Find a couple of different visual iterations of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Compare and contrast them. What is the effect of the visual representation alongside the poetic lines?
Paradise Lost was an epic poem written by John Milton describing the Fall of Man. Over the years many artists have worked to put their own illustrations to Milton’s work. I chose William Blake, Gustave Dore, and Titian as examples of some of the better illustrations that really capture the moment where Satan is trying to convince Eve to eat from the forbidden tree, which occurs in Lines 733-779 of Book IX. After being approached by Satan, Eve talks out the situation to herself on whether or not to eat the fruit because she knows of the consequences that will affect her and Adam as well.
First, I chose to look at William Blake’s illustrations and the one I chose was brightly colored with the Tree of Knowledge in the center, Eve on one side of the tree and Adam on the other side. Satan is actually wrapped around Eve and is placing the fruit into her mouth with his mouth. Some serpents, or snakes, wrap around their prey first and squeeze them to death, then bite them with their poisonous fangs which kill the prey. Satan, in this picture, appears to be doing just that, wrapping his body around Eve to set her up for “the kill”. Instead of poisonous fangs, he has the forbidden fruit in his mouth. Also, the way Eve is holding Satan shows that she has been fully convinced because she seems to be holding him with a gentle touch with no struggle or sign of uneasiness.
Secondly, I chose Gustave Dore’s interpretation. His work is in grayscale with the tree seeming ominous and less joyous than Blake’s tree. Satan is not as close to Eve as in Blake’s either. He is in the forefront of the picture with his head turned towards Eve I guess to observe what she’s doing. Adam once again is not really involved, sitting in the back as if daydreaming. Also, there is a light shining on Eve which can be representative of when actors give their soliloquies on stage and everything becomes dark except the spotlight on them. This is the scene starting at line 744 where Eve begins to decide whether or not to eat the fruit.
Lastly, I chose Titian’s iteration of the same scene. His is very much different from Blake’s and Dore’s because he has Adam and Eve actually interacting with one another. Adam seems to be trying to push Eve back so that she won’t take the fruit from Satan. Another difference is that Satan appears to be a child rather than the typical serpent, due to his childlike hand descending from the top of the illustration holding the fruit.
All of these representations of Eve’s temptation seem to capture the basic plot of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The main differences are that Blake and Dore have Adam unaware of what is going on with Eve and Satan, but in Titian’s interpretation, Adam is actually taking part in the interaction between Eve and Satan. Having the visual next to the lines of the poem really help to draw a picture in your head of what is really going on and gives the reader several ways to look at the scene.