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Paradise Lost

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For other uses, see Paradise Lost (disambiguation).
Title page of the first edition
Title page of the first edition

Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books; a second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve books (mimicking the division of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. The poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Lucifer and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's stated purpose (Book I) is to justify the ways of God and the conflict between the eternal foresight of God and free will.

The protagonist of this Protestant epic is the fallen angel, Satan. Looked at from a modern perspective it may appear to some that Milton presents Satan sympathetically, as an ambitious and prideful being who defies his tyrannical creator, omnipotent God, and wages war on Heaven, only to be defeated and cast down. Some critics regard the character of Lucifer as a precursor of the Byronic hero.

Milton worked for Oliver Cromwell and thus wrote firsthand for the English Revolution. Milton wrote many articles including Areopagitica, defending the freedom of the press. Thus, the failed rebellion and reinstallment of the monarchy left Milton to explore his losses within Paradise Lost. Some critics say that Milton sympathized with the Satan of Paradise Lost, in that both had experienced a failed cause.

The story is innovative in that it attempts to reconcile the Christian and the Pagan; like Shakespeare, Milton found Christian mythology lacking. Milton tries to incorporate Paganism, classical references (Greek), and Christianity within Paradise Lost. Milton idolized the classics but also desired to surpass them by trying this feat.

The poem grapples with many tough theological issues, including fate, predestination, and the Trinity. Milton did not believe in the Trinity. He believed only in the Father and the Son. He presents a Father who is good but angry and sarcastic, and a Son who is genuinely giving and optimistic. The Son serves as a "vessel" for the Father's more good natured aspect.


Lucifer, the hero of Paradise Lost, as drawn by Gustave Doré.
Lucifer, the hero of Paradise Lost, as drawn by Gustave Doré.

Milton's story contains two story arcs: that of Satan and that of Adam and Eve. Lucifer's story is an homage to the old epics of warfare. It begins in medias res, after Lucifer and the other rebel angels have been defeated and cast down by God into Hell. In Pandæmonium, Lucifer must employ his rhetorical ability to organize his followers; he is aided by Mammon and Beelzebub. At the end of the debate, Satan volunteers himself to poison the newly-created Earth. He releases Sin and Death into the world, and braves the dangers of the Abyss in a manner reminiscient of Odysseus or Aeneas.

The other story is a fundamentally different, new kind of epic: a domestic one. Adam and Eve are presented for the first time in Christian literature as having a functional relationship while still without sin. They have arguments, passions and personalities, as well as sexual intercourse. Satan successfully tempts Eve, who in turn convinces Adam. They again have sex, but with a newfound lust that was previously not present. After realizing their error in consuming the "fruyt" from the Tree of Knowledge, they fight. However, Eve's pleas to Adam reconciles them. Adam is shown by an angel the errors of man, the great flood, and is saddened by the sin that Adam and Eve released through the consumption of the "fruyt" of knowledge. However, he is also shown hope, through the Son's own sacrifice. They are then cast out of Eden, and an angel adds that one may find "A paradise within thee, happier farr." They now have to find a new Father, one that is omnipresent yet not visible (contrary to the previous tangible Father in Eden).


Influences include the Bible, Milton's own Puritan upbringing and religious perspective, Edmund Spenser, and the Roman poet Virgil.

Milton wrote the entire work after he lost his sight with the help of secretaries and friends, notably Andrew Marvell. On April 27, 1667 the blind, impoverished Milton sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10.

Later in life, Milton wrote the much shorter Paradise Regained, charting the temptation of Christ by Satan, and the return of the possibility of paradise. This sequel has never had a reputation equal to the earlier poem.

Response and criticism

This epic has generally been considered one of the greatest works in the English language. Since it is based upon scripture, its significance in the Western canon has been thought by some to have lessened due to increasing secularism. However, this is not the general consensus, and even academics who have been labeled as secular realize the merits of the work. In William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the "voice of the devil" argues:

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

This statement became the most common reinterpretation of the work in the twentieth century, but among some critics such as C.S. Lewis, there is no such reinterpretation. Rather, such critics would uphold the theology of Paradise Lost insofar as it conforms to the passages of Scripture on which it is based.

