by Michael J. Cummings © 2005
Lost is an epic poem which—like the epic poems of Homer,
and Goethe—tells a story about momentous
events while incorporating grand themes that are timeless and universal.
completed the first version of Paradise Lost in 1667. It consisted
of 10 books. In 1668 and 1669, he added an introductory comment about the
verse form and a special section with summaries of each book. In 1674,
he published the final version of the epic, in which he divided Books 7
and 10 into two books each. The completed work thus had 12 books instead
of 10. He also placed each summary at the beginning of the book it summarized.
used the Bible, Homer's
Iliad and Odyssey,
Vergil's Aeneid, and the stories
in Greco-Roman mythology as sources of information and as writing models.
The Bible's Book of Genesis is the main source for his retelling of the
story of creation and the first humans, Adam and Eve.
settings are heaven, hell, the firmament (Chaos), and earth.
God the Father, God the
Son: Two of the three divine persons making
up the all-powerful Godhead, the single deity that created and rules all
that exists outside of itself. The third divine person, the Holy Spirit,
does not play a role in Paradise Lost. God the Father is portrayed
as just but merciful, condemning the defiant and unrepentant rebel angels
but permitting redemption of the repentant Adam and Eve. God the Son volunteers
to redeem them by becoming human and enduring suffering and death.
Satan (Lucifer, Archfiend):
Powerful and prideful angel who, with legions of supporters, leads an unsuccessful
rebellion against God and suffers eternal damnation. To gain revenge, he
devises a plan to corrupt God's newly created beings, Adam and Eve, through
deceit. Modern readers often admire him for his steely defiance. He would
rather rule in
hell, he says, than serve in heaven. It was not Milton's intent, however,
to create an admirable character; rather his intent was to create a character
of colossal hatred—loathsome, execrable, incurably remorseless.
Adam and Eve:
The first human beings, created by God to fill the void that resulted when
God cast Satan and his supporters out of the celestial realm. Adam and
Eve live on the planet earth in utter happiness in a special garden where
spring is the only season and love and godly living prevail. Though they
have all that they want and need, cunning Satan tells them they can have
knowledge and status beyond their reach if only they eat of the fruit of
the Tree of Knowledge. Eve can become a goddess, he says. Vanity overtakes
her. She eats. Adam reluctantly does the same.
Gabriel, Raphael, Michael,
Uriel: Powerful and fearless angels on
the side of God.
Beelzebub, Mammon, Belial,
Powerful leaders in Satan's army. In a great council in hell, each of them
speaks his mind on what policy devil-kind should follow after losing paradise.
Should they make new war? Should they make peace?
Angels who expel Satan from the Garden of Eden with the help of a sign
from God. Satan returns to the garden later to complete his devious enterprise.
Fallen angel who designs hell's capital city and seat of government, Pandemonium.
In ancient Roman mythology, Mulciber is another name for Vulcan (Greek:
Hephaestus), god of fire and the forge. As a blacksmith, he kept shop in
burning mountains (volcanoes).
Daughter of Satan. She was born from his head in the manner of Athena,
Greek goddess of wisdom and war, who sprang from the forehead of Zeus,
king of the gods.
Son of Satan and Sin
Various Other Angels
describing the planets and other celestial bodies, Milton models God’s
creation on the Ptolemaic design (also called the geocentric design) rather
than the Copernican design (also called the heliocentric design). The former
placed earth at the center of the solar system, with the sun and other
celestial bodies orbiting it. Copernicus and other scientists later proved
that the earth orbits the sun. Milton was aware of the Copernican theory,
but he used the Ptolemaic design—either because he believed it was the
more credible theory or because he believed it would better serve his literary
purpose. In Paradise Lost, Adam inquires about the movements of
celestial bodies—in particular, whether earth orbits the sun or vice versa—in
his conversation with the archangel Raphael, but Raphael gives no definite
answer. Raphael may have been speaking for Milton.
and Verse Format
wrote Paradise Lost in dignified, lofty, melodic English free of
any colloquialisms and slang that would have limited the work's timeliness
and universality. The format, Milton says in an introductory note, is "English
heroic verse without rhyme"—in other words, blank
verse, the same verse form used by Shakespeare in his plays. .......Milton's
strong religious faith infuses the poem with sincerity and moral purpose,
but he does not allow his enthusiasm for his subject to overtake control
of his writing. Though Milton frequently uses obscure allusions to mythology
and history, as well as occasional difficult words and phrases, his language
is never deliberately affected or ostentatious. What is more, it does not
preach and does not take the reader on circumlocutory expeditions. Like
a symphony composer—mighty Beethoven, for example—Milton is always in control,
tempering his creative genius with his technical discipline.
a good dictionary and an annotated text, a first-time reader of Milton
can easily follow and understand the story while developing an appreciation
for the exquisite writing.
