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Paradise Lost

For the UK Goth metal band, see Paradise Lost (band).

Paradise Lost (1667) is an epic poem by the 17th century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books and written in blank verse. A second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve books (mimicking the way classical epics were divided) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. The poem concerns the Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

At the early age of sixteen, Milton already aspired to write the great English epic, feeling that he could bring to the English language the same artistic brilliance as Homer and Virgil did for Greek and Latin. At first he considered telling the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, a noble, heroic and distinctively British topic. Later, his attention went to Oliver Cromwell, after his rise to power in 1653. The nationalist theme would mimic Homer's and Virgil's epics of strong, virtuous warriors and noble battles.

Milton, however, turned to an idea he had originally for a verse play, Adam Unparadiz'd, which was the story of Adam and Eve. Milton justifies in Book IX that his topic is even more heroic than those of previous epics, sacrifice and martyrdom being more virtuous and heroic qualities to Milton than courage or strength. After the two editions of the poem, Milton published his final work and sequel to Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, an epic in four books. It retells the temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan. Milton believed that it surpassed Paradise Lost in both its art and its message, though it has never attained the former poem's reputation.

"The Fall of Man" by Lucas Cranach, a 16th century German depiction of Eden
"The Fall of Man" by Lucas Cranach, a 16th century German depiction of Eden

Main characters


Modern readers may consider Satan to be the hero of the story, since he struggles to overcome his own doubts and weaknesses and accomplishes his goal of corrupting mankind. The idea of him being the hero was started by the Romantics and was probably not intended by Milton. Satan is far from being the story's object of admiration, and there is no point in emulating or celebrating him, unlike a true hero. Satan is, however, the most intriguing and compelling of the characters, mainly for his complexity and subtlety. There is an academic current that believes Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw the reader into sympathizing with him against his or her will, only to show how seductive evil is. Another current believes that Satan's role as the hero mimics Achilles's injured merit, Odysseus's wiles and craft, and Aeneas's journey to find a new homeland.

First known as Lucifer, he was a proud angel who failed to think of himself as equal to the other angels. The day God pronounces the Son as his successor in power, Lucifer rebels out of envy, taking with him a third of all the population of angels in Heaven. He is extremely proud and confident that he can overthrow God; his speeches are always fraudulent and deceitful. He assumes many forms during the story, which are reflective of his moral and rational degradation. First, he is a fallen angel of enormous stature; then a humble cherub; a cormorant; a toad; and finally, a snake. He is a picture of incessant intellectual activity without the ability to think morally. Once a powerful angel, he has become blinded to God's grace, forever unable to reconcile his past with his eternal punishment.

Adam and Eve

Adam is strong, intelligent and rational, made for contemplation and valor, and before the fall, as perfect as a human being could be. He is flawed however, and at times indulges in rash and irrational attitudes. His pure reason and intellect are lost as a result of the fall, Man never being able again to converse with angels as near-equal (as he did with Raphael) but forever one-sided (as he did with Michael after the fall). His weakness is his love for Eve. He confides to Raphael that his attraction to her is almost overwhelming – something that Adam's reason is unable to overcome. After Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge, he decides to do the same, realizing that if she is doomed, he must follow her into doom as to not lose her - even if that means disobeying God.

Eve is the mother of all mankind, inferior to Adam, considered to be closer to God, made for softness and "sweet attractive Grace". She only surpasses him in beauty, beauty as such she even falls in love with her own image upon seeing her reflection in a body of water (a reference to the greek myth of Narcissus). It is her vanity that Satan taps into in order to persuade her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, through flattery. Eve is clearly intelligent but unlike Adam she is not eager to learn, being absent from Adam and Raphael's conversation in Book VIII, and Adam's visions presented by Michael in Books XI and XII. Eve does not feel it is her place to seek knowledge independently, as she prefers to have Adam teach her later. The one instance in which she deviates from this passiveness is when she goes out on her own and ends up seizing the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

It is wrong, however, to think that Milton is denigrating women through his depiction of Eve. Through Eve, he explores the role of women in his society and the positive and important role they could offer in the divine union of marriage. At the end of the poem, after exposing their strengths and weaknesses, Adam and Eve emerge as a powerful unit, complementary in each other – not only to the reader, but to themselves. The fall serves a purpose of self-discovery, the Fortunate Fall , or felix culpa.


