John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 7 (ctd.)

On the sixth day God creates all the land animals, from big to small creepy-crawlies. They spring out from the earth fully formed, leaving the hillocks of freshly moved soil behind. The descriptions of lions pawing the ground with their front paws while their back paws are still back in the ground are quite striking. The cattle begin immediately to graze, but Milton skirts the question of what lions eat – do I remember correctly that before the Fall all animals were herbivorous, or is it from another apocryphal text? Raphael mentions also serpents, the “subtlest beast of all the field”, which Milton describes, surprisingly, as having “hairy manes”, which, as the Helpful Footnote explains, comes from Virgil. That goes to show you should not look for biological knowledge in poetry. After that God wants to create an intelligent creature which could “adore and worship God supreme”. Oh, I get it. Isn’t it why people keep dogs, to have creatures which adore and worship them? Anyway, God addresses his Son, saying “let us make now man in our image”, which also neatly sidesteps the problem many commentators had – why does the monotheistic God speak about himself in the plural? So he creates the man out of the ground and breathes life into his nostrils, but Milton is strangely cursory here, dedicating no more than three lines to the act. After all the great detailed descriptions of creating animals this feels weirdly anticlimactic. Then he creates Eve, but again Raphael doesn’t dwell on it, maybe assuming that Adam remembers everything that happens from that moment on. Raphael tells them about moving them both to Eden (so contrary to many paintings they were not created in Eden), reminds them about the big variety of fruit they have and about the one fruit they are not supposed to eat. It almost makes me think he should stop harping on this so much. If he just said casually “oh, I don’t recommend this one tree, it’s rather bitter and probably poisonous, just something went wrong with the creation”, all the tragedy wouldn’t happen.

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