|AUTHOR:||SARAH R. MORRISON|
|TITLE:||The Accommodating Serpent and God's Grace in Paradise Lost|
|SOURCE:||Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 49 no1 173-95 Wint 2009|
In foregrounding the literal-historical reading of the account of the Fall in Genesis, both making the Serpent a real serpent and identifying the Serpent with Satan, and in reading the judgment upon the Serpent typologically as foretelling Christ's victory over Satan, Paradise Lost conforms to the Christian exegetical tradition. Milton's handling of the Serpent in Paradise Lost, however, reveals his acute awareness of the problematic implications of that tradition. The judgment upon the serpent in the account of the Fall in Genesis has, in fact, long presented theologians with what Neil Forsyth terms "an insoluble problem" of exegesis.(FN1) If, as the exegetical tradition offers, the serpent is -- rather than a corrupt and corrupting presence in the Garden -- an unwitting victim and the guilt entirely Satan's, why was the serpent punished? Allegorical readings of the episode of the Fall, in identifying Adam with Reason, Eve with the Senses, and the serpent with Pleasure, sidestep the problem posed by a talking snake; the tradition of reading scripture as a literal-historical account, however, requires an explanation for the snake's ability to speak and some identifiable motivation for its actions. "Genesis," as John Leonard notes, "offers no explanation for the serpent's power to speak."(FN2) Neither does it suggest why the serpent seduces the woman. The identification of Satan as the agent behind the serpent's actions accounts for its ability to speak and provides motivation for the seduction of Eve, but once the exegetical tradition conjoins the identities of the serpent of Genesis and Satan, the justness of the naturalistic serpent's punishment is no longer self-evident.(FN3) As Milton was well aware, an inexplicable and special punishment inflicted upon an innocent animal threatens to impugn God's goodness.
William Kerrigan observes that historically "[a]lmost all the theologians thought that the first punishment, the groveling, was directed solely at the snake species, real snakes, while the next judgment, the enmity, applied to snakes and to Satan, and the last item (the seed of Eve being bruised in the heel and bruising the serpent in the head) referred to Satan alone."(FN4) The typological understanding of the curse upon the serpent embraces the mystery, identifying the "woman's seed" with Jesus, born of a virgin, and the serpent with Satan, and treats, as Forsyth explains, "what came to be called the protevangelion, the verse at Genesis 3.15 about enmity between seed of woman and serpent," as "the first cryptic announcement in the Old Testament of the Christian gospel revealed in the New."(FN5) Even so, the power of the serpent as sign in the Christian exegetical tradition does not so much answer as overshadow troubling questions about the fate of the naturalistic serpent, and critics have suspected Paradise Lost, with its frequent echoes of Genesis 3:15, of a like tactic. Although Leslie Brisman is not alone in wondering why Milton makes repeated "references to snakes... beyond what the story itself necessitates" and "dwells on rather than passes over the difficulty" posed by the equation of the "serpent animal and Satan,"(FN6) the tendency in the scholarship has been to treat Milton's emphasis upon the mystery of the protevangelion as his answer to the troubling questions surrounding the serpent. Milton, however, does not gloss over the problem of the serpent by retreating into typology. The goal to "justifie the wayes of God to men" requires a satisfactory resolution of the problem of the serpent, and Milton much more aggressively than has been recognized meets the challenge to make understandable the curse upon the serpent while navigating tough theological terrain.(FN7) To some extent, he neutralizes the problem of the judgment upon the naturalistic serpent by distinguishing carefully between the pronouncement before Adam and Eve of judgment upon the Serpent and the actual "punishment" inflicted upon the snake species. But, more significantly, while ascribing the standard typological meaning to the curse as it applies to Satan, Milton goes beyond locating accommodated meaning in the curse to depict its pronouncement as an act of accommodation to Adam and Eve's now-tainted view of the Serpent. Paradise Lost repeatedly and forcefully recalls the most troubling aspects of the Serpent's role and punishment and represents these as key elements of God's beneficent strategy of accommodation.
The usefulness of the Serpent in Satan's efforts to corrupt Adam and Eve does not of course end with the events of book 9. The Serpent, hitherto just another of God's creatures, through Satan's actions acquires a terrible significance for Adam and Eve. Injury comes to them in the guise of the naturalistic Serpent, tempting them to distrust God's gifts and question his goodness and love, and their struggle to understand the Serpent's actions shows their vulnerability to despair. Satan's manipulations and abuses of language in Paradise Lost threaten, as Forsyth expresses it, to "take over the power of God's Word,"(FN8) and Satan specifically challenges God for control of the serpent image. But if Satan's challenge to God's power is manifest in the altered significance of the Serpent in Adam and Eve's eyes, Milton shows the beneficent plan of an omniscient God subsuming (in this respect as in others) Satan's demonic plotting. Milton insistently locates the ultimate source of the serpent image's power -- whether in the Judeo-Christian or pagan traditions -- in the Christian God. The classical allusions found throughout Paradise Lost are, as much critical discussion demonstrates, carefully deployed to serve the poem's Christian themes. The sheer abundance of such allusions implicitly asserts that the truths reflected in pagan culture conform in important ways to Christian belief and ultimately derive from the same source. Milton's concern here to show God as in control of the image of the serpent parallels his tracing in Paradise Regained of all literature, philosophy, and art (however altered or debased) to the culture of the ancient Hebrews.(FN9) It is not merely that the rich ambiguousness of the serpent image in pagan mythologies corresponds to its paradoxical significance within Christianity: in Paradise Lost, Milton shows us the Serpent as it first becomes this potent sign (thereby accounting for its forceful appearance in all cultures and times) through the tracing of Adam's and Eve's naive responses to the idea or concept of "serpent" as it begins to acquire for them the complex and contradictory associations already held by readers.
