Paradise Lost
By John Milton (1608-1674)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Date Completed
Milton's Solar System
Style and Verse Format
Epic Conventions
Invocation of the Muse
Plot Summary
Main Theme
Other Themes
What Is an Angel?
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Biography of Milton
Complete Free Text
Prepared by Michael J. Cummings © 2005
Revised in 2010 © 
Type of Work
.......Paradise Lost is an epic poem which—like the epic poems of Homer, Dante, Vergil, and Goethe—tells a story about momentous events while incorporating grand themes that are timeless and universal.  

Date Completed
.......Milton 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.      
.......Milton 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.

.......The 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, Moloch: 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?  
Ithuriel, Zephron: 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.
Mulciber: 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).
Sin: 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. 
Death: Son of Satan and Sin
Various Other Angels and Devils 

Milton's Solar System

.......In 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. 

Style and Verse Format
.......Milton 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. 
.......With 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.   
Epic Conventions
.......In 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: 

    .......(1) The invocation of the muse, in which a writer requests divine help in composing his work.
    .......(2) 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 worldas well as many great writers in later times, including Shakespearefrequently 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, The Ten Commandments, Troy, Spartacus, Pearl Harbor, and Gettysburg.     
    .......(3) 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.  
    .......(4) 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).
    .......(5) 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 forces.  
    .......(6) 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 knowsthat 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. 
Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2005
All Hell broke loose
Book IV, Paradise Lost
The Invocation of the Muse 

.......Milton 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.   
.......When 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.  
.......In 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 Song.”  

The Story 

.......Satan 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. 
.......Moloc, 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 this proposal.   
.......Then the leader of all the accursed, Satan, speaks up. He first bemoans their environs: 

    Our prison strong, this huge convex of Fire,  
    Outrageous to devour, immures us round  
    Ninefold, and gates of burning Adamant  
    Barred over us prohibit all egress. (Book 2, lines 444-447)
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: 
    .................Towards him they bend 
    With awful reverence prone; and as a God 
    Extol him equal to the highest in Heaven. (Book 2, 477-479)
.......And so the assembly broke up and ventured off into the regions from whence they came:.  
    Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death, 
    A universe of death, which God by curse 
    Created evil, for evil only good, 
    Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breeds, 
    Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, 
    Abominable, inutterable, and worse. (Book 2, 621-626)
.......Meanwhile, 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. 
.......In 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. 
.......To 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 earth. 
.......The 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. 
.......Later, 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.  
.......On 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. 
.......Adam, 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 to God. 
.......Satan 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 transgressing humans.  
.......When 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. 
.......God 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. 
.......Michael 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  
    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)
They enter the imperfect world, with all its perils.


.......Milton's imagery is at times graceful and elegant, as in this memorable personification in Book 6: 

    Waked by the circling hours, with rosy hand 
    Unbarred the gates of light. (lines 2-4)
At other times, the imagery is imposing and awe-inspiring, as in this description in Book 7 that ends with hyperbole: 
    ..................................There Leviathan 
    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)
.......In 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: 
                        [H]er rash hand in evil hour 
    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 780-784)
Milton also uses personification in Book 4 in this beautiful passage about a quiet night, the starry sky, and the ascendancy of the moon: 
    ..............................The wakeful Nightingale;  
    She all night long her amorous descant sung;  
    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, at length  
    Apparent Queen unveiled her peerless light,  
    And o'er the dark her Silver Mantle threw. (lines 602-609)
.......Milton 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 the poem:
    Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
    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)

Milton's use of enjambment helps the poem flow from one line to the next.

Main Theme
........In 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. 
Other Themes
Inordinate pride: 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 and Eve. 
Infidelity: 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. 
Volition: Angels 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." 
Disobedience: All 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.    
Loyalty: Loyalty to God and his ways are necessary for eternal salvation. Loyalty requires obedience. All of the good angels exhibit loyalty.  
Repentance: Even though Adam and Eve have disobeyed God, their repentance makes them eligible for eventual salvation.  
Hope: At the end of Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve enter the imperfect world with hope; they can yet attain eternal salvation. 
Redemption: Through the suffering and death of the Son of God, sinful man can reconcile himself with God if he is sincerely sorry for his sins.
.......The 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.

What Is an Angel?

.......An 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:

  1. Seraphim (Seraph)
  2. Cherubim (Cherub)
  3. Thrones
  4. Dominations
  5. Virtues
  6. Powers
  7. Principalities
  8. Archangels
  9. Angels

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. What does Satan mean when he says, “Better to reign in hell, then [than] serve in heav’n” (Book 1, line 263)?
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.