Eve’s Transgression Against Mankind

Eve got duped by the satanic serpent. She was tricked into doing the one singular thing that God told her not to do. Adam is understandably upset because he even warned her not to eat the fruit, but is he completely justified in his actions post-fruit consumption?

Book IX of Paradise Lost finally unveiled the climax the of the poem: the fall of mankind performed by Eve. We see Satan mystically pop over into Eden with the intent of destroying God’s creation that took him six days to make and wreck havoc in just one day. He takes the form of a serpent, which carries too much symbolism for my pedigree to even get into. As Adam and Eve split up for their daily chores, Satan the Serpent follows Eve. He appeals to her beauty with compliments and says that God is not allowing them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge because he does not want them to have independence and free will. Eve takes this into consideration and munches on the fruit; thus, mankind has fallen. Adam is horrified when she appeals to him to eat the fruit and join her, but he is too entranced by her sexuality and dooms himself as well.

I found the passage and discussion between Satan the Serpent and Eve to be filled with sexual innuendo, which seems odd and vulgar for a man of religion like Milton was to put down onto paper for the rest of history. I felt that this was a commentary on the seductiveness of women, and I don’t know if these were Milton’s feelings about women, but I can understand that his religious background and time period in which this was written would lead him to believe this. Put simply, if Eve had just submitted and listened to Adam as God had intended, mankind would not be in this predicament. Then, as if the lines with Satan and Ever were not enough to get this point across, Eve seduces Adam because she does not want him to love another woman and would rather have him doomed with her. Too in love with her to think otherwise, Adam decides to be doomed as well to be with her.

Once they have both eaten the fruit, everything essentially goes to crap. They run off to presumably be intimate, and once they wake, they realize the shame that their actions have brought. Their sexuality is now a sin and needs to be hidden, which they accomplish with leaves to cover their genitalia. This led me to make the connection that Milton is making the parallel that a woman’s sexuality is the sin in this instance. Had Eve not been so lustful and wanting more than what she had been granted by God, she and mankind never would have fallen. This is a common theme again in literature of this time period, equating a woman’s sexuality with shame.

So, now what? Where does the story go from here? Is it several more books of Adam and Eve arguing over their poor life choices? What beastly form does Satan take next? Does Raphael come back to talk more about how angels make love? Stay tuned for the next book of Paradise Lost to find out the answer to all of these burning questions!

-Marie Burns Spring ’20

 

The Battle for…What?

What, specifically, are the two contingents of Heaven and Hell battling for?

Book 6 of Paradise Lost saw the first two days of battle between Heaven’s angels and Hell’s fallen angels. War has begun, but the question that plagues me is the motivation for this battle. God, Christ, and Heaven’s angels have the motive of protecting Adam and Eve on Earth from Satan and Hell’s influence. The angels want to prevent God’s creations from dooming mankind by eating the forbidden fruit. Yet, the motivation for Satan and his crew is unclear.

Satan was not God’s right hand man up in Heaven; that position clearly goes to Christ. Therefore, why would Satan seek to regain his status in Heaven? In Hell, Satan is essentially the king. He can rule however he pleases. He does not have to answer to anyone in Hell, and Satan fighting a war with Heaven will not affect his status of power in Hell. So, the question persists, why fight if he is not fighting to regain his power in Heaven

Revenge for his and his crew’s damnation is a potential motivation. Satan and his crew are still angry that they were banished to the depths of Hell and had to start over again essentially. Yet, is revenge enough of a motivator for an all-out war to begin? What are your thoughts on this battle between Heaven and Hell?

Hopefully, we will receive some more clarity in Book 7, but knowing Milton, we may not ever find out.

 

Beelzebub: Milton’s Disney Villain?

Beelezebub appeared in the first book of Paradise Lost mainly as the second- in-command character to Milton’s Satan. Yet, as we see in the second book of Paradise Lost, we see Beelzebub becomes more of a voice in Satan’s ear, egging him on to wage war on God for their banishment to Hell. This characterization of Beelzebub reminds me of many of the villains I remember watching in Disney movies while I was growing up.

In Aladdin, Jafar wanted power of Agrabah, so he used mind control over the Sultan to do Jafar’s dirty work. In The Little Mermaid, Ursula wanted control of the ocean; therefore, she put a spell on Ariel in order to obtain that power over King Triton. In Hercules, Hades schemed to take over Mount Olympus and he used Meg to try and stop Hercules from becoming the hero who would foil his plan as well as using his lackeys Pain and Panic to assist with the mission. Granted, all of these villains were stopped by the hero of the story and never achieved their plan of domination. So, what do all of these Disney villains have to do with Milton’s Beelzebub?

