The Temptation Scene in Paradise Lost Book 9

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A Cosmic Tragedy

      Paradise Lost deals with the Fall of Satan, Fall of Man and Fall of Nature. Like a typical epic, Milton does not deal with the events in a chronological order but plunges right into the middle of it and starts from there. In Book IX, Paradise Lost Milton deals mainly with the Fall of Man and Nature the central pivot of Book IX is the seduction of Eve by Satan and her subsequent Fall followed by the Fall of Adam.

Life Before The Fall

      Before the Fall, Eve stands as an emblem of beauty, innocence, purity, devotion and constancy. On the eastern wing of the Garden of Eden, God chose a special beautiful spot and on a beautiful pastoral hillock, he built Paradise. It is a replica of heaven on Earth, the first abode of Adam and Eve. The best trees of all kinds, bearing golden fruits, grew there in abundance:

Thus was this place,
A happy rural seat of various view;
Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balms, Others whose fruit, burnished with golden rind,
Hung amiable - Hesperian fables tree,
If true, here only - and of delicious taste
Or palmy hillock, or the flowery lap
Of some irriguous rally spread her stone, Flowers of all hue, and without them the rose.

      Here lived the blessed pair of Adam and Eve who were an incomparable pair inseparably bound in natural ties of love and devotion to each other. Their appearance and life have been described thus:

Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,
God-like erect, with native honor, clad
In naked majesty seemed lords of all
Absolute rule, and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She as a veil down to her slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Disheveled but in wanton ringlets waved
As the wine curls...
So passed they naked on, nor shunned the sight
Of God or Angel, for they thought no ill;
So hand in hand they passed, the loveliest pair
That ever sine in love’s embraces met.

      Thus, they enjoy a bliss full life amidst the magnificent treasure of beauty provided by nature.

Life After The Fall

      In life after the Fall the decline from ‘wedded love’ to ‘amorous play has been emphasized the most. Eve in Book IX still retains the beauty and charm of Book IV but she has become fickle, wilful, whimsical and querulous. She is argumentative and defiant and pays no heed to his counsel and prevails upon him to have her way. After Adam also succumbs to the temptation, their lives change and their sexual indulgence has been described thus:

There they their fill of love and love’s disport
Took largely of this, mutual guilt the seal,
The solace of their sin, till dewy sleep
Oppressed them, wearied with their amorous play
Soon as the farce of that fallacious fruit,
That with exhilarating vapor bland
About their spirits had played, and inmost powers
Made err, was now exhaled, and grosser sleep
Bred of unkindly fumes, with conscious dreams
Encumbered, now had left them, up they rose
As from unrest, and each the other viewing,
Soon found their eyes now opened, and their minds
How darkened: innocence that as a veil
Had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone.

Satan’s Anguish

      In his most important soliloquy of this book, Satan reveals his inner anguish and his passion for revenge. He is envious and jealous of the blissful life of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and resolves to take revenge upon God through Adam and Eve. He expresses his grief and passion for revenge thus:

the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state

      He decides to persuade Adam and Eve by persuasion or guile to taste the fruit of the Tree of knowledge and thereby bring down upon them God’s curse.

Satan Looks For Eve

      It is in Act III of Book IX that the temptation, seduction and Fall of Eve takes place. Satan wishes to find Eve alone and so is his desire fulfilled as Eve has chosen to work separately from Adam. He is confident of seducing her because she is working alone and unprotected. Satan assumes the form of a serpent and boldly moves closer and closer to Eve.

      Satan is astounded at the beauty of Eve and for a moment forgets his real purpose. Her heavenly form is more feminine and softer than that of the angels. Her graceful innocence, the manner or expression of every gesture of hers, or the smallest of her actions overawed Satan’s malice, and deprived his ferocity of the violent intention with which he had come there.

That space the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,
Of guilt, of hate, of envy, of revenge
But the hot hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more he secs
Of pleasures not for him ordained; then soon
Fierce hate he recollects, and all his thoughts
Of mischief; gratulating, thus excites.

      Satan has to remind him once again that he has not come there to taste the pleasure of Paradise but to destroy, for he can get Pleasure only in his work of destruction.

Satan’s Flattery

      Satan flatters Eve in the manner of a court poet. Satan first tries to tempt Eve with flattery then with hypocrisy and finally with logic: He addresses her by titles like “Sovereign Mistress”, “Empress of the fair world resplendent Eve.” A goddess among gods, ador’s and served. He flatteringly says that such celestial beauty should not be wasted on the beasts of the garden and on one man, Adam, who alone is privileged to see her. Eve is quite surprised to hear the snake talking in human voice.

