Summary: Book VIII

After Raphael finishes the story of creation, Adam asks him about the motions of the stars, sun, and planets. Eve decides to leave them alone to converse, not because she is bored or unable to grasp the discussion, but because she prefers to hear about the conversation afterward from Adam. Adam assumes from his observations that the other planets orbit the earth, but Raphael explains how it is possible (though not certain) that it only appears this way because of the turning of the Earth on its axis. Raphael mentions to Adam that it does not matter whether the Earth moves or the universe moves around the Earth. Such broad questions often have no possible answers, he explains, because God does not intend human beings to comprehend everything about his creation. Furthermore, Raphael warns Adam that he should be satisfied with the knowledge that God has made available and to resist the urge to gain further understanding outside of the limits he has set.

After listening to Raphael, Adam tells him what he knows about his own creation. He remembers first awakening to consciousness, wondering who and where he was. He quickly realized that he could walk, run, jump, and even speak. Then God came to him and explained how and why he was created, giving him dominion over all the rest of creation, and asking in return only that he not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam surveyed his environment and met the animals of Earth in pairs of two. He had never seen these creatures before, but when God asked him to name the animals, he realized that he already knew each of their names, as God had given him this knowledge beforehand. Adam explains that he soon longed for a companion more equal to himself than the animals, a person with whom he could share his thoughts. To fulfill Adam’s desire, God created Eve from a rib in Adam’s side while he slept. Adam remembers this fact because God allowed his mind to remain aware of what was happening even while he slept. Upon seeing Eve, Adam fell instantly in love.

Raphael talks to Adam about love, recommending that he refrain from carnal passion and search for a pure love that rejuvenates and expands his mind and body. Yet Adam is worried about his physical attraction to Eve, since she is noticeably less pure than he. Raphael says that while Eve is more beautiful on the outside, she is less worthy than Adam on the inside. Her spirituality is weaker than Adam’s, her intellect is slightly less developed, and her vanity is a serious weakness. Raphael tells Adam that his love for Eve must transcend her sexual attractiveness. Adam responds by admitting his physical attraction to Eve while asserting that his love comes from her emotional and spiritual companionship. Raphael reiterates to Adam the danger that he faces with Eve and the need for both of them to avoid Satan’s temptations. Afterward, Raphael takes his leave to return to Heaven and Adam goes to sleep.

Analysis: Book VIII

Adam’s memory of first awakening to consciousness presents significant differences from Eve’s first memories, which we see in Book IV. Whereas Eve awakens in shade, Adam does so in broad sunlight —“happy Light,” as he calls it (VIII.285). Eve is quickly drawn in by reflections and images, coming to desire an illusion of herself, and only gradually drawn by God toward Adam and the wisdom represented by the platan tree. Adam, in contrast, looks toward the sky and toward God immediately upon waking up. He quickly discovers that he knows the true names of things, so he is not deceived by mere appearances and shadows. God appears to him as a visible presence rather than merely a voice, and entrusts Adam with his commandments, all of which suggests that Adam is closer to God and to the truth than Eve. When God asks Adam why he wants a companion, given that God himself is solitary and without peer, Adam shows that he understands his own nature, arguing that he is deficient and defective, unlike God.

Read more about light and dark as a motif.

Adam’s account of his first meeting with Eve is somewhat different from the version Eve gives in Book IV. There, Eve says that she turned away from Adam at first because he did not seem as attractive as her own reflection. Although Adam has heard Eve’s explanation, in his explanation to Raphael he says that her turning away from him seemed to him to be intentionally designed to make her more attractive to him (whether the intention was Eve’s or God’s), as it is natural for him to pursue her rather than the other way around. This discrepancy could point to Adam’s tendency to deceive himself where Eve is concerned.

Adam and Raphael’s description of Eve illustrates Milton’s view of the inequality of men and women. Eve’s decision to leave Raphael and Adam alone, preferring to hear the conversation from Adam afterward, demonstrates her submission to Adam and her reluctance to converse with the angel herself. We get the sense that she withdraws because she acknowledges her place in God’s hierarchy. Moreover, Milton tells us that she prefers to hear the story mingled with Adam’s caresses, indicating that intellectual stimulation by itself is not sufficient for her. Her absence allows Adam and Raphael to discuss her openly, but it also implies Milton’s belief that women are either uninterested or mentally ill-equipped for intellectual pursuits. Whatever the reason, Eve’s lack of knowledge or engagement with reason allows her to remain ignorant to the dangers that lie ahead for her and Adam.

Read an important quote that provides insight into Milton’s view of gender roles.

Raphael’s account of our solar system displays Milton’s knowledge of the conflicting scientific theories and beliefs of his time. Milton was well aware that the organization of the universe was hotly disputed. Some astronomers thought that the universe revolved around the Earth, and others, including Milton’s contemporary Galileo (to whom he alludes by name in Book I), felt that the Earth revolved around the sun. While Galileo’s theory was widely denounced by religious authorities, Milton does not take either side of the issue in Paradise Lost, having Raphael assert that the debate is unimportant because it concerns matters that do not pertain to humankind’s relationship with God.

Read more about the geography of the universe as a motif.

Similarly, Raphael’s message to Adam about the limits of human knowledge functions as a warning to scientists in Milton’s time. Many believed that science could yield incorrect and misleading answers to questions about the universe. Milton argues that humankind should resist making theories about the universe and other incomprehensible things, and focus rather on pragmatic issues of their daily spiritual lives. Milton believed in the necessity of scientific questionings and pursuits, but he also believed that the pursuit of truth through science would yield dangerous results. Truth, according to Milton, should only be pursued through faith and religion; humans should tend to their more Earthly practical matters and have faith that God will manage the metaphysical matters of the universe.