Paradise Lost
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Paradise Lost

John Milton, John A. Himes

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📖 eBook - ePub

Paradise Lost

John Milton, John A. Himes

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Milton's great 17th-century epic draws upon Bible stories and classical mythology to explore the meaning of existence, as understood by people of the Western world. Its roots lie in the Genesis account of the world's creation and the first humans; its focus is a poetic interpretation `Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe / With loss of Eden.`
In sublime poetry of extraordinary beauty, Milton's poem references tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Iliad and Odyssey, and Virgil's Aeneid. But one need not be a classical scholar to appreciate Paradise Lost. In addition to its imaginative use of language, the poem features a powerful and sympathetic portrait of Lucifer, the rebel angel who frequently outshines his moral superiors. With Milton's deft use of irony, the devil makes evil appear good, just as satanic practices may seem attractive at first glance.
Paradise Lost has exercised enormous influence on generations of artists and their works, ranging from the Romantic poets William Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley to Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Creation and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

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Paradise Lost differs in its opening from its ancient models, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Æneid, in having a double invocation. The first is to the Genius of Sacred Song, elsewhere called Urania, who is the inspirer of the rhythmical language in versified portions of the Holy Scriptures, who appears in Heaven as the sister and companion of eternal Wisdom, and who gives to the speech of the blessed that prompt eloquence and musical sweetness by which it is characterized. She has to do with expression.
The Holy Spirit, who is next invoked for enlightenment and instruction, has to do with substance rather than with form. To Him the poet prays for knowledge and ability to set forth the truth. This implies an intention to hold fancy in check and to subordinate everything to the correct presentation of great spiritual facts. They make a radical mistake who say that certain things in the poem may be poetry but are not theology.
1. Disobedience. This is the principal word of the subject. It prepares us for a certain sternness of sentiment, especially in the words of the offended Deity. Justice rather than love is the keynote; and the poet’s main purpose is to show the righteousness of God’s dealings.
1–5. The subject is not fully stated until the end of the fifth line. Landor’s idea that the fourth and fifth lines might be advantageously omitted is erroneous; they are needed to mark out exactly the scope of the poem. Milton carries us forward to the period of the restored earth and the establishment of the saved in it (xii. 463–465).
6. Secret means “separate,” “retired,” “apart.” The loneliness of the desert retreat is contrasted with the publicity of Mount Zion, its kingly palace, its architectural beauty, and its tides of human life. The Heavenly Muse visits her votaries not only in remote solitudes but also in crowded cities.
8. That shepherd. Moses had been literally a shepherd in the district about Horeb and Sinai (Exod. a. I); he is called a shepherd metaphorically as the leader of the Israelites out of Egypt (Isa. lxiii. II); he is so designated here in allusion to his poetical character. The peculiar fitness in this early mention of Moses appears from the fact that to him chiefly Milton is indebted for the knowledge of “man’s first disobedience.”
10. Zion hill. The names of David and Isaiah, true poets, are associated with this spot, which may well, therefore, be regarded as a haunt of the Muses.
13. Adventrous. “Now of the Heaven which is above the heavens no earthly poet has sung, or ever will sing, in a worthy manner.”—Plato’s Phœdrus. The task, impracticable to the Pagan world, Milton was able to undertake with the aid of Divine revelation.
14. No middle flight. He celebrates the very throne of God, “high above all height.” Since there is no summit beyond that to which he aspires, the word “middle” is used in its exact sense and not in the vague sense of “mediocre” or “mean.”
16. Unattempted. What does this mean? The War in Heaven, the Fall of Lucifer, the Creation of the World, and the Fall of Man had been subjects frequently treated by poets of almost every Christian nation. But in the grandeur of his scope and method Milton had no predecessor or model. His is a universal poem, not bounded by the ordinary limits of space and time.
18. Before all temples. Whatever mountain or spring may be the haunt of the tuneful Nine or the Heavenly Muse, the Holy Spirit does not favor any particular spot of earth, but dwells everywhere in pious hearts. “Temple” here does not mean a building erected by human hands, but any precinct, whether hill, or grove, or spring hallowed by the presence of a deity.
19. Instruct me. This invocation is not a mere form. It results from a conviction deeply felt and long before expressed (Reason of Church Government, Introd. to Book II., 1641) that in the work which he owed to the world he must rely not upon “dame Memory and her siren daughters,” but upon “devout prayer to that eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.”
21. Dove-like. “The comparison ‘dove-like,’ to illustrate the meaning of ‘brooding,’ occurs in the Talmudists or Jewish commentators on the Bible. There may also be a recollection of Luke iii. 22.”—Masson. “Brooded” is said to be a better translation of the Hebrew word in Gen. i, 2, rendered “moved.”
Abyss. Chaos, out of a portion of which our universe was formed.
24. To the highth, as much as the proposed subject demands or will bear.
25, 26. “As to the Paradise Lost, it happens that there is—whether there ought to be or not—a pure golden moral, distinctly announced, separately contemplated, and the very weightiest ever uttered by man or realized by fable. It is a moral rather for the drama of a world than for a human poem.”—(De Quincey, in the Opium-Eater).


