“[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