They are described ‘As with new wine intoxicated both,’ the fruit inflaming in them ‘Carnal desire’.
The epic poem begins with Milton declaring his intentions, to ‘assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.’ Less than ten lines later, we are introduced to Satan, first referred to as ‘Th’infernal Serpent…
whose guile’ is ‘Stirred up with envy and revenge.’ Thus, the poem begins with the aforementioned opposition of good and evil, the just ways of God as Milton perceives them, contrasted with the envious deceptions of his foe, the fallen angel Lucifer.
All of this combines to insinuate from our very first sighting of Eden that sin and the possibility of sin is indeed already present, despite the apparently innocent purity of Adam and Eve.
Milton also highlights the retained goodness in Adam and Eve even after their fall – unlike Satan, who knows there is ‘no place / Left for repentance’, Adam and Eve commit themselves to penitence and remorse.
These two opposing presentations of pre-Lapsarian and post-Lapsarian man are divided by the evil figure of the wily serpent, the manifestation of wickedness in the Genesis story.
John Milton, in adopting this story as the material for his epic poem, likewise adopts this emphasis on opposition and duality, with two main conflicts highlighted throughout: firstly, and most importantly, the conflict between good and evil, and secondly, how that conflict manifests itself in the two different states of humankind, sinless and then, after ‘Man’s first disobedience’, sinful.Likewise, with the hints at sinfulness and wantonness in Eve and in Eden before the Fall, and conversely, with the sense of man’s retained goodness after the Fall, Milton stresses the elusiveness of sinlessness and sinfulness, whilst also preparing us for the inevitable – first, the Fall of Man, and second, Man’s salvation through the death of Christ.In this way, Milton plays on these oppositions and conflicts in the poem and uses ambiguity to increase our anticipation and thrill as readers.This directly links Eve with the serpent, who is described as both ‘sly’ and ‘insinuating’ even before Satan has adopted the serpent’s form (demonstrating the evil already present in Eden before the Fall).The word ‘insinuating’, as Scott-Warren points out, comes from the Latin word ‘sinuare’ (notably containing the word ‘sin’) which means ‘to bend’ or ‘to curl’, thus linking Eve’s curling tresses to the serpent’s curling body.The story of the Fall is one of opposition and conflict, centred around the battle of good and evil, faith and temptation.Michelangelo’s Fall of Man epitomises this opposition with its two separate depictions of Adam and Eve.For example, the mountains heave their ‘broad bare backs’ into the clouds and the rivers hasten ‘with glad precipitance’.When we first see Eden, it is described (through Satan’s eyes) thus: ‘In narrow room Nature’s whole wealth, yea more, / A Heav’n on earth, for blissful Paradise / Of God the garden was, by him in the east / Of Eden planted…’ Here, Milton is drawing on the teleological argument to highlight God’s goodness as it manifests itself in the beauty and harmony of the natural world.Given Milton’s own religiously individualist and politically republican stances, it is no wonder, really, that he ‘wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God’ – in the words of Samuel Johnson, Milton had an ‘envious hatred of greatness,’ ‘a sullen desire of independence’ and a ‘pride disdainful of superiority’.Thus, the beginning of the poem, whether intentionally or not, tempts us to agree with Satan that it is ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n’.