Book III opens to God consulting with his son, Jesus about the upcoming “Fall of Man”. Being omniscient, God knows what Satan is up to and the end result, but he decides not to interfere and justifies this decision with a lecture on free will. (I have a problem with this doctrine of obedience that is so fundamental to Christianity. I find it impossible to reconcile obedience to love. A doctrine John Milton, I feel, struggles with too, especially as it concerns the politics of his day.) At this point, the poem devolves into metaphysics and legalese.

“But yet all is not done; man disobeying,
Disloyal breaks his fealty, and sins
Against the high supremacy of Heav’n,
Affecting Godhead, and so losing all,
To expiate his treason hath naught left,
But to destruction sacred and devote,
He with his whole posterity must die,
Die he or Justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.” [III: 203-212]

The theology of these lines is hard to interpret, but it almost seems as if there’s some greater law and God is only acting as the judge, albeit a judge who always makes the just decision. God apparently cannot ignore this “greater law” hinted at in the poem, less he disrupt the order of the universe. There’s a strange sense of competing mythologies in Paradise Lost. On the one hand, Christianity has the “God created everything!” approach. On the other hand, classical mythology says that the universe arose out of Chaos from which the gods and the world spontaneously? emerged. I certainly see an uneasy tension between these philosophies.

Back to the narrative, God is willing to return man to grace, if someone else would ‘take the fall’ for them, and takes the offer to his angels only to be received with non-enthusiasm. “Well don’t everybody speak up at once.” I half expected God to quip, because, wow angels, your devotion towards humanity is really touching. The crickets were deafening compared to your clamorous response, or non-response I should say. Luckily Jesus, being the incarnation of love, intercedes on humanity’s behalf.

“His words here ended, but his meek aspéct
Silent yet spake, and breathed immortal love
To mortal men, above which only shone
Filial obedience: as a sacrifice
Glad to be offered, he attends the will
Of his great Father.” [III: 266-271]

But his speech seems to deflate at the end (at least for me) because the son effectively concludes with “Besides, I’m immortal so it’s not like I’m actually going to die for real, right Dad? And while I’m at it I might as well kill Death too.” Cue the round of applause.

Meanwhile, Satan arrives on Earth at the borders of Eden. He’s having trouble finding his way so he stops and ask for directions from the angel, Uriel. Uriel’s not exactly the brightest crayon in the box. I know, I know, Satan’s in disguise, but still, God has just given this huge speech about how humanity is going to succumb to sin, and Uriel thinks nothing of it when some strange guy comes asking about Paradise because he’s so desperate to witness God’s creation. Uriel, you done goofed.

Satan, while the angels try to find him after realizing their mistake, stumbles upon Adam and Eve, and dare I say it, falls in love. He almost regrets the sin he will lead the pair to, but necessity and the expansion of his empire call for the deed. Nonetheless Satan consoles himself with the thought that mankind will come live with him in Hell.

“Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest gates,
And send forth all her kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous offspring” [IV: 381-385]

Huh. Satan has a point, I suppose. Earth is overpopulated as it is. Could you imagine Eden? In all seriousness, Milton dwells for some time on life and love in the Garden of Eden. First of all, Adam and Eve perform labor on their garden, rather than idle the time away. A sense of purpose appears to be one thing that sets Man apart from animals. This book abounds with descriptions of flower, tree, and animal life.

Naturally, the relationship between Adam and Eve is examined at length. For one thing, they had really good sex. This seems like a silly thing to bring up, but sex is a significant facet of their marriage, as it is for most marriages. Though Milton is careful to make the distinction between true heartfelt love vs the lustful sort. However, his contemporaries and even modern day Christians to be honest view sex as an impure, shameful act that didn’t occur in this perfect setting. Milton argues that sex in the right context is a beautiful act that definitely would have occurred in Eden. However, the doctrine of obedience returns in a very troubling form: Eden’s submission to Adam. Based on Milton’s tone, I doubt he views this imbalance positively. However, it remains as foreshadowing at this point in the epic.

Overall, Books III & IV examined the nature of love whereas Books I & II concerned themselves with hope and despair.

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