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Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton — The first version, published in , consists of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in , arranged into twelve books in the manner of Virgil 's Aeneid with minor revisions throughout.
The poem concerns the biblical story of the Fall of Man : the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, as stated in Book I, is to "justify the ways of God to men. The biographer John Aubrey —97 tells us that the poem was begun in about and finished in about However, parts were almost certainly written earlier, and its roots lie in Milton's earliest youth.
Leonard also notes that Milton "did not at first plan to write a biblical epic. Having gone totally blind in , Milton wrote Paradise Lost entirely through dictation with the help of amanuenses and friends. He also wrote the epic poem while he was often ill, suffering from gout , and despite suffering emotionally after the early death of his second wife, Katherine Woodcock, in , and the death of their infant daughter.
In the version of Paradise Lost , the poem was divided into ten books. However, in the edition, the text was reorganized into twelve books. Milton used a number of acrostics in the poem. Respectively, these likely represent the double fall of humanity embodied in Adam and Eve, as well as Satan's fall from Heaven. The poem follows the epic tradition of starting in medias res Latin for in the midst of things , the background story being recounted later.
Milton's story has two narrative arcs, one about Satan Lucifer and the other following Adam and Eve. It begins after Satan and the other rebel angels have been defeated and banished to Hell , or, as it is also called in the poem, Tartarus. Belial and Moloch are also present. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers to corrupt the newly created Earth and God's new and most favoured creation, Mankind.
He braves the dangers of the Abyss alone in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus or Aeneas. After an arduous traversal of the Chaos outside Hell, he enters God's new material World, and later the Garden of Eden. At several points in the poem, an Angelic War over Heaven is recounted from different perspectives. Satan's rebellion follows the epic convention of large-scale warfare. The battles between the faithful angels and Satan's forces take place over three days.
At the final battle, the Son of God single-handedly defeats the entire legion of angelic rebels and banishes them from Heaven. Following this purge, God creates the World , culminating in his creation of Adam and Eve. While God gave Adam and Eve total freedom and power to rule over all creation, he gave them one explicit command: not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil on penalty of death.
The story of Adam and Eve's temptation and fall is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented as having a romantic and sexual relationship while still being without sin. They have passions and distinct personalities. Satan, disguised in the form of a serpent, successfully tempts Eve to eat from the Tree by preying on her vanity and tricking her with rhetoric.
Adam, learning that Eve has sinned, knowingly commits the same sin. He declares to Eve that since she was made from his flesh, they are bound to one another — if she dies, he must also die. In this manner, Milton portrays Adam as a heroic figure, but also as a greater sinner than Eve, as he is aware that what he is doing is wrong. After eating the fruit, Adam and Eve have lustful sex. At first, Adam is convinced that Eve was right in thinking that eating the fruit would be beneficial.
However, they soon fall asleep and have terrible nightmares, and after they awake, they experience guilt and shame for the first time. Realizing that they have committed a terrible act against God, they engage in mutual recrimination. Meanwhile, Satan returns triumphantly to Hell, amid the praise of his fellow fallen angels.
He tells them about how their scheme worked and Mankind has fallen, giving them complete dominion over Paradise. As he finishes his speech, however, the fallen angels around him become hideous snakes, and soon enough, Satan himself turns into a snake, deprived of limbs and unable to talk. Thus, they share the same punishment, as they shared the same guilt. Eve appeals to Adam for reconciliation of their actions. Her encouragement enables them to approach God, and sue for grace, bowing on supplicant knee, to receive forgiveness.
In a vision shown to him by the Archangel Michael , Adam witnesses everything that will happen to Mankind until the Great Flood. Adam is very upset by this vision of the future, so Michael also tells him about Mankind's potential redemption from original sin through Jesus Christ whom Michael calls "King Messiah". Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden, and Michael says that Adam may find "a paradise within thee, happier far.
Satan , formerly called Lucifer , is the first major character introduced in the poem. He was once the most beautiful of all angels, and is a tragic figure who famously declares: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Satan's desire to rebel against his creator stems from his unwillingness to be subjugated by God and his Son, claiming that angels are "self-begot, self-raised,"  and thereby denying God's authority over them as their creator.
Satan is deeply arrogant, albeit powerful and charismatic. He argues that God rules as a tyrant and that all the angels ought to rule as gods. According to William McCollom, one quality of the classical tragic hero is that he is not perfectly good and that his defeat is caused by a tragic flaw, as Satan causes both the downfall of man and the eternal damnation of his fellow fallen angels despite his dedication to his comrades.
In addition, Satan's Hellenic qualities, such as his immense courage and, perhaps, lack of completely defined morals compound his tragic nature. Satan's status as a protagonist in the epic poem is debated. Milton characterizes him as such, but Satan lacks several key traits that would otherwise make him the definitive protagonist in the work. One deciding factor that insinuates his role as the protagonist in the story is that most often a protagonist is heavily characterized and far better described than the other characters, and the way the character is written is meant to make him seem more interesting or special to the reader.
By some definitions a protagonist must be able to exist in and of themselves and the secondary characters in the work exist only to further the plot for the protagonist. Satan's existence in the story involves his rebellion against God and his determination to corrupt the beings he creates in order to perpetuate evil so that there can be a discernible balance and justice for both himself and his fallen angels.
