John Milton

Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost Summary

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Paradise Lost is an epic poem that tells the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. The poem follows the story of the origin of man to the fall of man. Published in 1667 by the English poet John Milton, the poem is divided into ten “books.”

Milton tells the story from the book of Genesis as a long and detailed narrative poem. He takes the reader from the origins of man to the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel, Satan. He concludes the poem with Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton also includes the story of the origin of Satan.

Milton weaves his story in two main story lines—the story of the naked and innocent Adam and Eve and the story of the charismatic Satan. God creates the first man, Adam. He is alone so requests a companion. God makes Eve from Adam’s flesh. He takes one of Adam’s ribs and shapes it into female form. Eve is beautiful, intelligent, and in love with Adam. Eve is curious and longs for knowledge.

Adam and Eve begin in a close relationship with God. God gives them both the power to rule over all creation. They live in the Garden of Eden, a paradise. God gives them only one command: they can eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God warns them that if they eat from that tree they will die. Satan, disguised as a serpent, speaks to Eve. He persuades Eve to eat from the tree of good and evil. Through clever talking, Satan tricks Eve by saying that she will become like God if she eats the fruit.

Adam learns of Eve’s sin and knows that she must die. He chooses to eat the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve are mutually dependent on each other. He feels bound to Eve because they are from the same flesh. Adam is a tragic hero because his sin is greater than Eve’s. He knows that eating the fruit is wrong, but he does it anyway. Adam and Eve both know they have sinned. They fall asleep and have terrible nightmares. When they awake, they both feel guilt and shame for disobeying God. On bended knee, they beg God for forgiveness.

God sends the Archangel Michael to the Garden of Eden to escort Adam and Eve from Paradise. Unlike in the Bible, Michael first shows Adam an upsetting vision of the future of mankind—the events resulting from the sins of Adam and Eve. The vision shows everything that will happen to mankind up until the Great Flood. The vision gives an outline of the Bible’s Old Testament from Cain and Abel until the redemption of sin through Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Adam learns the future coming of the Savior will save humankind. With a mixture of sadness and hope, Adam and Eve leave Paradise.

Formerly called Lucifer, Satan was the most beautiful angel in Heaven. He becomes jealous of the Son of God. He leads a war against God with a group of fellow fallen angels. In the Angelic War, Satan’s followers battle the faithful angels for three days. The Son of God defeats the rebels. Satan and the rebels are cast from heaven into hell, known as Tartarus in the poem. The story opens with Satan and his followers plotting revenge in hell at their palace, Pandemonium. Satan learns that God has created a new world and man. Satan concocts a plot to poison the Earth and mankind as a form of revenge. Alone, he bravely traverses the Abyss, a bottomless pit, to reach Earth. He tricks an angel, Uriel, into showing him where man lives. He reaches the Garden of Eden and finds Adam and Eve. He is jealous of them for they are in God’s favor. He overhears Adam and Eve speak of the forbidden fruit. He disguises himself as a serpent. He is cunning and deceptive. He uses his powers of persuasion to trick Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Satan returns to Hell to celebrate his triumph. Mankind has fallen. As soon as he finishes his victory speech, he and all his followers turn into snakes without limbs or the ability to speak.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is a famous example of an epic poem, a long narrative poem with heroic details that covers a significant cultural event. Milton wrote the poem to justify the ways of God, who derives his authority as the author of creation.

John Milton lived from 1608 until 1674. In addition to his writing, he worked as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England. He continued writing his poems by using dictation after he went completely blind in 1652. He wrote Paradise Lost as a blind man who was also dealing with illness and grief. His writing was influenced by the political and religious upheaval of his day. Modern academic scholars of Milton’s life and work are known as Miltonists.