The Renaissance era represents a complete break with the Middle Ages on a political, philosophical, scientifical and theological scale. Indeed, the discovery of new territories and the expeditions of explorers such as Francis Drake, the resurgence of classic writtings, the new scientific outbreaks of Copernicus, Newton and Galilei as well as the Protestant reformation led by Luther and his 95 Theses, triggered a will for knowledge and a quest for truth, thus putting an end to the intellectual hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe. Intellectuals of this era began to think on mankind, looking for answers outside of the Religious constraints. Written during this context of political and religious upheaval, Paradise Lost, an epic poem published in 1667 in ten books, reflects in a way the great changes of the Renaissance. This poem, written by John Milton (December 1608 – November 1674), an English poet, polemicist and civil servant, tell the Christian story of the creation of the Earth, the fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. As a puritan, Milton, who had already attacked the Church for its corruption in Lycidas (1637), give this classical Christian tale puritan traits (such as the protrayal of Eve as a dedicated worker). The passage under study is taken from Book 9 of Paradise lost. In this book, the narrator focuses on the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Satan returns to the Garden of Eden eight days after his banishment by Gabriel to avenge himself. Adam and Eve , preparing for their labors, decide to work separatly , even if Adam is anxious that eve would be an easy prey to Satan’s temptation . In this passage we can see the approach of the Satan , (the snake) and the begining of his temptation that will lead Eve to eat the prohibited fruit. We can clearly see that Milton here uses a mix of Classical and Judeo-christian mythology to tell this tale. We can thus wonder In which way he uses these influences, and why he uses them ? In a first part we will see that the Serpent is a symbol of temptation, and in a second part we wll analyse Milton’s uses of Classical mythology.
First, Milton depicts the snake which Satan is possessing, as an incredibly beautiful animal. The main strategy of Satan to try to corrupt the naive mind of Eve is to appear as a magnificent snake. According to the narrator, his physical appearance is so pleasing that never a snake will be as beautiful (on verse 504 “pleasing was his shape, and lovely, never since a serpent lovelier”). To describe the snake, the narrator use the lexical field of precious material: “carbuncle his eyes” on verse 500, “neck of verdent gold” on verse 501. Here Satan seems to have chosen a snake whose appearance can attract Eve only because his similitude with precious material. In a kind of materialist temptation, he tries to appeal to Eve inner sin of cupidity to seduce her. But there is something paradoxical in the way the snake is depicted as a beautiful creature. Indeed, the snake is often assimilated with death, the venom of some species of snakes such as the cobra can kill a man in less than one hour. It also an animal that generate instinctive fear in most human (and occurence of Ophidiophobia can be found everywhere). Here death and beauty become assimilated in one animal. It can thus be perceived as personification of the treachery of satan: behind the beaty of his rethoric, of his discourse hides a terrible fates, the banishment of Man from Heaven. This can also underline the interest of humans for macabre, dark topics. We can see since the dawn of age exemples of this morbid attraction of the Human race: public executions had always (and still do) gathered a lot of people around the death of a single man as well as we can see every day the impact (and also its capacity of generating profits) of a news involving the mysterious death of a movie star, of the murder of a whole family by its patriarch. As we know, Satan has chosen this animal, maybe...
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