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There are certain ambiguities that impede a definitive reading of Paradise Lost, and this seems to be accepted as an occupational hazard for most scholars and students who undertake the task of coming to an intelligible understanding of the poem. Many of these interpretive problems result from personal convictions, a love or hate of Milton, or a need to approach the work from specific critical perspectives. In Milton's attempt to clarify human and cosmological origins, he seems to have (out of necessity) made the reading such that it requires us to push our intellectual and philosophical capacities to the limit. This is not surprising, for one generally accepted function of epic poetry is to wrestle with certain doubts and incongruities concerning issues that have long baffled the most insightful and dedicated scholars, philosophers, and theologians. This is why addressing the nature of human knowledge is such an interesting irony when reading Paradise Lost: we not only must reflect on the extent of human intelligence before the fall, but must decide for ourselves whether the fall functioned (from an intellectual standpoint) in our favor. Additionally, it is not at all clear what true bearing the actual eating of the apple had on Adam's and Eve's existing mental capabilities. In other words, what exactly is Milton asserting as an outcome for humanity on an intellectual level as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge?

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© 1991 by the Board of Student Publications, University of Northern Iowa



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