Paradise Lost Summary and Analysis
by John Milton
Satan lands on Mt. Niphates and has some moments of doubt. The light from the sun reminds him of the light and grace he had in heaven. He questions whether he would have fallen or not if he had been created by God with less pride in the first place. Being created from the beginning with a nature that would lead to his fall makes him hate God all the more.
"Farewell hope," he says, "And with hope farewell fear." and he goes to corrupt mankind.
He comes to the Garden of Eden and finds it protected all around by a high wall of trees and plants. Satan jumps over it, literally like a thief in the night.
Paradise is described as a natural wonderland.
Satan is struck wordless. He finds them beautiful, but he is compelled to do what, if he were not damned, he would abhor.
Adam and Eve are conversing about their life. Theirs is one of continuous and sensuous joy, the only thing they cannot do is eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Eve recollects the moment when she was first created. The first thing she did was walk to a lake where she saw her reflection and a voice told her who she was looking at. Then she meets Adam who, she notices, wasn't exactly as beautiful as her own reflection.
The sight of Adam and Eve crushes Satan. He mourns his own loss in hell, fierce desire unfulfilled in joy and love.
Uriel tells Gabriel that he was fooled by Satan and now Satan is somewhere in the Garden. Gabriel tells Uriel that he will find Satan before morning.
Adam and Even talk about the stars, say a prayer, and then go to sleep.
Gabriel hunts and finds Satan. Satan explains that he wanted to escape the pain of hell and so came to paradise. Gabriel does not believe him and tells him to go back to hell or he will personally drag him there.
Satan, angry, prepares to fight. Gabriel tells him to look up at the stars to see "how he is weighted." In the stars, it is clear that Satan will be trampled by Gabriel, so Satan leaves on his own accord.
In this chapter we are given more insight into the character of Eve and Satan. As Eve narrates her first waking moments after her own creation, we are immediately introduced to Eve's weakness, vanity. She awakes near a lake and sees an image of herself and thinks the images beautiful. Modern readers, especially coming from a feminist perspective, might view Eve's admiration of herself not as vanity or a weakness, but rather as a gesture of self-confidence and independence from man (especially as she finds her own image so much more beautiful than Adam's ).
This self confident independence, however, is quickly lost. It is quite clear Milton believes in the traditional patriarchal system, complete with the gender stereotypes of 17th century Europe. Milton views the hierarchy of Adam being submissive to God and Eve being submissive to Adam as a natural God-given order : "God is thy law, thou mine," Eve says, "to know no more is woman's happiest knowledge and her praise." Later, when both Raphael and Michael come to visit the pair in separate episodes with messages from God, Eve will leave the conversation and only Adam will hear the message. The implication, of course, is that it is men who are in contact with God, and women are to learn about God only through men.
Satan, as a character, has lost some of his original glamor and reader sympathy. It is clear in this book that Satan's argument for fighting against God is increasingly irrational. He clearly regrets his decision, the sight of so much light and beauty in the Garden of Eden and in the creatures of Adam and Eve seems to break his heart. He even admits, for the first time in the poem, that God loved him when Satan was serving him. Why then, does he continue? Satan's character in this book sums up Milton's view of evil from a psychological and theological viewpoint. Theologically, it is highly irrational, and therefore outside of the grace of God. Implicit in this irrationality, however, is that true evil is done with full conscienceness of what is being turned away from. Satan remembers heaven, he remembers what goodness is, he knows how to act good, and yet he refuses to do so. He has knowledge, but he uses it irrationally. Psychologically, of course, Satan is in increasing pain, especially when he comes close to beauty and God's light. He is no longer simply in physical pain when he is in the geographic location of hell, he is hell and brings this hell whereever he goes. His remorse is tangible.
Note the continuing micro to macro connection of Satan's interior state with his exterior state. Satan is physically becoming less and less of the great angel he was at the beginning of the epic. In this book he turns into a lesser angel, a cherub, then into actual beasts, lions and tigers, to get closer to Adam and Eve. Finally, he lowers himself to the level of a toad and then a snake to tempt Eve. When he retunrs to hell, his appearance will be monstrous. His physical disintegration is in line with his moral decay.
The description of Eden, and man's job in it, reflects Milton's theology on a broader level as well. Eden, as discussed before, is ordered, tame, domiciled nature. Still, Adam and Eve must wake every day and go to work. Their work, however, is pleasurable. It appears to consist, mostly, of trimming a few bushes, looking into each other's eyes, and praising God and his creation. It is easy work and Adam and Eve enjoy it.
In the same way, love, and, it is arguable, even sex has taken place in the Garden between Adam and Eve. But they a pure, uncorrupted love and love making. It is untainted by lust, the animal instincts, and free from ego. In the same way that the work in the Garden is a joy because Adam and Eve are in constant praise of God, love and love making in the garden are pure and a joy because the couple is practicing unselfish, rational love.
