Paradise Lost By John Milton Summary and Analysis Book VIII

Summary

Adam continues his conversation with Raphael in Book VIII. He asks Raphael about the movement of the stars and planets. The angel says that it doesn't matter whether Earth moves or the heavens. God has made some things unknowable. Ultimately, Raphael adds, the complexities of the universe are beyond Man's comprehension and Man should be satisfied with what God allows him to know. Then Adam tells Raphael, who was on a mission to guard Hell when God made Adam, the story of how Man was created.

Adam says that he awoke in a green and flowery bank and was immediately able to stand erect, run and jump, and, even though he was not certain who he was or where he came from, he nonetheless knew the names of the various plants and animals and could speak. Then, when he fell asleep, a dream vision appeared and led him to Eden. When Adam next woke, he saw God, who explained the creation and made the one prohibition — that Adam was not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Aside from that one proscription, Adam would have dominion over the rest of Earth. God then had all the animals come before Adam in pairs, and he named them, discovering that God had provided him with knowledge of the nature of each animal. At this point, Adam explained to God that he was lonely and needed a companion. God, having already planned a companion for Adam, put him to sleep. Even though unconscious, Adam was aware of what happened through the eye of his "fancy" (imagination), which God kept awake. From Adam's rib, God created a female companion, Eve, with whom Adam immediately fell in love. At first, Eve ran from Adam, but he eventually convinced her to follow him. The two experienced the feelings of love and were wedded.

Adam explains to Raphael that he is overcome with love and desire for Eve because of her physical beauty. He knows that Eve is less close to God than he, but he feels literally weakened by her attractiveness. Raphael takes issue with Adam, explaining that Eve has been created as his inferior. She is outwardly beautiful, but on the interior, spiritually, she is not Adam's equal. Raphael adds that Adam's love for Eve must rise above mere sexual desire. While once again admitting his physical attraction to Eve, Adam says that he loves her for more than the fulfillment of sexual passion. He says that his real love for Eve comes from their spiritual and intellectual companionship.

Finally, Raphael admonishes Adam to remember God's warning and to be on guard for Satan's treachery. He also tells Adam not to allow passion to overcome reason and cause him to disobey God. With that, the two beings, man and angel, part; Raphael toward Heaven, Adam to his bower.

Analysis

The astronomical discussion between Adam and Raphael reflects the scientific debate that existed in England in the seventeenth century. The discoveries and theories of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo were well known throughout England and Europe, but the ideas were also hotly debated. Milton, who had read extensively on the subjects and may even have met Galileo, nonetheless chooses to sidestep the issues in Paradise Lost. Adam and Raphael present varying viewpoints but do not reach a conclusion. Rather Raphael ends the discussion by saying that God left the questions concerning the heavens open to dispute, "perhaps to move / His laughter" (77-78). He adds that Adam should be "lowly wise" (169) and "Dream not of other worlds" (175).

Even though Milton chooses not to reach a conclusion on Adam's questions and ends the debate with homiletic advice from Raphael, it would be misleading to assume that either Milton or Raphael intends to discourage questions about the universe. Milton's interest in science is well established, and Raphael seems pleased with the questions that Adam asks. It was commonplace in the Restoration period to refer to nature as God's Book of Works, which was entirely compatible with God's Book of Words (the Bible). So questions about nature and the heavens were not considered presumptuous, though they could lead to incorrect, even evil, conclusions. Therefore, Adam, in opening up the abstruse topic of the geocentric / heliocentric universe is advised to stick to more down-to-earth queries — not to avoid questions at all.

By today's standards, Raphael's (God's) advice to Adam seems to limit Man's ability to learn, but, within the context of the time, God suggests that Man should be content with what he can learn about the world rather than what must remain theory. In other words, Man should learn the practical ways of the physical world and leave metaphysical concerns to God.

The idea that God laughs at Man's attempts to theorize about the universe continues Milton's problematic portrayal of God the Father. How to make an omniscient being who is the embodiment of pure reason empathetic is a difficult task. God the Father often seems austere and condescending although those qualities are built into the notion of making the Supreme Being a fictional character. God the Son, who will become Man, naturally seems more human, and perhaps the Son is Milton's way of humanizing the Father.

Eve's attitude toward the conversation between Adam and Raphael is frequently misunderstood. She walks away as the discussion of planetary motion begins, and some readers have assumed that the subject is beyond her female understanding. However, Milton says directly that such is not the case. Rather, Eve prefers to hear the explanation privately and directly from Adam. This explanation is consistent with Milton's attitude toward Eve and women in general throughout the work. Women are intellectually inferior to men but not significantly. Eve is interested in the subject, but will both enjoy the explanation more and understand it better if Adam explains it to her. This attitude also establishes the role of Eve and women as helpmates to their husbands. The husband's role is in the world; the wife's at home. But, within the privacy of the home, the two may operate on equal footing as the anticipated conversation between Adam and Eve would prove.