Paradise Lost, Milton used the classical epic conventions—literary
practices, rules, or devices established by Homer that became commonplace
in epic poetry. Some of these practices were also used in other genres
of literature. Among the classical conventions Milton used are the following:
The invocation of the muse, in which a writer
requests divine help in composing his work.
Telling a story with which readers or listeners are already familiar; they
know the characters, the plot, and the outcome. Most of the great writers
of the ancient world—as well as many great
writers in later times, including Shakespeare—frequently
told stories already known to the public. Thus, in such stories, there
were no unexpected plot twists, no surprise endings. If this sounds strange
to you, the modern reader and theatergoer, consider that many of the most
popular motion pictures today are about stories already known to the public.
Examples are The Passion of the Christ, Titanic,
Commandments, Troy, Spartacus, Pearl Harbor, and
Beginning the story in the middle, a literary convention known by its Latin
term in media res (in the middle of things). Such a convention
allows a writer to begin his story at an exciting part, then flash back
to fill the reader in on details leading up to that exciting part.
Announcing or introducing a list of characters who play a major role in
the story. They may speak at some length about how to resolve a problem
(as the followers of Satan do early in Paradise Lost).
Conflict in the celestial realm. Divine beings fight and scheme against
one another in the epics of Homer and Vergil, and they do so in Paradise
Lost on a grand scale, with Satan and his forces opposing God and his
Use of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is a literary device in which a character
in a story fails to see or understand what is obvious to the audience or
readers. Dramatic irony appears frequently in the plays of the ancient
Greeks. For example, in Oedipux Rex, by Sophocles,
dramatic irony occurs when Oedipus fails to realize what the audience knows—that
he married his own mother. In Paradise Lost, dramatic irony occurs
when Adam and Eve happily go about daily life in the Garden of Eden unaware
that they will succumb to the devil's temptation and suffer the loss of
Paradise. Dramatic irony also occurs when Satan and his followers fail
to understand that it is impossible ultimately to thwart or circumvent
divine will and justice.
Michael J. Cummings...©
Hell broke loose
Book IV, Paradise
The Invocation of the
opens Paradise Lost by asking a muse to inspire his writing. In
ancient Greece and Rome, poets had always requested “the muse" to fire
them with creative genius when they began long narrative poems, called
epics, about godlike heroes and villains. In Greek mythology, there were
nine muses, all sisters, who were believed to inspire poets, historians,
flutists, dancers, singers, astronomers, philosophers, and other thinkers
and artists. If one wanted to write a great poem, play a musical instrument
with bravado, or develop a grand scientific or philosophical theory, he
would ask for help from a muse.
a writer asked for help, he was said to be “invoking the muse." The muse
of epic poetry was named Calliope [kuh LY uh pe]. However, in Book 7, Milton
identifies Urania—the muse of astronomy—as the goddess to whom he addresses
his plea for inspiration.
Milton’s time, writers no longer believed in muses, of course. Nevertheless,
since they symbolized inspiration, writers continued to invoke them. So
it was that when Milton began Paradise Lost, he addressed the muse
in the telling of his tale, writing, “I thence invoke thy aid to my adventurous
and his followers rebel against God. But God and his mighty angels defeat
the rebels in a terrible war. God casts them into a dark abyss with a lake
of fire. There, the defeated legions deplore their fate and consider their
future. In a great council, the many thousands of the fallen assemble in
the capital city and seat of government, Pandemonium, where Satan sits
on his royal throne, to hear their leaders speak their minds on the course
of action they should take.
a rebel leader who fought fiercely against the forces of the Almighty,
calls for renewed war. Belial advises a do-nothing policy, maintaining
that the horror of their hell will abate in time and that their surroundings
will brighten. To challenge God would only result in another defeat and
more punishment. After Mammon advises peace, Beelzebub—a majestic, imposing
figure—notes that God is creating a new creature, man, who will occupy
a new world, earth. If they turn this new creature from his ordained course,
using force or trickery, they can enjoy revenge against God, Beelzebub
says. His plan is not his own; it is the plan of Satan, his master.The
assembly of devils does not respond; they do not know what to say about
the leader of all the accursed, Satan, speaks up. He first bemoans their
Our prison strong, this
huge convex of Fire,
But if any of them manages to
break free, Satan says, he will encounter a dark void beyond which are
unknown regions and unknown dangers. Nevertheless, Satan, as leader, says
he will venture forth and "Through all the coasts of dark destruction seek
/ Deliverance for us all: this enterprise / None shall partake with me."
His "enterprise," of course is to work his deceptive charms against the
new creatures. He will subvert God’s plan and give hell a reason to cheer.
