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Book Nine
At the beginning of Book Nine, Satan, having compassed the earth
for the space of seven nights, returns on the eighth "as a mist by night
into Paradise" (IX The Argument) and enters into a sleeping serpent,
the "subtlest beast of all the field" (IX.86). He observes the beauty and
majesty of earth, a seat perhaps "worthier of gods as built with second
thoughts reforming what was old" (IX. 101-102), yet for him "all
good ... becomes bane" (IX. 122-123). Where there is Satan, there is
Hell, and "only in destroying" does he expect "to find ease to [his]
relentless thoughts" (IX. 129-130). Again, Milton illustrates not only
Satan's immeasurable pridefor Satan consoles himself with the
thought of destroying in one day what God created in sixbut also his
awareness of his own state: "But what will not ambition and revenge/
Descend to? ... Revenge at first though sweet/ Bitter ere long back on
itself recoils./ Let it!" (IX. 168-173). Satan's distance from God is
infinite, his descent into hatred and darkness total, and his intentions
clear: "I seek but others to make such/ As I" (IX. 127-128).
The balance of this part will consider: first, the separation of Eve
from Adam; second, the Temptation and Eve's transgression; third,
Adam's transgression; and, fourth, the consequencesfirst lust, then
shame, and, finally, conflict and blame. In the first section it is argued
that the reason for Eve's wish to separate from Adam is unclear; it is
suggested that her departure is motivated by a desire to prove herself

through "good works," a desire born of the feelings of inadequacy and

guilt stirred up within her following the dream of disobedience in Book
Four whose effects linger, Adam's consolation notwithstanding, until
the very moment of the Fall. Arguably, this desire and attempt to earn
what can never be earnedParadiseis arrogant and prideful, and
leads directly to tragedy and sin, as pride always does. Thus, this
episode may be viewed as Milton's commentary on the status and
limits of good works. The second section argues that the case against
Godthe case to which Paradise Lost is a response, i.e., the case that
makes a justification of God's ways to Man an urgent necessity and not
a mere vanity projectis more forceful than defenders of Milton
realize, or readily admit. This section considers closely both the text of
the Temptation episode as well as the theological response (or lack
thereof) suggested by Milton. And then some more stuff in the other
section! Let's Go!
i. The Separation of Adam and Eve
After rising and offering worship to God, Adam and Eve discuss how
the day may best be spent, for "much their work outgrew/ The hands'
dispatch of two" (IX. 201-202). Eve suggests that they part and each
work without the other's distraction lest "th' hour of supper come
unearned" (IX. 225). Adam, responding, praises Eve for promoting good
works, but reminds her, first, that labor has not been imposed by God

so strictly as to debar refreshment whether in the form of food and

drink or talk and sweet smiles (IX. 235-243) and, second, that danger
lurks and thus they would be wise to remain each by the other's side.
If Eve's suggestion is prompted by her accurate estimation of their
labor and by her wish to earn the bounty given them, then Adam is
right to praise her. Having gardened so wide (IX. 203), their task is
greater than what they are able to handle. But, as Adam notes, that
task is greater than what is demanded: "These paths and bow'rs doubt
not our joint hands/ Will keep from wilderness with ease as wide/ as we
need walk till younger hands ere long/ Assist us" (IX. 244-247). The
disagreement appears to lie in Adam and Eve's divergent estimations
of what is required of them. If Eve agrees with Adam that, in fact, they
need do no more than keep clear the paths, then she is left with no
reason to continue insisting on their separation.
She responds, however, with offense taken at what she interprets as
Adam's fear that her faith and love can "by [Satan's] fraud be shaken
or seduced" (IX. 273-289). Adam assures her that his dissuasion is not
to doubt her but, rather, to prevent any attempt by their foe, for such
an attempt would "asperse the tempted with dishonor foul" and cause
scorn, anger, and resentment at "the offered wrong/ Though ineffectual
found" (IX. 296-301). If they remain together, then should Satan dare it
he would assault Adam first, whose strength would only be bolstered
by Eve's presence and, just the same, her strength by Adam's presence