Milton again takes the characteristics of the macrocosms, in this case the ordered nature of the Garden, as a reflection of how the ethics of the microcosm should work, in this case the morality of man. In the same way that Eden is ordered, not prone to radical bursts of natural cataclysms (or even variable weather) but maintaining a steady growth under God's rule, man himself should order his passions with reason and keep them steady under God's eyes. If this is done, then mankind, like the Garden, will grow healthy and safe. Love and love making fit this same theology: ordered love making, unselfishly given, rational, unpassionate and without the animal instincts, will create a healthy and steady growing love.
Later, Eden, and creation at large, will become uncontrollable. Floods, fire, famine, harsh weather will all make man's life difficult. Animals will prey on other animals, violence will exist at all levels of nature, fear will be commonplace. In the same way, post-Fall man will have to deal with his nearly uncontrollable passions and corruption. But in this pre-Fall Eden and Adam, life is ordered, good, directed toward God.
Much is made of the astrology and astronomy in Milton as seen in the later end of this Book IV. Suffice it to say here that, theologically, it follows the same ordered/reason theme as the Garden and as Adam and Eve's love. The sun, moon, planets, and stars turn in an ordered manner, following a destined plan. God is actually Aristotle's unmoved mover, the first cause, who first pushes the outer "globe" of the cosmos to set all the other cosmos in motion. When Adam and Eve fall, the earth becomes difficult, Adam and Eve's relationship is corrupted, and the cosmos themselves become irrational.
Turning to the poetic elements of the text, Milton's use of the epic simile is worth pointing out. An epic simile is one in which the image is not just referred to, but elaborated, perhaps forming a complete scene of incident itself. For instance, in line 159, Milton begins by talking about the wind, but goes on to liken it to ships sailing past the Cape of Hope. The description of the ships and the emotions of their passengers is then described for seven more lines. Milton uses this epic simile as a window into a smaller story, a window which takes one away from the immediacy of the story at hand and often brings one to another part of the world all together. Homer uses the epic simile as well-- in particular, in the intricate description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad.
It is morning in Paradise. Adam wakes Eve. Eve tells Adam of the dream she had in which a voice called her to the Tree of Knowledge. The voice appeared as an angel and told her that she should taste the tree's fruit for it will make her a goddess. Eve took the fruit and flew up to heaven like a goddess.
Adam, of course, is disturbed by the dream. He comforts Eve and they go to work, singing the praises of God. They tend to the garden, but it is pleasant work and nature works with them.
God calls Raphael and talks to him about Satan. God sends the angel to warn Adam. Adam sees Raphael coming and tells Eve to prepare a meal for the heavenly guest. They sit down to eat. Raphael reminds Adam that he has free will and warns him of Satan's intentions to corrupt God's creation.
Raphael gives some history on Satan: Satan first turned when God begot his Son and announced to all heaven that the angels must worship him. All the angels do worship the Son, but later that night Satan speaks to his second in command and tells him to gather their forces in the northern hill Satan convinces one half of the angels in heaven to join him because of his great leadership as an angel.
God, of course, sees what Satan is up to and discusses it with his Son. The Son agrees to defeat Satan.
Satan erects a temple on a northern hill that replicates God's own temple. There, Satan addresses the angels that followed him and incites them to rebellion.
Only Abdiel stands up in the crowd and objects, but none of the others join him. He leaves proudly and is allowed to fly back to heaven.
The concept of Satan's original disobedience stemming from pride, i.e. not wanting to bow down to the Son, is seen in many Jewish and Christian traditional myths (though it is not explicitly stated in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament). In a way, this only helps with our sympathy for the devil. After all, Satan was one of God's top angels, he had served God unfailingly to arrive at that position, and, in some traditions, was considered God's first and favorite angel. To make an angel who has worked so hard bow before someone else seems somehow unjust.
God as tyrant is an interesting paradox in Milton. It is clear that heaven is a monarchy, with no room for dissent. Interestingly, Satan's councils seem much more democratic in the sense that individuals other than Satan are allowed to stand and voice their sometimes opposing views. Milton's point, however, is that right actions (democracy, freedom) done irrationally (out of God's will) do not count as right. A tyranny ruled by reason and goodness is better than one ruled by passions and animal instincts. Although the councils of Satan's angels appear democratic now, it will soon become clear that they are led by lies and deception. Satan later will trick his cohorts into obeying his whims, reason and rational thinking will give way to decisions based on revenge and hate, and corruption will reign outside of God's ordering nature.
Along with the repeated theme of the Fall (Satan, mankind), Milton uses again and again the "coming down" of supernatural spirits/Gods/devils to intervene or meddle in the goings-on of earth and creation. Satan departs from his kingdom to come to earth, Raphael is sent by God to warn Adam. Later, Michael the archangel will come with his mission, and, finally, the Son himself is prophesied to come in the form of Jesus Christ.
