John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of poetry in the English language. Books four and eight of his masterwork are seen as being particularly important. Book four deals with Satan trying to tempt Eve as she sleeps while Book 8 sees Adam describe his creation from his own perspective.
Milton presents both Adam and Satan as two characters who are unique and longing for an independence from God. Milton describes Adam as being: ‘the goodliest man of men since born / His sons’ (l. 323-324) while Satan is seen as a rebel willing to against God by tempting Adam and Eve. Satan justifies his actions as a means of making Adam and Eve knowledgeable about themselves. He wants them to be: ‘Equal with gods; aspiring to be such’ (l. 526). This masks Satan’s jealousy of Adam and Eve as he announces: ‘Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two / Imparadised in one another’s arms’ (l. 505 – 506) Satan is jealous of the joy that Adam and Eve experience in being together while he languishes in Hell on his own. Milton portrays Satan as a somewhat jealous character. This is furthermore represented in the forms he takes throughout the poem. Most notably he appears as a snake when trying to persuade Eve to disobey God’s orders. Throughout history the snake is regarded as a symbol of deceit and evil and Satan’s incarnation as one emphasises this.
Milton’s portrayal of Eve remains controversial even today. In Book four, Eve comments: ‘there I had fixed / Mine eyes till now, and pined with vain desire’ (l. 465-466). This utterance evokes the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. To the reader, Eve is presented as being vain as a result of Satan’s interference this is an attempt to portray as her as a tragic figure. In addition to this, she is presented as being dependent on Adam and wholly subordinate having come from one of his ribs.
Through this tale of Adam and Eve, Milton is showing the potential dangers of having too much knowledge. While to be knowledgeable is important, faith and belief need to be tended to. The spiritual side needs to be looked after as well as the intellectual side. For Milton, the only way to achieve this through a belief in God despite this Milton was no anti-intellectual. He merely was aware of the dangers of intellectual curiosity, which, despite its importance, can be taken to extreme lengths thus increasing the distance between man and God. His epic poem, ‘Paradise Lost’ serves as a reminder of Man being crushed by his own hubris and how neglected spiritual fulfilment leads to a Hell of one’s own making.