After God created Adam in Eve and gave them an earthly paradise in the Garden of Eden, Satan was determined to introduce sin into God’s newly created world. God sent Raphael to warn Adam about the danger he faced.
In the fifth, sixth, and seventh books of Paradise Lost, Milton described the pleasant conversation between Adam and his celestial guest. At the beginning of the eighth book, Milton warns us that this idyllic scene has come to an end. He is now going to take up a more sinister theme: disobedience and alienation from God.
On a previous occasion, angels had chased Satan from the Garden of Eden. The demon did not venture to return for seven days. During this time, he meticulously avoided the light of the sun, lest angels discover where he was. By constantly moving from place to place, he managed to enjoy the protective cover of night for seven days.
On the eighth day after his expulsion, he finally decided to return to the Garden of Eden. To escape the notice of Gabriel and other angels who were guarding the garden, he came at midnight.
His entrance was marked by the utmost stealth. A stretch of the Tigris River used to shoot underground at the foot of paradise and emerge as a fountain next to the tree of life. Satan used this watery underground passage to enter the garden.
To remain hidden, Satan entered into the body of a snake. During his seven-day wandering over the face of the earth, he had examined all its creatures, and he concluded that the subtle snake was an eminently suitable instrument with which to practice deception. If he were to enter into a giraffe or a kangaroo and tried to tempt Adam and Eve in such a guise, they would probably suspect that a diabolical being lurked within; but it was not likely that the clever serpent would rouse their suspicions.
As Satan looked around for a snake, he noticed the beauties of the world that God had created. If it were possible for him to find pleasure in anything, this world would delight him. However, it tormented him to view joyful scenes. He correctly analyzed his condition, saying: “All good to me becomes bane, and in heaven much worse would be my state.”
The father of lies then uttered a profound truth: “Only in destroying I find ease to my relentless thoughts.” He knew that he would not become less miserable if he ruined God’s creation. In fact, he expected to receive greater punishment. All he hoped to accomplish was to make others miserable. Besides, he would be highly honored by the infernal powers if in a single day he marred a world on which God had labored for six days.
Satan considered it ironic that whereas he had endeavored to gain the highest seat in heaven, he now was constrained to enter a lowly beast. He observed: “What will not ambition and revenge descend to?”
Finally, Satan found a sleeping serpent. He entered its mouth and mingled his essence with its bestial slime.
In the morning, Eve pointed out that plants were sprouting excess growth faster than they could prune it. She suggested that she and Adam work in different parts of the garden. When they were together, they often started to converse with one another instead of working.
Adam expressed partial agreement with Eve’s idea. However, he was concerned about the warning that Raphael had given them. If they were together, they could bolster one another in the face of temptation. He said: “Leave not the faithful side that gave thee being, still shades thee and protects. The wife, where danger or dishonor lurks, safest and seemliest by her husband stays, who guards her, or with her the worst endures.”
Eve offered various arguments in favor of her proposal. Though Adam had misgivings, he eventually gave his consent, saying: “Go, for thy stay, not free, absents thee more; go in thy native innocence, rely on what thou hast of virtue, summon all, for God to thee hath done His part, do thine.”
Meanwhile, Satan, enclosed in the body of the serpent, was lurking about. He was looking for Adam and Eve, knowing that if he seduced them, the whole human race would share in their fall. He was hoping that he could find Eve all alone, but he considered it unlikely, since they were usually together.
Nevertheless, “beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies, veiled in a cloud of fragrance.” The sight of her graceful innocence temporarily overawed his malice. For a while, Satan remained stupidly good, bereft of his wonted enmity.
However, the hot hell that always burns within him soon ended his momentary delight. As he saw pleasures not ordained for him, they tortured him all the more. With renewed hate, he declared: “Thoughts, where have ye led me, with what compulsion thus transported to forget what hither brought us?” He reminded himself that he had not come to taste of pleasure, but to destroy all pleasure.
Resolving to take advantage of the fact that Eve was all alone, Satan approached her in his serpentine disguise, not slithering along the ground, as snakes move nowadays, but with his head held aloft.
After gaining Eve’s attention, Satan began to flatter her. He praised her beauty. He said that it was a shame that only one man could see it. She should be seen as a goddess among the gods, and she should be served by angels.
Eve was surprised. She knew that the serpent was a clever animal, but she also knew that he had not been endowed with speech. She asked him how he had acquired the ability to speak.