Milton's choices of representation consistently expose the perplexingly indeterminate nature of the Serpent and the inescapable exegetical difficulty of accounting for either an already corrupt prelapsarian serpent placed by God in the Garden or a biblical curse upon an innocent animal. Milton fully exploits the traditional associations with the serpent image. As "the oldest symbol for eternal life and wisdom" as well as "the most ancient phallic symbol," the serpent "shares the ambiguity of all ancient, elementary symbols."(FN10) Across cultures, it suggests sexual potency and fertility as well as sexual transgression; wisdom as well as cunning, deceit, and trickery; rebirth or regeneration as well as death; restorative medicine as well as deadly poison; and beneficent primeval and cosmic forces as well as sin and evil. As Forsyth observes, even within the Christian tradition "the ambiguity of the serpent image is hard to ignore": as directed by God, "Moses fashions and 'lifts up' in the wilderness" a "'brazen serpent'" with powers to heal; and Jesus "liken[s] himself to a serpent and recommend[s] that his followers imitate... snakes."(FN11) Milton everywhere emphasizes the instability of the serpent as sign or image. Confronting readers almost immediately in the poem's opening lines with the image of the satanic serpent or dragon, he makes more difficult the task of thereafter introducing a convincingly as-yet-undefiled naturalistic serpent. As Cherrell Guilfoyle points out, the first reference to Satan terms him "Th' infernal Serpent" (1.34), and, at Satan's first appearance in the poem, he is likened to a sea serpent riding the waves as he "lay/Chain'd on the burning Lake" (1.209-10), "an image taken from Revelation."(FN12) Subsequent references to the naturalistic Serpent in the Garden emphasize its beauty and grace but inject regular reminders of its "fatal guile" (4.349). The ambiguity of the serpent as image is further developed through classical allusion, through the palpable distaste exhibited by Satan at what he regards as his "foul descent" (9.163) as he enters the sleeping Serpent (ambiguous in itself, since the disgust expressed is, after all, Satan's), and through Milton's dramatic rendering of the transformation of Satan and the fallen angels into "ugly Serpents" (10.539), with Satan "still greatest hee the midst,/Now Dragon grown" (10.528-9).(FN13) The phrase "ugly Serpents" seems both a redundancy implying all serpents are ugly and a category distinct from serpents not ugly, or even beautiful. Forsyth asserts that all the serpents in Paradise Lost -- from the Serpent entered by Satan who tempts Eve to "the bottom half of Sin, and that typical Mil tonic list of classical serpents at IX 505-10, from Hermione and Cadmus to various forms of Jupiter" -- are both "terrifying and attractive."(FN14) Leonard examines the way Milton uses "Latinisms" and plays upon divergent English and Latin meanings to highlight the gap between fallen language and "Adamic language."(FN15) In describing the Serpent, Milton throughout employs words such as "sly/Insinuating" (4.347-8), "wilie" (9.91), and "suttle" (9.184) that, whether rooted in Latin or not, are fraught with negative connotations and yet indicate attributes not in themselves necessarily blameworthy. Yet Milton aggressively counters the suggestion of an innate propensity for evil in the Serpent as he does with Eve. Just as Eve almost immediately prior to eating the fruit is described as "yet sinless" (9.659), so the Serpent discovered by Satan "fast sleeping" (9.182) upon the grass is free of guilt: "Not yet in horrid Shade or dismal Den,/Nor nocent yet" (9.185-6). And like Eve, the Serpent is beautiful: "pleasing was his shape,/And lovely, never since of Serpent kind/Lovelier" (9.503-5).
Much has been made of Eve's "affinities with the serpent," as well as with the "Snakie Sorceress" Sin (2.724) and Satan, all of which connections mutually reinforce one another.(FN16) King-Kok Cheung recognizes that Milton exploits "the traditional association between the serpent and Eve" and "persistently intertwines the two in his poem,"(FN17) and critics have argued variously that Eve is strongly tainted or relatively uncontaminated by these associations. The tendency has been to stress the connections between Eve and the satanic -- and phallicized -- Serpent rather than those between Eve and the naturalistic -- and feminized -- Serpent. Wolfgang E. H. Rudat argues that the movement of the Serpent and the descriptive language in the temptation scene in Paradise Lost mimic that of much "Elizabethan and seventeenth-century" erotic poetry and reinforce the identification of Satan with the male sexual member and human sexuality.(FN18) Cheung follows Rudat in insisting on the Serpent's phallicism throughout.(FN19) But because the Serpent (albeit traditionally a phallic symbol and most obviously treated as such in the temptation scene) has previously been feminized, the contrast between the phallic imagery in the temptation scene -- with the Serpent, as described by Forsyth, "sexily upright and appealing as he undulates toward Eve (erect at IX 501)"(FN20) -- and other descriptions of the Serpent's form and movement that emphasize its graceful curves and coiling could thus equally be taken as an indicator that the dark force operating here is at a considerable remove from the natures of both Eve and the Serpent. It is even possible to see the image of the Serpent as rehabilitated in some degree by its association with Eve. When Adam addresses Eve as "thou Serpent" (10.867), Leonard charges him with "a misnaming of her nature."(FN21) It is important to note that Adam is here mistaking the naturalistic Serpent's nature as well. Adam's use of the label "Serpent" to defame Eve reveals his divide at this moment from nature and nature's God as well as from his spouse.
The Serpent is chosen by Satan as a "Fit Vessel" (9.89), suited to his evil purpose, but the elaborate rationale offered for Satan's selection of the Serpent also works to absolve the Serpent of guilt. The "wit and native suttletie" (9.93) already manifest in the Serpent's movements, Satan reasons, will make further tokens of sentience less incongruous and detection less likely (see 9.91-6). The very qualities that guide Satan's choice would seem to place the Serpent higher in the scale of being than other animals. The biblical assertion that God created man in his image had traditionally been understood in two ways. First, as Nicholas R. Jones notes, the physically "erect posture of man" was regarded as "the most significant aspect of the divine resemblance... symbolizing] dominion over the beasts" and "inducing man to look toward heaven"; additionally, "biblical scholars had also often interpreted 'image' in a spiritual or figurative sense, meaning God's gift to man of a 'reasonable and understanding nature.'"(FN22) Jones asserts that "[a] sense of posture and position as significant elements of moral imagery is a major contribution of the Satanic portions of Paradise Lost. If shape is to be a measure of grace, Satan's metamorphoses in the later books are the most obvious indicators of his damnation."(FN23) The postlapsarian naturalistic Serpent no longer upright but prone would similarly appear to now be placed at a further remove from God than legged animals. Yet the Serpent who is described as the "suttlest Beast of all the Field" (9.86) would still seem whether in its fallen or its unfallen state to approach closer to "a 'reasonable and understanding nature'" than do other animals. What is most often explored is the suggestion that the naturalistic Serpent -- despite the text's assertions to the contrary -- is somehow tainted before the Fall. But just as the alternative of a Serpent beautiful and good as are all the other animals is offered by the text, so too are suggestions of the Serpent's special association with divine wisdom and power. Such conflicting signals point throughout to the problem of the serpent.
In Paradise Lost, Milton's exploitation of tensions between the unelaborated Genesis myth, allegorical readings of the Fall, and the foregrounded historical and typological readings of the Genesis story further exposes the exegetical problem posed by the curse upon the naturalistic serpent. Milton's Serpent figures prominently in all levels of narration. Milton incorporates elements of a straightforward literal reading of the Genesis myth, with the Serpent as mere snake, and of an allegorical reading of the biblical account of the Fall into what otherwise seems an aggressively historicized rendering of the Genesis account. Along with a psychologically profound and sexualized Adam and Eve and a thoroughly anthropomorphized Satan, he gives us a detailed naturalistic setting and a convincingly reptilian Serpent.