I noticed several manipulative traits of Beelzebub that coincide with those of the Disney villains. First, he is the one to suggest a war on God’s newest earthly creation and on man (Adam and Eve). No one else at the counsel meeting (Pandemonium) were suggesting anything near the grandeur of messing with what is regarded as God’s greatest creation. Second, he suggests someone must go scout out this land, and Satan himself volunteers to be that scout. Beelzebub appears to get the only person above him in terms of power out of the picture by creating this mission for Satan to go on.

Is this a calculated move on Beelezubub’s part?  Is Beelzebub relying on the notion that Satan will fall to God in a battle in order for himself rise to power? Is Beelzebub the Jafar, Ursula, and/or Hades equivalent of Milton’s Hell?

-Marie Burns Spring ’20

Spring 2019: “Milton’s Jesus”

This semester’s class will look at the figure of Jesus, both in his pre-incarnational form as the Son and in his human form. How does Milton depict the Son of God? Under what conditions does he qualify for that title? To what extent is he divine? And why doesn’t Milton seem to present the Passion as a central element of Jesus’ life or salvific duty?

Spring 2018: “Milton and Poetry”

This semester, we take up the formal aspects of Milton’s poetry. What decisions are involved in writing poetry, and how do those decisions influence or reflect what Milton wants to communicate through his writing? After studying the sonnet form specifically and writing our own sonnets, we will look at how poetic forms and elements work to create meaning in Milton’s longer works.

“Fit haunt of Gods”: What Does Eve Lose When She Loses Paradise?

In Book XI, when Michael informs Adam that he and Eve must leave the Garden of Eden, one of Eve’s first concerns is the loss of her precious flowers. The language of this lament recalls the earlier description of Eve and her flowers in Book VIII, and I would like to explore these similarities and some possible reasons behind them.

Most obviously, both passages demonstrate the significance which Eve’s flowers hold for her. We learn in Book VIII that Eve’s relationship with these plants is a mutual camaraderie—when she “visit[s]” them, they “spr[i]ng” at her coming (VIII.45-46)—and her reaction to her exile from Paradise in Book XI reaffirms this importance. After hearing Michael’s words, her mind almost immediately turns to the fate of these flowers: “O flow’rs…which I bred up with tender hand/ From the first op’ning bud, and gave ye Names,/ Who now shall rear ye to the Sun, or rank/ Your Tribes…?” (XI.273-279). Eve’s relationship with her flowers resembles that of a parent and child, and she views them as perceptive of and responsive to her care.

Also significant is the concept of Eve as a “Goddess” or “God” which features prominently in both passages. Leaving Adam and Raphael’s conversation to turn her attention to these plants, Eve is described as going forth “With Goddess-like demeanor” (VIII.59). And in her lament in Book XI, just before addressing the plants, she refers to the Garden as the “Fit haunt of Gods” (XI.271). This phrasing seems especially notable. The garden has been her haunt—does she view herself as (or like) a God?

Perhaps also importantly, both passages find Eve occupying an uneasy position in the company of the epic’s other characters. Her choice to depart Adam and Raphael’s conversation in Book VIII follows two books’ worth of conversation between the two men, during which she has been either ignored completely or demeaned to her face (as when Raphael, rather than offering advice to her directly, instead merely tells Adam to “warn/ Thy weaker [VI.908-909]). Similarly, in Book XI, she delivers her lament from an “unseen” hiding place (XI.265) where she has concealed herself upon Adam’s command that, to avoid “offend[ing]” the recently-arrived Michael, she must “retire” (XI.236-237). In both cases, finding herself disregarded and subordinated by other characters, one of the first places to which she turns her attention is her flowers, and, in both cases, a suggestion of God-like status accompanies this action.

Eve clearly finds companionship with her flowers, but does she perhaps find something else as well? Their reliance on and responsiveness to her direction, as she “rear[s] [them] to the Sun” and “rank[s]/ [Their] Tribes” (XI.278-279), suggests that, with these flowers, Eve occupies a role not just of friendship, but, moreover, of creation and power. Considered alongside the subordination she experiences at the hands of Adam and the angels, do these flowers, which rely on her for their growth and organization, offer Eve a sense of control, a chance to be “Goddess-like”? And if so, what effect does Michael’s response to her lament—an admonition to not “set thy heart,/ Thus over-fond, on that which is not thine” and a command that “[Adam] to follow thou art bound” (XI.288-291)—have on Eve’s already tenuous sense of independence and agency?