in turn. Yet Eve still doubts Adam's estimation of her "faith sincere" and
points out that "harm precedes not sin," and their "happy state" could
not have been "Left so imperfect by the Maker wise/ As not secure to
single or combined." Happiness is not happiness if lived in constant
fear, and Eden no Eden; "faith, love, [and] virtue unassayed ... without
exterior help sustained," she suggests, are less than they would be
tested (IX. 322-341).
Adam denies that the shortcoming is God's; rather, within Man "The
danger lies, yet lies within his power:/ Against his will he can receive no
harm./ But God left free the will, for what obeys/ Reason is free, and
reason he made right/ But bid her well beware and still erect/ Lest by
some fair appearing good surprised/ She dictate false and misinform
the will/ To do what God expressly hath forbid." Indeed, reason may
meet "some specious object by the foe suborned/ And fall into
deception unaware" (IX. 348-355). It is better, then, not to seek
temptation for it will come unsought. The warning contained in Adam's
response could not be clearer: you might come across a deceptive
"object by the foe suborned" that presents a merely apparent good and
that misguides reason, leading to violation of "what God expressly hath
forbidden." In short: you may be deceived, by what seems both good
and rational, into eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Even so: "Go, for thy stay, not free, absents thee more" (IX. 372). And

so she goeshe imploring her to quick return, and she promising to

return, all things in best order, by noon.
Eve's purpose in leaving is not clear. Either she persists in her belief,
after Adam has told her otherwise, that the work they ought to do is
more than what they would accomplish side by side, or there is some
other reason. Given the conversation that preceded, perhaps she
welcomes the opportunity to be tested. But that must not be it, for she
does not "much expect/ A foe so proud will first the weaker seek" (IX.
382-383). Even so, it can be noted that, if her reason was either of the
two mentioned here, this arguably expresses pride and arrogance on
Eve's part. In the latter case, this is obvious: the self-estimation
required to wander off confident in her ability to resist the great Liar is
not modest, especially given the terror provoked by Eve's nightmare in
Book Four. In the former case, it is less obvious. There the arrogance
consists in the assumption, on Eve's part, that Paradise could ever be
earned, through any amount of "good works." The reference to "good
works" would have stood out to Milton's readers, and Milton no doubt
knew this, for he was, of course, fully aware of the theological open
questions of his time, namely, that of works vs. grace. But, on the
other hand, it stands to reason that, in the absence of sin, neither
Adam nor Eve could have had any notion of a moral insufficiency such
that would render them unworthy or undeserving. If so, Eve's wish to
labor is a genuine wish to please Godthough on this view her

comment regarding the earning of supper seems strange, and, more

importantly, it seems impossible that Milton was not fully aware of how
and in what context such a comment would be understood by his
audience, and certainly by the more educated among them. Perhaps,
then, Eve (as opposed to Adam) did indeed feel that she had
something to prove. After all, she (and not Adam) had already been
tempted and succumbed, had already experienced the euphoria of
disobedience, though in a dream, prompting the first tears cried by
humankind. Although comforting her in that moment, perhaps Adam's
rehearsal of faculty psychology, upon Eve's relating of the dream to
him, failed to undo the damage done. Such a reading would render the
dream episode more intelligible, as a matter of structure, although its
function would remain clear enough otherwise: to prime Eve for
seductionSatan could have had no other purpose but this, as no
dream solely in itself, and certainly no dream caused so insidiously by
the Archfiend, would on its own, then and there, bring about the Fall of
Man. If this reading is granted, however, then it is also thereby
admitted that the dream's effects persisted long after Adam's
consolation the morning after.
There are at least three other possible explanations for Eve's leaving
Adam's side. First, she might have agreed with Adam's own point, that
some time apart would only bring sweet reunion. This, however, is not
supported by anything in the text. Second, if Eve agrees with Adam