He dwells almost lovingly on the Serpent's physicality both early and late in the poem, from the time when Satan first observes the "happie pair" Adam and Eve (4.534) surrounded by "all kind/Of living Creatures" (4.286-7), "All Beasts of th' Earth" (4.341), to the temptation scene of book 9. Milton obtrudes the highly allegorical (and snaky) Sin along with Death into this highly naturalistic narrative and recalls the allegorical tradition in his characterization of Adam and Eve who, he suggests, share one soul; his eroticized description of the Serpent unites with these other elements to invoke allegorical readings of the Fall that equate the Serpent with erotic pleasure. But even as the text flirts with allegory, Milton, by depicting Satan as assuming a series of shapes to further his design, well before he concocts the plan of disguising himself as a serpent, carefully prepares us for Satan's appearance in serpent form in the temptation scene, which is thus made less remarkable and more in keeping with a naturalistic level of narration. Significantly, in all his other disguises, Satan appears to have merely dissolved and reformed himself in the shape of another being or creature: cherubim, cormorant, toad, "now one,/Now other" (4.397-8) of "the sportful Herd" (4.396), "as thir shape servd best his end" (4.398). It is only in his assumption of serpent form that we are told expressly that Satan co-mingles his substance with the creature's corporeal being -- hence his disgust at his "foul descent" (9.163). The distinction makes it seem more plausible that the Serpent, though lacking free will and therefore the capacity to sin, is somehow more corrupted by Satan's infusion into his being than is the rest of fallen creation, including all the hapless animals, by Adam and Eve's sin. Yet Milton specifies that the Serpent is asleep when Satan enters it, thus further emphasizing its lack of volition. As he makes the fantastic convincingly "real," Milton vividly portrays the hapless naturalistic Serpent as a being distinct from Satan and thus calls attention to Satan's victimization of the Serpent. The puzzlement of Adam and Eve over the Serpent's role continues to highlight the troubling questions that arise from the Serpent's being judged and cursed as for a willful act. Even as repeated references in books 10, 11, and 12 to Genesis 3:15 reinforce the typological understanding of the protevangelion as a consoling accommodation that unites the image of the satanic Serpent with the joyful news of the Redeemer, Adam and Eve's struggle to understand the Serpent's role and its punishment keeps the problem of the serpent before us and works against a too-sanguine repose in accommodated meaning.(FN24)
Milton's embellishments of the sparse account of the temptation and judgment in Genesis serve to further expose the problem of the serpent. Genesis makes explicit the special curse upon the serpent, and Milton echoes these words: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Gen. 3:14). Yet it is the "punishment" visited upon all the other creatures of the earth and, indeed, the earth itself that Milton portrays most vividly, and there is no comparable passage in the Genesis account: "Beast now with Beast gan war, and Fowle with Fowle,/And Fish with Fish; to graze the Herb all leaving,/Devourd each other" (10.710-2). Milton is here following biblical commentators who reasoned about the physical characteristics of carnivores much as they did about human sexual organs: that either these attributes manifested themselves after the Fall, or God provided them in anticipation of man's sin and expulsion from the Garden. Genesis indicates that before the Fall all creatures were herbivorous, with all animals consuming the "green herb for meat" (Gen. 1:30) and man eating herbs and the fruit of trees (Gen. 1:29 and 2:16). The newfound rapaciousness of predators is implicit in Genesis; the realigning of the heavenly bodies and subsequent harsh climactic changes were theorized to account in more scientific terms for the alteration in the natural order. Yet Milton's vivid description of the "Fall" of the animal kingdom and the created world makes the prescribed punishment of the Serpent (that is, all serpents) appear scarcely more terrible than the fate of other creatures. The specific matter of the seeming unjustness of the Serpent's punishment gets swallowed up in the larger question of the "Fall" of nature and all of humankind with Adam and Eve. The not altogether satisfactory explanation is both that "the folly of Man/Let in these wastful Furies" Sin and Death (10.619-20) and that God
call'd and drew... thither
[His] Hell-hounds, to lick up the draff and filth
Which mans polluting Sin with taint hath shed
On what was pure.
Sin instructs Death to "Feed first" (10.604) on "Herbs, and Fruits, and Flours," and "on each Beast next, and Fish, and Fowle" (10.603, 604), describing "Man" as Death's "last and sweetest prey" (10.607-9). Shortly thereafter, we are reminded that the Serpent is not the only animal that man now has reason to fear: the other animals after the Fall lose their "awe/Of Man" (10.712-3) and either "fle[e] him, or with count'nance grim/Glar[e] on him passing" (10.713-4). The special curse nonetheless sets the Serpent apart, but, importantly, Milton highlights the rhetorical context, drawing a clear distinction between the curse upon the Serpent and the pronouncement before Adam and Eve of that curse.
Milton has the Son curse the Serpent in accord with Genesis, but just before the judgment scene, Milton takes steps that ensure the problem of the serpent will not be forgotten. In a totally invented scene with no correspondence in Genesis, the Son declares to the Father that "Conviction to the Serpent none belongs" (10.84). Speaking of Adam and Eve's recognition of their sin, Mary Nyquist renders the term "convicted" (as "Milton's contemporaries" might have used it to describe a stage on the path to true repentance) as "to be 'convinced' or 'convicted' of [one's] guilt."(FN25) The Serpent guided by instinct and not endowed with free will possesses neither the capacity to sin nor the capacity to become "convinced" of its guilt (which is rather different from saying that the Serpent is in no sense denied). Conviction suggests condemnation, but the primary meaning in this context can be argued to be more like the demonstration of the Serpent's guilt to the Serpent itself or to others. Satan is said to be "Convict by flight" (10.83): his guilt is thereby confirmed. As a reprobate, however, he is no more than the Serpent capable of the "Conviction" that signals sincere repentance. "Conviction" in this sense "belongs" neither to the naturalistic Serpent nor to "th' infernal Serpent" Satan. Such conviction does belong to Adam and Eve, of course, who must not only understand the nature of their sin, experience heartfelt sorrow for having offended, and accept the dismal consequences as just, but also -- to come by the end of Paradise Lost to a state of "grace"(FN26) -- must grasp the essential meaning of the "mysterious" curse (10.173) upon the Serpent who can neither sin nor repent.
