Paradise Lost


Book X

Summary Book X

The devils’ punishment to live as snakes forever tempted by fruit on a glorious tree echoes Satan’s temptation of Eve. Now they must forever suffer the pains of desire without ever having hope of attaining their wishes, a punishment befitting their crime. To have the devils frozen in a state of perpetual desire and unattainable satisfaction is fit for a group of evildoers who continue to battle God through their disobedience.

Milton uses the concept of typology—the Christian belief that Old Testament characters symbolize and predict New Testament characters—to demonstrate the intimate relationship between the fall of humankind and the redemption of humankind. This relationship between the fall and the resurrection forms the base of the Christian interpretation of the Bible. Milton considers Mary, the mother of the Son (Jesus), to be the “second Eve.” As Sin and Death came into the world through Eve, the Son would conquer Sin and Death through Mary. Likewise, Milton considers Jesus to be a “second Adam” who corrects Adam and Eve’s disobedience through his resurrection. Through these comparisons between Eve and Mary, and Adam and Jesus, the fall and the resurrection become intertwined. The fall is the cause of human history; the resurrection is the result of human history.

Although Adam and Eve are ailing at the end of Book IX, they take action in Book X and separate their fate from Satan’s fate. Satan, as Milton shows, cannot allow himself to repent. His damnation is permanent since his disobedience comes from within and without repentance. On the other hand, humankind’s disobedience comes from the temptation of another. This idea helps to explain Adam and Eve’s actions and subsequent punishment at the end of Book X. Realizing the terrible consequences of their actions, they come dangerously close to rationalizing suicide, but Adam decides to beg God for forgiveness—the only right answer, in Milton’s opinion. Though the coming of the Son and the salvation of humankind had already been foretold, the couple’s decision to repent is crucial in God’s willingness to forgive them. God will show mercy when asked, but as we see with Satan, there can be no mercy without repentance. In one of the most important quotations in Paradise Lost, Milton poetically demonstrates the importance of Adam and Eve’s decision in the last several lines of Book X. Adam explains how their repentance and prayer will occur, and then as they pray, Milton duplicates Adam’s explanation as the actual action of their prayer. As Adam explains to Eve:

What better can we do, than to the place
Repairing where he judg’d us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground. . .

This moment of prayer is crucial because now humankind will not all go the way of Satan, because man produces what the devil could not: true sorrow and regret.

Milton gives Eve the ability to argue persuasively to Adam, showing her intelligence and talents after all. Eve displays a new humility and grace when she repents after the fall. Her strength lies in her ability to relate her feelings to Adam, feelings that Adam shares. Eve’s contemplation of suicide is a sign of weakness, but after Eve’s moving speech, Adam is able to help see—and to help her see—why they should not commit suicide. As they lose hope of Paradise, they witness the hope of their race: God’s Son, Jesus. It is this hope that prevents the couple from taking their own lives when they realize the extent of their punishment. They choose hope over despair. Milton resolves their distinguished differences through a display of unity: Eve’s loving and emotional arguments to stay together and Adam’s rational argument to repent help them begin to save humankind together. Their similarities and teamwork, not their differences and occasional parity, allow them to obey reason and survive.