Literary Analogues

Guillaume Du Bartas, from "The II Part of the I Day of the II Week: The Imposture," in The Divine Weeks and Works of Guillaume Saluste, Sieur Du Bartas >> note 1

Guillaume Du Bartas's massive poem treats the hexameron in the "First Week," that is, the six days of the Creation. The "Second Week" was to treat the "seven days" — that is, ages — of biblical history, but Du Bartas managed to finish only the first three ages and part of the fourth. First published in 1605, the work was enormously popular in Joshua Sylvester's often-reprinted translation, and Milton surely knew it. This was probably the best-known literary treatment of the Fall story before Milton's.

[The Fall: Satan in the serpent first approaches Eve]

Mounting his canons, >> note 2 subtly he assaults
The part he finds in evident defaults:
Namely poor woman, wavering, weak, unwise,
Light, credulous, news-lover, given to lies.

"Eve, second honor of this universe!
Is't true (I pray) that jealous god, perverse
Forbids," quoth he, "both you and all your race,
All the fair fruits these silver brooks embrace:
So oft bequeathed you, and by you possessed,
And day and night by your own labor dressed?"

With th'air of these sweet words the wily snake
A poisoned air inspired (as it spake)
In Eve's frail breast: who thus replies, "O know
What e'er thou be (but thy kind care doth show
A gentle friend) that all the fruits and flowers
In this earth's heaven are in our hands and powers
Except alone that goodly fruit divine,
Which in the midst of this green ground doth shine;
But all-good God (alas, I wot >> note 3 not why)
Forbade us touch that tree on pain to die."
She ceased: already brooding in her heart
A curious wish that will her weal subvert:

As a false lover that thick snares hath laid,
T'entrap the honor of a fair young maid,
When she (though little) list'ning ear affords
To his sweet, courting, deep-affected words,
Feels some assuaging of his freezing flame,
And soothes himself with hope, to gain his game,
And rapt with joy, upon this point persists,
That parleing >> note 4 city never long resists:
Even so the Serpent that doth counterfeit
A guileful call t'allure us to his net;
Perceiving Eve his flattering gloze >> note 5 digest
He prosecutes, and jocund, doth not rest,
Till he had tried, foot, hand, and head and all,
Upon the breach of this new battered wall.

"No, fair" (quoth he) "believe not that the care
God hath, mankind from spoiling death to spare,
Makes him forbid you on so strict condition
This purest, fairest, rarest, fruit's fruition:
A doubtful fear, an envy, and a hate,
His jealous heart forever cruciate,
Since the suspected virtue of this tree
Shall soon disperse the cloud of idiocy,
Which dims your eyes: and further make you seem,
Excelling us, even equal Gods to him.
O world's rare glory, reach thy happy hand,
Reach, reach (I say) why does thou stop or stand?
Begin thy bliss, and do not fear the threat
Of an uncertain god-head, only great
Through self-awed zeal: put on the glist'ring pall
Of immortality; do not forestall
(As envious stepdame) thy posterity
The sovereign honor of Divinity."

This parle ended, our ambitious Grandame,
Who only yet did heart and eye abandon
Against the Lord: now farther doth proceed,
And hand and mouth makes guilty of the deed.

A novice thief, that in a closet spies
A heap of gold, that on the table lies;
Pale, fearful, shivering, twice or thrice extends
And twice or thrice retires his fingers' ends,
And yet again returns, the booty takes,
And faintly-bold, up in his cloak it makes,
Scarce finds the door, with falt'ring foot he flies
And still looks back for fear of Hue-and-cries:
Even so doth Eve show by like fearful fashions,
The doubtful combat of contending passions;
She would, she would not; glad, sad; comes, and goes:
And long she marts >> note 6 about a match of woes:
But (out alas) at last she touches it,
And having touched, tastes the forbidden bit.

Then, as a man that from a lofty cliff,
Or steepy mountain doth descend too swift,
Stumbling at somewhat, quickly clips some limb
Of some dear kinsman walking next to him,
And by his headlong fall, so brings his friend
To an untimely, sad, and sudden end:
Our mother falling, hails her spouse anon
Down to the gulf of pitchy Acheron. >> note 7
For, to the wished fruit's beautiful aspect,
Sweet Nectar-taste, and wonderful effect;
Cunningly adding her quaint smiling glances,
Her witty speech, and pretty countenances,
She so prevails that her blind lord at last
A morsel of the sharp-sweet fruit doth taste.

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