Back in Heaven, God immediately knows when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The angelic guards of Eden also know, and they fly up to Heaven to ask God how Satan re-entered Paradise, as they guarded it as best they could. God tells them that they are not to blame, as he himself allowed Satan to return, unwilling to affect Adam and Eve’s free will by protecting them from temptation. God then sends the Son down as “Man’s friend, his Mediator,” and his “Redeemer,” to pass judgment on the couple.
God basically admits that he sends his angels on purposeless errands, as he assigned them to “guard” Eden and then actively allowed Satan to slip past them. Because he is all-powerful, anything God sends an angel to do instead of doing himself is basically a test of obedience. The Son again appears as the active nature of God and the friend of humanity.
The Son reminds God that whatever judgment he passes will later fall on himself, as he has already volunteered to suffer on humanity’s behalf. The Son then rises from his throne and immediately enters Paradise, as “the speed of Gods / Time counts not.” The Son walks through the garden and calls for Adam, but the couple hide themselves in the trees.
Milton earlier described how swiftly Raphael flew to Earth, but the Son exists outside of time and so immediately arrives wherever he wants to be. Milton’s “justification” of God now starts coming into play, as God must weigh both his own justice and mercy in punishing Adam and Eve.
The Son calls again and then Adam and Eve emerge looking guilty, angry, and ashamed. Adam says he hid because he was embarrassed of his nakedness, and the Son asks if he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. Adam says that Eve gave him the fruit to eat, and as she had been given to Adam by God he couldn’t suspect her of sinning. The Son immediately rebukes Adam, asking if Eve is his God now that he should obey her instead of God, and allow her attractiveness to sway Adam’s superior wisdom and intellect.
Much of this scene is taken from Genesis, though Adam lengthens his speech a little, almost blaming God for giving him the sinful Eve. The Son sees the nature of Adam’s “original sin” – the important thing was not the eating of the fruit itself, but the disobedience to God and Adam placing Eve’s love above God’s love.
The Son then asks Eve to explain herself, and Eve says that the serpent tricked her into eating the fruit. The Son (now referred to as God) immediately condemns the serpent to forever crawl on its belly as a punishment for being the vehicle of Satan. He ordains that Adam and Eve’s offspring will bruise the serpent’s head, and the serpent will bite their heel. Milton then references the eventual fulfillment of this prophecy, when Jesus “son of Mary second Eve” will defeat Satan, delivering the serpent his last “fatal bruise.”
The serpent is robbed of its “uprightness” and made a “sinful” animal that crawls on its belly. God’s prophecy about the serpent’s bruise is an example of Christian typology, where figures and symbols of the Old Testament are taken as prophecies about Jesus and the New Testament. The writer of Genesis may have just meant that humans will dislike snakes (as originally it was a serpent who tempted Eve, not Satan), but in traditional Christian doctrine and typology this curse comes to symbolize Eve’s “seed” (Jesus, her eventual descendent) defeating Satan.
God punishes Eve by condemning all women to suffer in childbirth and to submit to their husbands. He punishes Adam by condemning all men to work constantly at farming the unfriendly ground, and then to die and return to the ground, “For dust thou art, and shalt to dust return.” The Son then pities the couple in their naked shame, and he clothes them in animal skins before returning to Heaven and his throne.
All the present pain and hardship of the world begins to manifest itself as the result of the Fall. In the natural order Eve was still supposed to submit to Adam, but now fallen men will not be perfect husbands anymore, so it will be harder for fallen women to “submit” to them.
The scene then jumps slightly back in time, as Sin and Death wait at the Hell’s gates where Satan left them. Sin suddenly senses that Satan has succeeded in his task, and she convinces Death to come along with her, as he smells “mortal change on earth” and the possibility of much prey to feed his hunger. The two gather up whatever materials they find in Chaos and construct a wide, smooth bridge from Hell to Earth.
Milton has built up all the consequences of the Fall to make the eating of the forbidden fruit seem more grave and portentous than a single disobedient meal. The most ominous result of the Fall is that God now allows the monsters of Sin and Death to enter Earth.
Just as they finish their work Satan greets them at the edge of Paradise, and he is delighted at the bridge they have built. Sin congratulates Satan for his success, encouraging him to take all the credit for the bridge, and she says that she and Death will make this world his. Satan responds by saying he is proud of his children, and he finally accepts the name “Satan” (“Adversary”) for himself. He decides to return to Hell to tell his followers the news, but he sends Sin and Death up into Earth in his place, instructing the two to corrupt humans and then kill them.
The bridge from Hell to Earth is based on a New Testament quote about the path to Hell being wide, smooth, and easy to follow. In this way Satan and his devils can now easily tempt the fallen humans down into Hell, while the path to Heaven is much more difficult. Satan is feeling victorious, like he has actually wounded God, so his inner torment is temporarily gone and he rejoices in his role as God’s greatest enemy.
Sin and Death enter the mortal universe and immediately begin infecting it, and Satan flies swiftly down to Hell. He arrives at Pandaemonium, where all his followers have been awaiting his return. Satan sits down on his throne and shines with all the brightness he has left in his fallen state. He then addresses the devils and tells them of his triumph, glorifying his own exploits and how he destroyed all humanity “with an apple.”
This is a devilish foreshadowing of the Son returning to his throne after his death and resurrection as a man. Satan plays up his own hardships, making himself the hero in his own narrative. He also emphasizes the great irony of the fall and Milton’s need to “justify” God, as God has basically ruined all of humanity for a single apple.
