Adam keeps on lamenting and wishing he were dead but one thought stops him. Similarly to Hamlet, he is afraid that death may not end his suffering. But then he argues to himself (following, as the Helpful Footnote points out, Milton’s argument in Christian Doctrine) that both his body and soul have to die (Milton believed they are both resurrected at the Last Judgement). I do not quite follow his argument here: Adam seems to say that only what has “life and sin” can die, and the body as such has neither. So his conclusion is that both should die, while mine is that in that case only the soul should die, while the body should lead some kind of dreadful zombie-like existence. His further arguments, a bit more understandable to me, are that God could not create “deathless death”, because that would be a contradiction in terms, so death must be the end. Also man, a finite being, does not deserve infinite punishment. He is also very sorry that his curse is going to be passed down through the generations and thinks it is a bit unjust, to punish with guilt his guiltless children, but then he reasons that he, being himself corrupt, cannot produce innocent offspring. Night comes but it’s not the prelapsarian night, “wholesome, and cool, and mild”, but full of “damps and dreadful gloom”. Eve, hearing Adam’s cries, approaches him to comfort him, but he repulses her.
A somewhat long description of the climate change goes on, with all the mythological winds listed. Also another change on the Earth is that animals start to fight with and devour one another, and they also start to be afraid of man. Adam, seeing all that, laments, foreseeing his own unhappiness and that of future generations. He wishes he were dead and he almost wishes God had never created him. But then, he realizes that his future children when they grow up to be snooty teenagers can say the same thing, “I didn’t ask to be born!”. However, as Adam also observes despite his misery, “him not thy election/but natural necessity begot”, i.e. he couldn’t stop himself from having children (I guess celibacy is not an option), while for God the creation of man was a matter of free choice. Still, he accepts his doom, but can’t stop himself from wishing a sooner death.
Death says it’s all the same to him whether it’s Paradise or Hell, as long as he has enough food and he never has enough food. Sin tells him to start with flowers and animals, while she prepares man for him as the final and best dish. God, seeing this from a distance, says to his angels, “Look how foolish they are, Sin, Death and all the devils, thinking I left the Earth to them and forgot about it. But in fact I just let them feed on the dross and filth produced by man’s sin polluting everything it comes in touch with, and after they are so full they are ready to burst, my Son is going to cast them back with such force that they are going to stop the mouth of Hell shut.” Angels sing hallelujahs, but the overall optimistic note is somewhat marred by the fact that immediately after that they start to work on making man’s life on earth more miserable. The sun’s heat is regulated in such a way that it’s either too hot or too cold, the moon and other planets are configured to move in such a way as to produce various unfavourable astrological aspects. Then the axis of the Earth is tilted or the orbit of the Sun, because Milton still can’t make up his mind between the Ptolemaic and the Copernican system. Whichever it may be, the changes are such that from now on we have seasons on the Earth as we know it, while before that it was eternal spring all over the world, except for the poles, where to make up for the cold it was always daylight.
A dramatic turn of events! Satan expects applause, but instead hears hissing. Surprised, he gets up, but he finds his legs giving way under him and he changes into a serpent, just like all of his comrades. They crawl out of the palace, meeting other devils, waiting for them outside, who are also turned into serpents and other creepy-crawlies, mythological and real ones. In order to punish them even more, God produces a grove of trees with the fruit pretty much like the fruit of knowledge and makes the snakes feels hunger and thirst. But when they climb the trees, they find the fruit is like Sodom apples, beautiful to behold but it turns to ashes when you bite into it. Still, they keep on eating and spitting out, proving themselves more stupid than Adam and Eve, who tried the fruit only once. They are going to be punished like that every year, although Milton suggests that a garbled version of the story which devils sold to pagans may have led to the Greek myth of Ophion, the ruler of Olympus before Zeus. Meanwhile, Sin and Death reach Paradise. “How do you like it here? Much better than at the gates of Hell, eh?”, asks Sin.
Sin and Death set towards the Earth, and even the constellations of stars through which they pass shine less brightly. Meanwhile Satan goes to Hell via the bridge against which waves of Chaos break furiously (because Chaos hates all order, hence also the satanic bridge). The gates of Hell are empty, because their previous gatekeepers are busy on the Earth, and the rest of Hell is empty, too, because everybody is gathered in the Pandemonium, awaiting anxiously the news. Satan passes through the Pandemonium invisible, sits down on his throne and only then later makes himself visible. He is greeted with surprise, raises his hand to silence the murmur and starts to speak. He says he achieved his purpose and now all the Earth is open to devils, who can reach it now through this comfortable bridge, unlike him, who had to plod through the dangerous waves of Chaos. He managed to tempt Man by the apple (I think this is the first time in PL when the fruit is identified as such) and now, since Man, the ruler of the Earth, is subject to him, the Earth is his dominion too. Man is punished and cast off by God, he declares confidently, and there was some vague prophecy about bruising the serpent’s head, but who could mind a bruise when there is a whole world to be gained?
We are treated to another epic simile comparing the bridge Sin and Death are building to the one built by Xerxes over the Hellespont. After they are finished, the three ways: to the Earth, to Heaven and to Hell are connected. Sin and Death notice their father on the Earth, even though he is disguised as a serpent. He skulks off and observes from his hiding place Eve giving the fruit to Adam. He runs away when he sees the Son of God descending, but returns later on and learns from the conversation between Adam and Eve his own future doom. Then he returns to Hell and is very pleasantly surprised by the bridge. Sin addresses him, crediting the creation of the bridge to him, because he really inspired both of them. From that moment on, she says, he is going to rule the Earth and God Heaven. Satan, pleased with her words, says that while he now returns to Hell to deliver the good news to his associates, Sin and Death should go to the Earth and rule it on his behalf. They can start with enslaving and then killing the man.
The Son of God now clads people’s nakedness both with the skins of slain animals and molted skins of snakes. I must admit this vision of Jesus as a deer slayer makes me a bit uneasy. But he also covers their “inward nakedness”, much worse, with his “robe of righteousness”, by which Milton probably means (although he does not spell out the connection) that after his return to Heaven he interceded on their behalf with the Father. Meanwhile at the gates of Hell Death says to her son Sin that if Satan doesn’t return for so long, it means he must be successful and they should follow him. Sin agrees, saying that he can already smell the potential prey. “So saying, with delight he snuffed the smell/of mortal change of air”‘; he is like bird of prey which fly to the battlefield even before the battle begins, expecting carnage which should follow soon. That’s really a powerful image, this idea that the world starts to rot spiritually the moment the first parents sinned. But in case Satan couldn’t return to Hell because of transit difficulties, Death says they should build a highway to Hell, which they do, flying through Chaos in different directions and driving before them anything solid or slimy, like winds in the northern seas drive icebergs. The aggregated materials are then stricken by Death with its mace which has the power to turn anything solid, like the head of Gorgon.