Temptation is, as Jean Baudrillard says in Seduction, the preserve of the Devil. He whispers, ‘at the ear of Eve’, lies and deceits — anything — to get what he wants. But it’s a mistake to assume from this that all he does is lie. This would leave us vulnerable to his true talent, which is, to tell the truth. Not plausible lies. Truth. To expect him to come in an irrational form is to always be unprepared for his arrival. Satan was once Lucifer, the Bringer of Light, and thus, the Spirit of Rationality. His words are seductive, not necessarily because he is lying to you, but because he is telling you the truth.
It was this intuition that made people think Milton was ‘of the Devil’s party’ when he depicted the fallen Lucifer so favourably. But, far from being on Satan’s side, Milton was showing us, in an unadulterated form, just how convincing those ‘whispers’ can be.
It was with Knowledge that Satan tempted Eve, and Mephistopheles tempted Faust. In the Garden, there was only one thing forbidden — and that was to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. When Satan hears of this interdiction, he is (especially to modern ears) reasonably suspicious as to why:
All is not theirs it seems;
One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge called,
Forbidden them to taste. Knowledge forbidden?
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord
Envy them that? Can it be sin to know?
Can it be death? And do they only stand
By Ignorance? Is that their happy state,
The proof of their obedience and their faith?
O fair foundation laid whereon to build
Their ruin! Hence I will excite their minds
With more desire to know, and to reject