Adam stands for a moment in wonder at the story of creation, but then he asks Raphael about the movements of the stars and planets, the relative size of the Earth, and why God created such huge heavenly bodies to serve the smaller Earth (if they indeed rotate around the Earth as they seem to). At this Eve decides to leave the conversation and tend to her flowers. She doesn’t leave because she is bored or incapable of understanding such concepts, but because she would rather hear about them from Adam later, when “conjugal carresses” might sometimes interrupt the discussion.
Adam’s desire for knowledge grows over the course of this single conversation, as his “appetite” increases and leans towards knowledge above his station. Milton returns to his ideas about the inequality of women, as Eve “submits” to Adam by leaving the intellectual discussion to him, even though she has the capacity to understand it. Eve recognizes her order in creation and that she is lower ranked than Adam.
Raphael responds to Adam by saying that size does not necessarily mean importance when it comes to heavenly bodies, and that God has concealed his designs regarding the movements of the orbs. Raphael does not answer whether the Earth moves around the sun or the sun moves around the Earth, but only says that it should not matter to Adam, who is not meant to know everything about God’s creation. Adam and Eve should “Dream not of other worlds” but leave heavenly matters to God. Raphael finishes with a warning that Adam should be content with the knowledge God has revealed and not seek to pass its boundaries.
Milton comments on the conflicting scientific theories of his day – the Copernican theory that the earth rotated around the sun (supported by Galileo, Milton’s contemporary), and the traditional Ptolemaic (and Catholic) idea that the sun rotated around the earth. Milton refuses to side with one theory over the other, basically saying that it doesn’t matter – scientists shouldn’t seek knowledge too high above their station, but should content themselves with obedience and self-knowledge.
Adam thanks Raphael for satisfying his curiosity and warning him about “wand’ring thoughts, and notions vain.” Adam then offers to relate what he remembers about his own creation, as he enjoys Raphael’s company and wants to detain him as long as possible. Raphael says he would like to hear the story, as he was absent on the day of Adam’s creation. He was busy on an errand from God, checking that the gates of Hell remained closed, so that no devils could escape and anger God, causing him to mix “Destruction with Creation.”
Raphael relates Milton’s warning about the “mazes” of philosophy and speculation, which can distract from knowledge of God and an obedient life. Raphael’s words don’t reflect well on God, as they imply that God would allow his anger at Satan to corrupt or destroy his own creation. This seems to undercut both omnipotence and goodness, but also looks forward to the Flood of Noah.
Adam begins his story: he awoke sweating in the sunlight and immediately looked up to heaven, and then walked about exploring the plants and animals that surrounded him. He then tried to speak and discovered that he naturally knew the names of everything he saw, and so he named the geographical features around him. He then immediately grew curious about his Maker, and how he might praise him.
Adam’s creation story is different from Eve’s, and shows how he is both superior and closer to God in Milton’s view. Adam wakes up in the sunlight instead of the shade, and he immediately knows the true names of things, instead of being distracted by reflections like Eve was.
Adam was then visited by a vision of God, who explained how and why he was created and gave him dominion over Eden and all its plants and animals. God only forbade one thing: Adam was not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, or else he should lose his “happy state” and be “expelled from hence into a world / Of woe and sorrow.” God then brought all the animals of Earth before Adam, two at a time, and Adam gave them all names, as he had this sudden knowledge from God.
God appears to Adam in a vision and presence instead of just a voice, confirming that Adam is to commune directly with God, while Eve is to commune with God through Adam. Adam’s first quality is the divine knowledge God gives him, so that he can name all the animals. This shows that knowledge is important and even holy, as long as it is knowledge that God approves of and that befits one’s station.
After seeing all the pairs of animals Adam realized that he himself had no companion, and none of the animals shared his gifts of speech and reason. He asked God for a companion, as he longed to share his thoughts with someone else and he recognized that he was inferior to God, and so not whole and self-sufficient as a single being. God was pleased with this request, saying it is “not good for man to be alone,” and he put Adam into a mysterious sleep. While he slept God removed one of Adam’s ribs, healed the wound, and then created Eve from the rib. Adam’s mind remained aware of what was happening even as he slept, so he could remember this creation.
The pairs of animals foreshadows the pairs Noah will later take into the ark, though this first occasion is more joyous and pure. Adam recognizes his own nature as deficient to God, so Adam sees that he cannot be whole and happy alone like God is. Eve is again shown as a sort of derivative of Adam, created from his rib instead of directly in God’s image.
Adam was immediately intrigued by Eve’s beauty and how different she seemed to him, and he instantly fell in love with her. She disappeared at first, and Adam woke up to search for her. Then she came to him, led on by God’s voice. Adam immediately thanked God for Eve’s creation and announced that she would be his wife, “one flesh, one heart, one soul.” Eve heard this and then turned away from Adam, but this only made her seem more attractive, as one “That would be wooed.” She then yielded and Adam led her to his bower, where they had innocent sex for the first time.
Adam has heard Eve’s account – that she first turned away from him because he seemed less beautiful than her reflection – but Adam still believes that Eve turned away so as to seem more attractive to him (whether of her own accord or God’s). Adam immediately falls in love, and he seems more smitten than Eve is, which foreshadows his weakness concerning her beauty.
In describing this conjugal bliss, Adam fears that he is too strongly attracted to Eve’s physical beauty. He knows that she is his inferior in mind and soul, but when he is in her presence Eve “Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best.” Raphael grows slightly concerned at this, and warns Adam to be temperate in his “carnal pleasure,” and to focus on a pure love between his own soul and Eve’s, in which Adam is the “head” and she submits to him, as he is indeed her superior in all but beauty.
While Eve’s original sin will be eating the forbidden fruit to gain knowledge and power, Adam’s sin will be choosing Eve over God. Even in his innocent state Adam shows a weakness for Eve’s beauty. Raphael sees the warning signs in this, as it represents a disruption of proper hierarchy – man elevating woman above her proper station, above God.
Adam is “half abashed” at this warning, but he continues praising Eve and their marital harmony, and he assures Raphael that his physical attraction to Eve comes from their deeper unity of mind and soul. Adam then asks Raphael whether angels express their love as humans do. Raphael seems to blush and says that angels do indeed express love, but as they are pure spirit they need not be divided by flesh and bone, and so can be wholly united when they “embrace.”
Despite Adam’s extreme love of Eve’s physical beauty, Milton still paints their pre-Fallen relationship as an ideal sort of marriage. Milton expands more on his theories about angels, inventing a sort of “Heavenly sex” where angels can physically express love without the boundaries of flesh.
Raphael then says that he must go, as the sun is setting, and as he leaves he again warns Adam to love God before Eve, and for both of them to remain obedient to God and avoid temptation. Adam thanks Raphael for his company and “condescension,” and then he returns to his bower while Raphael flies back up to Heaven.
“Condescension” originally did not have its modern negative connotations – it meant to put aside one’s dignity and rank to become equal with one’s inferior. Raphael’s warning leaves Adam armed with knowledge about Satan, but the outcome of the poem is still assured.