Study Guide

Paradise Lost

by John Milton

Paradise Lost Analysis

The Poem (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In Heaven, Lucifer, unable to abide the supremacy of God, leads a revolt against divine authority. Defeated, he and his followers are cast into Hell, where they lie nine days on a burning lake. Lucifer, now called Satan, arises from the flaming pitch and vows that all is not lost, that he will have revenge for his downfall. Arousing his legions, he reviews them under the canopy of Hell and decides his purposes can be achieved by guile rather than by force.

Under the direction of Mulciber, the forces of evil build an elaborate palace, Pandemonium, in which Satan convenes a congress to decide on immediate action. At the meeting, Satan reasserts the unity of those fallen and opens the floor to debate regarding what measures should be taken. Moloch advises war. Belial recommends a slothful existence in Hell. Mammon proposes peacefully improving Hell so that it might rival Heaven in splendor. His motion is received with great favor until Beelzebub, second in command, rises and informs the conclave that God has created Earth, which he has peopled with good creatures called humans. It is Beelzebub’s proposal to investigate this new creation, seize it, and seduce its inhabitants to the cause of the fallen angels.

Announcing that he will journey to Earth to learn for himself how matters are there, Satan flies to the gate of Hell. There he encounters his daughter, Sin, and his son, Death. They open the gate, and Satan wings his way toward Earth.

God, in his omniscience, has beheld the meeting in Hell, knows the intent of the evil angels, and sees Satan approaching Earth. Disguised as various beasts, Satan acquaints himself with Adam and Eve and with the Tree of Knowledge, the fruit of which God has forbidden to them.

Uriel, learning that an evil angel has broken through to Eden, warns Gabriel, who appoints two angels to hover about the bower of Adam and Eve. The guardian angels arrive too late, however, to prevent Satan, in the form of a toad, from beginning his evil work. He has influenced Eve’s dreams.

Upon awaking, Eve tells Adam that in her strange dream she was tempted to taste of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God, seeing that danger to Adam and Eve is imminent, sends the angel Raphael to the garden to warn them. At Adam’s insistence, Raphael relates in detail the story of the great war between the good and the bad angels that led to the fall of the bad angels to eternal misery in Hell. At Adam’s further inquiries, Raphael tells of the creation of the world: how Earth was created in six days, an angelic choir singing the praises of God on the seventh day. He cautions Adam not to be too curious, saying that there are many things done by God that are not for humans to understand or to attempt to understand. Adam then tells how he has been warned against the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, how he asked God for fellowship in his loneliness, and how Eve was created from his rib.

After the departure of Raphael, Satan returns to the garden as a mist and enters the body of a sleeping serpent. In the morning, as Adam and Eve proceed to their day’s occupation, Eve proposes that they work apart. Adam, remembering the warning of Raphael, opposes her wishes, but Eve prevails, and the two part. Alone, Eve is accosted by the serpent, which flatters her into tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve, liking what she has tasted, takes the fruit to Adam, who is horrified when he sees what Eve has done. In his love for Eve, however, he also eats the fruit.

Having eaten, Adam and Eve know lust for the first time, and after their dalliance they know sickening shame. They also eat many apples, adding gluttony to their list, which they are rapidly completing, of the seven deadly sins. The guardian angels now desert the transgressors and return to God, who approves their efforts, saying they could not have prevented Satan from succeeding in his mission.

Christ descends to Earth to pass judgment. Before Adam and Eve, who had been reluctant, in their shame, to come out of their bower to face him, Christ sentences the serpent to be forever a hated enemy of humankind. He tells Eve that her sorrow will be multiplied by the bearing of children and that she will be the servant of Adam to the end of time. Adam, says Christ, will eat in sorrow; his ground will be cursed, and he will eat bread only by toiling and sweating.

Meanwhile, Death and Sin, having divined Satan’s success, leave the gates of Hell to join their father on Earth. Within sight of Earth they meet Satan, who delegates Sin and Death as his ambassadors on Earth. Back in Hell, Satan proudly reports his accomplishments to his followers. He is acclaimed, however, by hisses as his cohorts become serpents, and Satan himself is transformed into a serpent before their reptilian eyes. Trees similar to the Tree of Knowledge appear in Hell, but when the evil angels taste the fruit, they find their mouths full of ashes.

