The first scene of Book X takes place in Heaven, where the angels are aware of Adam's and Eve's fall. God assembles the hosts to confirm this fact and to emphasize that he knew Adam and Eve would yield to temptation but that he in no way inclined them to the deed. The act was of their own free wills. Now, however, Adam and Eve must be judged; however, God adds, justice can be tempered with mercy. God sends the Son to pronounce sentence on Adam and Eve.
The Son quickly descends to Eden where he pronounces judgment. God (the Son) first condemns the serpent who allowed Satan to use his body. The snake will now crawl on its belly rather than go upright. Further God establishes an eternal enmity between women (represented by Eve) and serpents. Eve's children will bruise the serpent's head; the serpent, their heel. Eve and all women will be given the pain of childbirth as well as subjugation to their husbands. Finally, men, because of Adam, will have to labor in the ground to make their food and be subject to death, literally returning to the dust from which they were created. As a final act, done so kindly that it presages God's ultimate mercy, the Son clothes Adam and Eve in animal skins.
The scene now switches from Earth to Hell, where Sin and Death, having finished the causeway between Hell and Earth, start toward Earth. En route, they see Satan in his angelic form, winging toward Hell. Satan reveals the events that have transpired, and Sin congratulates her father on his accomplishments and suggests, falsely, that his power has allowed her and Death to escape Hell. She adds, also falsely, that Satan now controls all of humanity while God controls Heaven. Satan is pleased with Sin's comments and tells her to hurry to Earth with Death so that they can take control. He meanwhile proceeds on into Hell.
As Satan enters Hell, it appears deserted, and he has to go all the way into Pandemonium to find the other fallen angels. As the fallen angels see Satan, they welcome him joyously, and he addresses them with a gloating speech filled with pride. He tells them of the temptation of Eve and how he caused both humans to fall with a lowly apple. He says that the rebellious angels can now occupy Paradise (Eden). Expecting applause and plaudits of the assembled demons, Satan hears hissing instead. Snakes are crawling all through Pandemonium, and Satan and his followers are quickly turned into snakes. Trees like the Tree of Knowledge sprout up, but when the snakes eat the tempting fruit, it turns to bitter soot and ash. This scene essentially ends the role of Satan and the fallen angels in the narrative.
Meanwhile, Sin and Death have reached Earth where they see a fertile field for their exploits. God sees the children of Satan on Earth and tells the angels that, because of the fall of Adam and Eve, Sin and Death will continue to live on Earth until the Judgment Day, when they will be cast into Hell with their father and sealed up, never to exit. With this prophecy from God, Sin and Death are seen no more in the poem.
God then tells the angels to transform the Earth. They are to create the seasons and different types of violent weather. Discord is also brought to Earth so that animals will now hunt and kill each other and menace Man. Adam is aware of all these changes and blames himself. He begins with lamentation for what he has done and the consequences. He wishes to take all the blame for what has happened on himself; then he thinks of Eve and feels that she was wicked and deserves blame also. Adam finds himself in a hopeless state. When Eve tries to speak to him, he rebuffs her angrily and questions why God created females.
Eve approaches Adam again and makes what is know as the "Regeneration Speech." She begs Adam not to turn away from her. She explains that the serpent tricked her. She begs Adam to stay with her, that even in their pain they can love each other. She says that she would take all the punishment on herself because she sinned against God and Adam while Adam sinned only against God. Adam is moved by Eve's words, and his feelings for her return. He tells her that they must stop blaming each other. They can become a comfort one to the other and, through love, lighten the burden of death that has been put on them.
When Eve suggests that they might avoid God's curse on the world by either remaining childless or by committing suicide, Adam responds by saying that they should not try to cheat God. He reminds Eve that God said her offspring would bruise the head of the serpent. He analyzes that by the serpent, God meant Satan. Therefore, if they live and produce offspring, eventually their children will bruise the head of the serpent and Satan will be defeated. He then concludes that they should pray and seek God's grace and mercy, which they do.
