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