Therefore, it is more probable that he exists in order to combat God, making his status as the definitive protagonist of the work relative to each book. Following this logic, Satan may very well be considered as an antagonist in the poem, whereas God could be considered as the protagonist instead. Satan's status as a traditional hero in the work is similarly up to debate as the term "hero" evokes different meanings depending on the time and the person giving the definition and is thus a matter of contention within the text.
According to Aristotle, a hero is someone who is "superhuman, godlike, and divine" but is also human. While Milton gives reason to believe that Satan is superhuman, as he was originally an angel, he is anything but human. However, one could argue that Satan's faults make him more human than any other divine being described in Milton's work.
Torquato Tasso and Francesco Piccolomini expanded on Aristotle's definition and declared that for someone to be considered heroic one has to be perfectly or overly virtuous. Therefore, Satan is not a hero according to Tasso and Piccolomini's expanded definition. Satan goes against God's law and therefore becomes corrupt and lacking of virtue and, as Piccolomini warned, "vice may be mistaken for heroic virtue.
Satan achieves this end multiple times throughout the text as he riles up his band of fallen angels during his speech by deliberately telling them to do evil to explain God's hypocrisy and again during his entreaty to Eve.
He makes his intentions seem pure and positive even when they are rooted in evil and, according to Steadman, this is the chief reason that readers often mistake Satan as a hero. Although Satan's army inevitably loses the war against God, Satan achieves a position of power and begins his reign in Hell with his band of loyal followers, composed of fallen angels, which is described to be a "third of heaven.
As scholar Wayne Rebhorn argues, "Satan insists that he and his fellow revolutionaries held their places by right and even leading him to claim that they were self-created and self-sustained" and thus Satan's position in the rebellion is much like that of his own real world creator.
Adam is the first human being created by God. Finding himself alone, Adam complains and requests a mate from God, who grants his request and creates Eve to be Adam's conjugal companion and helpmate. God appraises Adam and Eve most of all his creations, and appoints them to rule over all the creatures of the world and to reside in the Garden of Eden. Adam is more gregarious than Eve, and yearns for her company. His complete infatuation with Eve, while pure of itself, eventually contributes to his deciding to join her in disobedience to God.
Unlike the biblical Adam, before Milton's Adam leaves Paradise he is given a glimpse of the future of mankind by the Archangel Michael—including a synopsis of stories from the Old and New Testaments.
Eve is the second human created by God, who takes one of Adam's ribs and shapes it into a female form of Adam. Not the traditional model of a good wife, Milton's Eve is often unwilling to be submissive towards Adam. She is the more intelligent of the two and more curious about external ideas than her husband. Though happy, she longs for knowledge, specifically for self-knowledge.
Her first act in existence is to turn away from Adam to look at and ponder her own reflection. Eve is beautiful and though she loves Adam she may feel suffocated by his constant presence.
In her solitude, she is tempted by Satan to sin against God by eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Soon thereafter, Adam follows Eve in support of her act. The Son of God is the spirit who will become incarnate as Jesus Christ , though he is never named explicitly because he has not yet entered human form. Milton believed in a subordinationist doctrine of Christology that regarded the Son as secondary to the Father and as God's "great Vice-regent" 5.
The poem is not explicitly anti-trinitarian, but it is consistent with Milton's convictions. The Son is the ultimate hero of the epic and is infinitely powerful—he single-handedly defeats Satan and his followers and drives them into Hell.
After their fall, the Son of God tells Adam and Eve about God's judgment: He, the Son, volunteers to journey into the World and become a man himself; then he redeems the Fall of Man through his own sacrificial death and resurrection. God the Father is the creator of Heaven, Hell, the world, of everyone and everything there is, through the agency of His Son.
Milton presents God as all-powerful and all-knowing, as an infinitely great being who cannot be overthrown by even the great army of angels Satan incites against him. Milton's stated purpose for the poem is to justify the ways of God to men, so he portrays God as often conversing about his plans and his motives for his actions with the Son of God. The poem shows God creating the world in the way Milton believed it was done, that is, God created Heaven, Earth, Hell, and all the creatures that inhabit these separate planes from part of Himself, not out of nothing.
Raphael is the archangel whom God sends to warn Adam of Satan's infiltration of Eden and to warn that Satan will try to curse the pair. Raphael also discusses at length with the curious Adam some details about the creation and about events that transpired in Heaven.
Michael is a mighty archangel who fought for God in the Angelic War. In the first battle, he wounds Satan terribly with a powerful sword that God fashioned to cut through even the substance of angels.
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From almost the moment of its first publication in , Paradise Lost was considered a classic. It is difficult now to appreciate both how audacious an undertaking it represents, and how astonishing its immediate and continued success was. Over the course of twelve books Milton wrote an epic poem that would 'justify the ways of God to men', a mission that required a complex drama whose source is both historical and deeply personal. The struggle for ascendancy between God and Satan is played out across hell, heaven, and earth but the consequences of the Fall are all too humanly tragic — pride, ambition, and aspiration the motivating forces.