Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2557
Adam: first man created by God; forbidden to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Paradise
Eve: first woman created by God out of Adam’s rib; tempted by the Serpent to eat the forbidden fruit
Gabriel: an angel guarding the gate of Paradise
Uzziel: an angel, who is next to Gabriel in power, guarding Paradise
Ithuriel: an angel appointed by Gabriel to search for Satan in ¬Paradise
Zephon: an angel who helps Ithuriel find Satan and bring him to Gabriel for questioning
Satan has reached the top of Mount Niphates which overlooks Eden. As he anticipates his “bold enterprise” against God and Man, he is suddenly plagued with doubt and despair. Though he has escaped from his physical Hell, he has brought his inner Hell with him, admitting that “I myself am Hell.” Sadly, he looks down at Eden, a pleasant place, and then at Heaven where the sun shines like the radiance of a god who holds dominion over the new world (Eden). Satan blames the sun whose brilliancy reminds him of his own lost glory in Heaven. He confesses it was his pride and ambition that caused him to wage war against Heaven’s King. Acknowledging him as his creator, Satan concedes that God was un¬de¬serving of his rebellious actions. He reflects on God’s goodness and feels that he owed him the praise and thanks that was due to him. Admitting his free will to stand or fall, he realizes he was treated justly. Unable to escape his miserable existence, he cries out for pardon, but only for a moment. He disdains submission to God and dreads the shame he would suffer among the spirits in Hell if he would admit that he could not subdue the Omnipotent. Concluding that “all good to me is lost,” he decides that evil will be his good, and at least he will reign over more than half the world.
Meanwhile, unknown to Satan, Uriel, whose eyes have been following him since he left the sun, suddenly notices his disfigured body showing through his disguise.
Satan moves on to “delicious Paradise” that is surrounded by a high wall with an eastern gate. Above the wall he can see the trees laden with blossoms and fruit. As he approaches, the air becomes purer. Finding no entrance, he leaps over the wall and lands on the ground in Eden. Changing his appearance to a bird, he alights in the Tree of Life that is next to the Tree of Knowledge.
Ingulfed underneath Eden is a river flowing south and rising up as a “fresh fountain” that divides into four main streams to water all of the garden. Eden is a peaceful place filled with flowers, roses without thorns, cool caves, luxurious vines, and waterfalls. Satan sees many kinds of creatures but only two who stand “erect and tall.” Spotting Adam and Eve, he realizes they have been created “God-like erect” in the “image of their glorious Maker.” The naked pair were not created equal. Adam was formed for contemplation and valor, the poet says, and Eve was made for “softness” and “sweet attractive grace.” The earthly pair walk hand in hand until they find a green shady spot bedecked with flowers next to a “fresh fountain” where they eat their supper of fruits as the beasts are frisking around them.
Irritated by Adam and Eve’s idyllic happy life that contrasts sharply with his own, Satan plots his act of guile which will cause them to fall. Though they are not his direct enemies, he will avenge God by corrupting them and, thereby, enlarge his empire in Hell. In an attempt to get a closer look at the human pair, Satan alights from the tree and changes his shape, first to a lion, then to a tiger. When Adam speaks, Satan is all ears. Adam tells Eve that the Power that raised them from the dust must be infinitely good since all he requires of them is to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Having given the earthly pair the power to rule over all creatures of the Earth, air, and sea, God asks for only one sign of their obedience. Death will be the penalty if they disobey by partaking of the forbidden fruit, but it is an easy prohibition since there is an abundance of other fruits in the garden.
Eve agrees that Adam is right. She then reminisces about the day she met Adam when she was first given life. After she awoke, she gazed into the lake and saw another shape that imitated her actions. She would still be there, she says, if a voice had not warned her that the image she was seeing was her own. The voice led her to Adam, but when she saw him, she turned to go back, finding the image in the lake more attractive. Adam convinced her to stay, and she yielded to his “manly grace.” The Devil (Satan) turns aside, envious as Adam and Eve embrace.
Satan has heard them talking and decides to convince them to seek the knowledge that is forbidden. He must persuade them to eat the fruit, but first he will gather more information from the heavenly spirits who might be wandering around the garden.
