There are, of course, other key characters in the unfolding tale – God the thunderer and his gentler Son who sacrifices himself for humanity; Sin and her son Death who together will make humanity their prey; God’s angelic messengers; and even Adam, the first and presumably noblest of men – but Satan and his victim (or perhaps his double) Eve are the actors who move the plot forward at every point.
expand on just a few verses of the Old Testament: first, those explaining God’s formation of man, his creation of the garden in which stood the forbidden ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ and his birthing of woman from man’s rib, then those dealing with the ‘subtil’ serpent’s temptation of Eve.
Accordingly, although he ‘scrupl’d not to eat’ (Book 9, l.
997), he is ‘not deceiv’d, / But fondly overcome with Female charm’ (Book 9, l. And while his forbidden meal damns him, it doubly damns Eve, whose ‘Female charm’ is so insidious – her ‘wanton’ locks paralleling the coils of the serpent – that he can’t resist her insistent pleas.
As Satan, journeying to Eden bent on revenge against God, first views them, Adam and Eve are: Not equal, as their sex not equal seem’d; For contemplation hee and valour form’d, For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace, Hee for God only, shee for God in him; His fair large Front and Eye sublime declar’d Absolute rule ... but follow me, / And I will bring thee’ (Book 4, l. 470), she spies Adam and runs away, having thought him ‘less fair ... 633), she proclaims that ‘God is thy Law, thou mine: to know no more / Is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise’ (Book 4, ll. In this way, Eve is more vulnerable than Adam to the schemes of Satan. 798), the fallen angel crouches by her ear and inspires her with a prophetic dream in which she flies, witchlike, through the sky and desirously views the forbidden tree, ‘with fruit surcharg’d’ (Book 5, l. William Blake made three sets of stunning watercolours to illustrate Milton’s poem.
In this one, Satan crouches ‘like a toad’ near Eve, while Adam sleeps beside her.
734), since she is more susceptible to such wiles than Adam.
Or, alternatively, is Eve more ambitious, rebellious and disobedient than Adam? As Eve, reasoning (perhaps sophistically) with herself, notes that though the eating of the fruit supposedly brings death, ‘How dies the Serpent? Satan has won the game, and Eve, in five succinct lines, determines to change the world: ... 793), she outlines an idolatrous plan to worship the Tree daily, then considers whether or not to share what she believes is her new divinity with her husband.
623): her descendant Mary shall become the Mother of God. And though she and her husband have been expelled from Paradise, she assures Adam, in a poignant sonnet, that he means more to her than Eden: the pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft passionately repudiated the infantilisation of women that she associated with Milton’s description of ‘our first frail mother’.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of important women writers fiercely lamented Eve’s fall.