Milton in May: Paradise Lost, Books 4-6

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Welcome to week two of the Paradise Lost read-a-long and Milton in May, a month-long celebration of John Milton’s writings. Below, I have some possible discussion questions if you aren’t quite sure what to write for this week’s post or if you want to “discuss” the book with the rest of us.

Contrary to what I wrote in last week’s post, I’ve decided to just keep this read-along to one Linky. That will remain on the first post of the project. I have a link in the upper right hand column of my site (underneath the Milton in May button) so you can find it again easily as the month progresses.

Discussion questions and my thoughts after the jump.

Paradise Lost Discussion Questions: Books 4-6

  1. As Satan explores Eden in the beginning of Book 4, he takes on many disguises. How do these, and his soliloquy at the beginning of the book, reflect his character?
  2. We finally have met Adam and Eve and seen them working in the Garden of Eden. What do you think of their character and their relationship? How does their relationship surprise you, or is at you would expect?
  3. What is the significance of Eve’s dream and Adam’s response?
  4. What do you think of the angel Raphael?
  5. What’s the difference between Satan and Abdiel during the rebellion in heaven? Why do you think Milton includes Abdiel’s story (i.e., his rebellion against Satan and return to God)?
  6. War! What do you think of Milton’s description of the war in heaven?

See the first Milton in May post for lists of resources.

My Thoughts: Paradise Lost, Books 4-6

Satan is, of course, the definition of evil, but I found him enticing in the first books. He had so much majesty as he stood over the other devils in hell:

[…] His ponderous shield
Ethereal tempers, massy, large and round,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders like the moon, … (I. 284-286)

Satan wasn’t so enticing in Book 4. I think there was something about all his disguises, from the cherub that can’t hide his anger at the sight of Eden (IV. 113-125) to the toad, “close at the ear of Eve” (IV.800).

Yet after listening to the devils for three books (with an occasional speech by God in Book 3), I thought Adam and Eve, when they finally appeared, to be weaklings. Adam’s first speech to Eve seemed superficial, and he seems oblivious to real dangers (such as when he discounts Eve’s dream and says that of course she is too good to actually commit sin; see V.95-138). But, is not this an appropriate perspective for one who has not yet learned that good and evil exist? Because he hasn’t partaken of the tree of knowledge, it is appropriate that Adam cannot completely understand evil. My young toddler doesn’t understand his own ability for wrong, let alone other’s inclinations; he just takes things one at a time, unable to see the big picture. Adam and Eve are acting like toddlers in their understanding of things. Likewise, Eve observes her reflection with todder-like delight (IV.449-470). My son can sit and stare at himself in the mirror for quite a long time, and I saw her fascination with her reflection less vanity and more innocent interest.

I rolled my eyes at Milton’s sexism. Some people a few months ago mentioned that Milton’s view of women ruined Paradise Lost for them (they couldn’t stand the book because of it) but I just see it as a sign of his era. It doesn’t bother me to read it, but I totally disagree, of course, that “their sex not equal seemed” (IV. 296) and of Eve’s “lesser faculties” (V.101). Despite Milton’s claims toward the inequality of the two, I found the relationship between Adam and Eve to be rather sweetly portrayed. I am a romantic, and I loved their sweet endearments. “Sole partner and sole part of all these joys, / Dearer thyself than all” says Adam (IV. 411-412) and “Part of my soul I seek thee, and in thee claim/ My other half” says Eve (IV.486-487). The two walk “hand in hand” (IV. 689) and are “happy in our mutual help/ and mutual love” (IV. 727-728). Not to mention their own sexual bliss together (IV. 736-754). Despite the fact that they act like toddlers, they have a marriage that I think seems rather sweet. I don’t think Milton was trying to show an unequal relationship, despite what he says.

And then, I rejoice, just a little, in the devil’s jealousy:

Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two
Imparadised in one another’s arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to hell am thrust. (IV.505-508).

In Book 5, Adam and Eve’s entertaining of Raphael was rather amusing, although I have to admit, I found the parts in Books 5 and 6 describing the war in heaven to be rather boring compared to the discussion among Satan’s horde of devils in Books 1 and 2. I loved Homer’s war scenes in The Iliad, but Milton’s just didn’t do as much for me. Then again, I did enjoy hearing how Satan’s wounds healed themselves (VI. 325-353).

