Book 8 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2362

Summary Adam has been so captivated by Raphael’s discourse on the creation of the World that he waits expectantly for him to continue. When he realizes that Raphael has finished, he thanks him appropriately. His thirst for knowledge has been allayed, Adam says, but yet another doubt remains that can...

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Adam has been so captivated by Raphael’s discourse on the creation of the World that he waits expectantly for him to continue. When he realizes that Raphael has finished, he thanks him appropriately. His thirst for knowledge has been allayed, Adam says, but yet another doubt remains that can only be resolved by the archangel. Adam is troubled by the disproportions in Nature in which a superfluous number of celestial bodies revolve around the ¬“sedentary Earth” that is merely a spot or atom compared to the firmament.

When Eve sees that Adam is entering into an intellectual conversation with Raphael, she excuses herself to attend to her garden. She would be delighted by such conversation and is capable of understanding it, but she prefers to hear it from Adam who will mix his explanations with interesting digressions and “conjugal caresses.”

Raphael tells Adam he does not blame him for being curious, but it is not important for him to know whether the celestial bodies revolve around the Earth or whether it is the Earth that moves. Heaven is likened to the Book of God where Adam can learn the seasons, hours, days, months, and years. God conceals the rest of his secrets from Man and is probably laughing at the “quaint opinions” of those who conjecture about the movements of the planets in the universe. It is not “great or bright” that determines excellence, Raphael says, since the “bright luminaries” shine for Man’s benefit and could not fulfill their purpose without him. The spaciousness of the entire universe is too large for Man so the rest is ordained for the use of the omnipotent God. Raphael goes on to say that there is no advantage for Man to go beyond the limits of his knowledge. He instructs Adam to concern himself only with his life and that of his “fair Eve” and leave other worlds to “God above.” Adam is satisfied with Raphael’s explanation and relieved to know he has been “taught to live/ The easiest way.” The “prime wisdom” is to learn of ordinary things in one’s own “daily life,” Adam says.

Conversing with Raphael seems like Heaven to Adam, and he offers to tell the story of his own creation in order to detain Raphael further. Raphael is pleased to listen to Adam’s account since on the day of creation the archangel had been on an excursion to the gates of Hell to prevent a spy from escaping while God was performing his work. To their relief the gates were locked, but inside they heard tormented cries from the fallen angels in Hell, and they gladly returned to Heaven before the coming of the Sabbath.

Adam then describes with difficulty how human life began. As he awakes from sleep, he finds himself lying in a “balmy sweat” on a soft bed of “flowery herbs.” The sun soon dries him as he gazes up at Heaven. Instinctively, he springs to his feet, surveying the landscape and all living creatures. With joy in his heart, he then peruses his own body, trying to establish his identity and the reason for his existence. He finds his voice and asks the sun and hills and all living creatures how he has come to this place. By his own instincts he knows he was created by “some great Maker” and asks where he might find him but receives no answer. Pensively, he sits down on a bank of flowers and falls asleep. God comes to him in a dream, leading him to the “garden of bliss.” When he awakes, he falls at the feet of God in adoration. Lifting him up, God tells Adam he has found the one he was seeking. He presents Adam with the gift of Paradise where he may “eat freely” all fruits except one: the fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge of good and ill” growing next to the “Tree of Life” in Paradise. The penalty of disobedience, God says, is death and the loss of his immortal state. God’s interdiction still rings in his ear, Adam says, though the choice is his to make.

God presents the entire Earth as a gift to Adam and his descendants, promising them dominion over all the animals. As a sign of his power over the birds and beasts, Adam is allowed to name them. Addressing the “Heavenly Vision,” Adam admonishes him for creating Man in solitude when all the animals are in pairs. God replies that Adam is not alone since he has jurisdiction over all living creatures and can order them to entertain him at any time. Careful not to offend, Adam implores God to grant him the fellowship of one with whom he can share “rational delight,” a human consort.

Though God is “not displeased,” he reminds Adam that he, the Creator, is alone too and can only converse with the creatures he has made. These are all his inferiors just as Adam’s animals are beneath him in rank. In lowliness Adam replies that God is already perfect and Man is not. Adam must complete his imperfection with a human companion with whom he can then propagate the race.

Thus far Adam has been put to the test several times, and God has been pleased each time. Even before Adam spoke, God says, he knew it was not good for “Man to be alone.” God then causes Adam to fall asleep but leaves his “cell/ Of fancy” open. Adam, thinking he is in a trance, sees a Shape (God) opening his left side to extract one of his ribs. He forms the rib into a creature whose name is Woman. She looks at Adam and turns away, completely disappearing in the dark. Waking from his dream, he becomes desperate to find her and vows he will follow her and beg her to stay. Meanwhile, the voice of her “Heavenly Maker” has been guiding her to Adam. They meet and Adam leads her to the nuptial bower as all created nature around them rejoices in celebration of the happy occasion.

Adam’s passion for Eve leaves him weak, he says. He feels that Nature has failed him since he lacks the strength to resist Eve’s beauty. Though Eve should, by nature, be his inferior, when he approaches “her loveliness” she is “in herself complete.” Whatever she “wills to do or say/ Seems wisest” when Adam is in her presence. Raphael rebukes Adam sharply with “contracted brow,” telling him that Wisdom will not desert him in this matter. He should love Eve, Raphael says, but not hold himself in “subjection” to her. If he demonstrates self-esteem, “she will acknowledge” him as “her head.” Raphael admonishes Adam to control his passion with reason. If he would strive to rise above the animals, he must substitute “carnal pleasure” with “heavenly love.”

Half abashed by Raphael’s words, Adam replies that nothing delights him more than the “thousand decencies that daily flow/ From all her (Eve’s) words and actions.” He then asks Raphael how the heavenly spirits express love to each other. Blushing, the archangel replies that spirits are happy and “if spirits embrace/ Total they mix, union of pure with pure.”

