this high chauvinism and the pair are left alone in painful argument.