Milton's God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, which means that He has foreknowledge of further events, but does not predestinate – which would negate the whole idea of free will. The problem with interpreting the character of God in Paradise Lost is that he is more of a personification of abstract ideas than a real character. It is wrong to think of Him as a kindly old man or as a human father as He is ultimately unidentifiable. He is the embodiment of pure reason, always just, loving of his creatures, and strongly defending humankind's free will. He allows evils to occur, but to make good out of evil – His plan to save humankind by offering his Son shows his unwavering control over Satan.

The Son

The Son is the manifestation of God in action, the physical connection between God the Father and his creation, together forming a complete and perfect God. He personifies love and compassion and volunteers to die for humankind in order to redeem them, showing his dedication and selflessness. Through his human form the Son will be descended from Adam, through whom all men died, but He will be a second Adam, by whom all men shall be saved. In Judgment Day, the Son will appear in the sky and have dead summoned from every corner of the world, sentence the sinners into Hell. Adam's final vision in Book XII is of the Son's sacrifice as Jesus.


The story is divided into twelve books against Homer's twenty-four books of the Iliad and Odyssey. The longest book is Book IX, with 1189 lines and the shortest, Book VII, with 640. Each book is preceded by a summary titled "The Argument". The poem follows the epic tradition of starting in medias res (Latin for in the midst of things), the background story being told in Books V-VI.

Books I-II

The action begins with Satan and his rebel angels, chained to a lake of fire in Hell. Once freed, they fly to land, gather minerals and build Pandemonium, the capitol of Hell. There they hold a debate on what to do next in relation to the war in Heaven. Moloch, a fierce devil who wishes to be equal to God or annihilated in the struggle, argues for open war. Belial advises the council to wait and see. Mammon suggests that they make the best of their situation in Hell, dismissing war altogether. Beelzebub, Satan's chief accomplice, suggests that the best way to attack God would be corrupting His new creation, humankind. Satan, who had conceived the idea in the first place, agrees and volunteers to go himself. At the gates of Hell he is met by his two children: Sin and Death. Satan goes through the realm of Chaos and his consort Night. Chaos is pleased with Satan's plan and directs him to Earth, which is suspended from Heaven by a golden chain in the regions above him.

Book III

God sits on his throne in Heaven and predicts to the Son that Satan will tempt man, but it will be man's fault as he disobeys God since man was made "Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall". However, whereas the evil angels fell by their own suggestion, man falls because he is tempted by Satan, and that is why he will be able to find mercy and grace. The Son volunteers to sacrifice himself in order to redeem humankind. Meanwhile Satan is traveling and comes upon a stairway up to Heaven and a stairway down to Paradise. He has a vision of the whole universe that fills him with wonder and envy. Further on Satan discovers Uriel, the angel of the Sun, and disguises himself as a "stripling cherub" and tells Uriel he wishes to see and praise God's glorious creation and Uriel points out Earth and Paradise for him.

Books IV-V

Landing on Earth, Satan takes a moment to reflect. He is troubled because wherever he goes, he carries Hell around with him in his mind and cannot escape it. Paradise brings him pain rather than pleasure and he reaffirms his decision to make evil his good. Satan leaps over the wall of Eden, like a wolf jumping into a sheepfold; and disguised as a cormorant, he perches himself atop the Tree of Life, and there plots death for man. He sees Adam and Eve for the first time, the natural king and queen of their world, in complete harmony with their surroundings, returning to their bower to rest after a long day of work. Adam and Eve talk about God and from their conversation Satan learns of the existence of the Tree of Knowledge, from which they are forbidden to eat. He takes the form of a toad and whispers into Eve's ear, giving her an evil dream that foreshadows the fall, in which an angel tempts her to eat from the Tree.