that, however safe she thinks they may be apart, they are nonetheless
safer and stronger together, and she believes that Satan would not
assault her first, then it follows that she also believes that Satan would
strike Adam first. The only immediately obvious reason that she might
wish this is that, as she herself noted, "what are faith, love, and virtue
unassayed?" If she wanted Adam to prove himself and his love for her
in this way, it would not be wildly out of character. This is a fairly
speculative reading. Third, she may have been led away by a wish,
though unconscious, that the dream be fulfilled. It cannot be objected
that "she would never" because, of course, ultimately she does. But,
again, this psychoanalytic theorizing does not find strong textual
The last thing to be noted is that, after Adam offers his absolutely
prophetic warningessentially, "beware of an encounter with
something that looks good and sounds reasonable but tells you to
break the one rule we have, the one against eating from the Tree"he
bids Eve to prove first her obedience (IX. 368). She leavesan act of
minor disobedience (for a kind of permission was, in fact, granted) and
some pride and arrogance, as argued above. She then fails to heed
Adam's warning as its every detail transpires in her encounter with
Satan disguised as a serpent, leading to that far greater disobedience
to which this essay now turns.

i. The Temptation and Eve's Transgression

It can be, and has been, argued that God is culpable in the Fall of
Man. If Eve (and then Adam) succumbs to temptation then, given God's
omniscience, it follows, first, that she was not created capable of
resisting Satan's temptation, second, that God must have known this,
and third, that He nonetheless created her that way, placed a source of
temptation in Eden, and permitted the Tempter to penetrate its walls
and accost the mother of humankind. Milton makes clear, however,
that God has left the will free. Moreover, the thorough forewarning of
Adam and Eve renders God blameless, which warning is repeated to
Eve by Adam just prior to her departure. Milton's project is essentially a
theodicy, however, and as such requires more than a mere assertion in
the face of a difficulty as profound as that of squaring the free will of
Man with the omniscience of God, and the existence of evil in Man's
world with the goodness of God, its Creator. If mere assertion were
sufficient, then Paradise Lost would have been an epic poem in one
line: God is perfectly good and totally blameless. A theological
resolution may be available to Milton, but the situation does not look
"Some specious object by the foe suborned/ And fall into
deception unaware"
Satan, in the form of the serpent, catches the attention of busy Eve
and speaks, heaping upon her great praise, which words "Into the

heart of Eve ... made way" (IX. 550). She, amazed, inquires as to the
source of the serpent's ability to "speak the language" of man and
"human sense express" (IX. 553-554).
"Lest by some fair appearing good surprised/ She dictate false
and misinform the will"
The serpent relates that his abilities are consequent upon eating of a
fruit, and Eve requests that he take her to the miraculous tree. "He
leading swiftly rolled/ In tangles and made intricate seem straight to
mischief swift." "Glistened the dire snake," and like "a wand'ring fire ...
kindled through agitation to a flame/ Which oft, they say, some evil
spirit attends,/ Hovering and blazing with delusive light,/ Misleads th'
amazed night-wanderer from his way/ To bogs and mires and oft
through pond or pool,/ There swallowed up and lost from succor far," so
he led "Eve our credulous mother" "into fraud" (IX. 631-644).
"But God left free the will, for what obeys/ Reason is free, and
reason he made right/ But bid her well beware and still erect"
Thus the serpent brings Eve to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and
Evil, whereupon she tells him that the journey was in vain, for "God
hath said, 'Ye shall not eat/ Thereof nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die,"
repeating herself after only just relating that "of this tree we may not
taste nor touch" (IX. 663-664, 652). Eve twice demonstrates her
knowledge of the prohibition but, strangely, she also twice expands it,
for no previous mention of the Tree indicates that it is forbidden to

