How is Paradise Lost coming along for you who are reading along?
I admit that I slowed down a little bit in the last two weeks (hence, there was no Paradise Lost post last week). I got a head cold and I don’t think Milton is best considered on a cloudy brain. But, there is still a week left in the month, and I suspect I’ll still be reading Milton into the first week(s) of June. Once I picked up Milton again recently, I felt I needed to keep going. There seems to be some kind of momentum that comes from reading, and I always enjoy it once I do pick up Paradise Lost.
Discussion questions and thoughts on Books 7-9 after the jump.
Paradise Lost Discussion Questions: Books 7-9
Here are some questions if you aren’t sure how to respond to the section. I had a difficult time thinking in terms of “questions” this week; I was more inclined to just write my reactions to the section as a whole. Hence, this is shorter than in past weeks. If these don’t help you any, just tell us how your reading is going, and what your general impressions are of Paradise Lost at this point
- How does Raphael’s description of the creation (book 7) strike you? What about Adam’s description of his and Eve’s own creation (in book 8)?
- In book 8, Adam asks about the movements of the celestial bodies. Why do you think Milton included this section, and Raphael’s response?
- What did Milton’s portrayal of Eve and then Adam taking the fruit (book 9) tell you about their relationship? Did you like Milton’s approach?
My Thoughts: Paradise Lost books 7-9
A commenter the other week mentioned that it was interesting to read my religious reaction to Paradise Lost, since for that particular commenter it was an epic myth much as Homer. Yes, my reaction certainly is religious in nature: I don’t think I can approach Milton in any other way. I appreciate it all the more because it tells the religious traditions I believe in and blends in the epic proportions of Homer.
This next section, books 7-9, took me a while to get through. When I did finish, I’d developed a head cold, and I didn’t quite feel up to trying to write about Paradise Lost in my daze. Now, it’s been a few more days, so my thoughts are distanced from the reading. I recall I enjoyed portions of the section, but Book 9 was wonderful.
The story of the creation of the world (book 7) wasn’t as dull to me as were the story of the battles in the previous section’s reading. It was a nice change. I liked some of the beautiful language Milton used to describe the various stages of the world’s creation.
He scarce had said, when the bare Earth, till then
Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorn’d,
Brought forth the tender Grass, whose verdure clad [ 315 ]
Her Universal Face with pleasant green,
….. That Earth now
Seemd like to Heav’n, a seat where Gods might dwell,
Or wander with delight, and love to haunt [ 330 ]
Her sacred shades: … (VII. 313-316, 227-331)
Then, the discussion about the heavens at the beginning of the next book (book 8 ) is an interesting albeit a slightly boring one. It seemed Milton was saying we should not worry about what we don’t need to worry about. Science is for scientists; we should not consider it a way of understanding heaven. Religious understanding should be separate from scientific understanding. As I read Forsyth’s biography, I learned that Milton had really enjoyed his visit with Galileo, then under house-arrest, when he visited Italy. Maybe this discussion of science in his religious epic was his way of saying that science should remain separate from religion. I still felt book 8 was weaker than the other books, but knowing Milton’s interest in Galileo (and his interest in astronomy), it seemed a little more interesting. Milton’s religious epic had to have a political aspect to it for it to be truly Milton, I guess.
The second half of book 8, Adam’s discussion of his own creation, seemed rather sexual, which seemed rather surprising. The angel’s warnings reminded Adam of the need for his love to avoid becoming lust:
… love refines
The thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat
In reason, and is judicious, is the scale
By which to heav’nly love thou may’st ascend.
Not sunk in carnal pleasure for which cause
Among the beasts no mate for thee was found. (VIII.589-594)
I don’t think Adam was lustful at this point in the text. It seemed to me that Adam practically had to beg God for a companion because he was lonely, and he’s now very glad she is there. He loves having a companion. But Raphael’s warnings are all foreshadowing for Adam’s subsequent fall in book 9. Some commentary suggests that Adam’s epic weakness in Paradise Lost is his attraction to Eve.
Unsurprisingly, book 9 was my favorite book in this section, when Eve is tempted to partake of the fruit. Some commentary suggested that Milton portrayed Eve as partaking of the fruit without thought, but I thought her explanation to Adam to be quite thoughtful. Then again, this statement to Adam comes after she has partaken of the fruit, so maybe she’s already become wise:
Have also tasted, and have also found
The’ effects to correspond, opener mine eyes,
Dim erst, dilated spirits, ampler heart,
And growing up to godhead; which for thee
Chiefly I sought, without thee can dispise. (IX.873-878)
Despite her comment, it should be noted that on the page previous she’d debated sharing it with Adam. If she did not share it, she would be wiser than he, which greatly interested her. She decided she should share it in the end, because she would be jealous of another “Eve.”
Adam likewise doesn’t like the thought of a different “Eve,” so he partakes of the fruit too.
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself. (IX.955-960)
Forsyth’s biography (which I’ve since finished; more about that later) seemed to want to prove that Milton was not misogynistic. I am not sure if Forsyth succeeded or not in that. But Paradise Lost, itself, is interesting when one considers women. I didn’t find it to be misogynistic in places, but in other passages Milton writes things discriminatory toward women and I don’t like the attitude:
… Thus is shall befall
Him who to worth in women overtrusting
Lets her will rule; restraint she will not brooke,
And left to herself, if evil thence ensue,
She first his weak indulgence will accuse. (IX. 1182-1187)
These are Adam’s words. Are they Milton’s too? Maybe Milton puts such cruel words in Adam’s mouth because he wishes to show the discord that is now in their relationship, which is such a contrast to the conversation at the beginning of the book. I liked this contrast from the beginning to the end of Book 9, and I look forward to seeing how Milton resolves the epic.