Satan ends his speech by telling his followers to fly up to Earth and “enter now into full bliss.” He expects to hear applause after this, but instead hears only hissing, “the sound / Of public scorn,” and he sees that all the devils have been suddenly transformed into serpents. Satan himself is turned into a huge serpent as well, a dragon, and he realizes that he is being “punished in the shape he sinned,” according to the doom the Son had delivered to the earthly serpent.
Satan had felt victorious in escaping God’s punishment, as the Son seemed to punish the serpent instead of Satan himself, but Satan now shares in the humiliation of the snake he possessed. This punishment is an example of the concept of “contrapasso,” where one’s punishment ironically echoes one’s crime. Contrapasso is often used in the Hell of Dante’s “Inferno.” Satan ends his transformations in his lowest, most bestial form, as a snake instead of a dark god.
A grove of trees then sprouts up in Hell, filled with fruit like the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, but whenever the hungry, thirsty snakes try to bite it the fruit turns to ash. Later the devils are allowed to return to their usual forms, but every year in the future God punishes them this way.
The contrapasso is extended as the devils are punished in the same way as Satan sinned (by tempting Eve). Their punishment is also a continual frustration of desire, as they continue to refuse to repent. Their punishment echoes that of the mythical Greek Tantalus, who was condemned to be “tantalized” by fruit and water just out of his reach.
Meanwhile Sin and Death arrive on Earth. Death says that all places are alike for him, as he experiences only ravenous hunger, but he is pleased at the bounty of life on Earth. Sin instructs him to feast on the plants, the animals, and then on humans after she has corrupted them. God watches the two from Heaven and laments to his angels how they are ruining his wondrous creation. He declares that he allowed them to enter Earth, and he will permit them to stay until Judgment Day, when the victorious Son will cast them back into Hell with the other devils.
Book 9 was the poem’s climax, and now Milton draws out the resolution to that climax – the many horrible results of the Fall. As usual nothing happens without God’s permission, even the destruction of his beautiful, perfect world. Milton is trying to justify the current state of human life as part of an all-powerful God’s plan, so this involves God allowing an extravagant punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin.
The angels sing praises about God’s justice, and then God sends them down from Heaven to alter the universe. They either tilt the Earth’s axis or alter the sun’s position (Milton doesn’t say which) so that the temperatures on Earth grow more extreme and uncomfortable, and they create storms, strong winds, and ice. Then Discord, the daughter of Sin, arrives and causes all the animals to be at war with each other and with humans as well.
Everything Milton had changed to be better in the unfallen Paradise must now be altered to reflect the current state of nature. God reconfigures his order to reflect the new disobedience of humans. Internal morality affects the physical world just as Satan’s disobedience weakened him.
On Earth Adam notices these changes and grows miserable. He now knows that his children will all suffer because of his sin, and he wishes that he could bear all the punishment himself. He doesn’t understand God’s sense of justice, that he should punish the whole universe and all future humans for one man’s disobedience. Adam wishes he could just be punished by being unmade and returning to dust, instead of living with years of suffering. He wonders if God’s wrath will be infinite, and he longs for Death to come for him.
Adam’s complaints about the extent of his punishment seem justified, but he has not yet been comforted by the knowledge of the future Messiah. After blaming each other in anger, Adam and Eve now come dangerously close to despair, Satan’s sin that keeps him even from repenting.
Eve approaches and tries to comfort Adam, but he grows angry with her and calls her “thou serpent,” wishing she had never been created, as she is “Crooked by nature” like the rib she was made from. Eve weeps and falls at Adam’s feet, begging him for forgiveness and pleading him not to leave her. She reminds him that she too was deceived by the serpent, but then she accepts the full blame for disobeying both God and Adam and wishes that God would place all the punishment on her.
Adam’s natural superiority turns to misogyny after the Fall, as he invents several cruel epithets for Eve and women in general. Instead of lashing out in anger, Eve now breaks down and begs forgiveness, accepting all the blame. This is the difference between the humans and the devils, and why God will be merciful to Adam and Eve.
Adam is moved by Eve’s distress and loses his anger. He says that if she cannot even bear this small portion of the punishment she has, then Eve shouldn’t wish for the full brunt of God’s wrath. Adam decides that they should stop blaming each other, but try to lessen their misery by loving each other. Eve responds by suggesting that they kill themselves so as to avoid passing on their curse to their offspring, and “Destruction with destruction to destroy.”
Suicide seems like a reasonable option to Eve, but Milton clearly disapproves of it as the path of despair, akin to Satan willingly leaping into the abyss instead of facing the Son’s wrath. Suicide is a major sin in traditional Christianity and it offers no escape from God, as the human soul is eternal and can still be punished beyond death.
Adam warns Eve about the dangers of despairing, and that God will not allow her to escape punishment even by killing herself. He reminds Eve of the Son’s promise that their “seed shall bruise / The serpent’s head,” and decides to take this in a metaphorical sense – that one of Eve’s offspring will defeat Satan. Therefore if Eve kills herself, Satan will escape his punishment.
Adam prefigures Christian typology by looking for far-reaching metaphors in the Son’s cryptic words. Adam rightfully argues against despair, as he now knows that no action of theirs could foil God’s plan, if God truly intends to punish Adam and Eve’s offspring and Satan.
Adam decides to take comfort in the fact that they will not die immediately, and that their punishment – pain in childbirth, and hard labor for food – isn’t actually that bad. He then suggests that they return to the place where they were punished and ask God for forgiveness and grace. Eve agrees, and the two fall on their knees, weeping and confessing their sins.
This is the crucial decision that separates Adam and Eve from Satan. They choose to keep up hope in the future and submit to God’s judgment, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness. Because of this God will be merciful to humanity, while Satan’s punishment is eternal.