The Adam and Eve of Paradise Lost

John Milton’s Paradise Lost was published in 1664.

A summary from Wikipedia:

The story of Adam and Eve’s temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented as having a romantic and sexual relationship while still being without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan, disguised in the form of a serpent, successfully tempts Eve to eat from the Tree by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric. Adam, learning that Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another – if she dies, he must also die. In this manner, Milton portrays Adam as a heroic figure, but also as a greater sinner than Eve, as he is aware that what he is doing is wrong.

After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex. At first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial. However, they soon fall asleep and have terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realizing that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination.

Meanwhile, Satan returns triumphantly to Hell, amid the praise of his fellow fallen angels. He tells them about how their scheme worked and Mankind has fallen, giving them complete dominion over Paradise. As he finishes his speech, however, the fallen angels around him become hideous snakes, and soon enough, Satan himself turns into a snake, deprived of limbs and unable to talk. Thus, they share the same punishment, as they shared the same guilt.

Eve appeals to Adam for reconciliation of their actions. Her encouragement enables them to approach God, and sue for grace, bowing on supplicant knee, to receive forgiveness. In a vision shown to him by the Archangel Michael, Adam witnesses everything that will happen to Mankind until the Great Flood. Adam is very upset by this vision of the future, so Michael also tells him about Mankind’s potential redemption from original sin through Jesus Christ (whom Michael calls “King Messiah”).

Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, and Michael says that Adam may find “a paradise within thee, happier far.” Adam and Eve also now have a more distant relationship with God, who is omnipresent but invisible (unlike the tangible Father in the Garden of Eden).

Anyone here read Paradise Lost and wish to discuss Milton’s take on Adam and Eve?

I have read so much on Adam and Eve, it is sometimes difficult for me to keep the stories straight. However, I will try. What do you wish to discuss about Milton’s take?

Well, it’s more the take of an essay written by C. S. Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) in which he claims that Eve was actually trying to murder Adam.

Basic discussion would be how Milton’s story fleshes out the Biblical version, and if it sounds ‘credible.’

Paradise Lost (my opinion) does a marvelous job of gathering lore, legends, traditions, and Biblical accounts into an enthralling work of fiction. Experts, without ever reading a copyright or first written date, would have little trouble identifying as being written in the 1600s by someone whose background was Christianity, not Jewish.

Bible says that Adam was with Eve when she was tempted, and just went along with her in sinning.

My take is that Adam was a wuss for failing to protect Eve from temptation. He just stood back and let it happen. Didn’t say a word. Let her succumb. Didn’t say a word. Then took her lead and sinned with her.

Nothing heroic in that.

I thought Eve was alone with the serpent and sampled the tree first…then sought out Adam?

I’m actually reading Paradise Lost with a book group and we’ve just started it. We won’t get to Satan tempting Adam and Eve til near the end of the book. But our book group leader read a few essays by C. S. Lewis, one of which talked about Milton’s version of the Fall story.

I’ll see if that essay is online so I can post an excerpt from it here.

Apparently the Preface to Paradise Lost by CS Lewis is in Public Domain.

If you look at it on a computer you can see links to various chapters on the left. Chapter XVI is about Adam and Eve.

It isn’t the essay our book leader read to us, but it covers some of the same themes.

If anyone is interested…

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (GN 3:6)

Well, well…I know I’ve read that verse several times…I always assumed Adam was somewhere off…because why would the serpent talk to Eve first (the female) instead of the male, Adam, or both at the same time. Unless they were truly equal in the garden before God kicked them out.

Also interesting that Adam didn’t discuss this with Eve before he ate of the fruit, though he was certainly tempted by the serpent too…

Why not?

The scripture says what it says. We can imagine all sorts of scenarios and write in our own details, but the words in Genesis won’t change because we want to add new details. Milton did no less.

Down through the ages, many scenarios, commentaries, and details have been written. Each bears the imprint of the age and culture that produced it–perhaps Milton most of all. It is likely that elements of Genesis appeared in other stories before it became imprinted with the age and culture of the Hebrew people. None of these perspectives make the story any less remarkable, and perhaps someday we might be able to tie all these perspectives together.

I thought I’d explained why in my response.

There’s a man and woman standing together. Call me a chauvanist, but back in that day I’d expect the serpent or anyone to talk to the man rather than the woman if they’re both together, or for the man to express some doubt as to what the serpent is saying

Since Adam never said anythng, that’s what led me to assume that Eve had been alone, and sought out Adam afterward to give the fruit to.

The fact that he’s standing right there and accepts the fruit from Eve, then tries to blame her for his eating the fruit when he talks to God leads me to take your stance - it was a pretty despicable thing for him to do.

And since Eve was supposed to be his helpmeet and he failed her, leads me to think that Eve didn’t really deserve her punishment as Adam deserved a little bit more.

Not a chauvinist, but once again reading from the perspective of the age we live in. Scholars point out that before God was viewed as masculine, there was a strong view of Him as feminine–and women had a strong leadership role. (This was not considered chauvinistic; it simply was. :wink: ) The serpent was not associated with Satan until the advent of Christianity many thousands of years later. In ancient literature serpents sometimes symbolized fertility–something I can relate to due to once stumbling upon a rattlesnake nursery out in the desert.

Rabbis point to other oddities in the story. The story has God saying not to eat of the fruit, yet Eve adds they were not to touch it. They note Eve ate from the tree, Adam ate from the stick. Yes, we can envision Eve picking the fruit and handing it to Adam, stem or small branch attached. However, in the Hebrew ‘stick’ also has the connotation of force or compulsion. Did Adam absentmindedly eat a piece of fruit his wife handed him, or did he feel compelled to eat it, either by Eve or by his own inner desire?

Some Rabbis take away God’s emotion of anger, and ask God’s statements be view more as matter-of-fact consequences of a choice.

It is also interesting that the serpent symbolized fertility–and the consequences mentioned childbirth. Some speculate that before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were not destined to become parents. Was this the choice before Adam and Eve–to become parents and populate the earth? Wouldn’t this choice entail death entering the picture to control the population?

There has always been speculation about the creation story, and I think most rabbis and scholars agree its original meaning and intent has been lost over time. One interesting question though: Did Adam and Eve commit a sin, or did they simply make a choice that later generations re-interpret as sin? Paradise Lost is an interesting perspective…from the 1600s…which focuses on the Christian perspective over time.

The Hebrew story of Genesis comes directly from the Sumerian story of Genesis.

Father Abraham was a wealthy Sumerian.

Possibly, yes, or another witness(es) with a different perspective(s) of the same event(s). An unanswerable question is how did ancient man’s fascination with the law influence a possible earlier (spoken) version of Adam and Eve.

One reason I find Milton’s Paradise Lost quite fascinating is that it is fairly easy to pinpoint where the ideas in his prose first originated. Apparently for generations mankind lived without the concept of law. I wonder how the story was told prior to the concept of law. This is something that has been lost to us…perhaps also the ability to imagine time before law.

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Everything lines up too perfectly. The Deluge, the Eden, the Nephilim, etc…

I, for one, would like to know the true source of this Indo-European religious belief. How old is it? Who said it first? What were their names when it was first written?

Something I would love to discuss in a separate thread outside Paradise Lost.

It’s all related but, as you wish.

I didn’t want to interrupt the OP conversation if it was going to proceed in a different direction, but today I return to find all is silent. So I am guessing our conversation may not interfere with anything.

Yeah, I don’t think too many people are interested in Paradise Lost…