Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Book 5
As I was saying, Paradise Lost has been on my shelf for-practically-ever and I picked it up when I saw Professor Roger’s course on Milton’s poetry on Academic Earth.  I have not quite finished the course yet, but I will have plenty to say about that, too.

The most famous line in the poem belongs to Satan:  “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n”.  And Satan makes some convincing arguments until he is just plain mean to my friend, Eve.  Poor Eve.

I am not a real feminist, mostly because the world has been pretty good to me and even the Old Boys’ Club lets me play in the Clubhouse from time to time.  But my closet feminist self is the true and honest reason that I cannot embrace organized religion and it is from that perspective, (egged on by Professor Rogers) that I was attacking this piece.

Rogers says that Eve is “doctrinally wrong” in Paradise Lost, but that she asks some really good questions.  Although, it can be argued that asking any questions while you are living in Eden is by its nature doctrinally wrong. 

Eve is submissive to Adam, and apparently of her own free will.  But one of the great things that Milton does is in challenging the very concept of Free Will as it stands opposed to Predestination.  The old philosophical question – “If God knows it is going to happen, why doesn’t he stop it?”  blahblahblah.

Skip to the part of the text that really hit me.  Eve wakes up one day and suggests to Adam that he go work in one part of the garden and she will work in another part of the garden.  Splitting up for the day so they can get some actual work done.  (Apparently Dude can’t keep his eyes off her or something.)  Adam doesn’t want to do that, saying that the bad guy is out there ready to be bad and they are safer together.  Eve’s counterpoint (a great series of lines) is that if they have to live in fear of the Baddie, they can hardly call it Paradise.  It ends with:

“Frail is our happiness if this be so,
And Eden were no Eden thus exposed.”
People, I about came out of my chair at that one.  Because while Eve was actually talking about fear of the Baddie, there is also truth to the fact that her de facto subservience to Adam was bugging her.   (You really get to that after she eats the apple.)  Professor Rogers noted that any person that is the low guy on the totem pole is going to wish/plan/plot/hope to become equal, or even superior to the other guy.  Which led me to the conclusion that Eden wasn’t actually Paradise to Eve in the first place.  So why shouldn’t she disobey the one stupid rule of the Guy that created the Order to the Universe that has made her inferior?
(waits for the bolt of lightning)
(waiting….)
(waiting…)
The old school theology says that God knew she was inferior because He knew she was going to eat the apple so he created the sexual hierarchy for that reason.  Sorry, but I don’t buy that.
Anyway.  I think I am going to have to read Paradise Regained.

One thought on “Paradise Lost, by John Milton

  1. Sandrine says:

    And here's what the completely out of the closet feminist Wollstonecraft says about Milton's 'Unargued I obey; so God ordains; God is thy law, thou mine':'These are exactly the arguments that I have used with children; but I have added, your reason is now gaining strength, and, till it arrives at some degree of maturity, you must look up to me for advice – then you ought to think, and only rely on God.'Take that, Milton!

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