What is said by the Son in the judgment scene is, as Milton emphasizes, said to and for Adam and Eve alone. The Son's insistence that "none/Are to behold the Judgment, but the judg'd,/Those two" (10.80-2) recalls earlier "conversations" with God and with the angelic messenger Raphael and underscores the deity's habit of attuning his voice to man's capacity and needs. Yet the obscurity of the language in which the promise of redemption is couched raises questions about the nature and operation of divine accommodation, and the problem of the serpent again rears its head. Immediately before the Son curses the Serpent, the epic narrator "introduced" what Forsyth labels "a patently unsatisfactory version of [the] old theological dilemma" involved in the judgment upon the serpent:(FN27)
more to know
Concern'd not Man (since he no further knew)
Nor alter'd his offence; yet God at last
To Satan first in sin his doom apply'd,
Though in mysterious terms, judg'd as then best:
And on the Serpent thus his curse let fall.
The reminder here of the limits of human knowledge and understanding would seem to forestall further inquiry, and yet the narrator immediately follows the curse upon the Serpent with at least a partial explanation of its mysterious import, identifying the Son (styled "Oracle") (10.182), "Eevn hee who now foretold his [Satan's] fatal bruise" (10.191), as "Jesus son of Mary second Eve" (10.183). Milton here draws attention to the divide between his modern audience reading with the benefit of revelation and Adam and Eve from whom knowledge of their Redeemer is as yet withheld. Adam and Eve's "semiotic ignorance," identified by Daniel Fried as their greatest point of vulnerability in their un-fallen state, would seem to put them at a distinct disadvantage in the judgment scene as well.(FN28) If this is accommodation, it seems disturbingly unadapted to the limited comprehension of the fallen pair. And later, Michael, in explaining original sin to Adam, provides another miscue when he imprecisely speaks of the "crime" of having "with the Snake conspir'd," an accurate description of neither the succumbing to temptation of Adam and Eve nor the plotting of Satan:
Adam, now ope thine eyes, and first behold
Th' effects which thy original crime hath wrought
In some to spring from thee, who never touch'd
Th' excepted Tree, nor with the Snake conspir'd,
Nor sinn'd thy sin, yet from that sin derive
Corruption to bring forth more violent deeds.
Perplexingly, Michael seems to encourage Adam to view as a coconspirator bearing a full share of guilt the Serpent that lacks free will and was declared by the Son as not capable of "Conviction." What we see here is as much a distortion as a simplification of truth, and this seeming lapse provides a key to Milton's concept of divine accommodation.
Accommodation as Milton conceives of it is not a mystifying tactic God elects to employ with man alone. Indeed, the Father's interactions with Adam, the angels, and even the Son have much in common. In expressing his desire for equal companionship, Adam distinguishes nicely between any created being's need for converse with one similarly placed in the scale of creation and God's completeness in himself. God is "perfet" (8.415), and as he lacks nothing is in need of nothing from outside himself. God, who is not bound by necessity (except perhaps "natural" necessity), foreknows -- predicated upon what he elects to do or communicate -- the reaction of any creature. The Father cannot engage in mutual conversation with anyone, the Son included -- as some of the most-discussed scenes in Paradise Lost demonstrate. Readers have often regarded the lengthy conversation between the Father and the Son in book 3 concerning man's fate (3.80-343) as an empty rehearsal of what is already known to both, but such a reading assumes a greater equality between the Father and the Son than the text justifies. There are in fact striking similarities between the Son's appeal to the Father to save man and Adam's request for a mate. Each conversation is one-sided in that the Father speaks to provoke a foreseen response: the spontaneity is all on the other side. Each supplicant is praised for rightly perceiving God. Milton makes it clear that the Father is several steps ahead of the Son, as he is many steps ahead of Adam, and engages in such mild forms of debate merely for the sake of the supplicant or questioner as well as any auditors. If with Adam, the "Father," as Michael Allen says, "acts a part in order to teach,"(FN29) with the Son, the Father, who later says he needed no persuading to extend mercy to man, by seeming over-bent on justice provides range for the Son's growth. Anna K. Nardo similarly finds in "God's irony" in 5.721-2, 729-32 -- where he expresses anxiety about "our Omnipotence" and speaks of the possibility of "los[ing]/This our high place" -- "an opportunity [for the Son] to manifest his nature by his response" in 5.735-9: "Here, as when 'with a smile' (VIII, 368) God allows Adam to complete his unspoken plan by arguing for a mate, God withdraws his omniscience from his language and speaks in jest what he does not finally intend in order to bring the Son into the fullness of his knowledge. By smilingly saying what he does not mean, God gives others room to learn, affirm, and complete his meaning."(FN30) Accommodation can be seen as well in the "futile tasks" assigned the angels -- "guarding Eden," "angelic warfare," warning Adam and Eve -- that, as Nardo maintains, serve primarily to educate the angels.(FN31) While many readers are uncomfortable with such a manipulative, micromanaging deity, Milton clearly sees such lopsided dynamics of interaction with the deity as unavoidably consequent upon God's unique nature. Milton underscores God's beneficent intent in withholding knowledge from man, mystifying his message, and even obscuring "truth" by depicting the Father's interactions with all created beings from the Son and all the ranks of the angels down to man as accommodations to varying degrees. Any understanding of the condemnation of the Serpent uttered before Adam and Eve alone must thus be predicated upon a recognition of Adam and Eve's changed perception of the Serpent.
In book 9, Satan as Serpent finds it hard even to gain Eve's attention. When she does finally notice him, she feels no dread at his form, merely surprise at his capacity for speech. Adam, when offered the fruit, no more than Eve suspects the Serpent is anything other than a talking snake (9.927-37). When the pair wake after their frenzied lovemaking, the Serpent becomes in Adam's view a "false Worm, of whomsoever taught/To counterfet Mans voice" (9.1068-9), but is still, as Leonard maintains, in Adam's mind just a snake.(FN32) Eve, sounding even more naive, defends her actions by asserting that Adam
couldst not have discernd
Fraud in the Serpent, speaking as he spake;
No ground of enmitie between us known,
Why hee should mean me ill, or seek to harme.
Following Adam's convoluted confession is the much more straightforward confession of Eve taken straight out of Genesis -- "The Serpent me beguil'd and I did eate" (10.162). The lines Milton interpolates between Eve's statement and the curse (which, like Eve's confession, is also essentially quoted from the Bible) appear to acknowledge the inability of the Serpent, as a "brute" (10.165) and a mere "instrument," to commit a willful, culpable act (10.166). That the second "him" in 10.166, whose referent is "Serpent," is in the object position in relation to the verb "polluted" (10.167) also implies its lack of volition. Notably, Milton's labeling of the Serpent as "th' accus'd" (10.164) places the emphasis upon Eve's accusation and her perception of the Serpent as her enemy. Leonard notes that "in book IX... Satan's name appears only twice," at lines 53 and 75, and "[throughout the Temptation" scene itself Milton does not mention Satan by name but steadfastly refers to him as "the Enemie of Mankind, enclos'd/In Serpent" (9.494-5), the "Tempter" (9.549, 567, 655, 665, 678), "Snake" (9.613, 643), "Adder" (9.625), and "Serpent" (9.785).(FN33) The effect is to keep the image of the Serpent before us. Aware as the reader must be of Satan within the Serpent, Milton's tactics here also seem designed to more strongly represent Eve's perceptions, underscoring the limitations in her understanding.