The latter half of the twentieth century saw the critical understanding of Milton's epic shift to a more political and philosophical focus. Rather than the Romantic conception of the Devil as the hero of the piece, it is generally accepted that Satan is presented in terms that begin classically heroic, then diminish him until he is finally reduced to a dust-eating serpent unable even to control his own body. The political angle enters into consideration in the underlying friction between Satan's conservative, hierarchical views of the universe and the contrasting "new way" of God and the Son of God as illustrated in Book III. In contemporary critical theory in other words, the main thrust of the work becomes not the perfidy or heroism of Satan, but rather the tension between classical conservative "old testament" hierarchs (evidenced in Satan's worldview, and even in that of the archangels Raphael and Gabriel), and "new testament" revolutionaries (embodied in the Son of God, Adam, and Eve) who represent a new system of universal organization based not in tradition, precedence, and unthinking habit, but in sincere and conscious acceptance of faith on the one hand, and on station chosen by ability and responsibility. Naturally, this critical mode makes much use of Milton's other works and his biography, grounding itself in his personal history as an English revolutionary and social critic.

Samuel Johnson praised the poem lavishly, but conceded that "None ever wished it longer than it is."

Classical music

Milton's Paradise Lost was, apart from straight quotations of biblical texts, the basis on which the libretto for Joseph Haydn's oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation) was built, by, among others, Baron van Swieten.

Influence on contemporary works

Paradise Lost has had a profound impact on writers, artists and illustrators, and, in the twentieth century, filmmakers.

In Music

  • In the late 1970s, the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki wrote an opera based on Paradise Lost.
  • The American composer Derek Strykowski used Paradise Lost as the basis for his Symphony No. 1: His Dark Materials.
  • The Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave has quoted from Paradise Lost many times in his lyrics.
  • The British metal band Cradle Of Filth was inspired by Paradise Lost and wrote the album Damnation and a Day which takes place over the fall and eventual rise of Lucifer.
  • Another British metal band, Paradise Lost, takes its name directly from the poem's title.
  • Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir quote Paradise Lost in the song "Architecture of a Genocidal Nature" in their album Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, released in 2001.
  • A musical adaptation of Paradise Lost was written by Ben Birney and Rob Seitelman and was performed in New York City in March 2006. This sung-through musical augmented the main story of Paradise Lost with the addition of the character 'Sophia' who represented the feminine divine. It explored her relationship to the events of the Milton poem and offered explanation as to her virtual elimination from Canonic text.
  • The Louisville-based hardcore band Paradox Found take the inspiration for their name and for many of their lyrical themes from Milton's poem.
  • Glenn Danzig's 1992 album Black Aria drew inspiration from Paradise Lost

In Literature

  • It influenced Mary Shelley when she wrote her seminal work, Frankenstein, in the 1810s; she included a quotation from book X on the title page, and it is one of three books Frankenstein's daemon finds which influences his psychological growth.
  • The epic was also one of the inspirations for Philip Pullman's trilogy of novels His Dark Materials. In Pullman's introduction, he adapts Blake's line to quip that he himself "is of the Devil's party and does know it."
  • In graphic novelist Neil Gaiman's seminal Sandman series, a Lucifer who bears a strong resemblance to Milton's is a prominent character. At one point the line "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" is mentioned, and Lucifer notes, "I didn't say it. Milton said it, and he was blind." The story involves Lucifer's abdication from the reign of Hell, which is eventually turned over to the care of two angels. This Lucifer was later given an eponymous 75-issue series, written by Mike Carey.

In Theater

  • In the 1994 movie The Crow, a line from Book IV of Paradise Lost (line 846) plays an important role in the death of one of the film's villains, T-Bird; "Abasht the Devil stood, and felt how awful goodness is."
  • In the 1995 movie Se7en, the first message left by the serial killer was a quotation from Paradise Lost: "Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light."
  • In the 1997 movie The Devil's Advocate, the senior board member of the New York based law firm is Lucifer and aptly uses the name "John Milton".
  • In the movie Animal House, a 1978 comedic film, starring John Belusi ("Bluto"), Donald Sutherland portrays an English Literature professor (Dave Jennings) who futilely attempts to lead a discussion regarding Milton's Paradise Lost.