In several ways, Book X is the culmination of the plot of Paradise Lost, with Books XI and XII being an extended denouement or resolution. Milton constructs Book X as a series of short culminating scenes that provide the final appearances for a number of major characters. After Book X, Satan, Sin, Death, the rebellious angels, and, for the most part, God and the Son, will be gone from the story.
The technique Milton uses in Book X contrasts with the stagy-dramatic nature of Book IX, which contained many long soliloquies or monologues by various characters. Book X contains more brief scenes with fewer speeches. The nature of epic writing allows for these shifts in style, focus, and point of view. Because the epic is conceived on such a grand scale, many different styles and even genres can be incorporated within the single work. Book IX contains all the elements of a tragedy, but Paradise Lost is not a tragedy. A tragedy would end with the fall of Adam and Eve and the arrival of Death in the world, not with the regeneration of the two humans and a promise of ultimate triumph. An epic can contain a tragedy within its structure but still be much more than just a tragedy. Likewise, an epic can contain sections of long set speeches linked to other sections where the action moves with movie-like speed. The epic structure puts demands on both reader and writer, but it also allows for more variety for both as well.
The first three scenes of Book X provide interesting contrasts. In the first scene, God sends the Son to judge Adam, Eve, and the serpent. This judgment takes place in the second scene. In the third scene, Sin and Death meet Satan returning to Hell. These second and third scenes seem intended to be complementary. In both, a creator / father meets with two of his creations / children. In both scenes, the creator provides judgment, advice, and information about the future to the children.
The Son, who in Book VII is revealed as the creator of Earth and of Adam and Eve, is sent forth by the Father to pronounce judgment upon the humans and the serpent. The serpent is judged because he allowed another being to take control of his nature. The reasoning here is quite similar to that behind many of the punishments Dante describes in the eighth circle of Hell in the Inferno. For Dante, and for Milton as well, fraud is involved in allowing one's nature to be usurped, even if that usurpation is unwitting, as the serpent's seems to be.
The Son passes judgment on his own creation (Adam and Eve) as kindly as possible. He is not vengeful, but more fatherly in explaining what the punishment is and why it must occur. After passing judgment, the Son clothes the couple, an act comparable to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Besides the literal clothing of Adam and Eve, the Son also clothes their inward nakedness with a "Robe of Righteousness" which will protect them from God's wrath. The Son here acts "[a]s Father of his Family" (216), and this act begins to show Adam and Eve that grace and mercy are still open to them.
In the following scene, another father meets his children. Satan finds Sin and Death constructing their bridge to Earth. The interrelationship between parent and children here is in direct contrast with the previous scene. The symbolism of the bridge that Sin and Death construct is straightforward. Once Sin and Death enter Earth, the pathway to Hell will be broad and easily traveled, accommodating the millions who will use it. The children of Satan are excited by the prospects of what their father has accomplished, even though both Sin and Satan lie to each other. Sin praises Satan for his "magnific deeds" (354) on Earth. She also tells him that he empowered them to build the bridge and that now Satan rules Earth while God rules Heaven. All that Sin tells her father are lies to build his ego. Her speech is an unwitting set up, raising his self-delusions to their highest pitch just before he will be brought low. The blatant exaggeration and lying here contrasts sharply with the somber, reasoned, and hopeful speech of the Son to Adam and Eve. Further, Satan sends his two children forth to rule Earth, through destruction, promising them that they will "Reign in bliss" (399), an exaggerated lie on his part as the reader will learn in a few more lines. The contrast is between truth with the Son, Adam, and Eve; lies with Satan, Sin, and Death.
