Milton begins by again lamenting the Fall of Man, and wishing that Adam and Eve had escaped Satan’s “mortal snare.” Meanwhile Satan lands on a mountain near Eden and looks upon the glory of Paradise. He is wracked with doubt at the sight of such beauty and innocence. Satan remembers his own former glory, and recognizes how unfairly he has rebelled against God, who never showed him anything but goodness. Satan wishes he had not been made such a powerful Archangel, as otherwise he might not have aspired to even more power and the overthrow of God.
Satan was supremely confident in Hell, when he was trying to impress his followers and was still convinced that he could make a “Heaven of Hell.” Now that he has reached Paradise, however, he sees that the opposite is also true – he makes a Hell of Heaven. No matter how perfect his surroundings, Satan carries Hell within himself in the form of his hatred, envy, and separation from God.
Satan briefly considers what would happen if he repented and subdued himself to God, but he knows that this could only be a false confession. He knows that if he returned to Heaven, he could not bow down or be reconciled after such “wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.” He reasons that if he knows this, then God must know it too, explaining why God has not offered Satan any mercy. Satan accepts his own misery and realizes that he brings Hell with him wherever he goes now, as he is the incarnation of Hell, and will be unhappy even in Paradise.
Satan preempts the obvious question of why God doesn’t show mercy to the devils – they haven’t repented. Despair is one of the worst sins, as God offers no forgiveness unless his creature asks for it. Satan gives in to despair here and so condemns himself to eternal Hell, unwilling to repent and still clinging to his pride and doomed fate of suffering.
Finally embracing his fallen state and doom of eternal misery, Satan decides to pursue the only path he perceives as left to him – he will work his hardest to commit evil deeds, and try to pervert God’s goodness. Satan does not realize that as he is having this internal debate, his dark shifts in mood have shown on his face. This reveals him “counterfeit,” as no Cherub would be subject to such inner turmoil. Uriel sees this from afar and realizes that he has been deceived.
Satan accepts his role as the “Adversary” (the meaning of “Satan” in Aramaic). As long as he despairs of forgiveness and refuses to submit to God, the only path left to him is suffering and hate. He then decides to make the most of this and bring others into his suffering if he can, or at least lash out in blind spite against God.
Satan then comes to the border of Paradise, which is surrounded by a high wall of thickets, beyond which are many tall and beautiful fruit trees giving off heavenly odors. Satan leaps easily over the wall like a “prowling wolf” entering a sheep’s pen, or like “lewd hirelings” (paid clergy) climbing into God’s Church. Satan immediately flies to the tallest tree in the center of Eden, the Tree of Life, and he perches atop it in the shape of a cormorant (a sea bird).
Milton throws in a critique of the church of his day – he disapproved of paid clergy as more interested in wealth and earthly vanity than keeping their minds on God. Satan is associated with two predatory animals here, a wolf and a cormorant, as his transformations continue to grow less glorious. The cormorant was seen as a “sinful” animal because of its gluttonous appetite.
Satan looks down on Paradise, the Garden of Eden, and examines its lushness and geography. Next to the Tree of Life is the Tree of Knowledge, “our death.” Milton describes the beautiful flowers, fruits, and trees of Eden, which is more fair than any of the famous gardens of Greek mythology. After surveying “undelighted all delight,” Satan notices two creatures walking upright and appearing more noble than all the other animals. They shine with “The image of their glorious Maker,” beautiful and innocent, the woman submissive to the man. They are naked but without sin or shame, and they walk past Satan hand in hand.
Milton extends all his powers of language to describe the glory of the Paradise that will soon be lost. Many of Milton’s Puritan contemporaries held the human body to be inherently sinful, but Milton asserts the “naked glory” of Adam and Eve, affirming that nakedness was the proper and holy state of humans before they were corrupted by lust and shame. The “protagonists”—Adam and Eve—finally enter.
The humans rest beside a fountain, and they eat fruits and drink from the fountain. Wild animals play innocently around them, and predators like lions and bears are tame and vegetarian. The sun begins to set and Satan is speechless at the beauty and innocence of these creatures, but then he begins an inner monologue, as he is once more filled with great turmoil.
