Illustrations to Milton's Paradise Lost Illustration 9
The Temptation and Fall of Eve
 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
"The infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind,"
"Trial will come unsought.
Wouldst thou approve thy constancy, approve
First thy obedience; the other who can know,
Not seeing thee attempted, who attest?
But, if thou think, trial unsought may find
Us both securer than thus warned thou seemest,
Go; for thy stay, not free, absents thee more;
Go in thy native innocence, rely
On what thou hast of virtue; summon all
For God towards thee hath done his part, do thine.
So spake the patriarch of mankind; but Eve
Persisted; yet submiss, though last, replied.
With thy permission then, and thus forewarned
Chiefly by what thy own last reasoning words
Touched only; that our trial, when least sought,
May find us both perhaps far less prepared,
The willinger I go, nor much expect
A foe so proud will first the weaker seek;
So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse.
Thus saying, from her husband's hand her hand
Soft she withdrew; and, like a Wood-Nymph light,
Oread or Dryad, or of Delia's train,
Betook her to the groves;
Oh much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve,
Of thy presumed return event perverse!
Thou never from that hour in Paradise
Foundst either sweet repast, or sound repose;
Such ambush, hid among sweet flowers and shades,
Waited with hellish rancor imminent
To intercept thy way, or send thee back
Despoiled of innocence, of faith, of bliss.
For now, and since first break of dawn, the Fiend,
Mere serpent in appearance, forth was come;
And on his quest, where likeliest he might find
The only two of mankind, but in them
The whole included race, his purposed prey.
"So spake the enemy of mankind, enclosed
In serpent, inmate bad, and toward Eve
Addressed his way: not with indented wave,
Prone on the ground, as since; but on his rear,
Circular base of rising folds, that towered
Fold above fold, a surging maze, his head
Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes;
With burnished neck of verdant gold, erect
Amidst his circling spires, that on the grass
Floated redundant: pleasing was his shape
And lovely; never since of serpent-kind
So glistered the dire Snake, and into fraud
Led Eve, our credulous mother, to the tree
Of prohibition, root of all our woe;
Which when she saw, thus to her guide she spake.
Serpent, we might have spared our coming hither,
Fruitless to me, though fruit be here to excess,
The credit of whose virtue rest with thee;
Wondrous indeed, if cause of such effects.
But of this tree we may not taste nor touch;
God so commanded, and left that command
Sole daughter of his voice; the rest, we live
Law to ourselves; our reason is our law."
"ye shall not die:
How should you? by the fruit? it gives you life
To knowledge; by the threatener? look on me,
Me, who have touched and tasted; yet both live,
And life more perfect have attained than Fate
Meant me, by venturing higher than my lot.
Shall that be shut to Man, which to the Beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass?"
"He knows that in the day
Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear,
Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then
Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as Gods,
Knowing both good and evil, as they know.
"Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine,
Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste,
Of virtue to make wise: What hinders then
To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate.
Earth felt the wound; and nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe,
That all was lost."
Although a disaster may seem to happen suddenly, it is more likely the result of a chain of occurrences which was allowed to continue instead of being broken by wise decisions and strong resolve. In Milton's Paradise Lost, Eve's bite of the apple began long before she accepted the fruit from the serpent. First Adam requested a companion with a separate existence different from himself and outside of himself. The being whom God provided was dependent on Adam but tended to be absorbed in her own autonomy. She was accustomed to having Adam instruct her and guide her but failed to learn for herself the conduct which he was trying to impart. Instead she wanted to be freer and wiser than she had been instructed to be. She was susceptible to flattery and to promises of extravagant benefits. Although it was not inevitable that she would fall, she failed to avoid it by exercising good judgment.
It seems evident from Milton's life script that he may have identified with Eve as he puzzled over his part in the overthrow of King Charles, the rise and fall of Cromwell's government, and the restoration of monarchy. His decisions and those of his associates had consequences which were meant to do good but often led to suffering of the nation and her people. In developing his character Eve in Paradise Lost, Milton seems to have been confessing his own flaws or the failings of Britain.
Four Zoas, Night VII, Page 87, (E 369) "But Los stood on the Limit of Translucence weeping & trembling Filled with doubts in self accusation beheld the fruit Of Urizens Mysterious tree For Enitharmon thus spake When In the Deeps beneath I gatherd of this ruddy fruit It was by that I knew that I had Sinnd & then I knew That without a ransom I could not be savd from Eternal death That Life lives upon Death & by devouring appetite All things subsist on one another thenceforth in Despair I spend my glowing time but thou art strong & mighty To bear this Self conviction take then Eat thou also of The fruit & give me proof of life Eternal or I die Then Los plucked the fruit & Eat & sat down in Despair And must have given himself to death Eternal But Urthonas spectre in part mingling with him comforted him Being a medium between him & Enitharmon But This Union Was not to be Effected without Cares & Sorrows & Troubles Of six thousand Years of self denial and of bitter Contrition" Songs of Experience, Song 47, (E 27) "The Human Abstract. Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor: And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we; And mutual fear brings peace; Till the selfish loves increase. Then Cruelty knits a snare, And spreads his baits with care. He sits down with holy fears, And waters the ground with tears: Then Humility takes its root Underneath his foot. Soon spreads the dismal shade Of Mystery over his head; And the Catterpiller and Fly, Feed on the Mystery. And it bears the fruit of Deceit, Ruddy and sweet to eat; And the Raven his nest has made In its thickest shade. The Gods of the earth and sea, Sought thro' Nature to find this Tree But their search was all in vain: There grows one in the Human Brain"