"When the Son pronounces Judgement on the serpent," as Leonard indicates, "neither Adam nor Eve at first perceives the Curse's pertinence to Satan."(FN34) And well after the judgment in book 10, the Tempter is still, for Eve, "That cruel Serpent" (10.927). Adam more so than Eve wrestles with the meaning of the promise that the "Womans Seed" shall bruise the Serpent's head, concluding late in book 10 that by the "Serpents head" is "meant... our grand Foe/Satan, who in the Serpent hath contriv'd/Against us this deceit" (10.1032-5). Leonard, agreeing with Jean Gagen, declares that "these lines constitute Adam's first recognition that Eve's tempter was Satan in the serpent."(FN35) Certainly the two become inextricably linked in Adam's perceptions, but the ambiguous phrasing "Serpents head" and "in the Serpent" (emphasis added), while recalling for the reader Satan's invasion of the Serpent's physical being, yet leaves open the possibility that Adam understands the phrasing as purely figurative. Adam correctly applies the curse to Satan and recognizes that Satan has worked through the Serpent in some fashion, but he still seems shaky on the question of the Serpent's degree of complicity. Observing that Raphael "does not humanize, angelify, or demonize the animals he describes," Diane Kelsey McColley asserts that "Satan and his followers, in contrast, speak a language of instrumentality and appropriation with no concern for the nature of the being spoken of, rifling mother earth and mother tongue alike."(FN36) Although the image of the serpent is so manipulated by God as to become inextricably bound up in the minds of Adam and Eve with the promise of the Redeemer, significantly, the fallen pair distinguish the Serpent from all other animals and do indeed "vilify" it. And if the protevangelium pronounced by the Son before Adam and Eve repeatedly recalls Adam and Eve from thoughts of Satan's dark power over humankind to assurances of God's providential care, yet it does so in terms that seem to overtax their understanding. Milton thereby makes a distinction between accommodated meaning (that is, truth simplified as a direct aid to comprehension) and divine acts of accommodation that encourage a posture in Adam and Eve that will sustain them in a fallen world and bring them closer to God.
The question of how adequate Adam and Eve's education has been to bolster their defenses against temptation has been often discussed; much critical commentary also focuses on the root purpose of their instruction even before the Fall as preparation for life in a fallen world. Although Raphael is generally viewed as more suited to the task than the stern Michael, critical opinion is divided as to the success with which Raphael especially tempers his instruction to the needs and capacities of Adam and Eve. Michael Allen finds in the Father the "only truly 'ideal schoolmaster' in Paradise Lost"; the ineptitude of Raphael and Michael as teachers, Allen asserts, is in fact part of God's plan of education for Adam and Eve: "Neither angel's teaching style is ideal, because the paradoxes Milton describes are not meant to be resolved."(FN37) The question then becomes, what purpose are these paradoxes meant to serve? As Martin Kuester observes, God moves from directly schooling Adam in a "one-to-one correspondence between signified and signifier" as he invites him to name the animals, to initiating Adam in the subtleties of language through the "rhetorical device of irony" in their discussion of Adam's desire for an equal companion.(FN38) "The introduction of connotations and ambiguity into human communication is," Kuester argues, "facilitated by Raphael, an angel who -- due to his dutiful obedience to the Father's commands and due to the resulting limited vision and knowledge -- does not see the ironic part he plays in the larger structure of events."(FN39) As critics discussing the education of Adam and Eve have concluded, Adam and Eve's education consists less in the imparting of specific information than in an initiation into the complexities of language. Adam and Eve's belief in the simplicity of a physical world in which the appearance of objects reflects their nature and is to be trusted is also replaced by the realization that images of seeming good may mask evil. Even before the Fall, they need to be on guard against hypocrisy and temptation, and how much more so after the Fall. But as the final two books demonstrate, the greater struggle will be to recognize God's omnipresence and beneficence in an inhospitable fallen world filled with suffering, a world that like the serpent-sign obscures as it shadows forth God's truth. Milton presents Adam and Eve's education as part of the larger process of accommodation, demonstrating that even as accommodated meaning directly presented to Adam and Eve may aid their comprehension, so acts of accommodation may meet mankind's needs by complicating the path to understanding.
Seeming inequities in Adam's and Eve's individual capacities serve the process of accommodation as delineated by Milton by fueling dynamic interaction between Adam and Eve. Mary Jo Kietzman, noting that the tendency has been simply to distinguish between "unfallen and fallen thought and speech," focuses on differences between Eve's modes of thought and expression and Adam's both before and after the Fall.(FN40) While Kietzman emphasizes what she sees as gained similarities in Adam's and Eve's use of language after the Fall, for my purposes, what matters is the dependence of any meaningful exchange upon essential and enduring differences in Adam's and Eve's perception and expression. Inequities in their natural endowments as in their education arguably have a value to both in promoting exchanges that fuel their growth. Eve, as many readers have complained, is by comparison with Adam given only slight instruction, and critics have speculated whether Eve is as a result less fortified than Adam against temptation. Raphael does not object to Eve's absenting herself as he and Adam continue their talk and, as Margaret Olofson Thickstun observes, "encourages" Adam, though very much in need of instruction himself, "to assume the role of teacher."(FN41) Certainly, well into book 12, Adam -- while finally grasping the one essential point of man's deliverance through the incarnation and atonement of the Son -- demonstrates how slight his exegetical skills are as yet. If we recall that the "harbinger of prevenient grace" Raphael, whose visit is intended not to prevent the Fall but rather, in Philip J. Gallagher's words, "to facilitate [Adam's] regeneration before he falls," is himself a "pupil teacher," we should consider that God's plan for Adam and Eve's regeneration may in fact be better served by Adam's secondhand, and no doubt imperfect, summary of Raphael's message, which is already at quite a remove from the Godhead.(FN42)
Kathleen M. Swaim defines "theological accommodation" as "the mediated vocabulary through which human beings, because of their 'imperfect comprehension,' can be said to 'know' the transcendent God."(FN43) Borrowing from H. R. MacCallum, Swaim distinguishes between two views of accommodation: the first, "'epistemological accommodation,'" places emphasis upon "the limits of human comprehension" and supports "a resting in the words and images of Scripture" without "seeking to penetrate behind them"; the second, "'social accommodation,'" "stresses condescension to an audience's limitations" and thereby seems to invite efforts "to read between the lines, 'to penetrate behind the veils of imagery to the hidden meaning.'"(FN44) Discussions of accommodation generally focus on epistemological accommodation and thus on the sufficiency (in terms of salvation) of the incomplete and imperfect understanding of God that is available to human beings. But, as Swaim asserts, "In his poetic practice," Milton gives at least equal attention to social accommodation.(FN45) His handling of the Serpent demonstrates that knowledge withheld and the introduction of profound mysteries directly serve to bring fallen man closer to God by bestirring an unsatisfied yearning and inducing a reasoning process essential to man's growth in grace. Acts of accommodation may include not only the imparting of partial or simplified (and hence distorted) knowledge in language accommodated to human understanding but also -- as in the case of the curse upon the naturalistic Serpent -- the withholding of knowledge and even the strategic introduction of doubt and confusion.
