Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2675
Raphael: God’s angel; sent to Adam and Eve to warn them of the sin of disobedience to God
Abdiel: the only follower of Satan who remains faithful to God in the war in Heaven
In the morning, Adam awakes to the sound of birds singing in the trees. He has slept well but is alarmed at the sight of Eve’s disheveled look. Rousing her from a night of fitful sleep, Adam learns that she has had a disturbing dream. Someone, whose voice sounded like Adam’s, had spoken into her ear, she says, asking her to join him during the moonlit hours to enjoy the cool and silent beauty of the night. She rose at Adam’s call but did not see him. Searching for him, she found only the Tree of Knowledge that seemed fairer than it had in the light of day. Gazing at the tree stood a winged creature who vowed that no one would forbid him to taste its fruit. Without hesitation he picked and tasted the fruit as a “damp horror” ran through Eve’s body. The creature held the fruit to her mouth, tempting her to eat and become a goddess. After she smelled the fruit, she was unable to resist. Immediately she began to fly through the air with him, but suddenly he was gone, and she sank down. She is now happy it has only been a dream.
Adam is uneasy about Eve’s dream. He explains that though she was created pure and is, therefore, left untouched by her evil dream, Fancy or imagination often overrules Reason when a person sleeps, producing “wild work” from events of the past. Assuring her that their talk of the previous night has probably caused her dream, Adam is confident that evil “may come and go” into the mind and leave no trace. While awake, he says, she will never be as impetuous as she was in her dream. In spite of his encouragement, a “gentle tear” falls from her eye, but Adam kisses it away as they hurry to their work.
Before they begin their labors, however, they bow in adoration to God. Without ritual, words flow spontaneously from their lips. Glorifying God for his creation, they also praise him for his goodness and divine power. They call on the creatures of the Earth and all the planets and elements to join them in praise for their eternal God. Ending their morning prayer with an appeal for God’s continuous bounty of good, they ask him to disperse any evil that might have been concealed during the night.
As Adam and Eve go about their morning tasks, God looks down upon them from Heaven with pity. He sends Raphael to Earth to caution them about the danger of Satan lurking in the garden and plotting their fall with his deceit and lies. Raphael is also instructed to remind them of their free will to choose between good and evil.
With haste, he leaves Heaven to deliver his urgent message. Admired by all winged creatures, he soars in the shape of a phoenix through the ethereal sky. He alights on the “eastern cliff of Paradise” and changes back to his proper shape, a six-winged seraph.
Spotting Raphael in the distance, Adam calls Eve to the opening of their bower to see the “glorious shape” approaching through the fields of sweet-smelling flowers and “spicy forest.” He asks Eve to make preparations to entertain their guest. She quickly picks the choicest fruits of Paradise and strews the ground with rose petals. Meanwhile, Adam fearlessly approaches Raphael with stately solemnity, bowing with reverence as he comes near. Adam invites Raphael to stay and eat with them; he accepts. Raphael hails Eve as the “Mother of Mankind” whose fruitfulness will fill the world. Their table is the “grassy turf,” and their seats are made of moss. Hesitantly, Adam shares his food with Raphael, fearing that perhaps it would be unsavory to “spiritual natures.” Raphael tells Adam that angels require food and live by the five senses just as humans do. He explains that all forms of life need food and there is no sharp distinction between spirit and matter. Though Heaven’s trees bear fruit and its vines nectar, Raphael savors the unusual varieties of fruits found in Eden. Eve, who is naked, fills their cups with liquors, innocently ministering to their needs. In Paradise, the poet says, love reigns without lust or jealousy.
Adam then decides he should not let this occasion pass without questioning his guest about Heaven and its inhabitants. Raphael responds by depicting God as one who created all beings with various forms and to varying degrees. He elaborately describes the “scale of Nature” in which all created things have their place. He explains that created beings are more spiritual as they become proportionately nearer to God. “Differing but in degree” not in kind, Raphael says, the human body may someday “turn all to spirit” if Man is “found obedient.” Adam is troubled by the condition of obedience and asks Raphael to explain it further. Raphael warns Adam that he must obey God’s original command to abstain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Though Adam was created perfect, he is not immutable. He has, however, been given free will to choose his own destiny, Raphael says. He tells Adam that some of the angels have already fallen into Hell because of their disobedience to God.