Adam's description of his creation is similar to Raphael's description of the creation of Earth in Book VII — both accounts follow the biblical versions but also contain significant additions by Milton. Milton shows Adam standing erect, running, jumping, discovering his reason, and deducing information about the world into which he has just been created. Further, Milton adds Adam's trance-like sleep and the Divine Guide who takes Adam to Eden and explains creation to him.

The scene in which Adam asks God for a companion is one of the intentionally lighthearted scenes in Paradise Lost. In this scene, God is like a teacher or parent who already knows the answer to a child's request but wants to make the child work a bit before revealing it. God knows that Adam needs companionship but makes him go through a scholarly disputation to explain the reasoning behind his need. Adam argues well and pleases God through the use of his reason.

Some commentators on Paradise Lost have been troubled by Adam's statement at line 415. In explaining why God does not need companionship, Adam says, "Thou in Thyself art perfect." To some, this line suggest Unitarianism, especially when coupled with Adam's further comment to God that God is, "through all numbers absolute, though one" (421). In examining the context, however, it seems doubtful that Milton actually intended to challenge the doctrine of the Trinity here. Rather, Adam is establishing the basic difference between Man and God. God is perfect and, by definition, needs nothing else to be complete; Man is imperfect and needs companionship and much more. Many critics have pointed out that Milton is following Aristotle's discussion of God in the Eudemian Ethics and probably did not consider the lines' implications in terms of the Trinity.

For Adam, Eve is the greatest of God's creations on Earth. As Adam explains his love for Eve to Raphael, both the angel and the reader become aware of how Adam's feelings for Eve pose a danger for him. Adam adores Eve. His paean to her character and beauty reaches the level of adulation. Adam does note some of the ways that Eve is inferior to him, but the overall tenor of his description reveals a depth of love that makes Raphael frown with concern. Milton uses Adam's feelings for Eve to set up the temptation scene in Book IX. To this point, Adam has been presented as a strong and intelligent character, able to debate successfully with God. Adam has listened and learned from Raphael. Further, he has heard and understood Raphael's warnings. Adam knows that he and Eve must not be disobedient to God's command. The question, thus, is how, given the strength of Adam's character, how can he believably yield to temptation in Book IX?

The answer to this question lies mainly in Adam's discussion of Eve in Book VIII. The reader knows from Book I that Eve is vain and moreover that she is in a number of ways inferior to Adam. She needs Adam's help and counsel so the idea that she might be deluded by Satan is not farfetched. Adam's weakness is not so obvious until Book VIII when he tells Raphael about Eve. If Paradise Lost were a Greek tragedy, Adam's love for Eve would be his flaw. His reason can be overcome by Eve's beauty. His sexual passion for her literally makes him weak. Through this passion, Milton makes the point that love, especially love expressed as sexual desire, can be excessive. Raphael tells Adam that his love for Eve's beauty may be excessive, and Adam tries to explain that his spiritual and intellectual love for her is even greater. However, Adam's attempt to put his love for Eve on a higher plane seems an afterthought. The focus of Adam's speech on Eve makes Raphael and the reader fully aware that Adam's reason can be swayed by his excessive passion for Eve.

For modern readers, Raphael's warning to Adam about sexual passion may seem old fashioned, even prudish, but the reality of the problem — that a man can lose his reason over a woman (and vice versa) — is only as far away as today's newspaper. Milton's point that love, especially the love that is driven by sexual desire, can cause people to act without reason is an idea both ancient and modern. Raphael again warns Adam of danger from Satan, and Adam promises vigilance, but Milton has carefully set the stage for the drama that will take place in Book IX.

As Raphael prepares to leave, Adam asks about love and sex among the angels, and Raphael blushes, "rosy red" (620). This brief, suggestive interlude is like comic relief in a tragedy, a last, lighthearted moment before the serious matters of Book IX.

Glossary

corporeal (109) physical; bodily; not spiritual.

obliquities (132) not level or upright; inclined.

transpicuous (141) transparent; esp., easily understood.

fealty (344) loyalty; fidelity.

solace (419) an easing of grief, loneliness, discomfort.

colloquy (455) a conversation, esp. a formal discussion.

abash't (595) embarrassed and ill at ease; abashed.

Hesperian (632) may refer to the Cape Verde Islands which were called the Hesperides; or could, in context, simply mean the setting sun, which is the older meaning of the word.

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