 

Annemarie Lisko

Eve As “The Weaker”: Raphael’s Phrase Resurfacing in Book IX

In Book VI, Raphael, after discussing the threats posed by Satan, tells Adam to relay this counsel to Eve: “warn/ Thy weaker” (VI.908-909). This rather condescending word choice raises questions about other characters’ treatment of Eve, and I would like to investigate some potential connections between Raphael’s comment here and Eve’s own mindset immediately preceding the Fall in Book IX.

Importantly, Eve herself overhears these words. Raphael’s conversation with Adam occupies Books V-VIII, and Eve remains in their company until leaving to care for her flowers at the beginning of Book VIII. Considering, then, that he speaks it in front of Eve herself, Raphael’s comment becomes even more dismissive. He not only criticizes her abilities, but moreover does so to her face, as if she were not even there.

Such treatment seems likely to impact Eve, and her parting words to Adam before the Fall in Book IX suggest that it indeed does. Early in this book, Eve proposes that, instead of tending the garden together as they typically do, they might accomplish more by working separately. In disagreeing with her idea, Adam reopens the question of Eve’s supposed inferiority, telling her that they will be safer from Satan if they remain together, because “on us both at once/ The Enemy, though bold, will hardly dare,/ Or daring, first on mee th’ assault shall light” (IX.303-305). His words seem to suggest both that Eve is less capable on her own than when accompanied by him and that Satan would find him a more desirable target. Significantly, when Eve persists in her desire to work alone, she cites this very concept of her inferiority as evidence that she will be safe from Satan, assuring Adam that she does not “much expect/ A Foe so proud will first the weaker seek” (IX. 382-383). Eve’s self-description here both assimilates Adam’s judgment of himself as a more desirable prize for Satan to pursue and reflects Raphael’s earlier assessment of her as Adam’s “weaker.”

Yet, as we know, Satan does indeed target Eve, and he ultimately deceives her into eating the fruit. But are his deceitful words the only ones which contribute to her fall? Eve’s confidence in her safety seemed to rest on notions of her inferiority suggested to her by Raphael and Adam—can we say with certainty that their evaluations were correct? If Eve was perhaps only conditioned into believing in her weakness by hearing others suggest the idea, might Raphael and Adam also hold some responsibility for the events leading to the Fall?

 

Annemarie Lisko

“Dream not of other Worlds”: Raphael, Adam, and Boundaries of Knowledge

During their discussion of Heaven and Earth in Book VIII, Raphael cautions Adam against asking to know too much: “be lowly wise:/ Think only what concerns thee and thy being; Dream not of other Worlds” (173-175), and Adam apparently assents, condemning humans’ overly inquisitive “Mind or Fancy” (188). I would like to examine the merits of Raphael’s counsel and the nature of Adam’s response, potentially questioning both.

Adam seems to appreciate Raphael’s admonition. In response, he praises the life God has given him—a life free from troubles “unless we ourselves/ Seek them with wand’ring thoughts, and notions vain” (186-187). As he then perceives, these “wand’ring thoughts” arise because “apt the Mind or Fancy is to rove/ Uncheckt, and of her roving is no end;/ Till warn’d, or by experience taught, she learn/ That…[t]hat which before us lies in daily life,/ Is the prime Wisdom” (188-194). His description of the mind’s “Uncheckt…roving” suggests that he sees it as an untrained faculty still in need of guidance, and he perhaps perceives and accepts Raphael’s words as that necessary guidance.

However, does Raphael’s counsel truly offer the benefits Adam apparently believes it does? The commands foreclose a multitude of seemingly reasonable questions which Adam and Eve might have. Would it be wrong for them to feel curious about circumstances outside of Eden? Adam seems to consent that it would, when he responds to Raphael that matters outside of everyday life are “emptiness” which leave him and Eve “Unpractic’d” and “unprepar’d” for dealing with the “things that most concern [us]” (195-197). But since the Garden is currently under threat from Satan (a force from outside their world) is “Dream not of other Worlds” really the best advice to offer Adam?

To further complicate matters, does Adam truly accept the command? His lengthy praise of Raphael’s doctrine would seem to imply that he does. But only a few lines later, he desires Raphael to continue their conversation because “while I sit with thee, I seem in Heav’n” (210). Considering that Raphael has just cautioned him against aspiring to know this place—“Heav’n is for thee too high/ To know what passes there” (172-173), Adam’s lingering desire for the sensations of Heaven casts some doubt over his acceptance. And not much later, he in fact continues to ask questions about the “heav’nly Spirits,” inquiring about the nature of “Love” in Heaven (615), further contradicting his assent.

