Paradise Lost: Book 4
Satan alights on earth and finally, the full realization of his guilt comes home to him in a magnificent soliloquy of envy at the beauty of paradise. Now he knows what he has lost, for Eden is like heaven. Satan punishes himself with “troubl’d thoughts” from “the Hell within him, for within him Hell he brings.” Satan admits that pride and ambition have been his downfall, that God has not oppressed him. God is just, he sees, and yet it does him no good, since he freely chooses his own fate. Since he is unable to repent, he goes ahead with his plan of revenge.
Satan perches on the Tree of Life devising death for humans. He sees the far reaches of paradise with its four rivers, fields, trees, and nectar bearing plants, fruits, and flowers. Even the rose has no thorn. Then he spies Adam and Eve , as beautiful as angels. Satan is jealous of their “Divine resemblance.” He disguises himself so he may overhear them.
Adam explains the taboo to Eve, that they must never taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or they will die. This is the sole prohibition and sign of obedience to God. Eve agrees, telling Adam about the day of her birth and her search for the other part of her soul. When she was led to Adam, she knew him for her “other half.” They retire to their bower after nuptial rites.
Satan is envious of their love but delighted to learn the secret about the prohibition. He does not understand why God wants them to be ignorant, but he decides to excite their minds for knowledge. That night, in the form of a toad, he squats at Eve’s ear as she sleeps and sends an evil dream. The guardian angels Ithuriel and Zephon find the toad and touching it with a spear force Satan to appear in his own shape.
They take Satan to Gabriel, the Archangel in charge of the Garden. Satan, rebellious and contemptuous, charges the unfallen angels with ignorance, since they only know good and not evil. Gabriel says, “Well, who is it that is in prison, and still trying to escape punishment?”
Satan glorifies his experience of evil as though his daring is greater than angelic virtue, but Gabriel knows Satan is a liar. The two are on the verge of a fight, but Gabriel points out a sign in heaven: the stars favor him. Thus, Satan flees into the night.
This book depicts the life of Adam and Eve before the fall. They are soul mates, contented, knowing no want. Milton glorifies the innocence of their love (“Hail wedded Love, mysterious Law”). They have only one taboo to avoid.
The two trees in the Garden of Eden are symbolic of two different kinds of knowledge, two paths open to humans: they can take the way of heaven or hell, like Satan, because they have free will. The Tree of Life is “the pledge of immortality,” the way of obedience or union with God. It is a copy of the tree of eternal life in heaven. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the tree of death because it is the knowledge gained through experience alone, cut off from God.
Satan wants humans to taste the fruit of experience in the world of time that results in death, as he has done. Although Satan will not physically die, he is doomed to a spiritual death that goes on and on, since he has no physical body.
Humans have the possibility of salvation even if they fall, as we have been told ahead of time, so that we understand God’s mercy. It is tempting to subscribe to Satan’s view of God as a mere tyrant who makes rules. The wisdom of God’s prohibition of the false fruit only dawns gradually on us as the story unfolds.
Milton builds suspense in this book, even though the audience knows the outcome. We are very interested to see how it is Adam and Eve could make a mistake and choose suffering. We go back to the epic question in the beginning. How did “Man’s first Disobedience” happen?
The answer, as we know, is through the villain, Satan. By now we are thoroughly familiar with Satan’s false reasoning. He equates “obedience” with “ignorance” or subjugation. If you do not know evil, he taunts the angels, you do not know good.