Consider and discuss Milton’s version of the scene between the serpent (Satan) and Eve compared to how it unfolds in Genesis. Why does Milton focus so much on Eve’s beauty? When she presents the fruit to Adam, how does his reaction compare to what we see happen in Genesis?
It seems that in Genesis, there is more of an emphasis on Eve just desiring knowledge and that is the main reason that she eats the fruit (other than being tricked by the serpent). Then Milton in his version of their interaction focuses on Satan flattering her beauty and grace possibly to explain her willingness to be disobedient to God and consume the fruit. In complimenting Eve’s beauty it also makes him seem less evil and threatening and more like someone/something to put one’s trust in. In Genesis it says “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,” (line 6). In this, it doesn’t really explain how Eve gets her husband to eat the fruit and if he even wanted to; it doesn’t explain his thought process whereas Milton gives the reader an idea of how he thinks Adam reacted to Eve eating the fruit. He says that Adam, once realizing that she had doomed them, eats the fruit because he doesn’t want to live without her. Milton also explains why he thinks Eve wants Adam to eat the fruit in the first place, being that she wants him to be equal to her and she wants him to suffer with her.
Milton focuses much more on how the serpent deceives Eve. In scripture it simply says that the serpent persuaded her to eat by assuring her that she would not die and also by promising her that she would learn to discern good and evil. Milton elaborates on the tempting method of the serpent by having the serpent claim that he has already eaten from the tree. When Eve questions how the serpent came to talk, she discovers that he gained this ability because he partook of the fruit of the forbidden tree. When describing his experience eating the fruit, the serpent claims “such pleasure till that hour/ at feed or fountain never had I found” (596-597). Scripture gives no such evidence for the serpent actually partaking of the tree, but Milton does.
I think you’re right about Milton using Satan as the serpent and his “experience” of eating from the tree as even further proof of how tempting and persuasive he was to Eve. Not only did the snake tell Eve that God only forbade them from the tree because of the power it could give them (like it says in Genesis), but he goes on to give an account of his own experience after eating from that very tree and his ability to speak and understand only goes on to further prove that she won’t die upon eating the tree’s fruit. Beyond that, Milton makes it clear that Adam did try to resist at first but was further persuaded to eat the fruit as well because he did not want Eve to suffer all alone. Genesis makes Adam out to be less of a hero, simply stating that he too ate of the fruit from that tree and not elaborating on why.
In “Paradise Lost,” Milton goes into much detail about Eve’s thought process and Satan’s manipulation, whereas in Genesis, there are only a couple of lines that essentially state that the serpent told Eve that she wouldn’t die if she ate the fruit, so she ate it. Milton focuses on Eve’s beauty to show how caring about superficial matters leads to sin. If Eve had not allowed Satan’s flattery to win her over, she and Adam would not have lost Paradise. Adam’s reaction to the fruit is markedly different in “Paradise Lost” than in Genesis. In the bible, Adam accepted the fruit from Eve essentially without question. In Milton’s interpretation, however, Adam knew that eating the fruit would lead to his downfall, but ate it anyway because he could not bear to be without Eve.
Milton’s versions of Adam and Eve are far more detailed and humanized than in Genesis. Through Satan’s flattery and praise, as well as Satan’s personal explanation of the effects of the tree’s fruit, Eve is persuaded; she is put into a position with which anyone could identify. In both Genesis and “Paradise Lost,” Eve is the one at fault, even though in “Paradise Lost” Eve seems to play less of a role, and it is easier to put more blame on Satan because of how the situation is described. Adam, however, is very different between the two accounts; he is both glorified and damned. Milton says that Adam only eats the fruit to stay with Eve, because of his love for her, which would make him seem more heroic. At the same time, he is knowingly going against God, choosing to disobey Him and accepting the punishment that will come with that. Adam’s decision is so much more complex according to Milton, and Eve’s reaction is far less innocent; she wants Adam to suffer with her. Humanity is both more heroic and more flawed in Milton’s eyes. Satan too is a factor, as he is definitely given a bigger role in Milton’s fall, with an explanation of his feelings towards Earth and man. The biggest difference to me seems to be in the humanization of all three of them; Adam, Eve, and Satan.
