“Paradise Lost” is an epic poem written by the English poet John Milton and first published 1667. The first version of the poem was made up of ten books and over ten thousand lines of verse. A later edition organized the poem into twelve books. The book is considered by many scholars to be Milton’s best work and solidifies his place as one of the greatest English poets of all time.
The poem tells the story of the fall of man through the eyes of muses that have given Milton the ability to see how such events played out. Throughout the poem, the reader is given Milton’s interpretation of the fall of Satan from God’s grace, the creation of God’s son, Jesus, the temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Throughout the poem, Milton frequently uses the narrative device of the muses to begin new sections and illustrate the themes and messages of the story.
This epic poem begins with Milton declaring the subject of his poem. The subject is mankind’s first act of disobedience and betrayal toward God and all of the snowballing consequences that followed it. The first act of disobedience is, of course, Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The forbidden fruit hangs from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. This story first told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis is briefly recapped in the poem.
Milton asserts that the outcome of the original sin was the “fruit” of the forbidden tree, i.e. the consequences of Adam and Eve’s actions. This is a clever pun on the usage of the word “fruit” to mean the consequences of someone’s actions as well as an actual fruit.
This original sin was not only the cause of Adam and Eve being thrown out of the Garden of Eden but also the cause of death being brought to human beings for the first time. From this, human beings lost their home in paradise until the day when Jesus comes to restore them to their former purity.
Milton invokes a muse to sing this poem to him. He specifies that this muse is not one of the muses from traditional Greek legend but the same muse that inspired Moses to receive the Ten Commandments and write Genesis. Milton says that his muse is the Holy Spirit itself, the divine inspiration that created the Christian Bible. His muse and his poem intends to succeed beyond the wildest dreams of the Classical poets and accomplish things that they never hoped to do because his inspiration is more devout than theirs.
At this point, Milton asks that the Holy Spirit fill him with the knowledge of the beginnings of the world.
Milton says that he wishes to illustrate how the fall of man was, in fact, part of the greater plan of God and that it is justified. Milton goes on, at this point to explain how exactly Adam and Eve’s betrayal occurred. He introduces the character of Satan in the form of a serpent and the poem joins him and his demons in hell shortly after being cast there by God.
Next to a flaming lake that gives off darkness instead of light, Satan lies on his back, stunned by the fall. He begins to harp about their terrible position to his second-in-command, Beelzebub. Satan does not regret his betrayal of God and suggests that they must gather their forces for a second attempt. Beelzebub doubts that God can be beaten but Satan wonders if they might begin turning God’s good works evil.
They begin making plans but do not realize that they are only able to do this because God intends to use their evil works for good. Satan calls forth the rest of the fallen angels to join him on the earth. Among the fallen angels is Moloch and Belial who are later known as lustful and vengeful gods.
It was Satan’s pride that eventually caused his fall from grace and he announced that he would rather be a servant in Heaven than the king in Hell than. The legions of fallen angels, on Satan’s orders, dig into the ground and bring up gold and other precious minerals. They construct a large temple in a short time and name it Pandemonium, a word that means “all the demons” in Greek.
The vast legions of denizens of hell meet at Pandemonium to have a counsel. Satan tells the fallen angels that their hope is not lost and that they may be able to rise up if they work together. Satan opens the floor to debate and Moloch speaks first. Moloch was one of the toughest fighters in the war in Heaven and wishes for another open war. He points out that nothing could be worse than living in Hell, not even their total destruction.
At this point, Belial speaks up. He claims that he feels that God has not yet punished them as terribly as he is able and that he might still do worse. He reminds them that they would not have been able to get away from the fiery lake if God had not allowed it and thus, God may be planning to forgive them one day.
However, Belial is not necessarily advocating peace. He wants to wait and see what happens. Mammon speaks next, advocating hard work so that the fallen angels may be able to create a kingdom in Hell that rivals or even surpass Heaven. This argument brings the most support and interest from the legions of angels.
Beelzebub tells the crowd that he has heard rumors about a new world that God is creating and that it will be filled with a race called Man. God already favors this race more than his angels. Beelzebub wonders if they might destroy this beloved race and seek their revenge that way. This sways all of the fallen angels who vote unanimously to enact this plan. Satan, who gave Beelzebub the idea, agrees as well.
The fallen angels realize that they must send a scout to the new world and Satan volunteers, pretending to be heroic.
Satan flies away to find the gate of hell. When he does he finds that it is actually nine gates-three of iron, three of brass, and three of adamantine. And two strange specters stand guard. Satan challenges the specters to battle but they inform him that they are actually his offspring. One of the specters, a woman who looks like a snake with a pack of howling dogs around her waist, sprang from Satan’s head when he was still an angel. She was named Sin and she gave birth from him to a son named Death. Death then raped her and this gave birth to the pack of dogs that torment her. Sin and Death guard the gates of hell and hold it’s keyed.
