Did it bother anyone else that Eve is content to be an object in Paradise Lost? It got my feminist tendencies going a little bit. I have "ugh" written in the margins of the section where she says:
“My author and disposer, what thou
Unargued I obey; so God ordains,
God is thy Law, thou mine: to know no more
Is woman’s happiest knowledge and her praise."
Milton, John (2009-10-28). The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 14820-14823). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
But Eve nevertheless intrigued me. Milton made Eve seem more self aware in books four and five than Adam is. And that seemed radical. A woman was supposed to be the pretty little caged bird during Milton's time—supposed to praise and honor her husband and do whatever he desired. Having desires of her own was unheard of. She would want whatever the man wanted. While this riles me, I expected it. What I didn't expect was the problems that Eve creates for God and Adam. I didn't expect Milton to use Eve as a commentary on identity and self-awareness.
Eve poses a problem to God and Adam from the moment of her creation. Instead of looking up to God, she looks at her reflection in a pond, just as Narcissus did. She already exhibits self-awareness to some degree. The waters murmur to her, and later Satan murmurs in her ear at night, creating within her a false sense of self-awareness.
Those murmuring waters came from a cave. According to Eric LeMay in his dissertation on Paradise Lost, this is an allusion to Plato's Republic. For those of you not aware of the Allegory of the Cave, here's a good, quick, fun overview of it.
LeMay, Eric Charles. Lively shadows: Dreams, visions, and self-knowledge in "Paradise Lost." Northwestern University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2002. Web.