At sunset the angel Gabriel, chief of the heavenly guards, sits at the eastern gate of Paradise when, suddenly, Uriel glides down to Earth on a sunbeam. He warns Gabriel of the evil spirit who might be lurking in Eden. Uriel relates the details of his earlier meeting with a spirit whom he has been watching from his sentry position in the sun. He has lost sight of him and fears there is trouble ahead unless someone finds him. Gabriel assures Uriel he will be found by morning, and the angel of the sun returns to his appointed post in the sun.
Night falls, and Adam reminds Eve that God has devised day and night, appointing a time for labor and rest. They must now go to sleep so they can rise again at dawn and attend to their garden. Eve asks Adam why the moon and stars shine all night when all else in God’s creation sleeps. Adam replies that the planets must revolve around the Earth to give light to “nations yet unborn.” Millions of God’s spiritual creatures roam the Earth, keeping watch all night long. Sometimes one can hear their “celestial voices” singing in the “midnight air.” Hand in hand, Adam and Eve retire to their “blissful bower,” chosen by God who framed the trees, bushes, and fragrant flowers for their “delightful use.” In their awe of Man, the birds, beasts, and insects dare not enter the bower. Before Adam and Eve enter, they send up a prayer of adoration and praise to God.
The poet praises “wedded Love,” instituted by God as the “true source/ Of human offspring” and contrasts it to the “bought smile/ Of harlots.” The poet also pronounces that it is the work of the devil, “our destroyer,” to attack wedded love by advocating abstinence. As the happy pair sleep, Gabriel, heeding Uriel’s warning, sends out his guards to find the fallen angel who has escaped from Hell. Two of the guards, Ithuriel and Zephon, find him squatting like a toad at Eve’s ear, disturbing her dreams. Ithuriel touches Satan lightly with his spear. Startled, Satan springs up, revealing his true shape. When the angels question Satan’s identity, he scoffs at them, reminding them that he outranked them in Heaven. Zephon tells Satan he is no longer recognizable since now he resembles his foul sin.
The guards bring Satan to Gabriel for questioning. Gabriel asks him why he has broken the bounds of Hell to come to Earth, and Satan replies that he has come to escape the pain. Gabriel questions him further, asking why he did not bring all of the fallen angels with him. Satan replies that he has been sent on a dangerous mission as a scout to explore a “better abode” for his legions of angels in Hell. Calling him a liar, Gabriel orders him to leave while the angels threaten him with spears. Disaster is prevented by a sign from God in Heaven, and Gabriel reminds Satan that both of them stand powerless without God. Murmuring, Satan flees from Eden.
In Satan’s opening soliloquy on Mount Niphates, his outwardly pompous behavior has given way to the private disclosure of his inner torment. His ambivalence controls the “Hell within him,” leaving him powerless to escape his miserable existence. He concedes that God created him and was, therefore, undeserving of his rebellion, yet his pride will not allow him to submit to God and give up his position as the Prince of Hell. He curses God’s love but then curses himself since he must now bear the just penalty of his freely chosen actions against God. He fears that “feigned submission” would only lead to a “worse relapse.” In desperation, he decides that all hope for good is lost, thus evil must be his good. Feeling powerless when he is in the presence of good, he admits that evil is the only thing he can achieve.
Satan’s soliloquy reveals him as a villain who chooses evil but whose “practised falsehood” must, nevertheless, be presented “under saintly show.” This is reminiscent of the soliloquies of Shake¬speare’s villains. In Othello, the character of Iago resembles Satan as the “artificer of fraud” when he deceives Othello into thinking that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. Speaking to himself, Iago admits his hypocrisy.
How am I then a villain?
Divinity of Hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now.
Othello, II, iii, 348–53
Iago’s plans to turn Desdemona’s “virtue into pitch,” is comparable to Satan’s plot involving the temptation and destruction of Adam and Eve. When the fact that Milton wrote Satan’s speech as part of his earlier proposed dramatic version of Paradise Lost is considered, the dramatic quality of the soliloquy which emulates those of Shakespeare’s villains can be understood. Shakespeare, like Milton, also wrote his verse in unrhymed iambic pentameter.