touch its fruit. Moreover, this surely could not have been an error on
Milton's part, as he certainly knew that there was no such prohibition,
neither in his own text nor in Genesis. Eve misquotes God and again
burdens herself with more than what God demanded of her, the first
instance being her resolve to garden beyond what was requireda
resolve which, as is presently evident, has led her to no good. It is
absolutely clear, then, that Eve, who recently argued that faith, love,
and virtue must be tried by fire and proven, believes that she has
something to prove. The source of this belief is either her
acknowledged inferiority to Adam, the dream in Book Four, or both. It
must not be first of these, for then it could be said that it was a
catastrophic design flaw on God's part that left Eve so incredibly
vulnerable to insecurity, self-doubt, and praise. This would be a terrible
oversight even if there were no Tempter and no prohibition. It is
concluded that the source of her desire to prove herself is not the first
listed and, therefore, it is either the second or third. Either way, the
dream is crucially involved. What remains unclear, however, is whether
she is seeking to prove her virtue to God, to Adam, or to herself. The
latter is not implausible, as a strong work ethic was seen, in Milton's
time, as a sign of membership in the Elect.
Now the serpent feigns concern for Eve and, like a well-trained
orator, a sophist, presents his argument: What but an envious God,
bent on keeping Man in ignorance of the good and the just, would set

off limits this incredible fruit, which by its consumption makes beasts
as though human and hence must have the power to make gods of
Man? No just God could condemn such an act; in fact, it would be
praiseworthy, demonstrating a will toward self-betterment. This God is
suspicious indeed. The gods were here first, and intend to take
advantage and dupe you, attributing to themselves all creation. If that
were so, how did this forbidden tree get here? Besides, you won't die.
Look at me. I ate from the tree and I'm still here, all the better for it, "a
life more perfect have attained than fate/ Meant me by vent'ring higher
than my lot" (IX. 689-690). So eat, goddess humane. Eat. Eat. Eat.
"His words replete with guile/ Into her heart too easy entrance won"
(IX. 733). The hour of noon drew on and, instead of making her
promised return to Adam, she stood before the Tree, her "eager
appetite raised" as her ears "rung of his persuasive words impregned/
With reason (to her seeming) and with truth" (IX 737-738). "Yet first/
Pausing a while thus to herself she mused:" (IX. 743-744)

No doubt this glorious fruit is worthy of

admiration: one taste has given
speech to a serpent. Even God, who
forbids it to us, doesn't hide its praise
from us, naming it the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil. In
forbidding it He only recommends it all
the more. If we do not know good, we
cannot have goodand if we have
good but do not know it, then that's
the same as not having good at all.
What are we forbidden then, but the
good? But wisdom? Such prohibitions
are not binding. But what use is this
fruit and good and wisdom if the day
we eat of it be the day we die? But the
serpent ate of the Tree and lives, so
was death invented for us alone? Is
this Tree and its fruit, knowledge and
intelligence, reserved only for the
beasts? But this first beast to have
eaten of it is a nice, friendly and
honest fellow. What do I have to be
afraid of? I wouldn't know, I suppose,
what, with this imposed ignorance. The
solution is right before me: this fruit of
virtue to make wise. What's stopping
me, then, from feeding both my body
and my mind? (paraphrase of IX. 745There is no doubt that Eve is aware of the prohibition against eating
from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet she is led to do so by
desire, which was primed in her, and by a logic that seems to her
reasonable and true. Arguably, if the reasoning is sound, then her
blameworthiness is substantially mitigated, if not totally nonexistent,
for then the only tool available to her with which to guard against
deception was not up to the task, a flaw for which she cannot be

blamed. Thus it is necessary to reconstruct the chain of reasoning and

to determine first where, if at all, her reason was led astray, and
second, whether that deception was preventable or inevitable.
The serpent's arguments boil down to the following.
1) "I ate of the Tree and I'm not only alive but better by far than I
was beforetherefore, if you eat of the Tree you will not only live but
will become as a God." This is clearly pure nonsense. First, if the Tree
was not forbidden to the serpent on pain of death, then the serpent
should not be expected to die upon eating its fruit. Second, that the
fruit gave speech and sense to the serpent does not imply that it will
give anything comparable to Eve. Third, she was just warned of an
encounter with a specious object, appearing good, but suborned by the
foe, which will confuse reason and implore her to break the one rule
given by God, namely, the prohibition against eating from the Tree. A
smooth-talking serpent that suggests lunchtime at the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil fits that bill. This sophistry and false
reasoning alone should have been sufficient to raise an eyebrow.
2) "If God forbids you knowledge of good and evil, then there must
be a good reason for it. But there is no good reason for it, therefore
God must want to prevent you from attaining equal glory out of envy."
This argument is not in itself terrible. The reason why something so
apparently good should be forbidden to Man must have been
mysterious to Eve. However, Eve's ignorance of any such reason does

