The poet laments that he will no longer be able to talk of such familiarity between men and angels, since the two must now be separated by the disloyalty of Man and the anger of heaven. His subject now must be the advent of Sin, Death, and Misery, a more heroic topic than those of Homer and Virgil, and he asks the Muse to help him finish his task without being distracted.
Satan, who has been in hiding since he was expelled from Eden by the archangel Gabriel, returns, disguised as a mist, and enters the body of a sleeping snake. As he does so, he laments his fall from grace and his inability to find joy in the beauty of God’s creation.
The following day, Adam and Eve are working separately in the garden. This separation is Eve’s idea, since she says they will be able to concentrate on their tasks more fully if they are not together, and she also wants to show that she is capable of withstanding Satan’s temptation alone. Adam dislikes this idea and tries to dissuade Eve, but he finally agrees. Satan approaches Eve, calling her a “goddess” and remarking upon her beauty. She is amazed that a snake is able to speak with a human voice and asks how this came to pass. Satan replies that ate the fruit from a beautiful tree and that this gave him the power of speech, as well as greater knowledg.
Satan takes Eve to the Tree of Knowledge and, when she sees it, she objects that she cannot eat the fruit of this tree, since God has forbidden it. Satan tells her that eating the fruit has revealed to him that God really wants Eve to prove her courage and independence by eating it herself and that he is living proof that it is not deadly. There is no sin in the desire for knowledge, and no God worthy of the name would punish Eve for acting on this desire.
Eve reflects on Satan’s words and on the marvelous appearance of the fruit, and finally she begins to eat it. Satan slinks away as she eats more and more, while the entire natural world sighs for her sin. She takes the fruit to Adam, who is appalled at her disobedience but eats the fruit anyway. He does not think he could live without Eve and wants to share in her fate, whatever it is. After he eats, he is filled with lust for Eve, and they have sex, after which they fall asleep.
When Adam and Eve awaken, they are painfully aware that they have fallen. They are ashamed of their nakedness and make garments out of fig leaves to cover themselves. They are filled with anger and suspicion and begin to argue, blaming each other for their plight.