None in the assemblage spoke against this plan. Instead, all rose with
a thunderous noise to give assent:
Outrageous to devour, immures
Ninefold, and gates of burning
Barred over us prohibit
all egress. (Book 2, lines 444-447)
him they bend
so the assembly broke up and ventured off into the regions from whence
With awful reverence prone;
and as a God
Extol him equal to the highest
in Heaven. (Book 2, 477-479)
Rocks, caves, lakes, fens,
bogs, dens, and shades of death,
Satan "with thoughts inflamed of highest design / Puts on swift wings,
and toward the Gates of Hell / Explores his solitary flight. . . " (Book
2, lines 630-632). Later, Satan's daughter, Sin, who was born from the
archfiend's head, and his son, Death, who was born of Satan's union with
Sin, decide to follow and assist their father.
A universe of death, which
God by curse
Created evil, for evil only
Where all life dies, death
lives, and nature breeds,
Perverse, all monstrous,
all prodigious things,
and worse. (Book 2, 621-626)
heaven, God the Father and God the Son observe Satan flying in a rage toward
earth. Satan will corrupt his new creatures, the Father says, even though
they possess the willpower to reject sin. Their penalty will be death.
However, because they will not rebel against God but instead succumb to
Satan’s temptation, they will be redeemable—if someone takes on the burden
of their sin by suffering and dying on their behalf. When the Son offers
himself for this task, the Father accepts the offer and approves of his
incarnation in the world of man.
reach earth, Satan must fly past Uriel, a member of the highest-ranking
order of angels, the Seraphim. Uriel watches over earth from his post at
the sun. Disguising himself as one of the cherubim—the second-highest-ranking
order of angels—Satan asks Uriel to point out the planet where man dwells
so that he may go there, admire this new creature, and praise his great
Maker. Uriel instructs him, and Satan resumes his journey and arrives at
sight of Paradise disheartens him, for it reminds him of all that he lost
in his rebellion against God. After struggling with self-recrimination
and doubt, Satan regains himself and enters Paradise, taking the shape
of a cormorant—a web-footed sea bird—and perching in the Tree of Life (a
tree producing fruit which, when eaten, yields everlasting life) to observe
the newly created Adam and Eve. They are beautiful, happy creatures who
surprise Satan with their ability to speak and think logically.
when they are asleep, Satan whispers evil thoughts into Eve’s ear—of “vain
hopes" and “inordinate desires." When the archangel Gabriel learns of Satan’s
presence in Eden, he sends two angels to expel him. When they confront
him, Satan defiantly scorns them and prepares for a fight. An angelic squadron
descends toward Eden under the command of Gabriel, and a sign appears in
the heavens in which God weighs the adversaries in his golden scales. When
Gabriel tells Satan to look at the scales, the archfiend sees that they
tip in the favor of the celestial forces, and he flees.
a mission from God, the angel Raphael warns Adam and Eve about Satan. So
that they understand the nature of their foe, Raphael tells them the story
of Satan’s rebellion and the great war in which angels on both sides fought
fiercely. It ended in Satan’s expulsion from heaven, Raphael says, after
the Son of God intervened on behalf of the celestial forces. A new world
with new creatures was then created to fill the void left by the rebels
cast into the deep.
a curious creature, asks Raphael about the earth and its place in creation.
Raphael explains the universe but warns Adam to temper his desire for knowledge
with humility. When Adam expresses his great satisfaction with Eve as a
mate, Raphael again cautions him to be careful. Living with and loving
a creature such as Eve, with all of her charm and beauty, is wonderful;
however, Adam must not let her divert his attention from his responsibilities
returns to the Garden of Eden in the form of a snake and tempts Eve to
eat fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in defiance of a divine command never
to do so. If she and Adam taste the fruit, he says, they will become gods.
Eve eats. After Satan leaves, Adam—though reluctant—also eats. And so Adam
and Eve fall from grace, and the Son of God pronounces judgment on the
Satan returns in triumph to hell, the multitude of fiends cheer him but
suddenly turn into serpents. Earth becomes a place of changing seasons;
the eternal spring is no more. Adam is downcast, wishing for death, and
blames Eve for leading them astray. But they reconcile and decide to go
on, confessing their wrongdoing and pleading for forgiveness.
decrees that heaven will remain open for them. But He sends the archangel
Michael down to evict them from Paradise. Before Michael leaves, he tells
them about events to come in the history of the world and, from a hilltop,
shows Adam his progeny—Cain and Abel (and the murder of Cain by Abel) and
the descendants who later will form a covenant with God after a great flood.
then foretells the advent of a Redeemer, who will die for the sins of humankind—then
rise from the grave and leave earth but return later in a second coming.
Adam and Eve then walk into their new life.
The World was all before
them, where to choose
They enter the imperfect world,
with all its perils.