Upon request, Raphael tells Adam what transpired in Heaven when the angels fell as he relates the story of the war in Heaven. Before the world was created and Chaos reigned, God called his angels to his throne in Heaven to announce that he had that day begotten a Son who now sits at his right hand. The Son has been appointed their head to whom all knees should bow. Anyone who disobeys the Son, also disobeys God and will be cast into utter darkness forever.
All the angels seem pleased, spending their day in mystical dance that resembles the intricate mazes and divine harmony of the stars and planets. Their dance delights even God Himself. A table is set and the angels eat and drink in celebration of the good news. Night falls and the angels go to sleep, but Satan’s pride and envy keep him awake. At midnight, he awakens his subordinate, Beelzebub, and speaks to him secretly. He asks him to assemble the legions of angels and tell them that Satan and all his followers have been ordered to go to the North to prepare to receive the great Messiah. Though Satan’s words are a lie, his associate carries out his orders, and all obey Satan, their highly respected leader.
Meanwhile, God sees “rebellion rising” among Satan’s legions of angels and warns the Son that Satan is erecting a power equal to theirs. He advises the Son to prepare for battle. The Son calmly replies that he is ready, with the power given to him by God, to subdue the rebels and “quell their pride.”
In the meantime, Satan has already gathered his powers that are as numerous as the stars at night or the dewdrops in the morning. From his royal seat high on a hill, Satan addresses his angels by their princely titles. He tries to convince them that they will lose those titles and their freedom if they pay “knee-tribute” to both the Father and the Son.
Of all the myriads of angels, only Abdiel speaks out in defiance against Satan, accusing him of blasphemy, falsehood, and pride. Abdiel argues that God’s decree is just, giving His only Son the right to rule with Him in Heaven. He questions Satan’s right to challenge God who created him and “formed the powers of Heaven.” God’s law would not make the angels less but would “exalt” their “happy state” instead. He pleads with Satan to stop his “impious rage” and seek pardon from God before it is too late.
None of the angels stand by Abdiel which increases Satan’s haughtiness even more. He refuses to acknowledge God as his creator, using the excuse that he does not remember when his Maker gave him being. He is “self-begot” and “self-raised,” he says. Ordering Abdiel to leave, Satan’s words are met with widespread applause from his legions of angels.
Abdiel, “though alone,” is courageous and bold. Predicting Satan’s fall, he tells him that he need no longer trouble himself with escaping the yoke “of God’s Messiah.” He can soon expect to feel God’s wrath on his head at which point there will be no turning back. Abdiel remains faithful and loyal to God. As he leaves, the angels surround him with threatening looks, but he fearlessly turns his back on Satan’s towers of destruction.
In Book V, Eve explains the dream she had during Satan’s visit to her as a toad in Book IV. When Gabriel’s angels find Satan “squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve,” he is attempting by his “devilish art” to reach “the organs of her fancy” or, in other words, her dreams (P. L., IV, 800–802). The reader is convinced of his success when Adam finds her in the morning “with tresses discomposed, and glowing cheek,/ As through unquiet rest.” She relates her disturbing dream to Adam, and it is recognized as a foreshadowing of Satan’s temptation of Eve in Book IX. As is foretold in Eve’s dream, Satan later promises her that she will rise to the stature of a goddess if she eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (P. L., IX, 547). When she does eat, as is also true in her dream, she experiences a feeling of “high exaltation” (P. L., IX, 780–94). In both accounts, Satan, or the Serpent, as he is later portrayed, claims to have eaten the fruit, boasts of its inward powers, and tempts her to eat too with the promise that it will produce “strange alteration” in her degree of reason (P. L., IX, 599–600).
Eve’s dream has left her with troubled thoughts, but Adam comforts her by expounding on the dream psychology of his time. Though the Freudian theory about dreams and the unconscious was unheard of in the seventeenth century, Milton’s interpretation of Eve’s dream is hauntingly close to Freud’s idea of dreams as wish-fulfillment or “Fancy” that is left unchecked by the waking consciousness or, as Milton would have it, the faculty of “Reason.”
