Monday, August 18, 2014

Paradise Lost - Milton

'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.


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the poem; for me, it is one of my reading highlights of 2014.

    I didn't really feel it made Satan out to be sympathetic. He revolts against love and light …. really, against perfection; he continually lies, and intends to destroy two innocent people for revenge. I did, however, think Milton initially made him appear quite majestic. C.S. Lewis, an expert in this field, says it was intentional.

    "……. From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret service agent, and thence to a thing that peers in at bedroom or bathroom windows, and thence to a toad, and finally to a snake ------- such is the progress of Satan. This progress, misunderstood, has given rise to the belief that Milton began by making Satan more glorious than he intended and then, too late, attempted to rectify the error. But such an unerring picture of the 'sense of injured merit' in its actual operations upon character cannot have come about by blundering and accident. We need not doubt that it was the poet's intention to be fair to evil, to give it a run for its money ---- to show it first at the height, with all its rants and melodrama and 'Godlike imitated state' about it, and then to trace what actually becomes of such self-intoxication when it encounters reality."

    I think this is a brilliant assessment.

    Here is my review of Paradise lost, if you are interested. :-)

  2. I very much agree, Cleopatra. I read Lewis's preface along with Paradise Lost this time and, while Satan does speak very grandly, in the end he's a pompous fool, trying to find good apart from the source of all goodness.