Because Milton adopts the common view of the protevangelion as an accommodation to fallen man's now darkened understanding, the cryptic promise may seem simply a reinforcement of the text's assertion of the proper limits upon man's knowledge and the scope of his inquiries and of the sufficiency of an accommodated understanding of God and God's will. Milton, however, through the painfully drawn-out depiction of Adam and Eve's difficulties in understanding their own punishment, replete with repeated reminders of the thorny theological problem of the serpent, points to a less sanguine acceptance of accommodated truth and a different understanding of the beneficent operation of divine accommodation. That Adam's joyful grasp of the meaning of the protevangelion is achieved with such difficulty and follows a lengthy series of misinterpretations of the future events revealed to him demonstrates effectively the challenge to know God and to maintain one's faith in a fallen world. If the primary goal of Michael's tutorial is to help Adam grasp the import of the protevangelion and learn of his Redeemer, the process is made so ungainly and Adam's abilities are so comically taxed at times that the "accommodation" seems deliberately placed just beyond his understanding. The concluding books dramatize the distance between Adam's limited understanding and the theological knowledge of even an unsophisticated modern reader, a distance that must increase as the sophistication of the reader increases. But more significantly, the final books of Paradise Lost dramatize the difference between meaning accommodated to human understanding and divine acts of accommodation that seem designed less to "accommodate" human understanding than to intrigue and stimulate it. Adam is granted revelation encompassing the essentials of biblical history and the Good News of the Redeemer, and Michael, in offering interpretations of biblical events, presents Adam with exegetical tools. The lessons Michael derives from what is essentially scripture are unexceptionable, but they demonstrably elide exegetical difficulties raised throughout the text. Although the poem builds to the definitive example of God's love in his offering of his Son to ransom humankind, the biblical stories recounted inevitably raise troubling questions about the communication of Adam and Eve's guilt to their progeny, the suffering of the righteous, and God's wrath. Paradise Lost, however, ultimately celebrates such exegetical difficulties. Coupled with the oft-lamented differential between Adam and Eve, the most problematic questions at the heart of Christianity are shown to foster in fallen man a receptivity to the influence of the divine presence. In prelapsarian Eden, simple inquisitiveness and innocence result in a natural movement toward God; after the Fall, that upward movement requires both faith and an ongoing intellectual struggle. The overt messages communicated to Adam support his faith. The dynamics established throughout, however, fuel what may be called the exegetical mind, which does not rest satisfied in accommodated meaning but unceasingly seeks a more profound understanding of God. The message is that the continuing and constant struggle toward God is more necessary to salvation than correctness in interpreting any evidence of God's presence or will. For Milton, it may in fact constitute salvation.
Henry Weinfield maintains that to the extent Paradise Lost focuses readers' attention upon "the punishment that God inflicts on human beings for Original Sin" and "God's punitive nature," the need for "some sort of justification" for God's actions is felt more keenly: "the defensive posture of Milton, and of Milton's God, especially in Book 3," intensifies this effect, Weinfield finds, and "we lose sight of the fact that from the beginning Milton locates his theodicy more immediately and ultimately in terms of God's care for human beings than his punishment of them."(FN46) The Father's insistence in book 3 upon strict accountability and punishment indeed almost embarrassingly exposes the difficulty of accounting for human suffering if God is not only good and loving but all-powerful. Why must man be punished? The explicit answer in
Paradise Lost is that the punishment is just, that Adam and Eve's guilt merits such punishment. Milton also implicitly suggests two other distinct possibilities: either God must judge and punish because he is bound by natural necessity, or the pronouncement of judgment is not so much an assignment of punishment as a loving act of accommodation. The curse upon the Serpent may in itself best be understood as an accommodation to Adam and Eve's needs more so than their understanding. The Serpent is "accurst" and "justly" so, Milton explains, because he has been "polluted from the end/Of his Creation" and is now "vitiated in Nature" (10.167-9). The "end" of the Serpent's "creation" (as of all of nature) is to demonstrate God's glory and goodness and lead man to God. While the phrase "vitiated in Nature" suggests the essence of the Serpent has been altered or tainted, it also leaves open the possibility that what is at stake is the significance of the serpent as image and that all that has really altered is human perception of the serpent. The framing of the hope of salvation as a curse upon the Serpent reinforces the standard view of the serpent image as ultimately consoling, but by continuing to highlight the troubling questions surrounding the serpent, Milton presents the curse upon the serpent as evidence of God's providential care of man in a less orthodox way. Paradise Lost makes explicit the message that knowledge hidden from Adam and Eve is withheld for their benefit: there is the suggestion throughout as well that knowledge tantalizingly obscured is equally a sign of God's loving care. The protevangelion or gospel in miniature puzzled over by Adam and Eve steers the middle course between a darkly impenetrable mystery that stymies any exegetical efforts and truth couched in terms so "accommodated" as to seem not in need of exegesis. It thus exemplifies Milton's concept of divine accommodation.
Paradise Lost reveals that the facets of fallen existence that seem most to divide man from God are not merely inescapable consequences of the Fall or mysteries not to be inquired into too closely, but also are, however lamentable, the conditions most conducive to man's regeneration after the Fall. The ambiguity of the serpent image is appropriately emphasized in a text that foregrounds an elaborate explication of the protevangelium and yet reminds us at every turn that even in an unfallen state God's truth must be accommodated, through circumstance as well as words, to human needs as to limited human understanding. Adam and Eve are provided with essential knowledge but couched in "mysterious terms" that continually raise doubts as to whether their full meaning has been, or even can be, sounded. The exegetical challenge of the curse pronounced by the Son upon the naturalistic Serpent is revealed to be yet another sign of God's grace, for it fuels the impulse evident in the newly created Adam when he first looks heavenward for a sign of his creator, and it serves as a check on the tendency to rest in accommodated meaning, or to fix and delimit, and thereby kill, the living Word. Milton's handling of the Serpent, as it deftly eludes the theological trap, like so many features of Paradise Lost underscores God's providential care of man. If the curse pronounced upon the Serpent is considered not a judgment at all, but as a divine act of accommodation that alters Adam and Eve's orientation to the newly fallen world they must inhabit, this argument has implications for the judgment pronounced upon Adam and Eve as well. The Son, sent to judge them, like Raphael, sent to warn them, may be reasonably assumed to be laying the groundwork for their regeneration by telling them what they need to hear rather than asserting incontestable truths, however "accommodated." Milton's theodicy may be far more radical than has been suspected to date.(FN47)
Sarah R. Morrison is professor of English at Morehead State University. She teaches Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature and a course in Milton.