I read the Cliffs Notes after I finished, and one thing they pointed out was that the devil’s war was futile. Maybe, then, part of my boredom with the battle scene was in the futility. Of course Satan will lose. He will be cast out, for he already has been and all of this is the back story. From Book 1, we knew that Satan and his devils are deep in hell.

There is some majesty to seeing the Messiah cast out the devils, but in the end, the part of these three books that stood out to me was the perspective of Adam and Eve’s innocence in the Garden. Their innocence was such that they were unable to fully comprehend that the gift of free will that God had given them meant that they were, actually, able to sin in a way they didn’t anticipate. I look forward to reading, in Milton’s story, just how they finally will realize that free will.

Reviewed on May 10, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I remember quite liking Adam and Eve, when I last read Paradise Lost. I wrote my paper on Eve and grew very fond of her – I remember feeling like she managed to be more interesting and cool (to modern me) than Milton maybe intended her to be.
    .-= Jenny´s last post on blog ..Milton in May: Week 1 =-.

    • Jenny, I can’t remember what I wrote my paper on. I should go check. But yes, there is some about Adam and Eve. I think people who just see Milton’s sexist comments about how she is weaker are missing something. I am not sure, despite his comments, that he creates characters that actually are as he says they are…

    • melissa, you can start whenever you get a chance, no worries if you take longer or go slower. I’d appreciate your insights anytime (and I’m half way through but the month is not yet halfway over!!

  • I had a professor who actually argued that Paradise Lost presents a proto-feminist view of the Genesis story, especially compared to the actual Biblical presentation of it. Adam & Eve both get to enjoy sex in the Garden, and Eve’s fall isn’t presented as representing the inherently weak and sinful natures of Womankind, so much as she’s a victim of the male hierarchy (Satan’s trickery, Adam’s dismissal). I think the argument is maybe a bit of a stretch, but I did like the depictions of Adam & Eve’s relationship. One has to make allowances for Milton’s time and place, after all.

    It’s interesting to read your thoughts on Milton from a religious angle – as I’m not religious, Paradise Lost was as much myth/story as the Iliad or the Mahabarata, etc., albeit a myth/story that more immediately informs the culture I live in. I can see how Christian feeling would add an extra depth to one’s reading of Milton.
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..Seeing =-.

    • Emily, Very interesting! That’s actually similar to my belief of what happened — personally, I don’t believe in original sin, and the transgression in Eden was essentially a blessing in disguise because it was better to know good and evil and be cast out of Eden then to stay there in innocence. Anyway, interesting that your teacher read Milton that way too!

      I have been having a hard time writing about Milton without making it completely from my religious perspective! Lots of Milton’s theology differs from mine, but there are still enough concepts that resonate with me!

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who found the war boring! I was wondering why God let the battle go on for two days before sending His Son in to finish it up. Why not just do that from the beginning and avoid all of those instant-healed injuries? I suppose Milton did that for the drama and to make it similar to other epics, but I could have done without it. Like you said, there’s not much suspense when you already know how it’s going to end.
    .-= Shelley´s last post on blog ..Booking Through Thursday: Influence =-.

  • I would argue also that sexism is not essentially miltonic but satanic. Their sex unequal seemed, but to who? seeming implies a perceiver….

    The initial physical differences between them are also described through their hair, which is odd because as we know – hair is shaped by way of barber not creator.

    Also, the etymology of unequal does not imply “inequality” in the way we see it – simply a difference, which i think we can all agree does exist between men and women. Again Milton is playing on our fallen perception of words to which we have added a negative connotation that would not have existed pre-fall….

    Anyway just a little ramble…. I do agree that the unequal representation of adam and eve would have been a reflection of the political climate of the times, and possibly milton’s personal view, however I don’t think this is the way Milton intended it in the poem..

    I think Milton was simply presenting the idea that our “fallen” state is what casts the judgement of inequality on Adam and Eve…. After all Satan is the perceiver and accuser in this poem…

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