  • In the 2000 cyberpunk-action-roleplaying-game Deus Ex, one of the three possible endings contains a quote from Book I of Paradise Lost (line 263): "It is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
  • "Paradise Lost" is also quoted in a trailer for "The end of Evangelion" which can be found here:


The history of illustrators includes, among others, Edward Burney, Richard Westall, Francis Hayman, Bernard Lens, and John Medina. The most notable and popular illustrators include William Blake, Gustave Dore and Henry Fuseli. The tradition continues today with noted surreal/visionary artist Terrance Lindall's rendition which was published in hardcover in 1982 and which also appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine around that time. Lindall's version [1] is taught at New York University and is considered to be the twentieth century's most notable contribution to the tradition of fine art illustrations in homage to Milton's visionary genius.

Selected bibliography

Online editions

Paradise Lost

  • The Milton Reading Room XHTML version at Dartmouth
  • Project Gutenberg text version 1
  • Project Gutenberg text version 2

Paradise Regained

  • The Milton Reading Room XHTML version at Dartmouth
  • Project Gutenberg text

In print

  • Paradise Lost Norton Critical Edition (2nd edition edited by Scott Elledge ISBN 0-393-96293-8; 3rd edition edited by Gordon Teskey ISBN 0-393-92428-9) – includes biographical, historical, and literary backgrounds, and criticism
  • Paradise Lost Penguin Classics ISBN 0-14-042439-3
  • Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained Signet Classic Poetry ISBN 0-451-52792-5
  • Hughes, Merrit Y. ed. John Milton. Complete Poems and Major Prose. New York, 1957.
  • Fowler, Alastair, ed. Paradise Lost 2nd Edition, Longman, London, 1998. ISBN 0-582-21518-8
  • Paradise Lost and Other Poems, Signet Classic (Penguin Group), with introduction by Edward M. Cifelli, Ph.D. and notes by Edward Le Comte. New York, 2000.


  • Bradford, R. Paradise Lost. Open University Press: Philadelphia, 1992.
  • Butler, George F., "Giants and Fallen Angels in Dante and Milton: The Commedia and the Gigantomachy in Paradise Lost, Modern Philology, Vol. 95, No. 3 (Feb., 1998), pp. 352-363.
  • Carey, John and Fowler, Alastair. The Poems of John Milton. London, 1971.
  • Empson, William. Milton's God Rev. ed. London, 1965.
  • Eliot, T.S. "Milton" and "A Note on the Verse of John Milton." On Poetry and Poets. London, 1957.
  • Frye, Northrop. The Return of Eden: Five Essays on Milton's Epics. Toronto, 1965.
  • Kermode, Frank, ed. The Living Milton: Essays by Various Hands. London, 1960.
  • Lewis, C.S. A Preface to Paradise Lost. London, 1942.
  • Rajan, Balachandra. Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader. London, 1947.
  • Ricks, Christopher. Milton's Grand Style. Oxford, 1963.
  • Miller, Timothy C. (Ed.) The Critical Response to John Milton's "Paradise Lost" (Critical Responses in Arts & Letters) Greenwood Publishing Group. Westport, 1997.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Paradise Lost
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Paradise Lost

Online text

  • Paradise Lost at Dartmouth's Milton Reading Room

Other information

  • Norton Anthology of English Literature – Paradise Lost in Context – includes historical context, iconography, topical explorations and web resources
  • "Free-Will Theodicy, Middle-Knowledge Theology, Ramist Linguistics, and Satanic Psychology in Paradise Lost" (pdf) by Horace Jeffery Hodges.
  • Satan Deconstructed In Paradise Lost
  • "Free will and necessity in Milton's Paradise Lost" by Gilbert McInnis.
  • Lecture on Milton's Paradise Lost by Ian Johnston - historical and religious background, overview of critical issues.
  • Life of Milton by Samuel Johnson - includes perceptive comments on Paradise Lost.
  • Selected bibliography at the Milton Reading Room – includes background, biography, criticism
  • Paradise Lost Study Guide
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