Milton’s Paradise Lost has been praised since its edition as being the greatest English epic of all time, most stunningly in its authors realistic depiction of the fabled parents of humanity, Adam and Eve. How Milton chose to portray the original mother and father has been a focus of much criticism- especially with contemporary readers. One of the main subjects of these comments is in reference to Eve, who, according to many, is a trivial character that is rather naïve, juvenile, and most definitely inferior to her mate. Nonetheless, which many do not recognize is that, surprisingly, after the fateful Fall, she becomes a much more evolved character. When Eve is introduced to the storyline of ...view middle of the document...
Milton discusses the scene through Eve and she is the one who describes what goes on. He does this because the scene happens in the past and therefore he uses her to discuss it rather than confusing the reader with a flashback type scene. He also has Eve relate what happened to prove that Eve must indeed be beautiful if she herself was taken by her looks as she discusses how she “pined with vain desire” (IV, 466) for the image of her reflection. In fact, Eve’s beauty is discussed repeatedly. For example, when Satan first sees the human couple, he is overtaken by Eve’s “beauty and submissive charms” (IV, 498). Milton even goes so far to stress her beauty and charms as to have her stun Satan himself with it. Actually, as Satan is on his mission to seduce Eve into eating the apple, her beauty overtakes him.
If chance with nymphlike step fair virgin pass,
What pleasing seemed, for her now pleases more,
She most, and in her looks sums all delight;
Such pleasure took the Serpent to behold
This flowery plant, the sweet recess of Eve
Thus early, thus alone; her heavenly form
Angelic, but more soft and feminine,
Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action, overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought.
That space the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good, of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge.
Thus Milton creates an Eve that is so lovely that even the antagonist of the story temporarily forgets his cause to corrupt her upon sight of such beauty. She is called “nymphlike” and this is most definitely not the first time that Milton uses allusions to Greek and Roman mythology in the poem- such as calling her a “wood-nymph light,/ Oread or Dryad, or Delia’s self…” (IX, 386-387). At the time that the epic was written such stories were familiar to the average reader so a description of Eve alluding to these figures would create a very clear image of Eve in the mind of the reader of the time that the epic was written. Milton even stresses the irony of the entire situation by specifically naming Satan as the Evil One which strengthens the fact that the ultimate evil presence is for a moment, not so evil, just by looking at a woman so beautiful that he forgets his purpose- ironically making him in this seem more human. Adam, too, despite the fact that he spends every waking moment with her and sees her constantly, still is overtaken by her beauty and is loathe to part with her. Even while she convinces him to allow for the two of them to part in order for a more efficient work scheme, “he long with ardent looks his eyes pursued/ Delighted, but desiring more her stay (IX, 397-398). The majority of the description of Eve, however, is not through any character but rather through Milton with the parts whereupon he relates her to a nymph and Dryad as examples of his narrative description of her...