Summary and Analysis
As Adam and Eve wake up, Eve reports a troublesome dream in which an angel-like being tempted her to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. After first hesitating, she ate from the fruit the being held up to her. Adam is troubled by Eve's dream but, after discussing possible sources of the images with her, concludes that the dream is not necessarily evil, that Eve is too pure to do evil, and that the events of the dream will not actually come true.
As Adam and Eve turn to their daily obligations, God and the seraphim Raphael look down on them from Heaven. God says that he pities the humans because he knows they will yield to temptation. Still, he sends Raphael to Eden to remind Adam that he and Eve have free will, that Satan intends to tempt them to evil, and that they have the power to resist Satan, as well as the free will to give in.
In the Garden, Raphael explains to Adam that eventually he and Eve may be able to attain a purer state and be like the angels. He adds the caveat, though, that Adam must remain obedient to God. When Adam questions whether he can actually be disobedient, Raphael reminds Adam that God has given the humans free will; Adam's obedience to God is up to him. Adam is sure that he could never disobey God, but some questions have entered his mind. He asks Raphael to tell him the story of the rebellious angels.
Here Raphael begins the story of the great rebellion in Heaven: When God introduced his newly begotten Son, destined to become King of the Angels in Heaven, the angels rejoiced. However, Satan (Raphael explains that his former name, Lucifer, is no longer used) was not pleased. As the principal archangel, Satan had seen himself as second only to God and had no wish to acknowledge the Son as his superior. Satan and his second in command roused his legions against the Son and, through their cunning arguments, convinced a third of the angels to follow them to the North. God and the Son were aware of Satan's actions and amused at his presumption. The Son indicated that the rebellion would simply allow him to reveal his power by overcoming the rebels.
In the North, Satan addressed his followers, attempting to harden their hearts totally against God. Only one of Satan's followers, Abdiel, opposed him. Satan tried to sway Abdiel and, when he failed, told Abdiel to leave and inform God that Satan and his hosts would rule themselves and test their power against God's. Abdiel left, not because of Satan's order, but because he was faithful to God. He alone of Satan's followers remained loyal to God.
Eve's dream at the start of Book V is an obvious foreshadowing of the actual temptation scene in Book IX. This foreshadowing, however, is also ironic in that the reader already knows that Eve — and Adam — will yield to the temptation of Satan. Thus, rather than being simply an instance of foreshadowing, Eve's dream is confirmation and emphasis on what the reader knows must and will happen. Further, by bringing up the dream at this point in the text, Milton makes the reader analogous to God. Both God and the reader know that Adam and Eve will fall, but neither the reader nor God is the cause of that fall. Consequently, when Adam tells Eve that the dream will not come true, that it is bred of fear rather than reason, the reader, once again like God, knows that Adam is wrong but can do nothing to help him.
The set up of Eve's dream segues nicely into another brief discussion of free will — this time between God and Raphael. Here God does what the reader cannot: He sends a warning to Adam, reminding him that Satan will try to tempt Mankind to disobedience and that Adam's and Eve's free will can allow them to give in to that temptation. God's warning stops just short of telling Adam exactly what will happen.
At times Milton seems almost obsessive on his insistence of the idea of free will. Certainly, the idea that Adam has free will is central to Milton's theology, and, like a teacher with a student before a test, Milton wants to drive the point home to the reader. Adam has free will. God is omniscient. He knows Adam will fall, but he does not cause the fall. In fact, God actively tries to thwart the fall. But God, like the reader, ultimately knows that nothing can change the outcome for Adam and Eve.
An interesting sidebar to Raphael's visit to Adam is the fact that the angel can eat, in fact needs to eat, although human food is not his normal fare. The point of the scene is to show Adam that through obedience to God, he may rise to a higher spiritual level and become like the angels. However, the force of the scene comes from the gusto with which Raphael partakes of Eve's meal. For a modern reader, Raphael is reminiscent of John Travolta's portrayal of the angel Michael in the movie Michael. Raphael seems to enjoy human food a little too much. Beyond this unintentional humor though, Milton uses Raphael's appetite for a brief discourse on how all the elements of the universe pass from one to the other in a large circle. The food that Man eats nourishes not only his physical body but also sustains his reason, Man's highest faculty. In angels, a more sublime food produces the even higher faculty of intuition so that angels know with an immediacy that Man, relying on reason, cannot.
Raphael then goes a step further, showing the hierarchical relationship of all nature. He takes the four basic elements — earth, water, air, and fire — and shows that earth feeds water (the sea). Together, earth and the sea feed air, which, in turn, feeds the eternal fire. The point of this hierarchy, which permeated much Renaissance thought, is to demonstrate that everything tends toward its higher calling. In Man, reason is the highest faculty, and Man (Adam) must use his reason as his highest defense if confronted with temptation. Raphael's discussion and description of these hierarchies then is part of his warning to Adam.
Raphael next turns to the rebellion in Heaven of Satan and his followers. Before he describes the actual events of the rebellion, Raphael tells Adam that humans cannot fully comprehend the spiritual or angelic nature of such events. Raphael, therefore, will tell the story using earthly counterparts to Heavenly notions. In a sense, Raphael explains one of the functions of art, to put difficult concepts into understandable form through metaphor. He will tell Adam what the war in Heaven was like because Adam will be unable to understand the real nature of the conflict.
The story Raphael tells preceded the opening of Paradise Lost. Because of epic tradition, Milton opened his story in the middle of things, in medias res. So now, Milton uses Raphael's story as a means to go back and relate the events that led up to the opening of Book I. Raphael's story, which covers Books V and VI, is a type of flashback, a story that precedes the main action of the epic.
Raphael says that the rebellion began when God presented his newly "begotten" Son to the angels as their new ruler. Many commentators have been troubled by Milton's use of the word "begotten" since it suggests that the Son was "born" to God and thus denies the doctrine of the Trinity. However, Milton also uses the term "anointed" as a synonym for "begotten," and so the generally accepted meaning for the passage is that the Son is now begotten or anointed as the Messiah or King of Heaven to rule over the angels.
The rest of Raphael's description of the rebellion gives the lie to Satan's description of the rebellion in Book I. Satan was not heroic in his opposition to God; instead he sneaked away in the night. Further, he convinced other angels to follow him with sophistic arguments and the magnificence of his appearance in Heaven. The real hero of the last part of Book V is Abdiel who follows his own beliefs and challenges Satan in front of all the Devils' hosts. Abdiel cannot be swayed by Satan's arguments and taunts and heroically deserts Satan. Abdiel is the only one of Satan's hosts who has the fortitude and moral character to oppose the mighty archangel. Milton here gives the reader a direct contrast between pomp without substance (Satan) and substance without pomp (Abdiel).
Abdiel also stands as an example for both Satan and for Adam and Eve. That is, Abdiel responds appropriately when confronted with temptation. Had Satan resisted his own envious thoughts, he would not have rebelled. Had the other angels been like Abdiel, they would not have followed Satan; they would have remained true to God. If Adam and Eve had been like Abdiel, they would not have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Abdiel shows that free will exists and can be used.
wont (32) accustomed: used predicatively.
orison (145) a prayer.
Prime (170) a part of the Divine Office orig. assigned to the first hour of daylight; Milton uses Prime in the sense of dawn, the first hour of daylight.
quaternion (181) a set of four.
Hail (385) a greeting, used by Raphael specifically to suggest the same greeting the angel of the Annunciation will used when he comes to Mary in Luke i, 28.
progeny (503) children, descendants, or offspring.
ineffable (734) too overwhelming to be expressed or described in words.