An Analytical Summary of Paradise Lost Book 9

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      Book IX of Paradise Lost has for its theme the Temptation of Eve by Satan in the form of a Serpent. This is the occasion of Man's disobedience of God, and his consequent Fall from Paradise. Hence, this book is an epic representation of the central event of the story celebrated in the poem taken as a whole.

      The book falls into three obvious divisions: the preliminaries to Eve’s encounter with the Serpent, the actual meeting and the Temptation, and the immediate consequence of it in Adam sharing the guilt with Eve. Extending the analysis a little further, it might be said that we have here a continuous account of the Temptation, in the following order: Namely, (i) Satan's return to Paradise, after a world-tour, "improved in malice;" (ii) Eve's request to Adam that she might work separately for the day, and his reaction to it; (iii) Eve, being alone, met by the Serpent and tempted by him to eat the fruit; (iv) her making Adam a co-partner in the guilt; and (v) their immediate gratification and final disillusionment. We must add to this Milton's preamble regarding his choice of theme and his faith in his muse.


      This book of Paradise Lost is no longer concerned with Mail's pleasant discourse with an angel, as given in the preceding four books. Here the theme is more tragic. It is in fact a sad theme, and might by some be thought not entirely suited for heroic treatment. But the poet himself feels that human sin and suffering the pity and the supreme tragedy of it should be regarded as being better fitted for epic treatment than the kind of subjects chosen by the classical and early Renaissance poets. Homer's Iliad is a poem on (he wrath of Achilles; his Odyssey is on the wrath of Neptune; and Virgil's Aeneid is on the wrath of Juno. Such unseemly exhibitions of human or divine wrath do not deserve the serious attention of any poet inspired with true moral fervor. Other later poets, like Aristo and Tasso, and the writers on the Arthurian story, appear to have specialized in battles and the wounds received therein. This, too, is only superficially heroic. Milton’s own theme soars higher. It is on Man’s eternal incidence to sin, and the fortitude with which he is called upon to suffer the consequences of his sin. It is a great theme but the poet hopes to do it adequate justice, assured, as he is of regular, consistent support and inspiration from the Divine Muse who visits him each night in his slumbers and whispers in his ear these noble verses.


      After his discomfiture at the hands of Gabriel who was supported by God, described in Book IV, Satan had turned his back on Paradise. Now, after an absence of exactly seven nights, he affects his return, improved in “meditated fraud and malice.” This interval he has employed scouring the Earth seven times over, always following the darkness of the night, thinking of how he might encompass Man and bring about his ruin. Three circles he has made horizontally following the path of the Equator, and four circles vertically, following the path of the two colors. Then he drops right near the confines of Paradise in Eden. He sees the river Tigris entering Paradise through underground channels, and takes the route of that river, thus getting in surreptitiously at nightfall, outwitting the angelic watch of Paradise. First, he is overcome, by the supreme beauty and marvel of this universe, created for Man: but he finds no joy in it. It is not meant for him, but for an inferior creature, Man, raised almost to angelic level by an unjust God. Therefore, to spite God, he would injure and destroy Man. There is but one source of pleasure for him, and this is the pleasure of destruction. Meanwhile, he has to be careful and elude the vigilance of the guardian angels, and so, he would hide himself in some unsuspected beast. He finds that the Serpent is the best suited for the accomplishments of his intended mischief and so he gets into a sleeping Serpent.

ADAM AND EVE (192-384)

      With the first flush of dawn, Adam and Eve come out of their bower and join in the song of praise sent up by all nature of God. Then they plan out the work for the day. It is suggested by Eve that she might do her work away from Adam, since, being together constantly they are more taken up by their mutual smiles and looks than by any attention to their work. To this Adam answers that some incidental flirtation between husband and wife does no harm at all, while her going about by herself might bring upon her, being alone, some irreparable harm, of which God’s angel had warned them. So he would like her to stay with him. Eve resents this expression of anxiety on her behalf as an unwarranted doubt cast on her strength and integrity. She says that she knows very well how to look after herself and even complains that this must be a very bad world, indeed, if the only woman in it cannot please herself by a lonely walk. Adam then assures her that, though he had perfect confidence in her, he wishes to prevent the imputation of her susceptibility to mischief. She would be entirely safe with him, while there is just a risk of some danger overtaking her, or both of them, if she were to go alone. As for safety and perfection in this world, God has indeed made it a very good world, provided Man would use his reason well and make the best of it. If nevertheless, she felt like perfecting her virtue by submitting it to a trial, she might please herself. So Eve leaves the side of Adam and goes to work in the gardens, alone.