One of the specters, a woman who looks like a snake with a pack of howling dogs around her waist, sprang from Satan’s head when he was still an angel. She was named Sin and she gave birth from him to a son named Death. Death then raped her and this gave birth to the pack of dogs that torment her. Sin and Death guard the gates of hell and hold it’s keyed.
Satan explains his plan to avenge himself against God and Sin and Death let him through the gates. Satan flies out of the gates and falls into a cloud of fire and is taken to Chaos, the ruler of the abyss. Chaos is surrounded by his cohorts, Discord, Confusion and Night. Satan explains his plan to Chaos and asks for help. Chaos agrees to help and points him to where the Earth has been created.
As Satan leaves Hell and ascends to Earth, behind him Sin and Death build a bridge from Hell so that demons may travel across it. In the beginning of Book three, Milton asks that the divine muse fills his head with the knowledge of Heaven.
The reader is taken to Heaven, where God has been watching the events of Hell with his Son. God is aware that Satan has escaped Hell and knows all that will happen because of it. He knows that man will fall because he gave them free will but he does not regret it as free will is the only way humans can be capable of sincere love.
God decides that he must act with mercy for the sins of man and that someone worthy must die for the sins. The Son quickly offers himself and this pleases God. With The Son as a mortal, God can conquer Hell. On Earth, Satan lands on a place that will later be called China. The area is completely deserted and there are no living things there.
Satan sees a golden gate in the distance with steps leading down to Earth. This is a gate to Heaven which was visible from Earth at that time. Satan sees another angel named Uriel on the Earth and transforms into the form of a cherub or a low-ranking angel to speak to him. Satan pretends to have just been sent down from Heaven and pleads curiosity about the new world. Uriel is happy to point the way to Paradise where the first man, Adam lives.
Satan lands just north of the Garden of Eden on a mountain called Niphates. He is briefly gripped by hesitation as seeing all of the splendor and innocence of Earth serves to remind him of what he once was. But Satan realizes that he is now the embodiment of Hell and that he cannot be forgiven no matter what. While he is debating this he does not realize that Uriel is watching him with suspicion.
Satan enters the Garden of Eden and observes the animals and the beautiful fauna. He sees how the humans, one man, and one woman, walk naked without shame. Satan becomes jealous at this new race and remembers how much God loves them.
He listens as Adam reminds Eve never to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Eve tells Adam off when she first awakened and was told that she would be the mother of the human race. Satan realizes that in order to seek his revenge he will need to persuade Adam and Eve to break the only rule that God has given them.
That night Uriel tells the archangel Gabriel of the shape-shifting cherub and Gabriel decides to investigate. He finds Satan in the garden disguised as a toad and whispering things into Eve’s ear. Gabriel demands to know what Satan is doing in Paradise. Satan pretends to be innocent but ultimately his ire is stoked and he prepares to fight Gabriel.
Before the two can begin fighting a pair of golden scales appears in the sky before them as a sign from Heaven. Satan takes this as a sign that he would lose the fight and flies away. Eve wakes and tells Adam of the disturbing dream she has had in which an angel told her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam reminds Eve that because they have free will, this is not necessarily a prediction of what will happen and Eve is comforted by this.
In Heaven, God asks the archangel Raphael to warn Adam of the danger that awaits him. Raphael travels to Earth and eats a meal with Adam and Eve, explaining the differences between heavenly food and earthly food.
Raphael tells Adam the story of Satan’s fall from grace. He says that one day God announced that he had created a son who was going to rule Heaven with him. Many of the angels rejoiced while one, in particular, was angered. That angry angel was Satan, who felt that he deserved to have the same powers as God and was jealous of the Son. Satan created a throne for himself in Heaven and a group of followers. One follower returned to God before Satan was cast out of Heaven and his named was Abdiel.
Many of the angels rejoiced while one, in particular, was angered. That angry angel was Satan, who felt that he deserved to have the same powers as God and was jealous of the Son. Satan created a throne for himself in Heaven and a group of followers. One follower returned to God before Satan was cast out of Heaven and his named was Abdiel.
Shortly after, a war began in Heaven between the angels and Satan’s followers. Satan’s followers created astounding weapons to use again almost gain the advantage before the angels begin burying them under great mountains. One the third day of fighting, God announces that the war must end and sends out his Son to stop it. The Son rides out on a great chariot and forces Satan and his followers into a hole in Heaven’s ground. They fall for nine days before landing in Hell.