Their place of rest, and
Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering
steps and slow,
Through Eden took their
solitary way. (Book 10, lines 1537-1540)
imagery is at times graceful and elegant, as in this memorable personification
in Book 6:
At other times, the imagery
is imposing and awe-inspiring, as in this description in Book 7 that ends
Waked by the circling hours,
with rosy hand
Unbarred the gates of light.
Book 8, Milton describes the commission of the first sin in simple, straightforward
language, followed by a succinct personification summing up the terrible
effects of the iniquity:
Hugest of living creatures,
on the deep
Stretched like a promontory
sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land,
and at his gills
Draws in, and at his trunk
spouts out a sea. (lines 412-416)
[H]er rash hand in evil hour
Milton also uses personification
in Book 4 in this beautiful passage about a quiet night, the starry sky,
and the ascendancy of the moon:
Forth reaching to the fruit,
she plucked, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and
Nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her
works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost. (line
She all night long her amorous
Silence was pleased: now
glow'd the Firmament
With living Sapphires: Hesperus
that led..............[Hesperus: evening
star which the Greeks associated with the brother
The starry Host, rode brightest,
till the Moon........of Atlas; later Hesperus
was associated with Lucifer's brilliant light.]
Rising in clouded Majesty,
Apparent Queen unveiled
her peerless light,
And o'er the dark her Silver
Mantle threw. (lines 602-609)
uses frequently uses enjambment (also
spelled enjambement) in the poem. It is a literary device in which
a poet does not complete his sentence or phrase at the end of one line
but allows it to carry over to the next line, as in these passages from
Of man's first disobedience,
and the fruit
Milton's use of enjambment helps
the poem flow from one line to the next.
Of that forbidden tree,
whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world.
. . (Book 1, lines 1-3).
Yet Chains in Hell, not Realms
expect: mean while
From me returned, as erst
thou saidst, from flight,
This greeting on thy impious
Crest receive. (Book 6, lines 186-188)
Book 1 of Paradise Lost, Milton reveals the central theme of the
work: to justify the ways of God to man. Justify here means
to explain and
defend, and ultimately to vindicate,
God’s course of action in dealing with Adam and Eve after they succumbed
to the temptation of Satan and ate forbidden fruit.
It leads to Satan's downfall and his continuing defiance of God.
Envy: Arising from
Satan's pride, it makes him jealous of God the Son, who is the favorite
of God the Father.
Revenge: It motivates
Satan to corrupt Adam and Eve and thereby subvert God's plans.
Vanity: It leads
Eve to believe—under the temptation of Satan—that she can become godlike.
Deceit: Satan appears
in many disguises and tells many lies during his mission to trick Adam
betrays God by siding with Eve and eating the forbidden fruit.
Unbridled pursuit of
knowledge: It leads Adam and Eve to seek knowledge beyond their ken,
knowledge that will make them godlike.
and humans alike possess free will, enabling them to make decisions. Satan
freely chooses to rebel against God, and Adam and Eve freely choose to
eat forbidden fruit. The consequences of their actions are their own fault,
not God's. Milton uses this theme to help support the central theme, "to
justify the ways of God to man."
sins are acts of disobedience against God, impairing or cutting off the
sinner's relationship with God. Adam and Eve and all of the devils disobey
God through their sins.
to God and his ways are necessary for eternal salvation. Loyalty requires
obedience. All of the good angels exhibit loyalty.
though Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, their repentance makes them eligible
for eventual salvation.
Hope: At the end
Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve enter the imperfect world with hope;
they can yet attain eternal salvation.
the suffering and death of the Son of God, sinful man can reconcile himself
with God if he is sincerely sorry for his sins.
climax, or turning point, of Paradise Lost occurs when Adam and
Eve succumb to Satan's temptations and eat the forbidden fruit. This act
of disobedience results in their downfall and eviction from Paradise.
Is an Angel?
angel is a supernatural being that serves God by praising and adoring Him
and by carrying out special missions that assist humans. Angels have the
additional task of opposing and punishing devils. Devils are angels cast
out of heaven because they rebelled against God. The word angel derives
from the Greek word angelos, meaning messenger. The major
western religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—all accept the existence
of angels. The rank of angels from highest to lowest is as follows:
Study Questions and Essay
1. What does Satan mean when
he says, “Better to reign in hell, then [than] serve in heav’n" (Book 1,
2. What does Belial mean
when he says, "This horror will grow milde, this darkness light"? (Book
2, line 220).
3. Explain the allusion
in the underlined words: "[H]is Altar breathes / Ambrosial Odours
and Ambrosial Flowers" (Mammon, Book 2, lines 243-244)
4. Write an essay that reviews
Milton's use of epic conventions in Paradise Lost. Be sure to give
plenty of examples to support your thesis.
5. Write an essay explaining
the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the solar
system. Include in your essay illustrations of both models.