John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 9 (ctd.)

Adam says that of course he trusts Eve, but even an attempt by Satan to tempt her taints her honour. (But I think Milton here applies his own ethical categories, because “honour” works only when there is a society to consider you “dishonoured”. With only two of them on Earth, why should Eve be “dishonoured” by anything?) He also says she should not underestimate Satan, because he was cunning enough to mislead so many angels. If they stay together, they can support each other and better resist his temptation. Eve answers that it’s a very circumscribed kind of happiness if they constantly have to be on the look-out against their enemy. She also says, rather logically, that if Satan attempts to tempt them and fails, it’s no dishonour to them but rather to Satan. What is the point of virtue untried? (as the Helpful Footnote reminds us, exactly the point Milton himself made in Areopagitica).  She is sure God created them strong enough to resist the temptation. Adam answers with the standard theological point about how, yes, God gave them reason, but he also gave them free will, and if Eve is so keen for her virtues to be tried, maybe she should start with obedience. But he lets her go, because if she stays only because she is forced to, it’s worse than her absence.

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