Language in lines 388-390 correlates Eve, mother of mankind, with Mary, mother of God. Indeed, Eve's seed that is prophesied to crush out the serpent (read Satan) will be Jesus Christ. The language of these lines shares many words with the "Hail Mary" Christian prayer, not the least of which is the first line: "Hail, mother of mankind."
Abdiel is welcomed back into heaven and praised for his courage. God then sends Michael and Gabriel with his army to defeat Satan's army.
The battle ensues with a tremendous din. Soon, Satan and Michael find themselves face to face. They duel by sword. Michael swings his sword, cuts through Satan's own, and cuts Satan's right side. Satan feels pain for the first time.
Satan's angels run to defend him and carry him back to his chariot. Satan soon heals, but his pride is hurt. He is supposed to be equal to God and but here he gets knocked down by a simple archangel.
Satan and his forces find themselves beaten back for the time being. Night falls in heaven and Satan retreats and calls a war council. There, he turns the defeat into victory. If God was infallible, he says, why were the fallen angels able to survive a whole day and then allowed to retreat. Why weren't they entirely squashed? If they could battle God for "...one day, why not eternal days?"
Satan suggest they return to battle the next day with more powerful weapons that they could construct using heaven's natural resources, i.e. gunpowder and cannons.
The next day, Satan's forces surprise God's army by using the cannons, and thousands of good angels are knocked down. But the good angels soon run to the surrounding nature of heaven and start throwing the actual hills back at Satan's army. All of heaven is engulfed in confusion: the hills are being uprooted on both sides and thrown across the battlefield.
On the third day of battle, God sends in his Son. The Son tells God's army to relax and he rides forward in his spectacular chariot to face Satan's army alone. As he rides, the hills assume their natural positions and heaven starts to look normal again.
The Son charges after them with lightning bolts. Satan's army turns and runs away in horror. A breach opens in the wall of heaven and the whole of Satan's army falls through and cascades down to hell.
Milton is making a political critique with his rather strange allusion to cannons and gunpowder. A new invention at the time of his writing, many of Milton's contemporaries actually did view the use of cannon and gunpowder as a weapon inspired by the devil. Perhaps analogous to nuclear warfare in our own time, the use of artillery was revolutionizing the way wars were won. They increased the efficiency of war, that is, they increased the amount of casualties possible in a small span of time. At the same time, they made war more impersonal. One no longer had to see the enemy to kill them. Because of this, society had to change, or completely lose, its concepts of the hero and of chivalry. In a sense, the use of artillery was somehow cheating, somehow taking away from the honor of war, and therefore originated from a less than honorable source.
Milton actually gives a rather poetic technical description of how the cannon works. The "other bore" is the touch-hole or cavity of the barrel. The "touch of fire" is where the cannon is lit, actually called a touch-powder.
There are no coincidences in Milton, every number, every reference to a star, nearly every word is a clue or key to another meaning. On a very superficial level we can see this in Milton's numerology. The third day of battle, of course, corresponds to the three days Jesus Christ was in the tomb in the Christian New Testament. Christians believe that when Christ was resurrected on the third day, raised from the dead, he defeated death. Death, we will remember, is Satan's son. So when the Son goes out on the third day to battle Satan and his army, Satan's defeat is a direct correlation with Jesus Christ's victory over death. It is notable that the Son battles the whole of Satan's army without any help from the God's angels. Likewise, Jesus Christ's crucifixion and death was faced without any help from angels.
The torn up hills of heaven are also put back in their place and nature resumes its order when the Son passes by on his chariot. Again, in a macrocosmic sense, the Son is ordering, making rational once again, what was chaos by his mere presence. So he will make mankind ordered, rational, and good when he comes the earth in the form of Jesus the Christ. In lines 723 -33, in fact, the Son is reciting exact phrases from Jesus' last supper.
Another Biblical allusion at this point is the simile of 856-857 comparing Satan's retreating army to a flock of sheep which will ultimately be driven off a cliff and fall. The story of the Jesus casting the devil into the Gaverene swine from the Gospel of Mark and then the swine running off a cliff is implied.
Turning to the poetic elements once again, it is interesting to note Milton's repeated use of certain words. "Fruit," "fall," "forbidden" are, of course, used quite often and not always in the most obvious contexts. Interestingly, Milton avoids using the word "original," though theologians continually use the word to refer to the fall of Adam and Eve. And the word "all" is used a tremedous number of times, 612 times to be exact, at the rate of about once every seventeen lines. This use of this word shows the absolutist nature of Milton's concept of purity and corruption. They are extremes in Milton's mind, and the possibility of all-goodness or all-evil is wholly possible in his universe.
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