Raphael warns Adam about Satan’s plot to destroy mankind. He tells Adam that Satan will attempt to make them commit a great sin in order to tarnish them in the eyes of God. This is the halfway point of the book and it is at this point that Milton invokes Urania, the muse of Astronomy to ensure his safety in linking the story of the war in Heaven back to the story of Adam and Raphael.
Adam asks, cautiously, to hear the story of creation and Raphael tells him that after the war, God wished to create a new race in part to erase the memory of the betrayal of his angels. God creates Earth and mankind in an empty part of the universe in order to show the angels that his kingdom can be expanded indefinitely and that the plans for Earth and Heaven to be joined together one day as one kingdom.
God sends his son down to create Earth so that the race of men will be created in the Son’s image. After Raphael is done with the story, Adam tells him of his awakening. He woke to wonder who he was and quickly realized that he could speak, walk and run. God’s voice then explained to him that he was created to have dominion over the rest of the creatures living on Earth and asks only that he not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam says that after a while, he began longing for a companion and Eve was created for him by God.
God made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs while he slept. When Adam met Eve he fell instantly in love. Raphael soon leaves Earth to return to Heaven. Milton then explains that he must now show Adam and Eve’s actual act of disobedience. He explains that the poem must now turn tragic. He asks for the help of Urania, the muse of inspiration and asks her to visit him while he is sleeping and inspire his words.
Satan returns to the Garden of Eden the next night and sneaks in again. Satan studies the animals in the garden and decides to take the form of a snake. Satan hesitates before doing so, this time, because of his grief at not being able to enjoy this new world as Adam and Eve do.
Satan is delighted when he finds Eve alone working in the garden and he begins flattering her with his words. Eve is surprised to see a creature in the garden speak and Satan tells her that he gained the ability to speak by eating one of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve tells him that God warned her not to eat from that tree and Satan insists that God only wants Adam and Eve to show their independence.
Eve tells the serpent that God told her that eating from the tree meant death but that since the serpent ate from it and survived she may be able to eat from it, too. She believes that the fruit must be powerful if God felt that he had to forbid it. She then takes an apple from the tree and bites into it.
At this, the Earth shudders and nature sighs. With this act, man has fallen. After falling from grace, Eve immediately feels that she must find Adam and encourage him to eat the fruit from the tree so that they will be equal. When Eve tells Adam what she is done he is horrified but quickly decides that he must eat the fruit as well because he cannot live without Eve.
Adam eats the fruit and realizes that he is filled with lust for Eve. Both Adam and Eve soon realize that they have no fallen from God’s grace and have lost Paradise. In addition, the only knowledge they feel they have gained is about the tree and how much they have lost. They now realize that they are filled with shame over their own nakedness and cover themselves with leaves. Adam and Eve grow angry at each other for committing the sin and neither admits fault for it.
In Heaven, God knows right away when Adam and Eve partake of the fruit. The angels report to God that they did all they could to prevent this and God admits that he allowed it and relieves them of their guilt. He then sends his Son to Earth to speak to the couple.
The Son asks Adam and Eve if they ate fruit from the tree and Eve blames the serpent for convincing her to eat it. The Son blames the serpent, not know that it is Satan and decrees that all snakes must crawl on the ground forevermore. As punishment for the couple, The Son decrees that all childbirth will now be painful for women and that food will have to be obtained by laboring and hunting on the land. After passing this punishment The Son returns to Heaven.
Meanwhile, outside of Paradise, Sin and Death meet with Satan and congratulate him on the success of his mission. They promise him that they too will infect the Earth. Satan is not allowed to leave Hell and take dominion where ever he wishes on Earth. Satan returns to Pandemonium and tells his followers of his success but finds that all of his followers have been transformed into snakes. Satan himself is now stuck as a snake, too because of the punishment of The Son.
God sees that Sin and Death have arrived on Earth and tells his angels that he will allow them to stay there until judgment day after which they must return to hell to be locked in with Satan and his followers. God then calls for changes to the Earth. He tilts the Earth so that mankind will have to endure more extreme seasons. Discord follows Sin and Death to Earth and begins making war between the animals.
Adam sees these changes and is saddened that he has caused them. Adam wishes that he could take all of the punishment on himself. Eve comes to him but Adam is furious with her and wonders why God ever created her.
Eve begs for his forgiveness and accepts the blame for eating the fruit. She tells him that only their unity and love can save them now. Eve suggests that they kill themselves but Adam forbids it.