1 Neil Forsyth, "At the Sign of the Dove and Serpent," MiltonQ 34, 2 (May 2000): 57-65, 61.
2 John Leonard, Naming in Paradise: Milton and the Language of Adam and Eve (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 193.
3 As Victor Harris observes, "Genesis introduces the serpent, but the serpent remains a mere serpent, not yet Satan in disguise or a tool of Satan; there is no mention of Satan" ("The Iconography of Paradise Lost," in Brandeis Essays in Literature, ed. John Hazel Smith (Waltham MA: Department of English and American Literature, Brandeis Univ., 1983], pp. 37-49, 43). The "story of the war in heaven" and the fall of the angels itself was, as Cherrell Guilfoyle explains, "pieced together from isolated references in the Old and New Testaments, including prophetic utterances on the kings of Babylon and Tyre, and the violent pictorial imagery in Revelation of the coming of Antichrist and the Last Judgment" ("Adamantine and Serpentine: Milton's Use of Two Conventions of Satan in Paradise Lost," MiltonQ 13, 4 [December 1979]: 129-34, 130).
4 William Kerrigan, "Complicated Monsters: Essence and Metamorphosis in Milton," TSLL 46, 3 (Fall 2004): 324-39, 327.
5 Forsyth, The Satanic Epic (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press, 2003), p. 303.
6 Leslie Brisman, "Serpent Error: Paradise Lost X, 216-18," MiltonS 1 (1970): 27-35, 29.
7 Milton, Paradise Lost, in The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), pp. 353-710, 1.26. All subsequent citations are to this edition, cited parenthetically in the text.
8 Forsyth, The Satanic Epic, p. 268.
9 Milton, Paradise Regained, in The Riverside Milton, pp. 721-82, 4.334-8.
10 Ruth-Inge Heinze, "Symbols and Signs, Myths and Archetypes: A Cross-Cultural Survey of the Serpent," Shaman 10, 1-2 (Spring-Autumn 2002): 33-57, 51; Ad deVries, "Serpent," Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery (London: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 410-5, 412, 410.
11 Forsyth, The Satanic Epic, pp. 308-9.
12 Guilfoyle, p. 132.
13 The suggestion that Satan assumes the shape of a toad as he whispers in the ear of the sleeping Eve presents the reader with another image that must be seen as serpentine. Kent R. Lehnhof notes that "Edward Topsell's History of Serpents, first published in 1608 and reissued... in 1658," categorizes toads as belonging to "the serpent family" ("'Impregn'd with Reason': Eve's Aural Conception in Paradise Lost," MiltonS 41 : 38-75, 54).
14 Forsyth, "At the Sign," p. 58.
15 Leonard, "Language and Knowledge in Paradise Lost," in The Cambridge Companion to Milton, 2d edn., ed. Dennis Danielson, Cambridge Companions to Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 130-43, 135; Christopher Ricks, Milton's Grand Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 110, cited in Leonard, "Language and Knowledge," p. 135.
16 King-Kok Cheung, "Beauty and the Beast: A Sinuous Reflection of Milton's Eve," MiltonS 23 (1987): 197-214, 197.
17 Cheung, p. 197. In terms of iconographic tradition, the serpent in the Garden has been variously depicted as "a natural-looking snake wound around the trunk of a tree," "a winged monster something like a dragon," and a creature "where the top part is a woman and the lower part is a snake," with each artistic choice having theological implications (Sydney Higgins, "Playing the Serpent: Devil, Virgin, or Mythical Beast?," European Medieval Drama 2 : Papers from the Second International Conference on European Medieval Drama, Camerino, 4-6 July 1997, ed. Higgins, with the European Medieval Drama Council [Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1998], pp. 207-14, 207). See Nora C. Flores for an account of the belief that the serpent who seduced Eve was a "dracontopede, or virgin-faced dragon," an idea Flores traces to "Peter Comestor's Historia Scholastica in the last half of the twelfth century," which Comestor in turn attributes to Saint Bede, the Venerable ("'Effigies Amicitxae... Veritas Inimicitiae': Antifeminism in the Iconography of the Woman-Headed Serpent in Medieval and Renaissance Art and Literature," in Animals in the Middle Ages, ed. Flores [New York and London: Routledge, 1996; 2000], pp. 167-95, 168, 167).
18 Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, "'Back to the Thicket Slunk': Another Look at Milton's Serpent," American Notes & Queries 22, 1-2 (September-October 1983): 7-9, 8.
19 See Cheung, especially pp. 205-6. That the Serpent as it suggests concupiscence is clearly a phallic symbol poses some difficulties, as Eve or Woman might then appear to fall victim to male sexuality -- which, of course, runs counter to the more standard view that Woman's carnality caused Man's fall. Rudat, however, argues elsewhere that "Milton endows Eve with the Circean power to transform Satan into a phallic serpent," which again puts the onus on Eve ("Thy Beauty's Heav'nly Ray: Milton's Satan and the Circean Eve," MiltonQ 19,1 [March 1985]: 17-9, 18).
20 Forsyth, "At the Sign," p. 58.
21 Leonard, Naming in Paradise, p. 230.
22 Nicholas R. Jones, "'Stand' and 'Fall' as Images of Posture in Paradise Lost," MiltonS 8 (1975): 221-46, 224. Jones relies upon C. A. Patrides ("Renaissance Ideas on Man's Upright Form," JHI 19 : 256-8) for his first point and upon Merritt Hughes for his second (John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose [New York: Odyssey, 1957], p. 359; quoted in Jones, p. 225).
23 Jones, pp. 228-9.
24 Georgia B. Christopher connects the "stress upon Adam's understanding of the protevangelium" to the Protestant Reformers' belief in an "inner scripture" within the Old Testament that conveys the "gospel promise" of a Redeemer and, more significantly, through which the viva vox ChristC (or living voice of the Christ) may be heard by one in whom the spirit is roused by the workings of God's grace; and "Milton," Christopher observes, "is even more insistent than the Reformers on the matter of Adam's grasp, for his conspicuously original touch is to allow a lapse of time between the moment when Christ utters the sentence and the moment when Adam perceives the promise in it" ("The Verbal Gate to Paradise: Adam's 'Literary Experience' in Book X of Paradise Lost," PMLA 90, 1 [January 1975]: 69-77, 74, 69, 70, 73, 74).