In his soliloquy, Satan’s appearance changes as he speaks. “Each passion dimmed his face/ Thrice changed with pale, ire, envy, and despair.” He becomes increasingly “counterfeit” or hypocritical. The poet observes that “heavenly minds from such distempers foul/ Are ever clear.” This is reminiscent of Virgil’s Aeneid. After the poet has invoked the Muse, he questions “Juno’s unrelenting wrath . . . In heavenly breasts do such fierce passions dwell?” (Aeneid I, 6, 16). It has been suggested by some commentators that Milton was alluding to these lines since he also uses the same idea later in the poem: “In heavenly spirits could such perverseness dwell” (P. L., VI, 788) from the war in Heaven, and “can envy dwell/ In heavenly breasts?” (P. L., IX, 729–30) from Satan’s temptation of Eve. We know from Milton himself that he is emulating “Homer in Greek” and “Virgil in Latin.”
In Book IV and throughout the rest of the poem, Milton distinguishes between the capabilities and obligations of the sexes. They are not equal, the poet says, and the “absolute rule” belongs to the male while the female yields in “subjection” to him. In the awareness of the seventeenth century, Milton’s commonly accepted view would have been considered not only biblical but Aristotelian in that this is how Aristotle described the hierarchical order of nature. Aristotle himself declares that “between male and female the former is by nature superior and ruler, the latter inferior and subject” (Aristotle, Politics, I, v). When Milton says, “He for God only, she for God in him,” the biblical allusion is clear. “ . . . he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man . . . Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (I Cor. 11:7, 9). In the light of the theological dogma of Milton’s day, women were granted an honorable position in society. Helen Gardner, commenting on Milton’s view of male/female status in this passage, sees little difference between Milton and other writers of his age, particularly John Donne, but she feels “we find much in Milton’s theology repellent because he sets it out so clearly.” In Milton’s time, people’s thinking centered around the idea that all beings were classified in a natural hierarchy, and, therefore, male and female could not be equal and one must rule. Modern-day beliefs of equality for all people have vastly altered perceptions of Milton’s seventeenth-century ideas about sex roles.
Eve’s account of her first day of creation alludes to Ovid’s myth about Narcissus who is a handsome young man sought after by many women. He cares for none of them but falls in love with his own reflection in the pool instead. He pines away for the image of himself until he dies and is reincarnated as a Narcissus flower (Edith Hamilton, Mythology, 87–8). Eve also gazes into a pool and vainly admires her own reflection, but a voice leads her to Adam whom she perceives as less fair than her own image. As she turns away, Adam calls her back, telling her they are one flesh. She yields to him with gratitude, realizing that his “manly grace/ And wisdom” far exceeds her beauty. This is a foreshadowing of the fall which is later brought about by Eve’s inability to resist the Serpent’s flattery and Adam’s inability to resist Eve’s love and beauty.
Milton’s description of Paradise is artfully laced with classical allusions. From Greek mythology, the Three Graces are sister goddesses who dispense charm for the dance. Pan is the Greek god of woods, fields, and flocks. By including them, the poet enriches the beauty of the pastoral scene. Enna, a city in Sicily, is the place where Proserpine, from ancient Roman mythology, was raped as she was gathering flowers. She was the daughter of Ceres, the goddess of the underworld. In keeping with the epic tradition, Milton weaves stories of classical gods and demons through the epic poem.
Milton’s love for Latinisms is evident in Book IV as it is throughout the epic. Before Satan’s soliloquy, the poet describes him as “much revolving” (multa volvens) which means that he is doing much pondering. “Me miserable!” (me miserum) is another Latinism that describes Satan’s state of mind. Amiable (amabilis) means beautiful, and irriguous (irriguus) is another word for well-watered valley. Milton’s fascination with the sounds of language is occasionally seen in his play on words. Adam addresses Eve when he says, “Sole partner and sole part of all these joys.” With the use of alliteration and repetition, the poet also emphasizes Satan’s despair.
Now conscience wakes despair
That slumbered, wakes the bitter memory
Of what he was, what is, and what must be
Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue.
In Satan’s speech, as if to punctuate his mood, he again repeats that it was “worse ambition” that was his downfall.
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