Paradise Lost Week 4

I think knowledge is a bit of a problem in Paradise Lost.  I mean, we know it is – eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil resulted in Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the general downfall of all humanity.  Y’know, casual.  What interests me, however, is that we are never told the exact nature of the this forbidden knowledge.  Some have postulated that the fruit was actually carnal knowledge.  Evidence for this can be found in the lust that consumed Adam and Eve after they ate from it.  However, we know for a fact (vis a vis the poem) that the first two humans had sex before eating from the tree. We know, thanks to Raphael, that even angels have sex.  So what exactly was so carnal, so forbidden, about the knowledge of the tree?  We know that Adam and Eve became embarrassed and ashamed of their nakedness after eating from the tree, and that they began to find fault with each other.  Maybe this knowledge is simply an awareness of their bodies and their faults.  Leonard’s essay discusses the difference in knowledge between Adam and Satan, especially each individual’s questions about creation.  He writes: “The purity of Adam’s prelapsarian request emerges when we compare it with Satan’s very different way of asking about Creation” (138), which establishes a distinction between the two entities and extrapolates based on their personalities from there.  Leonard continues by asserting that Adam’s form of inquiry is acceptable because he does not question God’s will, he only questions what currently exists around him.  Satan, on the other hand, directly questions and, ultimately, defies God.  The fruit, then, might be a stand in for this very questioning or, if we take this claim a step further, a need to rebel.  Could it be that the knowledge that was so forbidden to Adam and Eve was really the will, the ability to question God?  This would certainly support a reading of Milton’s God as tyrannical; this lends even more credence to the claim that Satan can be read as the hero of Paradise Lost.  He did, after all, give humans the ability to question.  Were Adam and Even merely mindless robots before the fall?

One thought on “Paradise Lost Week 4

  1. I don’t know if Adam and Eve were simply mindless robots before the fall because they eventually did decide to question God, something they wouldn’t have done had they been robots. This goes back to our conversation of Satan, in the form of a serpent (tazmanian devil style) coercing Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. His argument sounds like Leonard’s; how do we know what God’s intentions really are and/or if they are good or not?

    Towards the end of book XII, Adam tells Michael that he is happy that so much good could come from his and Eve’s acts of sin. This concept, known as the fortunate fall (or in the original Latin dialect, Felix Culpa), which describes how a series of miserable events can lead to a happier or more beneficial ending. Now that humankind is exposed to the terrible things that Michael shows Adam such as death and pain, they can also redeem themselves through salvation and living a virtuous life, devoting themselves to God. I emphasize that last part, devoting themselves to God. So what I wonder, is if God, our all-knowing, all-powerful figure in this epic poem ends up at the result that humankind can only be saved by devoting themselves to him, did he know that this would be the result all along? Did God pull the ultimate reverse psychology on Adam and Eve by telling them that the one thing they absolutely cannot do is eat that forbidden fruit? We all know, when Mom and Dad say, “Gregory, do not do X,” there’s nothing more that Greg wants to do than X. Like Colin’s possible reading that God is tyrannical, I think this would also prove that point, if true, that he would use Adam and Eve as pawns in such a way. Were they pawns in God’s plan? Ask them and they would say they are King and Queen, but upon looking at the story objectively, my question is whether or not they actually were pawns in God’s greater plan.

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