The Significance of Eden and its Portrayal
Eden is at the very centre of all major events in Paradise Lost Book IX, and Milton proves keen to exploit its potency as a setting. The Garden represents both the glory of God’s Creation and the fragility of its existence. Milton juxtaposes Satan’s address to the Earth with Adam and Eve’s praising of it to show how invigorating the expression of God’s love can be. But in doing so, he also lays the foundations for the Fall by exposing Eve’s complacency and unguarded state in paradise.
Milton draws attention to the insatiable beauty of Eden through the eyes of Satan, perhaps the least predictable admirer of God’s Creation. This enhances every compliment Satan pays to the Earth and suggests that Eden’s perfection is impossible to ignore. But Milton highlights how Satan has become so intoxicated by Eden’s apparent flawlessness, that he confuses his theology and describes Earth as a “Terrestrial heaven.” In Genesis, God is said to have constructed the heavens and the Earth simultaneously. Therefore, to claim God created Earth having learned from the mistakes he made in Heaven would be theologically incorrect. Moreover, Satan’s declaration that Earth is a “seat worthier of gods” has no foundations in the Bible. Evans makes the point that this could be a deliberate attempt by Satan to console himself over the loss of Heaven; he has to ‘inflate [its] value.’ Rather than accept the divine hierarchy God has put in place, he prefers to perceive other realms as merely “officious lamps” which serve the purpose of lighting up Eden. However, Milton quickly reveals Satan’s true feelings regarding his new home. His lush depiction of the pastoral scene with its “valley, rivers, woods and plains” comes to an abrupt halt in the form of a “but.” Eden brings Satan’s impossible internal conflict to the surface, for while he can observe its brilliance, he cannot appreciate it. The juxtaposition of “Pleasures about me” and “Torment within me” encapsulates how his declaration of “war Irreconcilable ” has condemned him to eternal suffering. He can observe divine order all around him and yet his regret results in a strong desire to destroy “What he Almighty styled, six nights and days/ Continued making.” His hunger for revenge is such that he even places the Fall in the past. Satan’s encounter with Eden is therefore crucial in understanding why Satan feels compelled to corrupt mankind.
The fecundity of Eden and man’s duty to control it is a concept Milton derives from Genesis 2:15. In the Bible, God assigns Adam the task of “stewarding” the Earth, respecting Creation whilst ruling over it. This is resonant of the Protestant work ethic that one can only be worth something if one earns respect from God. Milton posits the beginning of this process with a pastoral scene of ‘morning praise’ in Eden. A hierarchy on Earth develops, as while the “human pair” undertakes “vocal worship”, the other animals are limited to “silent praise” and the “humid flowers” merely offer up their “incense.” Although Milton portrays God as responsive to His Creation in that “His nostrils fill/ With grateful smell,” there is a sense that all living things have a duty to praise His work. Earth is depicted as a “great altar” constructed for the sole purpose of paying tribute to its Creator.
But Milton’s God also expects dedication in the form of physical labour. Thus, immediately afterwards, Adam and Eve are seen obediently tending to the Garden. Their pastime serves as a catalyst for Eve’s imminent departure. In her speech to Adam, Eve declares that Eden is a self-defeating garden, in that the workload “grows/ Luxurious by restraint”, meaning it seems to grow back twice as quickly every time they cut it back. Milton uses mimesis in the line “Lop overgrown, or prune, or prop, or bind” to emphasise how the task seems to build up indefinitely. Eve makes the practical suggestion that they “divide their labours” and thereby avoid the “Casual discourse” which slows down their progress. But in his reply, Adam tries to appeal to her more loving side rather than her reason. His emotive apostrophe of “associate soul, to me beyond/ Compare all living creatures dear” sets Eve firmly on a pedestal. He then repeats words such as “joint”, “joined” and “conjugal” to express the importance of their togetherness. He even overemphasises the impact of Eve seeking her own employment by describing her as “severed from me”, implying she and he are of one flesh. He further attempts to persuade Eve against leaving him by painting a dark picture of Satan, who the two know to have recently entered the Garden. Milton uses caesura to stress the “Despairing” of their “malicious foe” and how precarious it would be to encounter him at such a time.
Eve, however, is as skilled as Adam when it comes to the powers of persuasion. She similarly flatters him with an elaborate apostrophe — “Offspring of heaven and earth, and all earth’s lord” — to communicate the degree to which she respects his authority. But she reacts with hostility to what she perceives as a criticism of her character — namely that he could “doubt” her “firmness” and therefore worry about Satan’s having the power to corrupt her. Evans highlights how Eve’s speech becomes clumsy and heavily alliterated in order to convey her agitation. She also makes the fatal mistake of assuming that she and Adam are “not capable of death or pain”, which is proven false after the Fall. Adam tries to reassure Eve that he does not doubt her ability to resist temptation, but rather he fears “the offered wrong” that Satan may present. The temptation in itself could inflict “dishonour foul” on Eve. He makes the stark contrast between “thee alone” with “us both” to underscore how superior they are as a ‘united front’ against Satan. While Eve has become overly comfortable in the serenity of Eden, Adam is keen to remain on guard for any potential danger.
