Paradise Lost: Book 8
Adam continues to question Raphael, begging to know about the celestial motions he sees in the skies. At this point, Eve has had enough and excuses herself. She will hear it all from her husband later. The poet speaks of her “goddess like demeanor.”
Raphael reminds Adam that it is good to read the Book of Nature in order to glorify God, but he should not get confused by different intellectual theories—whether the earth is the center of the universe, for instance. Be “lowly wise” and only know what concerns you, he advises.
Then Adam relates his life to Raphael, his birth as he woke up on the grass like an innocent child, full of joy, though he did not know who he was. In a dream God tells him who he is and shows him around paradise, particularly mentioning the forbidden tree. Then, God gives him dominion over all the earth, and the creatures must go to Adam to be named. Adam understands the nature of each creature as he names it.
Adam discusses his solitude with God. He wants fellowship. God says He is self-sufficient, but it is appropriate that Adam wants a mate, since the human race will thus be propagated. God will give him “his other self.” Even though asleep when God removes his rib and creates Eve, he sees it happen by internal sight.
Adam is delighted and describes his marriage: they are one flesh, one heart, one soul. Adam is so enchanted by Eve that Raphael warns him against idolatry. The angel discusses the nature of true love; it is not passion, it has its seat in Reason and refines the soul. This sort of love helps to raise the soul to God.
Adam asks if the angels love, and Raphael replies that when spirits embrace, they mix totally, union of pure with pure. The main focus, Raphael warns, is to love God. Love God and keep His commandments and be blessed. Humans have free will and require no outward aid to stand fast.
This book puts humans in an exalted position as the lords of creation. In these days of environmental abuse, such ideas may seem backward, but the images conveyed by the poem show the first parents to be stewards of the Garden. They are the bridge of divine love to all creatures. Adam’s naming the animals is significant, for one cannot truly name without knowing the nature of something. This connects him to all the creatures in an intimate way.
The warnings multiply the closer we get to the event of the fall. Raphael tries to keep Adam’s mind from wandering (his desire for knowledge), and his emotions from wandering (Eve). These two potential dangers will be important in the next book, as they are the weak points that Satan can attack.
Adam is overwhelmed by his love for Eve, to the point where he could lose his judgment. Raphael tells him he needs more self-esteem. This charming dialogue between the innocent Adam and the angel fleshes out the character of Adam and endears him to the reader. He is the more human, not so perfect that we cannot understand his being swayed by love.
The discussion on love brings up the concept of the Ladder of Love. This was popular in Renaissance literature. Love that stems from passion leads the soul downward. Love that stems from the higher faculty, Reason, can take the soul, step by step upwards to perfection. In this way, human love can be divine.