Paradise Lost Book summary

John Milton

Overview

About

John Milton was a politician and a poet of British origin, he had been a promising student from a young age, his skill in Latin was unrivaled and caused him to gain an important office in the government during the rule of the republic. He had from a very young age wished to write an important poem that would be hailed by even the future generations. He had yet to decide the subject of this great poem when he first told of his plans, and in the invocation for the ninth book mentions that he was late in choosing the subject of his poem. He had for the longest time thought to write of one of the kings of England, and thought to have honed in on King Arthur, but later abandoned that plan. It can be argued that he was late in many respects, most importantly it is his lateness that he refers to in the invocation. He had declared that he would write an epic when he was nineteen but only began to write Paradise lost when he was in his fifties.

There are certain portions of this poem that are adopted from a tragedy that Milton had been writing at the same time. In the 1640s Milton had been writing a play by the name of Adam Unparadised, and it is possible that he chose to shift that story into Epic format once he realized the limitations of the play format. One concern with the play would certainly have been the nakedness of Adam, and Eve, which could never have been possible on stage. There were other practical limitations as well, a reading of the manuscript for the play reveals that a lot of the great action from the poem doesn't take place on stage in the play.

Plot Summary

John Milon's Paradise lost is an epic based on the Book of Genesis. It begins from the fall of Satan, who has been smitten to Hell along with a host of fallen angels. He rouses himself from his prison on a lake of fire, held down with adamantine chains, that are then undone by the will of God. On the shores of the lake, he calls to his fallen angels, who are strewn across the desolate lake in dazedness. They become alert at the sound of their commander and fly to the shore, there they collect themselves into companies, and a group of the devils hollows out a hill and creates a palace for their meeting, and so is Pandemonium built. All the fallen angels of repute enter the palace, Satan begins by loudly proclaiming that they had not yet been completely defeated, and he asks his officers to present their thoughts. Moloch proposes a continued war, Belial counsels Peace, Mammon recommends the development of Hell to rival Heaven, and Beelzebub proposes the corruption of man. He tells them of a world that God created with a favored race called Man, but to find the place, and to attempt to derail the plans of God was a bold task. None of the devils in the room volunteered, none but Satan. He rose and bore the responsibility of the task, and was hailed by the devils as an equal to the King of Heaven.

Satan journeys out of Hell by striking a deal with his spawn, Sin, and Death, who were charged to keep the gates of hell locked. Satan promises both of them free reign in the world that he would corrupt, he enters the realm of Chaos, and with the help of the sovereign of that realm finds Earth.

In Heaven, God foresees the entry of Satan into Earth, and the eventual disobedience of Man, but he looks on Man with mercy for unlike Satan and his ilk, Man did not go astray on his own, but was rather led astray. However, Man would have to be punished for his disobedience and so would experience Death. He could be rescued from the dart of Death by the sacrifice of one heavenly power, none of the angels volunteer to become mortal, none but the Son of God. God showers praise on his Son and asks all the angelic choirs to sing hymns in his praise.

Satan descends to Earth, he is struck by the beauty of its creation and becomes racked with doubt, but ultimately he resolves to continue working his evil machinations. As he goes through these series of malevolent thoughts, he unknowingly alters his form, and Uriel, who had been observing the Cherub that had stopped him, notices the change. Uriel takes the matter to Gabriel and informs him of the malevolent spirit in the world of Man, Gabriel promises to find the culprit before the next morn. Satan sneaks into Paradise, and by adopting the shapes of its various animals, observes Adam and Eve. He overhears them talking of God's forbiddance to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and he plots to make Man break the law of God. Satan targets Eve, so when Gabriel and his angels come to Paradise in search of the intruder, Satan is found squatting next to her, whispering into her ear. Satan and Gabriel prepare to battle one another, but Gabriel notices the scales of God in the heavens, showing Gabriel to have more power than Satan. Seeing the difference in their power, Satan decides to retreat.

Adam and Eve awaken the next day, Eve tells Adam of her nightmare in which an angel-like figure had told her to eat the forbidden fruit for it promised great powers. Adam and Eve pray to the Almighty for guidance and then return to their chores. God decides to send Raphael to Man to forewarn him of the adversary.