Earlier on Uriel had noticed a change in Satan's appearance and called Gabriel to deal with the impostor, who orders Satan to leave. God sends down Raphael to teach man of the dangers they are facing so that they do not fall from ignorance. The next morning Raphael arrives on Earth and has a meal with Adam and Eve, indicating the possibility of easy giving and take between angels and Man before the fall. Raphael then tells the story of Satan's envy over the Son's appointment as God's second-in-command. Satan influenced many other angels into siding with him and plotted a war against God. The angel Abdiel tried to convince Satan that the Son's reign over the hierarchy of angels will give it more glory and make it more secure. Even though he is right, no one had the courage to support him, and he returned to God.


The following day, the war preparations had begun, and Abdiel called Satan a fool not to recognize that it is useless to fight against God's omnipotence. The battle lasted two days, when God sent the Son to end the war and deliver Satan and his rebel angels to Hell. Raphael ends his account by warning Adam about Satan's evil motives to corrupt them. Adam asks Raphael to tell him the story of creation. After Lucifer had fallen from Heaven, God announced his intention of creating a race of beings to repopulate Heaven in the place of the fallen angels. He sent the Son to set boundaries on Chaos and created the earth, and stars and other planets, following the account in Genesis.

Still curious, Adam asks Raphael about the movement of heavenly bodies. The angel answers that it should not matter to man, God conceals that and other things that are not necessary for man to know. Adam decides to tell Raphael of his own story, of waking up and wondering who he was, what he was, and where he was. God spoke to him and told him many things, including his order not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam asked God for a companion, because the animals who live in Paradise are not his equals. He took out a rib from Adam, from which he formed Eve. He explains his intense physical attraction to her, but Raphael reminds him that he must love her more purely and spiritually.

Book IX

Seven days later, Satan returns to Paradise. After studying closely the animals of Paradise, he chooses to take the form of the serpent, the "subtlest beast of all the field". Meanwhile Eve suggests to Adam that they should work separately for a while. Adam, having Raphael's warning in mind, is hesitant, but then agrees. Eve does not think a foe so proud will attack the weaker person first. Satan finds her alone, and in the form of a serpent, talks and compliments her on her beauty and godliness. She is amazed that the animal can speak, and he explains that he has risen from his animal state by eating from a certain tree, that gave him the ability to reason and talk. Upon seeing the tree, Eve recognizes it and tells the serpent that it is forbidden. The serpent argues that they have been wronged by God, and that the fruit will give them wisdom and god-like status, from which God must be envious.

She is hesitant but reaches for a fruit and eats, the serpent quickly slinking into the woods. Eve is distraught and searches for Adam, who has been busy making her a wreath of flowers. He is horrified to learn that she has disobeyed God, realizing that she is lost, and he with her. Realizing that he would rather be fallen with her than remain pure and lose her, he eats the fruit as well. Utterly caught up in their actions, thoughtless and intoxicated, they give in to lust and display for the first time ugly passions such as hate, anger and mistrust.

Book X

God tells the angels in Heaven that they must be punished, but with justice and mercy. First the serpent is punished, condemned to never walk upright again. Then Adam and Eve are sentenced to pain and death. Eve and all the women must suffer the pain of childbirth and submit to their husbands, whereas Adam and all men must work, hunt, and grow their own food. The Son gives them clothes out of pity, given that now they are ashamed of their nakedness.

In his way back to Hell, Satan meets Sin and Death, who travel to Earth, making a bridge over Chaos. At Pandemonium, he is greeted with cheers, but shortly thereafter the devils unwillingly transform into snakes and are tempted to reach a fruit from trees that turn to dust as they reach them. God tells the angels to transform the Earth. After the fall, humankind must suffer hot and cold seasons instead of the consistent temperatures before the fall. On Earth, Adam and Eve fear their approaching doom and blame each other for their disobedience and become increasingly angry at one another. Adam even wonders why God ever created Eve, who begs him not to abandon her. They contemplate suicide, but realize that they can enact revenge on Satan by remaining obedient to God, and together pray to God and repent.

