Interpreting the poem by a comparative study of myth
Adam and Eve
A myth is an ancient fictional story about the history or gods of a particular culture, and often answers some key questions. Most clutures have some myths which attempt to explain why death and suffering entered the world; an example of one is given in the Appendices, in which a woman's greed drives the sky far away from the earth. Another such story is that of Persephone:Milton refers to Ovid's version of this in line 396 and uses it in more detial in Book 4, where Eve is said to be like:
Proserina gathering flowers,
Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis
All three stories suggest a woman's consumption of Forbidden food brought disaster on humankind
Sigmund Freud's work has inspired psychologists to see myths as embodying deep-seated fears and desires.
Here are some interpretations:
- Adam is both Eve's parent (she is made from his rib) and her brother, and so they must be expelled from their sexual paradise to demonstate the ancient taboo on incest.
- The Tree represents their father, and in toyhing it they demonstrate their desire to replace his function, to pass puberty and have children (fruit) of their own.
- The snake represents woman's sexual desire, and in obeying it Adam and Eve pass through puberty (see the Autun capital where the Tree hides Eve's genitals, below)
- The forbidden Fruit offers a moral test, which Adam and Eve fail: this demonstrates human weakness and so exonerates God from the charge of having allowed creation to deteriorate so badly.
- There is also myths about Satan- there is no talk of him in the Old Testament, but he is mentioned in the New testament. Milton talks about Jesus driving Satan and his followers out of heaven, ''the war of heaven''
- St. Augustine, who greatly influenced Milton, developed and completed the identification of Lucifer, who had aspired to replace God in Isaiah.
- Augustine also suggests that Adam's fall corrupted the whole world, bringing disease and bad weather, and so increasingly Satan's power and influence immeasurably.
- Milton believed we shouldn't take all of the bible literally, can this suggest Milton doesn't believe in Satan at all?
Interpreting the poem through structure, language and style
Milton consciously imitated epic characteristics, and his poetry-recited as it was to his assistants before it was written down-communicates best if it is read aloud. Book 9 uses or refers to the following features of epic:
- Invocations to a muse, or divine inspiration. Classical poetry recognised nine muses, and throughout the poem Milton invokes his celestial patroness. Book 4 opens with a particularly beautifyl address in which he laments the affliction he shared with Homer: blindness.
- A hero whose leadership changes the course of histroy. PL has two characters who can be said to fulfil this role, Satan and Adam: are they both viewed negatively in Book 9?
- Descriptions of battles, with the armour and accountrements of the generals. In lines 27-31…