The opening lines of Adam and Eve’s morning hymn of praise to God is closely analogous to Psalms 19:1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.” The majority of the passage, however, alludes to Psalm 148. Echoes of the Psalmist pervade their invocation as they call on the planets, the elements, the trees, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and the angels to join together in praise to the eternal God.
A refrain that reverberates throughout the poetry of Paradise Lost is that of free will. Even Satan admits that he has been given the free will to fall (P. L., IV, 66). In speaking to Eve, Adam praises their God who is infinitely good and “As liberal and free as infinite” (P. L., IV, 415). In Book V, Milton has again placed the phrase into the mouth of God himself who declares that he has left Adam and Eve to their “own free will.” Raphael has come to warn them about their obedience to their creator but reminds them of their freedom of choice. God has, Raphael says, “ordained thy will/ By nature free.”
Led to the bower by Adam, Raphael greets Eve upon arrival with “Hail Mother of Mankind.” The poet likens Eve to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus but he also associates her with Venus, goddess of love in Roman mythology, who was awarded a prize for her beauty by Paris on Mount Ida. In referring to Venus as “the fairest goddess,” Milton attaches the negative “feigned” to her title. Frank Kermode observes that Milton “is constantly disclaiming these heathen fancies, but is constantly putting them in [his poem]” (Frank Kermode, “Adam Unparadised,” p. 135). This is also true in Milton’s series of classical comparisons in Book IV as he describes Eden. Though these pagan fields and gardens are beautiful, none can compare to Paradise (P.L., IV, 274). The poet’s theme in the opening of his epic is, the poet says, loftier than those of the pagan poets. He announces that he “with no middle flight intends to soar/ Above the Aonian Mount (P. L., I, 14–15). In this way, Milton offers a disclaimer for the use of pagan allusions but, at the same time, enriches his epic by including them.
When Raphael dines with Adam and Eve, he does not merely seem to eat but eats with “real hunger.” A parallel to Milton’s idea is found in Genesis 18. This is the passage where Abraham entertains three angels, giving them food and drink.
Raphael’s account of the “scale of Nature” centers around the idea of a natural order where all things are created in various forms and varying degrees. Created beings become more spiritous and pure as they are proportionately nearer to God. In this hierarchy, God is supreme and all other beings have a natural superior whom they are obligated to obey and a natural inferior whom they must rule. If the hierarchy is broken, disorder and chaos is the result. This happens if an inferior usurps the power of a being that is by nature superior. This idea is central to Paradise Lost and to the fall of Man. At this point in the epic, Satan has already attempted to usurp the power of God by claiming equality with him. Satan’s fall has created a chain reaction of disorder and chaos which will eventually lead to the fall of Man.
Raphael describes the war in Heaven in a flashback that places the characters before the time of Satan’s fall in Book I. This is in keeping with the epic tradition of beginning the poem in medias res—in the middle of things. In the poem, God’s statement, “This day I have begot whom I declare/ My only Son,” is an allusion to the Scriptures. “I will declare the decree; the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalms 2:7). The word “begot” is used in the metaphorical sense rather than the literal. On this particular day, the Son is anointed and proclaimed to be the head of the angels. The angels must hereafter bow to the Son and honor Him as their Lord. Milton did not believe the Son was coeternal with God, but that he was the first thing to be created. It is God’s announcement, proclaiming the Son as the angels’ superior that causes Satan’s jealousy and his consequent rebellion against God. When Satan gathers his troops in the North, he is attempting to flee from God and form a rebellion against him. He argues that paying “knee-tribute” to God was bad enough but to double that honor by bowing to the Son also, cannot be endured. All of his legions of angels agree with him in silent consent except Abdiel. He alone opposes Satan, calling him “blasphemous, false, and proud.” He argues that God’s law is just, because he is the creator and, therefore, their natural superior. In rebuttal to Abdiel, Satan refutes the idea that God created him, arguing that the angels were “self-begot” and “self-raised.” He knows it is a lie and later affirms his true Creator in his soliloquy on Mount Niphates (P. L., IV, 43). Standing firm in spite of opposition, Abdiel is Milton’s prototype of those who hold to their convictions against the opinions of the masses.
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