Raphael is received warmly by the human couple, and he begins to tell them of their favored place in God's esteem, for which the only price they had to pay was that of obedience. He then reveals to them the consequences of disobedience to God, by telling them how Satan had rebelled against the authority of God. Satan had turned a third of the angelic host against the Almighty, and a war had been fought in the heavens. On the first day, the fallen angels had been soundly defeated by the still loyal angels of Heaven. On the second day, the devils had constructed engines of war that belched fire, in the ensuing battle, Heaven had come to know ruin. On the third day, God sent forth the Messiah, who with the thunder and bow of God vanquishes the enemy and herds them like sheep into the depths of hell.

Raphael continues and tells of how God had then created the earth and its universe, God had expressed his desire to fashion another race of creatures that could by merit be raised to Heaven so that it would once again grow populous. God through the Messiah had created the world in six days, and on the sixth day created man, to whom he had given dominion over Earth and all of its other creatures. Raphael reiterates the cost of disobedience and asks him to harden his heart against temptation from the enemy. Adam seeks knowledge about the heavens, and at this point in the conversation, Eve retires so that she may later learn of these details from her husband. Raphael appreciates Adam's fascination for the glory of God's creation but asks him to expend thought on his dominion. Adam in an attempt to make his guest stay a while longer begins the account of his creation. He tells Raphael of how God had created him and then lifted him into Paradise, where he had discoursed with God about the need he felt for a companion. God had then revealed to him that the discourse had been a test of his free will, and then from Adam's rib had fashioned Eve. Adam talks of the pleasure he finds in Eve, so much so that everything else in the world seems duller in her presence. Raphael cautions Adam against carnal pleasure and advises him to keep to the purer form of love, he also asks Adam to warn Eve and guard her against the temptation of the devil. Raphael then departs with the setting sun.

Satan sneaks into Paradise once again, he finally selects the form of a serpent for his purpose of misleading Man and hopes to encounter Eve all alone. Eve discusses working separately from Adam so that they may be able to finish their work more quickly, Adam is reluctant but Eve insists and he finally allows her. Satan rejoices on seeing Eve alone, he sneaks up on her, and speaks to her in human tongue, he praises her beauty with flowery words. Eve is surprised to discover the serpent speaking to her and asks him how he had become able to do so. Satan then beguiles Eve and leads her to the Tree of Knowledge, he expounds on the merits of the fruit and manages to convince her to eat the forbidden fruit. All of nature sighs as Man breaks the law of God, Eve then takes the forbidden fruit to Adam, who purposefully decides to eat the fruit so that he may share the same fate as Eve. They are transformed from the fruit, and from its derived knowledge understand that they have committed evil.

God sends forth his Son to sentence punishment for the crime of disobedience, God punishes the serpent, Eve, Adam, and Satan. The serpent would forever crawl on the ground, Eve and other women would know the pain in childbirth and be subservient to man, Adam would have to toil to earn his subsistence, and Satan would be bruised by the seed of the woman. Satan encounters Death and Sin as they enter the world of man, he travels back to Hell on the bridge that they constructed and reaches Pandemonium. There, he exults in his seeming victory, but instead of hearing cheering, he only hears hisses. All the devils in Hell are turned to snakes and made to feed on fruits of ash and cinder as punishment from the almighty. Adam senses the change in the world, as God asks his angels to change the axis of the earth so that Man may know inclement and arid weather. He laments his sin, while Eve attempts to comfort her husband, Adam rebukes her and Eve falls to his feet. Her love and regret shine through to Adam, and he embraces Eve, she proposes suicide so that they may spare their children the burden of their sin, but Adam recounts the words of God and focuses on the prophecy of the seed of the woman that would bruise the head of Satan. They pray together to the almighty and seek forgiveness and further aid.

God hears Adam and Eve's prayer, he sends forth Michael to banish man out of Paradise, and to show Adam visions of the future so that he may understand both the depth of his sin and the goodness that God would make from it. Michael mildly informs them of their banishment, he puts Eve to sleep but has Adam climb a hill. There through visions, Michael relates to Adam all of the evil that would come into the world as both Sin and Death would find a place to reign, but through the stories of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and finally Jesus Christ, tells of the goodness that would come. How Jesus with his first resurrection would disarm death, and upon his second coming join both Heaven and earth. Then Michael leads both Adam and Eve out of Paradise.

  • Author(s)

    John Milton
  • Publication date

    1667

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Epic poetry

  • Pages

    496

Keywords

Poetry, Mythology

Publisher

Samuel Simmons