By John Milton
Paradise Lost is an epic poem by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, re-divided into twelve books.
The poem concerns the Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, stated in Book I, is to "justify the ways of God to men" and elucidate the conflict between God's eternal foresight and man's free will.
Milton incorporates Paganism, classical Greek references, and Christianity within the poem. It deals with diverse topics from marriage, politics, and monarchy, and grapples with many difficult theological issues, including fate, predestination, the Trinity, and the introduction of sin and death into the world, as well as angels, fallen angels, Satan, and the war in heaven. Milton draws on his knowledge of languages, and diverse sources – primarily Genesis, much of the New Testament, the deutero-canonical Book of Enoch, and other parts of the Old Testament. Milton's epic is generally considered one of the greatest literary works in the English language.
Milton's story contains two arcs: one of Satan (Lucifer) and another of Adam and Eve. The story of Satan begins after Satan and the other rebel angels have been defeated and cast by God into Hell, or as it is also called in the poem, Tartarus. In Pandæmonium, Satan employs his rhetorical skill to organize his followers. He is aided by his lieutenants Mammon and Beelzebub. Belial and Moloch are also present. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers himself to poison the newly created Earth. He braves the dangers of the Abyss alone in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus or Aeneas.
The story of Adam and Eve's temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented for the first time in Christian literature as having a full relationship while still without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan successfully tempts Eve by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric, and Adam, seeing Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another so that if she dies, he must also die. In this manner Milton portrays Adam as a heroic figure, but also as a deeper sinner than Eve, as he is aware that what he is doing is wrong.
After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex, and at first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial. However, they soon fall asleep, having terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realizing that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination.
However, Eve's pleas to Adam reconcile them somewhat. Her encouragement enables Adam and Eve both to approach God, to "bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee," and to receive grace from God. Adam goes on a vision journey with an angel where he witnesses the errors of man and the Great Flood, and is saddened by the sin that they have released through consumption of the fruit.
However, he is also shown hope—the possibility of redemption—through a vision of Jesus Christ. They are then cast out of Eden and the archangel Michael says that Adam may find "A paradise within thee, happier far." They now have a more distant relationship with God, who is omnipresent but invisible (unlike the previous, tangible, Father in the Garden of Eden).
The poet invokes the "Heavenly Muse" and states his theme, the Fall of Man, and his aim, to "justify the ways of God to men." Satan, Beelzebub, and the other rebel angels are described as lying on a lake of fire, from which Satan rises up to claim Hell as his own domain and delivers a rousing speech to his followers ("Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."). The logic of Satan (Satanic Logic) is introduced by: "The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
Satan and the rebel angels debate whether to wage another war on Heaven, and Beelzebub tells them of a new world being built which is to be the home of Man. Satan decides to visit this new world, passes through the Gates of hell, past the sentries Sin and Death, and journeys through the realm of Chaos. Here, Satan is described as having given birth to Sin with a burst of flame from his forehead, before he began open warfare with God — as Athena was born from the head of Zeus.
God observes Satan's journey and foretells how Satan will bring about Man's Fall. God emphasizes, that the Fall will come about as a result of Man's own free will, and excuses himself of responsibility. The Son of God offers himself as a ransom for Man's disobedience, an offer which God accepts, ordaining the Son's future incarnation and punishment. Satan arrives at the rim of the universe, disguises himself as an angel, and is directed to Earth by Uriel, Guardian of the Sun.
Satan journeys to the Garden of Eden, where he observes Adam and Eve discussing the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan, observing their innocence and beauty hesitates in his task, but concludes that "reason just,/ Honour and empire" compel him to do this deed which he "should abhor." Satan tries to tempt Eve while she sleeps, but is discovered by the angels. The angel Gabriel expels Satan from the Garden.
Eve awakes and relates her dream to Adam. God sends Raphael to warn and encourage Adam: they talk of free will and predestination; Raphael tells Adam the story of how Satan inspired his angels to revolt against God.
Raphael goes on to describe further the war in Heaven and explains how the Son of God drove Satan and his minions down to Hell.
Raphael explains to Adam that God then decided to create another world (the Earth); he again warns Adam not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, for "in the day thou eat'st, thou diest;/ Death is the penalty imposed, beware,/ And govern well thy appetite, lest Sin/ Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death".
Adam tells the story of his creation from his own perspective, providing a counterpoint to Raphael's instruction in Book VI. Adam asks Raphael for knowledge concerning the stars and the angelic nature; Raphael warns "heaven is for thee too high/ To know what passes there; be lowly wise", and advises modesty and patience.
Satan returns to Eden and enters into the body of a sleeping serpent. The serpent tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. She eats and takes some fruit for Adam. Adam, realizing Eve has been tricked, decides he would rather die with Eve than live without her; he eats of the fruit. At first the two become intoxicated by the fruit; they become lustful, engaging in sexual intercourse; afterward, in their loss of innocence Adam and Eve cover their nakedness and fall into despair: "They sat them down to weep, nor only tears/ Rained at their eyes, but high winds worse within/ Began to rise, high passions, anger, hate,/ Mistrust, suspicion, discord, and shook greatly/ Their inward state of mind."
God sends his Son to Eden to deliver judgment on Adam and Eve. The two are cursed to suffer in a life that ends in death. And the serpent is cursed to crawl on its belly forever and eat dust. Satan returns in triumph to Hell, while Sin and Death leave Hell and come to Earth. However, as Satan narrates his success in destroying Paradise, the curse of God transforms him and all his minions into serpents who, lured by the forbidden fruit, try to eat it, only to find their mouths filled with dust.
The Son of God pleads with his Father on behalf of Adam and Eve. God decrees the couple must be expelled from the Garden, and the angel Michael descends to deliver God's judgment. Michael begins to unfold the future history of the world to Adam, including Noah's Ark.
Michael tells Adam of the eventual coming of the Messiah, before leading Adam and Eve from the Garden. They have lost the physical Paradise, but now have the opportunity to enjoy a "Paradise within ... happier far." The poem ends: "The World was all before them/ where to choose Their place of rest/ and Providence Their guide: They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow/ Through Eden took, Their solitaire way." Milton has connected the condition of Adam and Eve with the condition of the reader of the epic.
Go To Book I
Table of Contents | Book I
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