To me, the focus on Eve’s beauty made the scene feel more like a r.ape. Satan lusts after Eve. Milton even uses the word “erect” to describe the snake’s neck as he prepares to talk to Eve (9.501). She tempts him and he is trying to tempt her. Milton also makes reference to Eve’s “flowery plat,” which reminded me of the phrase “deflowering” to describe taking a woman’s virginity (9.456). The emphasis on beauty made the exchange seem much more sexual than the story in the Bible.
In the version of Genesis, there is not that much attention on how the serpent exactly convinced Eve to take a bite out of the fruit. The serpent just stated to Eve that she “shall not surely die” but instead be as knowledgeable as Gods (line 4-5). When Eve eats the fruit in Milton’s version of Satan and Eve, there is more emphasis concentrated on the details of that scene and the exact process of the serpent convincing Eve. The serpent (Satan) is able to convince Eve to take a bite out of the fruit by complementing her immense beauty. This shows that Eve is more concerned with superficiality then God’s grace and goodness. The serpent begins his speech to convince Eve with a “show of zeal and love” (line 665). After Eve eats the fruit she immediately tries to find Adam and get him to also take a bite of the fruit to be equals. There are conflicting thoughts that run through Adam’s mind but he ultimately decides that he cannot live without Eve and thus eats the fruit. In Genesis, it just shows Eve presenting the fruit to Adam and him accepting it without protest or conflict.
The portrayal of Eve in the face of Satan’s influence seemed to be quite affected by his compliments of her beauty. Eve was so easily swayed by satan’s offer without much persuasion. I don’t know too much about Eve’s portrayal in Genesis but she seems very inherently flawed in this section, which seems different from how the bible would intend to show the first daughter of God. Here we again see a realism from Milton in some ways but also an anti-feminism in some ways. The fact that Satan particularly chooses to infiltrate Eve’s morals shows a lack of faith in the female sex.
Eve is certainly swayed very easily by Satan’s offer in both Genesis and Paradise Lost. The stories vary in the way Satan tempts Eve. Eve in Milton’s version is won over by the serpent’s compliments about her beauty, emphasizing her superficial nature. His interpretation takes shape within the gender norms of society, where women were characterized as a bad influence. In Genesis, Eve is the first one to try the fruit, but Adam also eats the fruit without hesitation. Milton makes it seem that Adam is only eating the fruit to share in Eve’s suffering. His downfall was not eating the fruit, but rather not protecting Eve.
I see that there are many similarities between the Genesis version and Milton’s version of the serpent tempting Eve with the apple. The biggest difference is that Satan is inside the serpent. Satan, or the devil, did not exist in Torah-based Jewish culture during the first three thousand years. Any notion of Judaism introducing a devil or underworld/Hell is after Christianity has become its own singular, powerful religion. When Genesis was written, the serpent represented temptation (as it does in Milton’s version), but it was inherently evil on its own, not with the addition of Hell’s ruler.
The weirdest edition is the snake “on his rear” (line 497), as if it’s moving upright or walking. Why this strange detail was added by Milton, I could not say. But I thought it was very funny and a silly image, so I had to mention it.
As other posters have commented, Milton certainly goes into more detail than Genesis when describing how the serpent tricked Eve into eating the fruit. Of course, he is telling an epic story by expanding on the biblical narrative, so it makes sense that Milton spends more time on the weighty material of Man’s Fall. Adam in Genesis simply accepts the fruit, unknowingly sinning, where Milton’s Adam has to deliberate over whether to partake of the apple or not. This is dramatic material, and Milton does not allow Adam to make an easy decision, instead having him agonize for a while before resolving “from thy state / Mine never shall be parted,” (line 915-916). Because the writers of the texts have different purposes, the texts themselves have differences, even when telling the same story. Milton means to entertain (and teach), and so his work is more focused on the dramatic situation Adam and Eve find themselves in.