      Eve amidst the groves and orchards of Paradise is compared to the woodland goddesses of classical antiquity, and to pastoral deities, in her freshness and beauty. As she stands in the rose bower, supporting the tender stalks with sticks of myrtle, herself “the fairest unsupported flower’ Satan, coming round in the form of the Serpent, spies her. The garden is lovely and its lone inmate lovelier still. The Serpent’s first reaction is one of stupid amazement at the beauty of Eve; and, for a moment, he almost forgets his evil intentions. But the hot hell within him rages, and he proceeds by means of some marvelously beautiful wiles to engage her attention. He looks like a divine Serpent, with, ‘burnished neck of verdant gold’ and eyes of carbuncle, and a glistening crest over it; and he stands erect amidst his circling spires. Eve is struck with his incomparable beauty. Then the Serpent speaks. It explains to her, after greeting her with a preliminary tribute of praise to her divine looks, that it has obtained a recent promotion to human sense and status after feasting on the fruits of a tree in the garden. Eve is surprised to hear that. There is no doubt, as it appears to her, that the Serpent is a well-meaning and chivalrous gentleman, who knows what is due to a superior woman; so he must be speaking the truth. She wants to know where those three of marvelous virtues might be. The Serpent would only be too happy to show her. “Hope elevates, and joy brightens his crest;” it is now the moment of his victory. He dances like an igneous fatuous, and ‘making intricate seem straight’, conducts her to the tree. It is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: among all the trees of the Garden, the one tree that God has prohibited. She tells the Serpent of the deadly properties of the fruit.

      The Serpent is astonished that any sort of scandal should have been started about so excellent a tree. First, he pays a tribute to it. Then, turning to Eve, he just asks her to look at him. Does he, at all, look like a dead creature? On the other hand, having eaten the fruit of the tree, he is triumphantly alive. He is not only alive, but had developed even a new intelligence. His eyes have been opened, and now he experiences new, eminently human visions and speculations. If he, a beast, by tasting that fruit of marvelous virtues, could attain human status, surely, she, a woman, by tasting the same fruit, ought to become at least a goddess. God would only be happy over such elevation by independent effort; if he would not be happy, then he would not also be’ a just god, and therefore, not deserving of her obedience and respect. Nor would the angels be displeased. They knew quite well that they had not a monopoly of either knowledge or divinity; they would only appreciate a new accession to their ranks. Therefore, he concludes, there is nothing on earth that Eve could do better than reach out her fair hands to the fruits, pluck a few, and eat them. Eve eats them, and the Serpent slinks away.


      The first effect of the fruit on Eve is one of a divine exhilaration. She feels as if she is almost growing into a goddess, and eats more and more of it, until she is satisfied with it. Then, as it works within her, she begins to develop new ideas. It is just as well, she twills herself; that God and Man, watchful guardians as they were, had left her a little scope, for experimenting. Otherwise, she would never have known the virtues of the fruit and made herself even better than her own human husband, Adam. But, should she tell Adam? It is sweet to be superior to one’s own husband, and to be free. But then, it would be a sad end to her tale if the cursed prophecy about the fruit should be fulfilled in her and she should die. Then Adam would take a new Eve. She cannot bear the thought. Life or death, glory or degradation she loves Adam too much to leave him with another woman. So she decides to tell him of the fruit and of her own eating of it, and even to offer him some, since it is now the hour of lunch. She meets him waving in her hands a bough of fairest fruit, as he too comes along in search of her; and she relates to him her latest marvelous adventure.

      Adam is amazed. He realizes in a flash that Eve has transgressed the Divine ordinance and must die. But he melts in pity for her. After all, she is his ‘flesh of the flesh, and bone of the bone’: his own God-given wife. He cannot bear to see that she should die, and he is left alone. There would be no joy in life without her. He makes no secret to her of the enormity of her sin, but at the same time offers nobly to eat the fruit himself and be with her in her guilt, and share with her the punishment for it. Eve is overjoyed. She gives him fruit after fruit and, for company, helps herself to another course of it. Adam, wise though he is, yet ‘fondly overcome by female charm’ and takes his fill of the cursed fruit. All the universe knows now that the tragedy has been completed and an era of comprehensive ruin inaugurated. So the Earth shakes, there is a nibble in the air, and some ‘sad drops’ of rain, “Nature’s tears”, foil. Adam, meanwhile, eats on.


      Husband and with, imbibing the juice of the fruit, feel as if they are floating into a new heaven. They ‘swim in mirth’. But the immediate effect of the fruit is that it excites in both of them ‘carnal desire.’ They burn with a lustful passion and exchange lascivious glances. Adam praises his wife’s extraordinary taste and wisdom; then he approaches her, and leads her, not unwilling, to the softest flower-beds of Paradise in the coolest bowers. There they have their lustful dalliance, and, tired, fall into a sweet slumber.

      This slumber becomes a heavy sleep, the sleep is disturbed by bad dreams, and then they wake up to a horrid sense of shame at their own nakedness. Now’ have they attained to knowledge. The hellish Serpent had spoken of their eyes being opened by a taste of the fruit; their eyes are now opened indeed, to the Good that has been lost and the Evil that has been found. They are unable even to see each other in their shameful nakedness, and hence seek the nearest fig-tree - the ‘Indian fig’—to pluck its broad leaves and cover their nakedness. Then they sit down and weep. Adam tells Eve that she should not have left his side and gone out alone: and Eve retaliates that, if he was so certain of the mischief brewing, he should have been man enough to have kept her from harm. Thus they fall to mutual recrimination. The Fall from Paradise—the Paradise of loving happiness—has already been affected.

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