23 Mar 2015
Paradise Lost's Adam is a rational, clever and trustworthy character who has an amazing rapport with the highest power, God. It can even be argued that before he fell, his was the epitome of humanity, as perfect a human as ever existed. He shares this trait with Eve who is the most perfect and complete woman. This view has been reciprocated by many religious denominations but each has interpreted it in their own unique ways; from Calvinists to puritans to Milton each has interpreted the story of Genesis in their own unique way. Like Adam who was perfect, to the belief that eve was flawed, each has built their own mythos around the story of the genesis of mankind.
The Adam represented in Milton's Paradise Lost is an exceedingly rational being, and can understand greatly sophisticated and complex ideas nearly instantaneously. However this perfection hides several deep and critical flaws present within his character. His character and insight is demonstrated when after observing Raphael's descent into Eden, Adam orders eve to, "go with speed, / And what thy stores contain, bring forth and pour / Abundance, fit to honor and receive / Our Heav'nly stranger" (V, 313-316). To which Eve answers, "Adam, earth's hallowed mould, / Of God inspir'd, small store will serve, where store, / All seasons, ripe for use hangs on the stalk" (V, 321-323). These word which at first seem stiff and of an overly formal method, nonetheless helps reveal the relationship of Adam and Eve. Adam is in charge, but his request for Eve to prepare a meal is not in any way dismissive. She understands that and her response, is in accord with that message. This transitory conversation is not that of a master and servant but of two people who hold themselves in equal regard. His relationship with Eve is not the only conversation between equals, as he also talks with Raphael as an equal. He converses with the archangel Raphael as an equal both, socially in his standing, and intellectually in his ability to clearly understand the meanings behind the Raphael's words. However this ends after Adam's fall from the grace of god. After his fall Adam loses his pure intellect and his rationality leading him to brash and increasingly non-rational actions, stripping him of his ability to converse with the angels as an equal. Adam's greatest flaw is his unequivocal love for his wife Eve. He falls I love merely upon seeing her for the first, and even confesses to the archangel Raphael that his attraction is nigh overwhelming. Though warned by Raphael to keep his dangerous emotions in check he completely disregards Raphael's earnest urgings. After Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, quickly devours a fruit from the same tree in order to prevent him from being separated from her even momentarily. Eve has become an indispensable companion in his life and he will do anything in order to prevent himself from being separated from his only love. His other major weakness is his insatiable curiosity. He manipulates the angel Raphael to extract more information from him,
"To whom the Patriarch of mankind repli'd, /O favourable spirit, propitious guest, /Well hast thou taught the way that might direct /Our knowledge, and the scale of Nature set /From center to circumference, whereon/ In contemplation of created things /By steps we may ascend to God. But say, /What meant that caution joind, if ye be found Obedient? Can we want obedience then to him, or possibly his love desert that formd us from the dust, and plac'd us here full to the utmost measure of what bliss Human desires can seek or apprehend?"(Book V 506-518)
This suggests a growing attraction to temptation, but like his relationship with Eve this temptation is easily ignored. It is only through Eve that his temptations become truly unavoidable.