In his description of Eve’s departure from Adam, Milton draws parallels between her and ‘fallen’ female characters in classical literature. Milton thus builds up a distinctly ominous atmosphere, in which it is implied that Eve will soon ‘fall’ herself. Evans notes how “the comparisons become progressively more sinister” as Eve travels further and further away from her husband. First, she is likened to a semi-divine “wood-nymph” such as “Óread or Drýad”, who innocently resided in mountains and woods. Then, Milton makes a slightly ambiguous reference to Eve as a member of “Délia’s train.” Eve is a symbol of chastity, but lacks the “bow and quiver” which would successfully serve her as a huntress. Moreover, we know that Satan is actively seeking to hunt her and bring about the Fall. A sense of unease therefore starts to develop. Milton is far more explicit in his citation of “Pomóna” — whose virginity a disguised god stole in an orchard — and her fleeing from “Vertúmmus”. Milton later predicts an “ambush hid among sweet flowers and shades” as if to warn Eve of the dangers she will face. But the desperate tone he adopts prior to this in “O much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve,/ Of thy presumed return! event perverse!” suggests that his warning is in vain — thereby even further heightening the drama. The “sweet repast” and “sound repose” to which Eve has grown so accustomed will soon become distant memories. Milton emphasises the “hellish rancour imminent” which is now plaguing Eden and casting a shadow over its beauty. His final line uses repetition to underscore the finality of any attempt to corrupt Eve. So the sense of security God has generated in Eden only masks Satan’s presence within it.
Milton continues to experiment with pastoral conventions in his portrayal of Eve alone in the Garden. Through Satan’s eyes, Milton is able to thoroughly explore Eve’s voluptuousness in her pre-lapsarian state, as well as her inherent vulnerability. In contrast to the “black mist” which encloses Satan earlier in Book XI, Eve is spotted elegantly “Veiled in a cloud of fragrance.” The bold colours of “purple”, “azúre” and “gold” which surround her seem to captivate Satan and spur his lust. He cannot help but admire “her heavenly form”, and for a moment he becomes “Stupidly good”, as he did when we first saw him address Eden. Eve is depicted as the ideal woman, in that her “graceful innocence” can intoxicate even the most “evil” of creatures. The stressed iambic line in “of enmity disarmed, / Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge” underlines how Eve’s innocence penetrates Satan’s harsh exterior.
But Milton has previously used the metaphor of a flower to suggest that, despite her handsome looks, Eve is crucially weak and defenceless. Moreover, without her husband Adam she is “unsupported” both emotionally and physically. Similarly, Eden would not remain perfect without God’s sustaining it. In any event, Satan’s internal suffering is such that not even Eve can extinguish the “hot hell” which forever burns inside of him. His momentary hesitation turns to “mischief” and he begins his act of temptation.
In his attempt to lure Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge, Satan exploits the sensuality created by pastoral imagery. Milton uses Eden’s natural perfection as a device for inducing “man’s first Disobedience.” Satan’s speech deliberately appeals to the senses in order to bring about a ‘breakdown of reason’ within Eve. He initially captures her imagination by painting the glorious picture of a “goodly tree” with “fairest colours mixed.” Then he explores the luscious smell of its “savoury odour blown” which he likens to the scent of “sweetest fennel or the teats/ Of ewe.” The imagery he employs at this point is extremely potent; a playful “lamb” suggests purity and innocence while the “goat dropping with milk” indicates a complete lack of restrictions within nature. Evans observes how “eating the forbidden fruit [now seems] a natural act”, because Satan has fabricated a delightful backdrop. Thus, Satan’s “sharp desire” becomes Eve’s craving too and her bodily urges (“hunger” and “thirst”) are awakened. Ironically, Milton uses alliteration and caesura to accentuate these cravings as “Powerful persuaders” and yet it is Satan that is really doing the persuading. He continues to adopt loaded language such as “alluring fruit”, “Longing”, “envying”, “Tempting” and “pleasure” to wet Eve’s appetite. Satan is so effective in his description of the tree that his closing attempt at flattery in “Sovereign of creatures, universal dame” is almost unnecessary. While Eden is a source of great torment for Satan, he is still able to use its natural allure as a means of corrupting Eve.
Thus, in Paradise Lost Book IX, Milton prominently establishes mankind’s inner weakness; the inclination to succumb to desire and disrupt natural order. Eden is a symbol of God’s love for humans and yet Milton illustrates how this trust can be easily broken. Eden therefore becomes a monument to the Original Sin and man’s fallible nature.
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