25 Mary Nyquist, "Reading the Fall: Discourse and Drama in Paradise Lost," ELR 14, 2 (Spring 1984): 199-229, 226.
26 The term "grace" is not anachronistic within the poem. The Father and the Son employ the term repeatedly in book 3 (lines 174, 187, 198, 227-8, 302, and 401). Reformation theologians generally considered Adam and the Old Testament patriarchs to be Christians in that the essential truths of the Gospel had been communicated to them through the various "shadowie Types" (12.303) of the Old Testament from Genesis on. See C. A. Patrides, "The 'Protevangelium' in Renaissance Theology and Paradise Lost," SEL 3, 1 (Winter 1963): 19-30, for a survey of standard Reformation, Catholic, and divergent Protestant interpretations of Genesis 3:15.
27 Forsyth, The Satanic Epic, p. 275.
28 Daniel Fried, "Milton and Empiricist Semiotics," MiltonQ 37, 3 (October 2003): 117-38, 132.
29 Michael Allen, "Divine Instruction: Of Education and the Pedagogy of Raphael, Michael, and the Father," MiltonQ 26, 4 (December 1992): 113-21, 118.
30 Anna K. Nardo, "Academic Interludes in Paradise Lost," MiltonS 27 (1991): 209-41, 226.
31 Nardo, "The Education of Milton's Good Angels," in Arenas of Conflict: Milton and the Unfettered Mind, ed. Kristin Pruitt McColgan and Charles W. Durham (Selinsgrove PA: Susquehanna Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 193-211, 194, 195, 197, 200.
32 Leonard, Naming in Paradise, p. 228.
33 Leonard, Naming in Paradise, p. 132.
34 Leonard, Naming in Paradise, pp. 228-9.
35 Leonard, Naming in Paradise, p. 231. See Jean Gagen, "Adam, the Serpent, and Satan: Recognition and Restoration," MiltonQ 17, 4 (December 1983): 116-21, 119.
36 Diane Kelsey McColley, "Milton's Environmental Epic: Creature Kinship and the Language of Paradise Lost," in Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, ed. Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace, Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism (Charlottesville and London: Univ. Press of Virginia, 2001), pp. 57-74, 66.
37 Allen, pp. 115, 114.
38 Martin Kuester, "The End of Monolithic Language: Raphael's Sematology in Paradise Lost" ESC 15, 3 (September 1989): 263-76, 266.
39 Kuester, p. 275. Kuester observes that Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, not only "distinguishes between things (res) and signs (signa)" but between "'conventional'" or "'earthly signs'" established by man and "'intrinsic and natural'" signs that can come from God only (p. 264): Saint Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana (Christian Instruction), trans. John J. Gavigan, Writings of St. Augustine, vol. 4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1947): cited in Kuester, p. 264. The transformation of Satan and his troops into serpents (10.504-77) in what, as Kerrigan points out, is a scene original to Milton with no identified precedent (p. 334) reduces what was supposed to be Satan's triumphal return into a humiliating experience that forces awareness on the fallen angels that their scope extends only so far as God permits. Along with asserting God's power over Satan and the inmates of hell, the forced metamorphosis demonstrates as well that the image of the serpent remains securely under God's control. Thus, even as the identification of the serpent with Satan is reinforced in this scene, inextricably bound up with the image of the satanic serpent is the serpent as a sign of God's power over Satan. This "foul transubstantiation," Kerrigan asserts, demonstrates to Satan, who holds the "ambition to wield the divine power of essence," that it is "god the Father" alone, "Himself uncreated," who "makes all other essences" (pp. 332-3).
40 Mary Jo Kietzman, "The Fall into Conversation with Eve: Discursive Difference in Paradise Lost," Criticism 39, 1 (Winter 1997): 55-88, 57. Asserting that "Adam's discursive style is flawed" from the beginning, Kietzman contends that "(a]fter the fall, Adam's speech gradually becomes more like Eve's in its heightened emotional tenor and capacity for interpretation" (pp. 55, 76).
41 Margaret Olofson Thickstun, "Raphael and the Challenge of Evangelical Education," MiltonQ 35, 4 (December 2001): 245-57, 253.
42 Philip J. Gallagher, Milton, the Bible, and Misogyny, ed. Eugene R. Cunnar and Gail L. Mortimer (Columbia and London: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1990), pp. 150, 137. Milton, Areopagitica, in The Riverside Milton, pp. 997-1024, 1012.
43 Kathleen M. Swaim, "The Mimesis of Accommodation in Book 3 of Paradise Lost," PQ 63, 4 (Fall 1984): 461-75, 462, 463.
44 Swaim, p. 463. H. R. MacCallum, "Milton and Figurative Interpretation of the Bible," UTQ 31, 4 (July 1962): 397-415, 402-3: cited in Swaim, "The Mimesis of Accommodation," p. 463.
45 Swaim, p. 463.
46 Henry Weinfield, "'With Serpent Error Wand'ring Found Thir Way': Milton's Counterplot Revisited," MiltonQ 37, 1 (March 2003): 11-20, 17.
47 Patricia M. Howison recognizes that the theological question of whether the power was inherent in the tree of knowledge or whether the fruit was purely a symbol similarly challenges the "Christian interpretive tradition" and requires deft handling by Milton ("Memory and Will: Selective Amnesia in Paradise Lost," UTQ 56, 4 [Summer 1987]: 523-39, 528). "Basil Willey in particular," Howison notes, "sees Milton's poetic attention to the tree as a surprising incongruity" and "accounts for it by suggesting that in Paradise Lost Milton both carries over and critiques a primitive notion... found in the Genesis myth... the notion of a magically efficacious tree of knowledge" (p. 527); see Basil Willey, The Seventeenth-Century Background: Studies of the Thought of the Age in Relation to Poetry and Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1953), pp. 245-7. Arguing that "neither of the central trees in Milton's Eden has any magical power," Howison, however, finds "one puzzling detail concerning the tree of life": "God sends Adam and Eve from the garden, physically banishing them from the tree of life -- and, apparently, from the immortality it dispenses" (pp. 536, 534, 536). She concludes that "God's removal of Adam and Eve from the garden... is an act of mercy" intended to prevent a misplaced faith in some supposed magical powers of the tree of life that would keep Adam and Eve from grasping its significance as a sign: "the risk is rather that the failure of the tree's fruit to impart eternal life might be construed as a failure of God himself (p. 536). Here we approach the view that expulsion from the garden was in itself an act of accommodation.