Calming down, Adam consoles Eve and tells her that they must live with their mistakes. He decides that they must beg God for forgiveness and pray for his mercy. They then fall to their knees to do so. Hearing their prayers, God agrees to let his Son pay for the misdeeds of humankind and for their sins. He commands that Adam and Eve be removed from Paradise but tells them that through living a moral and pure life they may be with him again after their death.
God allows one of his angels to show Adam a vision of what is to come in the future for mankind. The vision is of many of the events from the Old Testament of the Bible and the story of Jesus Christ. Adam reassures Eve that she will still be the mother of mankind. She agrees and says that she will try to obey God and live peacefully. They are saddened to leave the Garden of Eden but know that all of Earth has been given to them. They also learn that they can speak to God where ever they are.
The vision that the archangel Michael shows Adam of the future comforts him greatly and he is surprised that so much good will come from his evil deed. Michael then shows the couple out of Eden and stands with the other angels. Michael now carries a sword of flames that will forever protect the entrance to the garden.
Adam and Eve begin on their way to find somewhere else to live hand-in-hand.
Satan -The king of Hell. A fallen angel who now heads the legion of fallen angels in Hell. Satan was cast from Heaven after disputing Gods Son’s new position in Heaven. Satan created his own throne in Heaven and accrued many followers before starting a great war between his followers and God’s loyal angels. At the end of the war, Satan and his followers are thrown into Hell and chained to a fiery lake.
God releases Satan and the other fallen angels from the lake because he knows that he must for fate to take its course. Satan, desperate to seek revenge on God, sneaks onto Earth and into the Garden of Eden to corrupt God’s most treasured race: mankind. Satan often suffers moments of indecision and hesitance during the poem and often feels guilty and jealous over God’s love of man.
Adam – The first man. The father of the human race and the caretaker of Paradise. Adam is at first very grateful to God and obedient. Because he is lonely, God creates a woman for him from one of his ribs and Adam falls instantly in love with Eve.
Adam is somewhat curious but every trusting and falls from grace when he is offered the apple by Eve. Afterward, Adam’s first evil thoughts are lustful about Eve. Afterward, he grows angry and accusing of Eve and only calms when he realizes that he must atone for his sins to God.
Eve – The first woman. The mother of mankind. Eve was created from a rib that was taken from Adam’s side when he was sleeping. Eve is more curious and risk-taking than Adam. Satan believes that she is weaker and thus chooses her to tempt first. Eve refuses to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge at first but later agrees when Satan tells her that it gave him great power.
After eating the fruit, Eve is guilty and horrified at her own actions. She feels that she has corrupted Adam and the only option now is to end her life. When they are cast from the garden, Eve is frightened but accepting of her fate.
John Milton Biography
John Milton was born in London, England on December 9th, 1608. The son of a composer, Milton intended to become a clergyman when he was young but soon grew unsatisfied with the Anglican clergy and began having an interest in poetry. Milton’s earliest known work dates from 1623 when he was just 15 years old.
Two years later, Milton began attending Christ’s College in London and obtained a Master’s of Arts in 1632. Later, Milton attended Cambridge College and it was while there that he began to seriously write poetry.
From 1632 to 1638, Milton lived in his father’s country home in Horton, Buckinghamshire to prepare himself for life as a poet by reading Latin and Greek classics and ecclesiastical and political history.
In 1638-39 he toured France and Italy where he met many of the influential literary figures of the day. After he returned to England, John settled in London and began writing a religious, social and political tracts. In his tracts, Milton took a firm political stance and established himself as the ablest pamphleteer of that time.
In 1642 he married Mary Powell who left him a few weeks later because of different temperaments but two weeks later they reconciled in 1645. Milton and Powell had four children before her death in 1652. Milton supported the parliament in the civil war between Parliamentarians and Royalists and in 1649 was appointed foreign secretary by the government of the Commonwealth.
In 1654, Milton became totally blind for unknown reasons and thereafter was forced to dictate his prose with the aid of the poet Andrew Marvell.
In 1656 he married again to Katherine Woodcock who sadly died shortly after giving birth to their first child. During the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Milton was punished for his support of Parliament by being given a small fine and a short imprisonment.
Milton’s best known and greatest work “Paradise Lost” was published in 1667. Milton began composing the work when he was working as a prose writer and government servant many years earlier. The apogee of Milton’s writing career was reached in the last years of his life when he completed “Paradise Lost” and composed the companion epic, “Paradise Regain’d” (1671) and the poetic drama ‘Samson Agonistes’ (1671).
He married for a third time to Elizabeth Mynshull in 1663 and lived in seclusion until his death on November 8th, 1674. Milton is regarded to this day as the greatest English poet after Shakespeare and his sublime verse shaped the course of English poetry well into the 21st century over three centuries after his death.