Milton himself advocated a vegetarian diet, and he expands on this by portraying the pre-Fallen world as entirely vegetarian. Thus Adam and Eve’s sin also changed the nature of all animals, so that many became predators. Humans are also shown as the rightful masters of the animals, who act friendly and tame.
Satan experiences new grief and envy, and he feels he could have loved these humans. He seems to regret the suffering he is about to cause them, but he feels again that he has no choice, and is condemned by damnation to do evil. He then flies down from the tree to the ground and takes on different shapes of animals, gradually approaching the human pair.
Satan grows more distraught and less reasonable as the poem progresses. He is genuinely moved by the beauty and innocence of Paradise and Adam and Eve, but he purposefully overcomes his better nature and continues in his futile crusade of hate.
As Satan approaches, the man, whose name is Adam, speaks to the woman, Eve. Adam says that they should praise God for their bounty and happiness, and not complain about the easy work they have to do tending to the garden. He says they must remain obedient, as God has given them many blessings, and dominion over all the Earth, and has only forbidden one thing: they are not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, as it will cause their death. Adam does not know what death is, but thinks it is “Some dreadful thing no doubt.”
The forbidden tree is first introduced and immediately associated with Adam and Eve’s lack of knowledge. Again innocence is associated with ignorance, as Adam states God’s command and then admits his own ignorance of what kind of punishment “death” is. They are supposed to be content with God’s command and not try to learn more than he has decreed.
Eve agrees with Adam, and praises him as her superior. She then describes her first memories of existence. She came to life as if waking from a sleep “under a shade of flow’rs,” immediately “wond’ring where / And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.” She followed a stream to its source at a clear lake, and looked into the water. Eve saw her reflection in the pool and was entranced by its beauty. She says she would still be trapped there had not a mysterious voice spoken to her and told her that the image was her own reflection.
Milton begins to express his ideas about women, which generally reflect those of his time and culture. For him, women are inherently inferior to men and should “submit” to them. This passage illustrates this in several ways: Eve awakens in the shade, separated from God’s light, and she immediately becomes entranced by her reflection. This shows that she is easily distracted by vain surfaces, and also that she herself is a “reflection” of Adam – Adam was made in God’s image, while Eve was made in Adam’s image.
The voice then told Eve to leave her reflection, and she obeyed. She found Adam under a “platan” tree, and at first thought him “less fair” than herself and so wanted to return to her reflection, but Adam called to her. He explained that she was created out of his flesh and bone, and that they were meant to be together. He then took Eve’s hand and she yielded to him, from then on acknowledging “How beauty is excelled by manly grace / And wisdom, which alone is truly fair.”
Eve immediately obeys an invisible voice, foreshadowing how she will later be swayed by Satan’s suggestions. In Genesis, Eve is created out of Adam’s rib, and is therefore less close to God than Adam is. Eve reflects Milton’s (seemingly misogynistic) sentiments by admitting that she is inferior to Adam and submitting to his call.
Eve finishes her speech and she and Adam embrace and kiss. Satan looks away in envy but then is strengthened in his resolve, as it seems unfair that they should have such joy while he is condemned to Hell. He notes God’s commandment against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and decides that this is his opportunity to corrupt Adam and Eve. If they can be persuaded to break God’s rule for the sake of gaining knowledge or power, then they will surely fall. Satan then leaves Adam and Eve, deciding to hide himself and try to learn more information from other angels that might be about.
Milton portrays Adam and Eve’s relationship as ideal love and marriage, where the woman submits to the man who loves and cares for her. The man communes directly with God, while the woman communes with God through the man. Satan devises the plan that becomes the central conflict of the book, and the “original sin” that causes the fall of humanity.
Meanwhile Uriel flies up to the stony gates of Eden where Gabriel, the chief angelic guard, sits watching other angels exercising at “heroic games.” Uriel tells Gabriel about the spirit he let into Eden, and the shape-changing he witnessed. He suspects it might be one of the fallen angels. Gabriel promises to discover the spirit by morning if it is still in Eden. Uriel then returns to his post.
Even during peacetime, Milton’s Heaven has a martial nature that emphasizes order and hierarchy above all else. The angels entertain themselves with “heroic games,” and they are naturally arranged into orders of both proximity to God’s light and military rank.
