Summary of Paradise Lost by John Milton
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Summary of Paradise Lost by John Milton
Paradise Lost by John Milton is a long-form epic poem consisting of 12 books and more than 10,000 lines of blank verse. Published in 1667, Milton’s poem is an argument on self-determination and God’s justice explored through a creative retelling of the fall of Adam and Eve. The themes explored throughout the poem parallel Milton’s own life. He calls upon muses to help him see, an allusion to the seers in classic Greek epics and a literal plea because he was slowly becoming blind as he wrote this epic.
Milton was also staunchly against the English monarchy, and his belief that only God has ultimate rule and power over man is a major lesson articulated in Paradise Lost. Even Milton’s use of blank verse is metaphorical and literal: The poem is constructed of 10-syllable lines with no rhyme because Milton compared rhyming to “bondage,” much like the bondage of a citizen to their king.
Milton’s goal in writing Paradise Lost was to write an epic that would capture the spirit and environment of his own society and religion, much as Homer’s epics spoke for Greek civilization. Indeed, Milton succeeded in this goal, as Paradise Lost is now considered one of the greatest works of poetry ever written in the English language. It has been alluded to in other great works of literature, such as Frankenstein, and added a new layer to Lucifer that remains culturally relevant today. Although Milton and his work are controversial, Paradise Lost introduced new words and concepts to the English language. Scholars have argued that Milton invented around 630 words in writing Paradise Lost, as well as new linguistic concepts like the phrase “outer space.”
Paradise Lost has been quoted in politics, law, and literature. The poem’s ripple effect on Western culture continues 350 years after its publication, making Paradise Lost a true classic of English literature.
Plot Summary of Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost recreates the biblical story of the fall of man, starting with the first fall, that of a group of rebel angels in Heaven. Satan, one of God’s most cherished and powerful angels, grows angry when God creates the Son and proclaims that Son as leader. Satan asserts his own authority and power when he organizes a group of rebel angels against God, leading to the Angelic War, which ends in no deaths but much pain. The Son defeats the rebels, who are cast into Hell.
After this civil war, God creates the first man, Adam. Lonely, Adam requests a companion, and so God makes Eve from Adam’s flesh. Eve is beautiful, intelligent, and in love with Adam; she is also curious and hungry for knowledge. Adam and Eve begin in a close relationship with God. They live in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden. God gives them the power to rule over all creation with only one command: They cannot eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. God warns that if they eat from the tree, they will die.
Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan concocts a plan to destroy man in an act of revenge. He journeys to Earth, tricking the angel Uriel into showing him where man lives. After finding Adam and Eve in Paradise, he grows jealous of them, for they have God’s favor. He overhears Adam and Eve talking about the forbidden fruit. He disguises himself as a serpent, cunning and deceptive. He tricks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit.
Adam learns of Eve’s sin and knows that she must die. He chooses to eat the forbidden fruit, too, feeling bound to Eve because they are from the same flesh. 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.
With mankind fallen, Satan returns to Hell to celebrate his triumph. As soon as he finishes his victory speech, he and all his followers turn into snakes without limbs or the ability to speak.
God sends the Archangel Michael to escort Adam and Eve from Paradise. Before expelling them, Michael shows Adam the future—the events resulting from the original sin. The vision shows everything that will happen to mankind, tracing events from Cain and Abel up to the redemption of sin through Jesus Christ. With a mixture of sadness and hope, Adam and Eve leave Paradise.
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