The snake is "the subtlest beast of all the field", or the most clever animal. As such, the devil possesses the serpent, using it as a vehicle to talk with and tempt Eve.
The most commonly mentioned feature of the snake is his "mazy folds", or coiled body. This is an allusion to the snake's crafty and often deceiving manner. When the snake meets Eve, Milton describes the snake as a
"Circular base of rising folds, that tow'r'd
Fold above fold a surging Maze, his Head
Crested aloft, and Carbuncle Eyes;
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect
Amidst his circling Spires, that on the grass
Floated redundant: pleasing was his shape
And lovely..." (Book 9 Lines 499-505)
It is clear that the snake does not look like modern day snakes, for this snake is not confined to slither on the ground. Rather, the serpent rises above the ground and looks magnificent, perhaps another reason why Eve believed the snake to be honest.
When the snake tries to tempt Eve, he uses flattery and "logic". His "logic" seems reasonable, but is truely false. The serpent's main points are thus:
- Eve, you are the most beautiful and wondrous creature ever.
- Why should beast be allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge when man is not?
- Perhaps God just wants to keep you subjugated by forbidding you from eating.
- Or maybe God would even reward you for eating the fruit, for being courageous in the search for a better life!
- This knowledge will probably help you, anyways, so what's the harm with eating the fruit?
Flattery and seemingly reasonable statements are the basic recipe for persuasion, as Milton well knew. :)