not imply that there is no such reason. The rational option is not to eat
the fruit, but to bring her confusion either to Adam, whom she knows
to be the brains of this operation, or to God, who surely must know His
own purpose in setting the prohibition.
3) The previous is also the rational reaction to the serpent's
argument that the presence of such a Tree, containing knowledge of
good and evil, in Eden is inexplicable, since it isn't clear who put that
knowledge into it. Besides, the obvious answer is simply that God put it
there. If his purpose in doing so is mysterious, again, see Adam for
elaboration or appeal to God.
4) "You see the earth bearing fruit with your own eyes, but do you
see God creating all the stuff He claims responsibility for?" This idiocy
is familiar from Satan's denial of his own creation by God as he
prepared for the war in Heaven. A created being does not participate
as an observer in his own creation and was obviously not around to
witness the creation of what came before him. Moreover, since God
has thus far given Eve nothing but Paradise, asked for nothing much in
return, and provided no reason for her to doubt Him, she is not
reasonable when she entertains the notion that there may be a
celestial conspiracy against her and Adam.
In summary, everything Satan says is either total nonsense, or
warrants at most a discussion with Adam, not outright and immediate
disobedience of God. Eve's musings to herself are equally dubious.

First, if God wanted to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of
the Tree out of envy, then he would have been wiser to lie and tell
them that it was called the Tree of You're Going To Die if You Eat Me
and I Taste Like Crap. Second, if Eve has a hundred questions, as she
does, the rational thing for her to do, again, is to 1) observe her own
ignorance, 2) acknowledge that no decision based on ignorance is
rational, and 3) then ask those questions, instead of risking certain
death through disobedience to God at the behest of a talking snake.
Each of these lapses could have been prevented if Eve had heeded
Adam's warning. That is, she is not let off the hook by any argument
that claims reason was not up to the task of repelling and revealing
Satan's deception for the gibberish it was.
Eve's only hope for complete exhoneration now lies in the claim that
this admitted failure of reason was inevitable for some other reason.
The temptation would have had to be so strong that it rendered her
incapable of saying "I hear what you're saying, but you're a talking
serpent who came out of nowhere when I was alone, immediately after
I was warned to be on the lookout for specious objects, such as talking
serpents, because Satan is lurking about trying to kill me and my
husband." As unlikely as that seems, the difficulty here is that she was,
evidently, rendered incapable of saying so. Milton would deny this by
reaffirming that the will is always free, unless God makes it otherwise,

which he has not done in this case. There is no temptation so strong

that it obliterates the ability to choose.
But a philosophical difficulty persists. If there is an explanation, in
terms of Eve's psychological set-up, for why desire triumphed over
reason, then God is implicated because He was responsible for her
psychological calibration and, being omniscient, must have known
that, in the face of a temptation great enough, her reason would fail. If,
however, there is not an explanation in terms of Eve's psychological
set-up for why desire triumphed over reason, then perhaps God is not
implicated, but neither is Eve, since the failure cannot be imputed to
any faculty of hers. It just happened.
Free will does not seem compatible with God's total foreknowledge.
This puzzle could have been left open as a metaphysical mystery if it
weren't at the very heart of Milton's justification of the ways of God to
men. The problem demands treatmentthe contradiction involved can
hardly be tolerated and, if unresolved, either implicates God in all evil
and renders free will an illusion, or, if free will is to be saved, precludes
the attribution of omniscience to God. Milton wants to have it both
ways without providing any clear account of how the two horns of the
dilemma are reconciled. Perhaps, just as Satan could never hope to win
Heaven by his futile war, and even could never hope to earn the
bounty of paradise by good works, so too we can never hope