It is time to part, Raphael says, as he leaves with the warning to Adam to “take heed lest passion sway/ Thy judgment,” though he has been given the freedom to “stand fast” or fall. Following Raphael with a benediction, Adam invites him to return often. Raphael
ascends into Heaven, and Adam retreats to his earthly bower.

The belief in the plurality of habitable worlds has already been alluded to at the end of Book VII (620–22). In Book VIII Raphael moves into a full-scale discourse on astronomy, a frequent subject of debate in the seventeenth century. Copernicus had argued, in the sixteenth century, that the Earth and all planets in our solar system move around the sun. This replaced the Ptolemaic idea, formulated 1,400 years earlier, that the Earth is at the center of the universe in a motionless state. In the Copernican system the moon and the planets were thought to be like the Earth. Raphael asserts reasonably that “if land be there” the planets could also have “fields and inhabitants.” Milton reflects the seventeenth-century arguments for and against the Ptolemaic system through Raphael’s words. It does not matter, Raphael says, whether “the sun predominant in Heaven/ Rise on the Earth, or Earth rise on the sun.” Adam should concern himself only with things that lie before him in “daily life.”

Thus far, Adam’s requests to Raphael for information (about the war in Heaven and the creation of the world) have stayed within the proper limits for Man, but he now demonstrates a boldness we have not seen before. As if to test Raphael to see how far he can go, Adam questions the disproportions in God’s divine creation.

reasoning I oft admire
How Nature wise and frugal could commit
Such disproportions, with superfluous hand
So many nobler bodies to create,
Greater so manifold, to this one use (to officiate light).

Raphael rebukes Adam by telling him to “be lowly wise” and not worry about “things too high.” The point Raphael is making is not only that information about other worlds are God’s concern, but also that Adam has overstepped his human bounds which is a potential danger for him. Adam’s thirst for knowledge has reached limits beyond his place on the scale of nature, and he is now questioning God’s wisdom in creating a superfluous solar system that he thinks is disproportionately large for its small task of “officiating light” for the Earth. Ogden sees Adam’s change of attitude in this case as a “spiritual error” that prepares us “for further revelations of his weakness” such as “his potentially inordinate love of Eve” (H. V. S. Ogden, “The Crisis of Paradise Lost Reconsidered,” 321). Adam describes Eve as a woman who has completely enchanted him.

that what she wills to do or say
Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best;
All higher knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded. Wisdom in discourse with her
Loses discountenanced, and like Folly shows.

Raphael rebukes Adam for exalting Eve above her position in the scale of nature. Adam allows her to rule him and, thereby, upsets the natural order. Book VIII foreshadows Adam’s passion that rules his reason and ultimately leads to his fall in Book IX.

Raphael has captivated Adam’s interest in the accounts of the war in Heaven and the creation of the world. Adam now wishes to reciprocate by telling the archangel his story about “how human life began.” Raphael would gladly listen to Adam’s account, he says, since he had been on a mission that day to guard the gates of Hell and keep the world safe for God’s act of creation. It is hard, Adam says, to tell how his life began, “for who himself beginning knew?” This is reminiscent of Satan’s words to Abdiel in Book V. “We knew no time when we were not as now” (859). There is a striking dissimilarity between the tone of Satan’s words and that of Adam’s, however. Since he cannot remember the day the Maker gave him being, Satan argues that he must be “self-begot” and denies that God created him. In contrast, Adam immediately recognizes that he has come “not of myself; by some great Maker then.” He calls out to all of Nature to tell him where he might find his Maker so that he can adore him.

Adam describes his first moments as a sound sleep from which he awakes, met by the drying rays of the sun. “In balmy sweat,” which with his beams the sun/ Soon dried, and on the reeking moisture fed.” This is reminiscent of an earlier passage where Raphael justifies Adam’s concern about the disproportionate number of heavenly bodies by explaining that “those bright luminaries/ Officious, but to thee, Earth’s habitant.” The sun warms him but its rays also feed on Adam’s moisture which gives credence to Raphael’s earlier assertion that “the sun that barren shines . . . on itself works no effect” (94–5). Geoffrey Hartman suggests that the image of Adam waking to the sun is “an entirely unhurtful,
sympathetic, even symbiotic relation: what one creature takes from another benefits both (Hartman, “Adam on the Grass with Balsamum,” 221). Adam needs the sun’s warmth and the sun feeds on his moisture. The language supports their reciprocal state of being in its comparable alliterative phrases—“balmy sweat” and “beams the sun” are artfully placed in juxtaposition. It is the sun that Adam first names, personifying it as “fair light.” He also calls on the “enlightened Earth” and all the “fair creatures” who “live and move.” Adam’s first hours are happy ones, depicted with bright images of light and fairness, but he becomes pensive when he cannot find his creator. This alludes to the words of Job who says, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” (Job 23:3).

In presenting Paradise to Adam, God gives him dominion over the birds and beasts, asking him to name them according to their kind. Adam names them and as the animals approach him two by two, he notices that God has provided amply “but with me/ I see not who partakes.” Adam complains to God that there can be no happiness in solitude. Patrides sees this incident as the “first instance of man’s free will in action” (C. A. Patrides, “Because We Freely Love,” 120). Free will is a theme that runs throughout Milton’s epic and, in this case, Adam’s complaint meets with God’s approval.

As Adam finishes his account of the creation of Man and Woman, the talk about his feeling for Eve leads him to ask Raphael how angels express their love for each other. Raphael blushes but tells Adam it is sufficient to know angels are happy and without love there would be no happiness. In parting, Raphael again warns Adam not to let his passion sway his judgment.

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