Satan’s Account

      In answer to Eve’s question as to how a snake can talk like a human being, the serpent explains that he was as subrational as the other animals until the day when he came upon a tree whose fruit gave off a smell sweeter than that of a fennel or the milk laden teats of ewes and goats. He plucked and ate his fill for the pleasure was greater than any he had known. Afterward, there came over him a strange transformation to the extent that the power of reason was added to his inner faculties, and thereafter power of speech was not lacking for long. After this transformation, he was able to ponder and comprehend all things beautiful and good in Heaven or Earth, or the air between.

The Tree of Knowledge

      The serpent leads Eve towards the tree. On seeing the tree Eve instantaneously reacts saying that she is not allowed to eat the fruit of that tree:

But of this tree We may not taste nor touch;
God so commanded and left that command
Sole daughter of his voice; the rest we live
how to ourselves; our reason is our law.

False Logic

      Satan now advances false and perverted logic to confuse and bewilder Eve. He maintains that God’s only possible motivation for forbidding, the tree must be the resolve to keep man ‘low and ignorant’. He tells her that her fear that the tasting of the apple of knowledge will bring death is unfounded, as he himself has eaten the same and has not died. It has rather given him celestial powers not enjoyed by him earlier.

Eve Succumbs

      Eve is totally confused with the arguments of Satan and she begins to question - why should God deny them the source of knowledge, the means of growing wise and discernible? Why should they be deprived of that rare fruit which even the mean creatures such as the serpent freely eat? Why does God seek to keep them inferior even to the brutes? Overcome by these arguments and further drawn by the golden colour and sweet smell of the fruit, she advances her hand, plucks one fruit from the forbidden Tree and eats it. This was the cursed moment in the history of the human race:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.

Eve’s Gluttony

      Eve eats greedily, stuffing her mind with expectant notions of higher knowledge, even of godhead, as she gorges her body. She ate the fruit rather to excess; she was rather more hungry that day. Milton describes her excess of eating:

Greedily she engaged without restraint,
And knew not eating death Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine, jocund and boom.

      Eve feels delighted at having eaten of the fruit of knowledge, which, she believes, has brought her knowledge, wisdom, experience, power of discretion and several other such blessings.

Eve’s Triviality

      Now Eve deliberates whether she should confide this act of hers to Adam or not. If she doesn’t it would rectify the balance between the two sexes, compensating for what is lacking in the female sex, giving her a super power over him, and perhaps even making her superior. But then the fear of death and the thought of Adam marrying another Eve after her death torments her mind. And the feeling of love for Adam comes above all as the governing passion.

Eve Tempts Adam

      Now Eve tempts and seduces Adam as she herself had been tempted by Satan earlier. Eve narrates the entire story to Adam. She informs him that persuaded by the serpent, she tasted the forbidden fruit and found it so sweet and juicy. Adam’s reaction is one of blank astonishment, of blood running chill through his veins, the relaxing of his joints. Adam, for whom no words can be too rich to describe innocent Eve’s excellence, sees her now lost, defaced and deflowered. He detects the hand of the fraudulent enemy at the back of what he immediately accepts as their joint ruin. He still decides to eat the fruit.

However, I with thee have fixed my lot,
Certain to undergo like doom: if death
Consort with thee, death is to me as life.

      Eve invites Adam to eat the fruit. Adam eats the fruit not out of ignorance of the consequences but because he is “overcome with female charms”.

Earth trembled from her entrails as again
In pangs, and nature gave a second groan,
Sky loured and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completing of the mortal sin

      Adam takes no heed of the thunder and Eve does not fear to repeat her trespass. The two of them are intoxicated; they reel in mirth and imagine that they feel divinity developing within them, giving them wings to lift them above the earth. In fact the deceptive fruit works far otherwise, inflaming them with lust.

Immediate Consequences

      The effect of eating the fruit is instantaneous. In the case of Adam, the vocabulary used by Milton is that of sexual indulgence;

But that false fruit
Far other operations first displayed.
Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve
began to cast lascivious eyes, she him
As wantonly repaid; in lust they bum
Till Adam thus gan Eve to dalliance move.

      Both of them joined themselves in amorous bonds and retire to a couch of sweetest and softest flowers under a sweet bower to have the bliss of their conjugal life. Exhausted by their amorous play, they go to sleep which fails to refresh them because it was caused by unhealthy vapours, which rising from below, oppressed them and clouded their rational faculties. Before long they realize that they have been betrayed by the treacherous serpent. Now they realize that their celestial bliss had departed and they had become grossly earthly.

University Questions

“Eve is seduced by Satan and Adam is seduced by Eve,” is this how the Fall of Man is brought about in Book IX of Paradise Lost?
Write a critical appreciation of the temptation scene in Book IX of Paradise Lost.
How is first Eve and subsequently Adam convinced to trespass against the wishes of God in Book IX of Paradise Lost?

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