Book eight opens with Raphael still being hosted and questioned by Adam. Adam is delighted and astonished by all he has heard, and after Raphael is done speaking, is silent awhile, meditating on his new knowledge. As the conversation continues, Eve wanders out of their little bower to tend some of her special flowers. Raphael speaks of creation, and the order of the celestial bodies. He says that ultimately, it doesn’t matter where Heaven is, or if the Earth or the Sun is the center of the universe; Adam (and by extension, his offspring) should leave these things to God alone, since they can do nothing to change them, and focus instead on serving the Maker Himself. He tells Adam to “joy thou in what he gives to thee; this Paradise/ And thy fair Eve…” (169-70).
Twice in book eight already, Milton has referred to Adam’s questions as “doubts.” It is unclear if what he means is truly a troubled questioning of God and His ways or a curiosity of origin and the world before his creation. In either case, Adam is described as being “cleared of doubt” (179) by all of the angel’s explanations. He agrees that he should not be too curious about things “too high” for him, lest he be tempted or “intoxicated” by things he should not have. One might be hearing echoes here of Proverbs 5:18 and the command to “rejoice in the wife of your youth”, but also be getting a bit of a history lesson into common church teachings at the time, where Galileo’s idea of heliocentrism was seen as pagan and contrary to scripture. In any case, Adam immediately recognizes—even having never yet sinned nor known what sin was—that a roving imagination is bound to get into trouble.
Raphael then returns the favor and asks his own question. It seems that he was sent on a mission to Hell to make sure no one got out on the day that Adam was created, and wants to know the particulars. Adam complies, telling simply of waking up on a bed of flowers. “But who I was, or where, or from what cause,/ Knew not; to speak I tried, and forthwith spake,/ My tongue obeyed and readily could name/ Whate’er I saw” (270-3). He knows immediately that some “great maker” made him, but he doesn’t know who. Milton’s description reminds me vaguely of the children’s book Are You My Mother? where a small robin asks everyone around if they are his mother until he finds her. That’s rather what Milton describes Adam as doing, first asking the sun, then the earth, the rivers to tell him how he came to be there. He wanders for a time, and then lies down for a nap. At this point, God comes for him, and takes him to a perfect garden that is so beautiful, Adam can’t help but worship. Yet God picks him up and tells him, “Whom thou sought’st I am…This Paradise I give thee, count it thine” (316,9).
Then comes the famous command to not eat of a particular tree. If Adam will “shun to taste” he will “shun the bitter consequence” of disobedience. Milton paints God as fearful for Adam to look on as he gives this warning, then becoming kindly again. Then two by two, the animals are brought to him to name. In this process, Adam begins to see an empty space. With the heightened language of royalty, Adam asks his question. “Hast thou not made me here thy substitute, / And these inferior far beneath me set? / Among unequals what society/ Can sort, what harmony or true delight?” 381-4). Animals coming two by two has made it clear that he is only one, and one far above all the rest of creation.
The following conversation gives me pause; there’s a lot to unpack.
God answers that He is alone, and has no one save those which He creates. Milton has already used words that seem to indicate that this is his position on the Godhead—that God the Father actually begot God the Son (or created Him) with so far no mention of God the Spirit anywhere. So there’s that. Adam’s response is that is God is so much higher and perfect and in need of nothing; man is imperfect and defective, and therefore needs “collateral love”. This points up the problem of a poet who knows his own imperfections and broken world trying to put words in the mouth of one who isn’t and doesn’t. Further, it seems very odd that the newly created Adam would refer to himself as “defective” to His perfect Creator, in essence a sort of criticism. Further, if God is truly perfect, why would he initially create something broken? As I said, problematic. But the result of the conversation is, of course, leading up to…another nap for Adam.
The sleep is a strange one, for Adam describes it as both being asleep but allowed to see what is going on, almost as if in a dream. He sees his own surgery take place, both blood and healing, as God removes a rib from his side. He sees God take the rib and mold it in a woman that is so beautiful, he wakes up to look for her. He finds her being filled in by God on “nuptial sanctity and marriage rites” and here, Milton inserts Adam’s short speech from Genesis 22. The whole garden seems to rejoice at their marriage, and Adam describes himself as complete in mind, soul, and body. There is, then, a moment of comedy after Adam describes his own marriage and relationship with Eve. He asks if angels have similar relationships or intimate love. Raphael “glowed Celestial rosy red” and answers that it’s different and they don’t have to deal with the annoyance of bodies. (It’s worth noting that Milton has already sort of dealt with this as the Satan more or less raped the daughter he birthed out of his own head named Sin–very like Greek mythology). Milton has some interesting ideas.
At this point, the sun is setting and Raphael must leave, so he gives one final warning and reminder to love God and obey His great command. “So parted they, the angel up to heaven/ From the thick shade, and Adam to his bower” (652-3).