Satan's entrance into Hell is not triumphant; the other rebellious angels have retreated into Pandemonium. Satan shifts to the lowest form of angel to walk among his followers and is not recognized. Then, at the moment he reveals himself on his throne and makes his boasting, gloating speech, his last shape change occurs, but this time he does not cause it. Rather God turns Satan into the serpent form he had occupied in Eden. Along with Satan all the rebels are made snakes, too. Satan had misunderstood God's judgment on the serpent; it was also judgment on Satan. Now he and his followers will go along the ground. The heel of Woman will bruise his head, and though Satan does not realize it, the woman who will bruise his head will be Mary, the Second Eve and mother of Jesus. The glorious plan to become like God has resulted in the rebellious angels having the form of the most detested of earthbound creatures, the reviled snake. And rather than ruling in glory, they will be destroyed by Man as part of the Son's judgment. In his moment of personal triumph, Satan is brought low by God.
Milton creates the scene of the demons turned into snakes with a particularly effective use of sibilance, the alliterative repetition of "s" sounds. Beginning with line 508, "A dismal, universal hiss, the sound / Of public scorn" (508-509) and continuing through line 520, "transformed / Alike to Serpents, all as accessories," Milton repeats the sound of "s" with such persistence that, if the passage is read out loud, the reader literally hisses along with the snakes. It is an especially effective and purposeful use of alliteration.
This scene ends with a forest filled with Trees of Knowledge appearing before the snakes, the fruit of which turns to bitter ash when the snakes try to eat it. The bitter ash represents the result of all the evil that Satan has done. He is not the ruler of Earth; he and his followers are still controlled by God. This scene is the last appearance of Satan and the rebels in Paradise Lost. They end their role in the epic totally defeated by the power of God. Even though they will be allowed to regain their forms, the book suggests that they will be forced into the shape of serpents at regular intervals. Further, their only reward, besides lack of control of their bodies, is the bitter ash from the tree.
The next scene is the final one for Sin and Death. Their gloating on Earth is listened to by God who pronounces their ultimate fate, to be sealed up in Hell on Judgment Day. The sense here is that Milton is working his way through the loose ends and characters of the plot so he can concentrate on Adam and the future of Mankind in the last two books.
The next scene deals with Earth. Earth was created as a perfect place for God's perfect creation. It too has to be transformed. So God sends angels to bring about the necessary transformations: seasons, bad weather, a tilted axis. Here Milton demonstrates again his scientific knowledge and explains much of the natural phenomena and problems on Earth as part of the judgment that occurred when Man fell.
Last Milton returns to Adam and Eve. This scene does not end the story of the two humans. Their story continues through the last two books. But here, in Book X, Milton shows the reconciliation that must occur between Adam and Eve if God's ultimate plan is to work. That is, if Man is to bruise the head of the serpent, Adam and Eve have to produce offspring to populate the Earth. They cannot remain alienated and in despair.
Interestingly, Milton chooses Eve as the agent of reconciliation. Adam's monologue of despair shows that his reason is broken and despair has set in. Eve embodies not reason but love. Her love that shines through as she begs Adam to forgive her helps regenerate Adam. Through Eve's love, Adam begins to find hope. As Adam accepts what Eve offers, his ability to reason returns. Eve, who sinned against Adam and God, has now redeemed herself with Adam. Once again, she stands in proper relationship to her husband. Here she makes the argument for suicide, but Adam, once again utilizing reason and wisdom, explains why suicide is not right. If God's plan to destroy Satan, Sin, and Death is to be realized, it will occur through Man. They have an obligation to accept their punishment, populate the earth, and begin the process that will redeem themselves and all Mankind. Their prayer at the end of Book X begins their reconciliation with God.
intercessor (96) one who pleads or makes a request in behalf of another or others.
discount'nanc't (110) ashamed or embarrassed; disconcerted.
oracle (182) any person or agency believed to be in communication with a deity.
sagacious (281) having or showing keen perception or discernment and sound judgment.
Causey (415) a causeway.
plebeian (442) one of the common people.
efficacy (660) effectiveness.
Synod (661) any assembly or council. Milton uses the word to describe a meeting or conjunction of the stars astrologically.
redound (739) to come back; react; recoil (upon).