Description Of Hell In Paradise Lost

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Milton's Paradise Lost is filled with very imagery in all of its many books, but Milton's descriptions of hell are especially vivid, and keep in line with our general understanding of hell as being a place of fire and punishment.

In Book 1, Milton describes what happened to the fallen angels who dared to challenge God in Heaven.  He states that the angels were all

hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky / With hideous ruin and combustion down / To bottomless perdition, there to dwell / In adamantine chains and penal fire ... his (Satan's) horrid crew / Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf.

This first description of hell is very clearly a place of terror and torment.  The rebel Angels were thrown from the beautiful sky of heaven down to an unending hell of damnation.  There they are suffering in the fires that they cannot escape from. 

From there, the descriptions goes on to reinforce the above mentioned description.  Hell is described as a

dismal situation waste and wild / A dungeon horrible, on all sides round / As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames / No light but rather, darkness visible. 

This description is especially interesting in the final image.  Normally we think of fire and picture the warm lighted glow that is emitted from the flames, but this fire is so intense and other-worldly no light comes forth.  It is actually darker than seems possible.  It is in incredibility frightening description.  From there, the description continues with interesting and powerful word choices and short phrases.  There is a mention of the "fiery deluge" which suggests a flood of fire -- a flood is usually thought to be overwhelming and unstoppable.   When Beelzebub tries to rally the angels to be strong in the midst of this torture he acknowledges the "dreary plain" that is "forlorn and wild."  He calls it a "seat of desolation" and describes the flames as "livid."  That is an interesting word choice because the reader might expect "vivid" meaning bright and lively, but he uses "livid" to draw the connotation of anger and power.  Even though this hell is an awful and frightening place, Satan wants his followers to "toss off the fiery waves" and overcome this "dire calamity."  He rallies the other angels to try to rise from the firey pit they are in and to embrace the idea that even though they are damned

The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, or a Hell of Heaven. 

 The angels may be eternally in this place, but they can still have great influence in the world.  They can embrace the idea that they are "in charge" of hell and no longer have God in charge of them.  The rest of Paradise Lost is about how Satan sets about to get his revenge on God.  As we know from the Bible, he sees his opportunity in the characters of Adam and Eve in God's Garden of Eden.  As they are brought down by sin, so is all of humanity.

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