'Paradise Lost' is Milton's epic poem regarding the Garden of Eden and man's fall from grace. The poem also covers Satan in Tartarus (Hell) and accounts of the war he lost in heaven. It truly is epic in all senses of the word.
I spoke with my Dad, who has taught 'Paradise Lost' on several occasions and he told me that it in its time, it was second only to the Bible in terms of popularity. This isn't surprising. Almost all of our modern conceptions of hell are drawn from Milton's imagery. With Milton we get burning lakes. With Dante, a few centuries earlier, hell was a series of frozen rings. Now we think of Hell as a place of burning torments.
The most surprising element of the poem was how sympathetic it made Satan out to be. I'm somewhat certain that wasn't the aim of Milton, but I'll be damned if that isn't the result. Satan famously says that it is 'Better to reign in Hell, then to serve in Heav'n'. I can't help but wonder if that didn't reflect some of the distrust in the Monarchy that was evident throughout England in the 17th century. The idea of being subservient to someone else was being seriously questioned. (This is probably just me projecting backwards, but it struck me.)
The interplay between Adam and Eve was also very interesting. It deserves its own blog post, but I'll just mention that Milton mixes in a justification for eating the fruit that seems very close to the traditional wedding vows. I don't know if Milton inspired the vows, or simply copied them.
Did I enjoy the poem? Parts of it. There were some long sections of descriptions of scenery or flora that I skimmed through. There were sections on things like 'free will' that I'm sure were very important at the time but don't seem so very important now. The arguments of the 1600s between Catholics and Protestants are interesting from an historical perspective but not very captivating on their own merits.