With these complications, the passage presents two interrelated questions. First, how valid and helpful is Raphael’s advice for Adam? Second, does Adam intend to follow it? (And, depending on the answer to the first question, should he?)

 

Annemarie Lisko

“[S]upprest in Night”: God, Women, and Secret Knowledge

In Book VII, prefacing his account of Earth’s creation, Raphael cautions Adam against asking for knowledge beyond the “bounds” (120) deemed appropriate for him by God. He warns Adam not to “let thine own inventions hope/ Things not reveal’d, which th’invisible King,/ Only Omniscient, hath supprest in Night” (VII.121-123). Since Night is both personified and portrayed as female in multiple parts of Paradise Lost, I would like to explore some possible implications of this comment.

The statement seems to say that God conceals certain knowledge of the most powerful or profound variety within “Night.” On the simplest level, the phrase could be merely a metaphorical way of saying that certain ideas are known only to God Himself, and thus shrouded in figurative darkness to everyone else.

However, since Book II, “Night” has been a personified female figure. In fact, Adam has just reinforced the idea, only a few lines before Raphael’s statement, by saying that “Night with her will bring/ Silence” (VII.105-106). If we consider the “Night” in which God suppresses these “Things not revealed” as the same female Night from previous sections, then a female figure occupies an intriguing role here, acting as the repository for some of God’s most profound knowledge—knowledge “To none communicable in Earth or Heaven” (VII.124).

If this second interpretation holds, then what exactly is Night’s role in the relationship? Does she have any agency, or is she merely a passive device under God’s authority, which He uses as a means or location to store “things not revealed”? Even if she is passive, though, she still seems to occupy a powerful role—If God is “suppres[sing]” these things “in” her, then she would appear to have possession of them. And how might this image relate to Eve’s story: considering that the Fall will result from a woman taking in profound (and forbidden) knowledge, why might Milton have included this earlier scene of God deliberately placing secret knowledge within a female figure?

 

Annemarie Lisko

“Let mee serve”: Abdiel in Practice

In Raphael’s account of the War in Heaven (Books V and VI), we meet the angel Abdiel. For a character about whom we have previously heard nothing, Abdiel certainly seems important here, and I would like to investigate his significance.

When we first meet him in Book V, Abdiel is one of the “third part of Heav’n’s Host” (V.710) tricked into following Satan. However, as soon as he realizes Satan’s intent to rebel against God, he stands up and opposes the idea, before hastening back to warn God and the faithful angels. Then, as the battle is about to begin, he and Satan spar verbally, until Abdiel delivers a “noble stroke” with his sword (VI.189), which sends Satan reeling backwards. At this stroke, the archangel Michael “bid[s] sound/ Th’ Arch-Angel trumpet” (VI.202-203) and the battle commences.

While Michael commands the trumpet that ceremonially commences the war, Abdiel’s swordstroke has already commenced it on a practical level. His actions here seem almost more important than Michael’s—what sets this ordinary angel apart from a powerful archangel like Michael?

One unique aspect of Abdiel is his experience on both God’s and Satan’s sides. While he clearly never had any conscious intent of opposing God, he nevertheless did spend a brief stint of time in Satan’s camp. Michael and all of the other angels in Heaven have either never left God’s side, or else have fully aligned themselves with Satan, which places Abdiel in a curious middle ground.

However, this middle ground gives him a certain strength which no other angel possesses. Any of the faithful angels could, and doubtlessly would, defy Satan and profess obedience to God, as Abdiel does just before striking the blow: “Reign thou in Hell thy Kingdom, let mee serve/ In Heav’n God ever blest, and his Divine/ Behests obey” (VI.183-185). But coming from Abdiel, who has actually experienced—and rejected—the option to serve someone else and disobey God, the words are more than mere talk. His faith has been tested and proved not just in theory, but also in serious practice.

Milton actually addresses the role that exposure to evil plays in the development of virtue in Areopagitica: “He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian” (Areopagitica 728). This passage, in both theme and imagery, evokes the image of Abdiel in the moments leading up to the War in Heaven. However, Milton refers specifically to humans in the post-Fall world here; can the sentiment possibly extend to the angels in Paradise Lost? Might Abdiel’s exposure to and rejection of vice in Satan’s camp have contributed, in a way, to the development of his strength? If so, what complications arise when, in order to attain the greatest awareness and knowledge, even an angel must countenance vice?

 

Annemarie Lisko

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