Next to the announcement of the subject and the invocation of the Muse, each of the great epics of antiquity has a question, the answer to which names at once the chief hostile agent and states the motives of the struggles and sufferings to be told. The answer in detail is the whole epic narrative. The introduction of this question, then, is essential to the rhetorical completeness of the poem.
27. Heaven hides nothing, etc. See 1 Cor. ii, 10; Ps. cxxxix. 7, 8.


This is another essential part of the epic, which contains in the most general terms a statement of the motives that animate the chief actor in his malignant course.
34. Serpent. The first Scriptural designation of the devil as well as Milton’s first, and perhaps the most general term that could have been chosen to denote the power of evil. Rev. xii. 9.
In the Iliad, Apollo is the offended divinity; in the Odyssey, Neptune; in the Æneid, Juno; and in Paradise Lost, Satan, who, as we shall see, is identified with Apollo. This means that the Iliad and Paradise Lost describe the operation of the same malignant principle.
35. Envy and revenge. His hostility was against both man and God (Rev. xii. 12, 13).
36. What time. Commonly regarded as a Latinism, but found by Professor Cook in the Ormulum, and believed by him to be of “Northern origin.”
41. Ambitious. This word summarizes the motives of Satan. He is the origin and inspiration of all evil, positive and negative, but the mainspring of his deeds and thoughts is the purpose to make himself supreme. He is selfish, but it is not so much possession as rule that he covets.
46. Ruin and combustion. These are general terms, fitting their place, for what are further on specified as “sulphurous hail” (171) and “red lightning” (175); ruin (Lat. ruina, a precipitate fall) referring to the former, and combustion to the latter. The conception originates in Rev. viii. 7.


There was a time at the beginning of this world when there was no evil in the universe, and all things were pronounced “very good” (Gen. i. 31). During this period the devils were lying in a state of inertness, destruction, or death upon the burning lake (Rev. viii. 9). Their condition was that of the great dragon when he was bound in the bottomless pit (Rev. xx. 1–3). The opening scene of the poem shows the place of punishment and the effect of torment upon the Satanic nature, making it more stubborn and vindictive. Prometheus bound in adamantine chains on Mount Caucasus affords a parallel from classic fable, and the defiant speeches of the Titan have a recognized resemblance to those of Satan.
50. Nine times, etc. This period is made up of the triumphal sabbath before Creation, the six days, the sabbath after, and the next day, on which the commandment to abstain from the tree of Knowledge was given to Adam. While there was no law, there could be no transgression; “but when the commandment came sin revived” (Rom. vii. 9). The doings on earth have instantaneous effect in Hell.
Already the poet introduces us to a series of events in the career of Apollo, with whom St. John identifies Satan (Rev. ix.11). The myth of the nine days’ and nights’ labor of Latona (Aητ
, Death) at the birth of her children, Apollo and Artemis, is here satisfied. When every other place had refused to receive Latona, Delos, which had been floating about in the sea, was moored by Jupiter for this purpose. In like manner Hell had been prepared for the apostates, but would have fled affrighted had not its foundation, at their fall, been fixed too fast and deep (vi. 867–870).
53. Confounded though immortal. The confusion is opposed to the immortality and answers to death in spiritual creatures.
57. Witnessed. His baleful eyes showed his affliction and dismay (Luke xvi. 23).
63. Darkness visible. Job (x. 22) describes the realm of death as “a land of darkness as darkness itself, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.” Gregory the Great, commenting on this passage in Job, says: “Though there the fire gives no light fo...

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APA 6 Citation
Milton, J. (2012). Paradise Lost ([edition unavailable]). Dover Publications. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)
Chicago Citation
Milton, John. (2012) 2012. Paradise Lost. [Edition unavailable]. Dover Publications.
Harvard Citation
Milton, J. (2012) Paradise Lost. [edition unavailable]. Dover Publications. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. [edition unavailable]. Dover Publications, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.