Living Texts: Interpreting Milton

By Kristin A. Pruitt; Charles W. Durham | Go to book overview
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Adam's Story: Testimony and
Transition in Paradise Lost

MICHAEL LIEB


1

At the completion of the dialogue on astronomy in book 8 of Paradise Lost, Adam responds to the teachings of his angelic guest by offering what he calls “My Storie” (205), a narrative at least as fascinating as that related to the Unfallen couple by Raphael during the course of his visit (7.41 J.1 Beginning with Adam's account of his first coming to consciousness after his creation and culminating in his union with the newly created Eve (8.250–520), the narrative that Adam shares with the “affable Arch-Angel” (7.41) is remarkable indeed. According to J. Martin Evans, Adam's story is among “the finest and most imaginative things” in Milton's epic.2 One would certainly be inclined to agree. For Adam's story not only brings to the fore some of the most important themes that the poem as a whole raises but also provides insight into the nature of Milton's artistry in the transformation of biblical source into poetic text. As such, Adam's story assumes paramount importance to the understanding of the thematic and artistic dimensions of Paradise Lost.

As we all know, the immediate source of Adam's story is the second chapter of Genesis.3 There, Milton found a series of events to be reconceived in the shaping of Adam's own narrative in the epic. As delineated in the biblical text, these events include the forming of man from the dust of the ground, the planting of a garden eastward in Eden, the emergence of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the garden, the placement of man in the garden to dress and keep it, the issuing of the prohibition, the decision to create a “help meet” for the man, the naming of the creatures, the creation of woman from the man, and the recognition that man and

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