Books XI-XII

God hears their prayers and forgives them, but will not allow man to live in Paradise any longer: the immortal elements of Paradise reject Adam and Eve who are now mortal. Michael arrives on Earth and tells them they must leave. But before that he puts Eve to sleep and takes Adam to the top of the highest hill in Paradise, where he shows him a vision of the future of humankind. Adam sees the sins of his children, Cain and Abel, and of all his progeny. He is horrified with visions of death, lust, greed, envy, and pride. They kill each other selfishly and live only for pleasure. Then there is Enoch, who is saved by God as his warring peers attempt to kill him; Noah and his family, whose virtue allows them to be chosen to survive the Flood. Then there is the hunter Nimrod and the Tower of Babel he builds to reach Heaven; the triumph of Moses and the Israelites, and finally the Son’s sacrifice to save humankind. Adam realizes that this is all the knowledge he needs to have, knowing he must obey God and depend on Him. All he needs to do is to add facts of faith, virtue, patience, temperance and love to his knowledge and he will find within himself a paradise far happier than the one he is now in. Led by Michael, Adam and Eve slowly and woefully leave Paradise hand in hand into a new world.


Influences include the Bible, Milton's own Puritan upbringing and religious perspective, Edmund Spenser, and the Roman poet Virgil.

To be expanded

Thematic concerns

  • The Trinity – Milton's interpretation of the Trinity is that the Son and Spirit are both parts of God, or aspects of God, but they are not all of God. The analogy Milton makes in Paradise Lost is one of light: God is like the sun, the essence of light, while the Son is like the rays of the sun, an "effluence" of light. Just as it is difficult to separate the sun from its rays, it is difficult for Milton to separate the Son from the Father, or the Spirit from the other two.

More to be inserted

Response and criticism

This epic has generally been considered one of the greatest works in the English language. However, since it is based upon scripture, its significance in the literary canon has first been reinterpreted and later dwindled with religion. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake commented:

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

Blake's became the most common reinterpretation of the work in secular universities in the twentieth century, but among some groups such as evangelical Christians, there is no such reinterpretation. Rather, such groups would uphold the theology of Paradise Lost insofar as it conforms to the passages of Scripture on which it is based.

Paradise Lost has had a profound impact on writers, artists and illustrators, and, in the twentieth century, filmmakers. In the late 1970s, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki wrote an opera based on Paradise Lost, and Sergei Eisenstein thought it perfect material for epic film. The epic was also one of the inspirations for Philip Pullman's trilogy of novels His Dark Materials. In Pullman's introduction, he adapts Blake's line to quip that he himself "is of the Devil's party and does know it."

To be expanded


The history of illustrators includes, among others, Edward Burney , Richard Westall, Francis Hayman, Bernard Lens , and John Medina . The most notable and popular illustrators include William Blake, Gustave Dore and Henry Fuseli. The tradition continues today with noted surreal/visionary artist Terrance Lindall's rendition which was published in hardcover in 1982 and which also appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine around that time. Lindall's version [1] is taught at New York University and is considered to be the twentieth century's most notable contribution to the tradition of fine art illustrations in homage to Milton's visionary genius.

Selected Bibliography

Online editions

Paradise Lost

Paradise Regained

In print

  • Paradise Lost Norton Critical Edition (2nd edition edited by Scott Elledge ISBN 0393962938; 3rd edition edited by Gordon Teskey ISBN 0393924289) – includes biographical, historical, and literary backgrounds, and criticism
  • Paradise Lost Penguin Classics ISBN 0140424393
  • Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained Signet Classic Poetry ISBN 0451527925
  • Hughes, Merrit Y. ed. John Milton. Complete Poems and Major Prose. New York, 1957.
  • Fowler, Alastair, ed. Paradise Lost. London, 1971.


  • Carey, John and Fowler, Alastair. The Poems of John Milton. London, 1971.
  • Empson, William. Milton's God Rev. ed. London, 1965.
  • Eliot, T.S. "Milton" and "A Note on the Verse of John Milton." On Poetry and Poets. London, 1957.
  • Frye, Northrop. The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton's Epics. Toronto, 1965
  • Kermode, Frank, ed. The Living Milton: Essays by Various Hands. London, 1960.
  • Lewis, C.S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. London, 1942.
  • Ricks, Christopher. Milton's Grand Style. Oxford, 1963.

External links

Last updated: 07-31-2005 05:53:28
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