Created to be Adam's mate, Eve can be considered inferior to Adam, but only by a very slight margin. She surpasses Adam only in her beauty. Like the mortal narcissus, she falls in love with her own reflection stilled and entranced by her own beauty. In an ironical sense her beauty her greatest strength is also her greatest flaw. She is easily manipulated by Satan when she is complimented on both her beauty and goodness. But even so it is not her beauty that is tested but her intelligence and spiritual purity. Though she is by no means unintelligent she lacks the ambition and drive to learn more, content to leave all her decisions to Adam as was ordained by God. As a result, she does not advance in either intelligence or in knowledge but remains mostly static, although by the end of the poem she begins to show the seeds of wisdom. Her lack of learning is mostly due to her absence from Raphael's conversations with Adam in Books V, VI, and VII, and her not experiencing Raphael's visions in Books XI and XII. She feels that it is not her place to be present in this discussions but is content to learn from Adam as a third-party. However, Milton is quick to defend her choice as, "Yet went she not, as not with such discourse / Delighted, or not capable of her ear / Of what was high: such pleasures she reserv'd, / Adam relating, she sole Auditress" (VIII, 48-51). The only time that she deviates from her mainly passive role, it results in the punishing fall of man. Even so eve does occasionally question Adam's choices and ideas. In Book IX, her questioning does lead to temptation, Eve states at the start of Book IX that they can do more work if they work separately. Adam feeling that as Eve was tricked once before Satan when she was alone, resists this idea and refuses to be separated from Eve once more lest she fall once more into temptation. However due to the love he feels for Eve he allows himself to be separated in order to please Eve. This is possibly due only to his love and is not an exercise of his reasonable capabilities. On the other hand, Eve won her argument by cleverly utilizing her few advantages over Adam. Though through her actions she sets herself up to fail by that only together can they resist temptation. However, her character is quite different from the views held by other religious denomination.
This fits with the Genesis description that her one major flaw is her curiosity and vanity. She suffers from a need to know that is her one major flaw even in Genesis she cares for him being as she is made to make him happy. Adam is also slightly different in that he is not as confident in himself. However, even more importantly, is the distinct lack of available text to be able extrapolated to provide an adequate portrait of both Adam and Eve's general personality. This has not stopped numerous Christian denominations from interpreting her in various fashions. Calvinists believed that Adam was created in such a way he had to sin, predestination.
"Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it--such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings--he accordingly calls "fruits of sin" (Gal 5:19-21), although they are also commonly called "sins" in Scripture, and even by Paul himself."(Calvin,24)
This fits with the general view that it is Adam's inherent depravity that prevents him from being able to resist Eve. He accepts the temptation because he too wants the forbidden and to disobey. (Calvin Chap 11, 30It also fits extremely well with their general view of God as a tyrant. This view was unconsciously shared by many members of the Reformation. This belief was predestination or the belief that whether a person will go to heaven or hell is decided before a person is even born. If this fact is taken in consideration with the saga of Adam and Eve it creates the image of a sadistic god who created Adam and Eve only to cause them to fall. In this way it is a reflection of the general attitude held by many Reformationists is that humanity is in general doomed, a nihilist philosophy which either caused a person to believe they were exceedingly blessed or to despair in their spiritual state.
"Moreover, we say that our pollution is so great, that it can never be washed away save in the fountain of his pure blood. Must not those who are thus addressed conceive a greater horror of sin than if it were said to be wiped off by a sprinkling of good works? If they have any reverence for God, how can they, after being once purified, avoid shuddering at the thought of again wallowing in the mire, and as much as in them lies troubling and polluting the purity of this fountain? "I have washed my feet," (says the believing soul in the Song of Solomon, 5:3), "how shall I defile them?" It is now plain which of the two makes the forgiveness of sins of less value, and derogates from the dignity of justification. They pretend that God is appeased by their frivolous satisfactions; in other words, by mere dross. We maintain that the guilt of sin is too heinous to be so frivolously expiated; that the offense is too grave to be forgiven to such valueless satisfactions; and, therefore, that forgiveness is the prerogative of Christ's blood alone." (Calvin, Chap.16, 4)
This is important in that Milton represents God as an emotionally distant controlling god. He is not available to be loved, but only held in awe. We can never merit this love only accept the free gift. Milton does not make God approachable as are his Adam and Eve. Therefore, Milton's Adam and Eve are not the Calvinistic fallen and depraved, but men, like ourselves who chose error through faults, but are still with much merit.
Throughout time the saga of Adam and Eve has been analyzed and rewoven a multitude of times over the ages Milton's incarnation has earned its pedestal as the supreme mythos of the genesis of mankind, while others have interpreted Adam and eve as chosen of God, the fallen, or as victims of a malevolent god. There is only one thing certain that not much is known of Adam and Eve but much still can be learned from Milton's the relationship between man and woman and the future we can claim.
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