Satan said that he had eaten the delicious fruit of a tree. After he had eaten, he could not only speak, but also engage in deep speculations. He contemplated all that was fair and good in heaven and on earth, and he found that all excellence was united in the divine semblance of Eve. For this reason, he had come to look at Eve and to worship her.
Eve told the serpent that his excessive praise made her doubt the virtue of the fruit that he had eaten. However, she asked where the tree was?
The serpent then led her to the tree of knowledge. When Eve recognized it, she said: “Serpent, we might have spared our coming hither.” She explained that God had commanded them not to eat or touch the fruit of that tree.
Satan feigned surprise: “Hath God then said that of the fruit of all these garden trees ye shall not eat, yet lords declared of all the earth and air?”
Eve replied: “Of the fruit of each tree in the garden we may eat, but of the fruit of this fair tree amidst the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat thereof, nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
Satan then waxed eloquent. He praised the virtue of the tree. He told Eve not to believe that eating the tree would bring death to her. He pointed out that he had not died after eating the fruit. Rather, the fruit raised him to a higher state than the condition allotted to him by fate. He claimed that if Adam and Eve would eat the fruit, they would become like gods, knowing good and evil. He accused God of trying to keep them low and ignorant.
Too easily, the guile of Satan gained entrance into the heart of Eve. Besides, it was close to noon, and Eve was getting hungry. After thinking the matter over, Eve plucked and ate. The earth immediately felt a wound.
After eating, Eve deliberated on whether to share the fruit with her husband. At first, she was inclined to withhold the fruit from Adam. She thought that if she alone ate it, she would be more his equal and perhaps even superior. However, it then occurred to her that if she would die because she ate the fruit, Adam would marry a different wife. Because of this, she decided that Adam should share in her lot, whether it be bliss or woe.
In the meantime, Adam was waiting for Eve to return. He wove a garland of flowers for her, similar to the crown that reapers were later accustomed to give to their harvest queen.
Though he awaited her return with joy, he felt some misgivings; so he went to meet her. He had to pass the tree of knowledge as he walked. He met her as she was returning with a bough laden with fruit.
After telling Adam that she had missed him and assuring him that henceforth she would always work at his side, she claimed that they were mistaken about the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Instead of bringing death, it gave the serpent the ability to speak. Moreover, after the serpent persuaded her to eat, she felt herself growing up to godhead. She wanted Adam to eat it also “that equal lot may join us, equal joy, as equal love, lest thou not tasting, different degree disjoin us, and I then too late renounce deity for thee, when fate will not permit.”
Adam was horrified. He dropped the garland he had made for Eve. For a while, he stood speechless. He knew that Eve was lost, and he resolved to share her fate. Adam ate of the fruit, and Eve also repeated her transgression.
Adam began to look on Eve with a lascivious eye. He told Eve that he was glad that he had eaten the fruit, since it was the source of great pleasure. He told her that she looked more beautiful than ever, and said: “Come, let us play.” He led her back to their bower. After they became weary of amorous sport, they fell asleep.
When they awoke, they keenly felt their loss of innocence. They were no longer shielded from the guilty knowledge of evil. For a while, they looked at one another in stunned silence.
Adam finally spoke: “O Eve, in evil hour didst thou give care to that false worm.” He observed that their eyes had indeed been opened and that they truly knew good and evil: good lost and evil got. He wondered how they could henceforth associate with God or the angels.
With the loss of their innocence, they felt shame, and they were especially ashamed of their nakedness. At Adam’s suggestion, they found some fig leaves and made rude clothing for themselves.
Adam and Eve started bickering. Adam told Eve that she should have listened to him instead of going off by herself. Eve defended herself with several arguments, culminating in the words: Why didst not thou the head command me absolutely not to go, going into such danger as thou saidst? Too facile didst thou then not gainsay, nay, didst permit, approve, and fair dismiss. Hadst thou been firm and fixed in thy dissent, neither had I transgressed, nor thou with me.” (These words undoubtedly reminded Adam of an admonition of Raphael, who had warned him not to forsake his wisdom.)
As they spent fruitless hours in mutual recriminations, the eighth book of Paradise Lost came to an end.
While I admit that Milton’s imaginative narrative is a possible elaboration of the Genesis account of the fall, I consider it improbable that erotic inebriation was the initial effect of their transgression. Moreover, it is possible that Adam was present when Satan tempted her, and his motives for eating were probably different from those which Milton attributed to him.
Literature.Org: Paradise Lost