Evening comes to Eden and Adam and Eve retire to their leafy bower, as they must wake at dawn to work at pruning and manuring the garden. Their bower is covered with flowers of heavenly color and aroma. Before entering they pray to God, praising his glory and thanking him for their happiness. They then enter the bower and have sex.
Milton critiques the elaborate rituals of the Catholic and Anglican churches by showing Adam and Eve’s worship as spontaneous and unstructured. Milton preferred a personal relationship with God and an independence of mind, rather than strict adherence to ritual and dogma.
Milton immediately defends this scene by declaring that Adam and Eve could have sex without sin, as the Fall had not corrupted their natures with lust yet. For them sex is a pure act of love, obeying God’s command to populate the earth. Milton further states that only “our destroyer” would condemn sex as inherently evil.
Unlike most Puritans (and other Christians), Milton did not see sex as inherently sinful. Here he shows it as both pure and holy in its pre-Fallen state, a proper expression of marital love and due obedience to God’s command to “be fruitful.”
Night falls and Adam and Eve fall asleep, and Milton both blesses and laments their happy state, which will not last much longer. Meanwhile Gabriel sends his angels to scour Paradise and look for Satan. Two of them, Ithuriel and Zephon, find Satan in the shape of a toad, whispering evil thoughts into Eve’s ear while she sleeps, hoping to corrupt her dreams. The angels catch Satan and force him to return to his true shape.
Milton follows the epic tradition by using “apostrophe” (breaking off the narrative to address someone or something in the second person). Satan assumes his lowliest shape yet, a toad, as he begins his attempts to corrupt Adam and Eve. He begins with Eve, the weaker of the two.
Ithuriel and Zephon don’t recognize Satan at first, which wounds Satan’s pride, and he mocks them as lesser angels. Zephon then scornfully tells Satan that his heavenly brightness has been so dimmed by evil that he is now unrecognizable. Satan hears this and sees the beauty of the unfallen angels and again laments his current state, but then he demands to be brought to their leader. The angels bring him to Gabriel.
Part of the nature and result of Satan’s disobedience is his physical appearance. In God’s hierarchy everything remains in its rightful position, never reaching too high or stooping too low. In changing shape and appearance Satan shows the effects of revolting against this order, but with this change comes a loss of power.
Gabriel recognizes Satan and confronts him, asking why he left Hell and entered Eden, and is now disturbing Eve’s dreams. Satan first feigns innocence, claiming merely that he tried to lessen his pain by leaving Hell, but Gabriel asks why he came alone, implying that he was the first to flee pain of all the rebel angels. Satan’s pride is stung and he describes the dangers he braved in flying through the abyss, hoping to find a new home on Earth.
Milton associates goodness with power, as Satan is immediately jealous of the unfallen angels and their brightness and strength. It is Satan’s evil, not his defeat, that robs him of his greatness, as all life and brightness comes from God, and Satan separated himself from God with disobedience.
Gabriel calls Satan a liar and laments how far the once-great Archangel has fallen. He threatens to drag Satan back to Hell and seal him there. This enrages Satan, and he becomes huge and terrible in appearance. The angels turn “fiery red” and prepare for battle, which might have destroyed Paradise or even the whole mortal universe in its fierceness, but God halts the conflict by placing a sign of Golden Scales in the sky.
Gabriel seems to have greater “knowledge” of evil than Uriel, as he sees through Satan’s lies and self-aggrandizement. The personification of the good angels allows Milton to add some conflict to the side of God’s omnipotence, as the angels can be stung by Satan’s insults or tricked by him in a way that God cannot.
Gabriel points to the Golden Scales, with which God ponders the outcomes of all events. On one side is the result of Satan staying and fighting, and on the other side is the result of Satan running away. The fighting side flies up, showing its emptiness and worthlessness, and Satan accepts this judgment as the truth. He recognizes that he could not be victorious, so he flies away.
The Scales symbolize God’s supreme power over all the universe, including the lives of both Satan and Gabriel and all the actions occurring everywhere at once. Satan seems to recognize God’s supremacy now, as he flees according to his inevitable fate. Once he tried to do battle with the omnipotent God, but now he only lashes out in spite against him – and even then he can only do harm when God allows it.