While reading Book XI, the lines that initially stood out to me deal with the concept of good and evil:
O Sons, like one of us Man is become
To know both Good and Evil, since his taste
Of that defended Fruit; but let him boast
His knowledge of Good lost, and Evil got,
Happier, had suffic’d him to have known
Good by it self, and Evil not at all (84-89).
I found this particularly interesting because Milton appears to argue in Areopagitica, however, that we know good by evil:
“And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill?”
So are these two ideas of good and evil by Milton at odds with each other, or is there a way that they can both be true? It is interesting to consider that we could have once known good simply for the good itself and not in comparison with something evil. Perhaps Milton is suggesting that this kind of perception of good is a result of the fall (we are now subject to only know good by its opposite) and that prelapsarian good is a privilege we no longer have.