Sarah R. Morrison on Eve and the "Accommodating Serpent"
I'm still looking around the scholarly literature for material on Eve's similarity to the Serpent in Milton's epic poem, so I'm posting today an excerpt from Sarah R. Morrison's article of last year, "The Accommodating Serpent and God's Grace in Paradise Lost" (Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Volume 49, Number 1, Winter 2009, pp. 173-195).
Here's the excerpt, which questions the putative similarity between the two:
Much has been made of Eve's "affinities with the serpent," as well as with the "Snakie Sorceress" Sin (2.724) and Satan, all of which connections mutually reinforce one another. King-Kok Cheung recognizes that Milton exploits "the traditional association between the serpent and Eve" and "persistently intertwines the two in his poem," and critics have argued variously that Eve is strongly tainted or relatively uncontaminated by these associations. The tendency has been to stress the connections between Eve and the satanic -- and phallicized -- Serpent rather than those between Eve and the naturalistic -- and feminized -- Serpent. Wolfgang E. H. Rudat argues that the movement of the Serpent and the descriptive language in the temptation scene in Paradise Lost mimic that of much "Elizabethan and seventeenth-century" erotic poetry and reinforce the identification of Satan with the male sexual member and human sexuality. Cheung follows Rudat in insisting on the Serpent's phallicism throughout. But because the Serpent (albeit traditionally a phallic symbol and most obviously treated as such in the temptation scene) has previously been feminized, the contrast between the phallic imagery in the temptation scene -- with the Serpent, as described by [Niel] Forsyth, "sexily upright and appealing as he undulates toward Eve (erect at IX 501)" -- and other descriptions of the Serpent's form and movement that emphasize its graceful curves and coiling could thus equally be taken as an indicator that the dark force operating here is at a considerable remove from the natures of both Eve and the Serpent. It is even possible to see the image of the Serpent as rehabilitated in some degree by its association with Eve. When Adam addresses Eve as "thou Serpent" (10.867), [John] Leonard charges him with "a misnaming of her nature." It is important to note that Adam is here mistaking the naturalistic Serpent's nature as well. Adam's use of the label "Serpent" to defame Eve reveals his divide at this moment from nature and nature's God as well as from his spouse. (page 177)Here are the endnotes for the above citations, should anyone want to check further:
 King-Kok Cheung, "Beauty and the Beast: A Sinuous Reflection of Milton's Eve," Milton Studies 23 (1987): 197–214, 197.This excerpt and its citations make the paper also look interesting, but as with yesterday's article by Sandra M. Gilbert, I've not yet had time to read it. I would for now simply note this from the excerpt, and take mild exception to the inference drawn:
 Cheung, p. 197. In terms of iconographic tradition, the serpent in the Garden has been variously depicted as "a natural-looking snake wound around the trunk of a tree," "a winged monster something like a dragon," and a creature "where the top part is a woman and the lower part is a snake," with each artistic choice having theological implications (Sydney Higgins, "Playing the Serpent: Devil, Virgin, or Mythical Beast?," European Medieval Drama 2 : Papers from the Second International Conference on European Medieval Drama, Camerino, 4–6 July 1997, ed. Higgins, with the European Medieval Drama Council [Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1998], pp. 207–14, 207). See Nora C. Flores for an account of the belief that the serpent who seduced Eve was a "dracontopede, or virgin-faced dragon," an idea Flores traces to "Peter Comestor's Historia Scholastica in the last half of the twelfth century," which Comestor in turn attributes to Saint Bede, the Venerable ("'Effigies Amicitiae . . . Veritas Inimicitiae': Antifeminism in the Iconography of the Woman-Headed Serpent in Medieval and Renaissance Art and Literature," in Animals in the Middle Ages, ed. Flores [New York and London: Routledge, 1996; 2000], pp. 167–95, 168, 167).
 Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, "'Back to the Thicket Slunk': Another Look at Milton's Serpent," American Notes & Queries 22, 1–2 (September–October 1983): 7–9, 8.
 See Cheung, especially pp. 205–6. That the Serpent as it suggests concupiscence is clearly a phallic symbol poses some difficulties, as Eve or Woman might then appear to fall victim to male sexuality -- which, of course, runs counter to the more standard view that Woman’s carnality caused Man's fall. Rudat, however, argues elsewhere that "Milton endows Eve with the Circean power to transform Satan into a phallic serpent," which again puts the onus on Eve ("'Thy Beauty's Heav'nly Ray': Milton's Satan and the Circean Eve," Milton Quarterly 19,1 [March 1985]: 17–9, 18).
 Neil Forsyth, "At the Sign of the Dove and Serpent," Milton Quarterly 34, 2 (May 2000): 57–65, 58.
 John Leonard, Naming in Paradise: Milton and the Language of Adam and Eve (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 230.
[B]ecause the Serpent . . . has previously been feminized, the contrast between the phallic imagery in the temptation scene . . . and other descriptions of the Serpent's form and movement that emphasize its graceful curves and coiling could thus equally be taken as an indicator that the dark force operating here is at a considerable remove from the natures of both Eve and the Serpent.I would say, rather, that the Serpent's masculine phallic imagery and the graceful feminine curves suggest that both Adam and Eve are implicated in the 'demon-possessed' Serpent's Satanic nature when they fall into their first sin, which fits with one of the points made in my blog entry of several days ago.
More later . . .