God, angered at the disaffection of Adam and Eve, brings about great changes on Earth. He creates the seasons to replace eternal spring and creates the violence and misery of storms, winds, hail, ice, floods, and earthquakes. He causes all of Earth’s creatures to prey upon one another. Adam and Eve argue bitterly (adding anger to their sins) until they realize they have to face their common plight together. Repenting their sins, they pray to God for relief. Although Christ intercedes for them, God sentences them to expulsion from Eden and sends the angel Michael to Earth to carry out the sentence. Adam and Eve, lamenting their misfortune, contemplate suicide, but Michael gives them new hope when he brings to Adam a vision of life and death; of the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires; of the activities of Adam and Eve’s progeny through their evil days to the flood, when God will destroy all life except that preserved by Noah in the ark; and of the subsequent return to evil days and Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension as the redeemer. Despite the violence, evil, and bloodshed in the vision, Adam and Eve are pacified when they see that their children will be saved. They walk hand in hand from the heights of Paradise to the barren plains below.

Paradise Lost Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Heaven

Heaven. Unlike the other places described by Milton in Paradise Lost, the scenes in heaven are not memorable for their physical description. When God the Father and his Son Jesus speak in book 3, they do so from the heights of Heaven. All the speaker asserts about the scene of this dialogue is that it is high above both Earth and Hell, and that it is bathed in celestial light. God’s throne is mentioned, along with the choirs of angels surrounding it, but traditional images of clouds and stars are absent. The book opens with Milton’s famous hymn to light, and the overall effect is the repeated emphasis on the brilliance of the empyrean, the highest heaven which, in the medieval cosmology surviving in Milton’s day, was the home of God and the angels.

Hell

Hell. The underworld into which the rebel angels fall in book 1 of Milton’s epic is the first fully visualized scene. After describing the precipitous fall of Satan and his cohorts amid the chaos of floods and whirlwinds, Milton has the demons remark on how different this place appears in comparison with the Heaven from which they have come. Just as Heaven is characterized mostly by light in book 3, Hell is known by its dimness. Even flames give forth no light, and there is no land, though Milton teases the reader’s visual imagination by speaking of lakes of liquid fire and lands of solid fire. Specific locations within Hell include its capital, Pandemonium; the large gates through which Satan flies; and the Paradise of Fools, a borderland where foolish monks believe, in their vanity, that they are in Heaven.

Pandemonium

Pandemonium. Word coined by Milton to describe the capital of Hell in this epic that now has a broader meaning. Milton invented the word by analogy with the Pantheon, the temple of all gods in ancient Rome. The Pandemonium is thus an infernal temple honoring all demons. Milton describes it near the end of book 1, and the first half of book 2 takes place there as well. As in Milton’s other place descriptions in Paradise Lost, the emphasis is on the spaciousness of this capital of Hell, the throngs of demons filling the hall, the wide gates and porches. Yet, since Milton is using this spaciousness as an emblem of greatness, he effects a sudden change in point of view at the end of book 1, making the demons, who seemed gigantic, become minuscule. The change is due to their fall, which has just taken place. In Pandemonium, as elsewhere in Milton’s cosmology, place has moral significance.

Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden. Biblical site in which the bulk of Paradise Lost after book 3 takes place. For Adam and Eve, the physical beauty of paradise represents the unfallen world. They are in harmony with all creatures, and they receive all the food they need without effort. To Satan, however, the place represents a painful reminder of all the joys he and the other fallen angels have lost forever. His first reflection on the sight of Eden, near the beginning of book 4, is a curse hurled at the Sun for showing him its beauties. There, it becomes clear that place is a function of one’s moral state. For example, Satan, though in paradise, brings his Hell with him because of his unrepentant, fallen nature. Conversely, at the end of the epic, Adam and Eve, though banished from paradise, carry a small reflection of it with them in their love for each other.

Paradise Lost Historical Context

The English Civil Wars, Interregnum, and Restoration
The civil wars of the 1640s in England were rooted in the...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Paradise Lost Quizzes

Book 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is Milton’s main purpose or theme of his epic poem?

2. What is the setting of the opening scene of the poem?

3. Who is next in command to the archangel Satan?

4. What is Satan’s attitude in the beginning of the poem?

5. In what way does Milton’s enumeration of his fallen angels resemble Homer’s Iliad?

6. Who leads the fallen angels to dig for gold in Hell? Why?

7. What is the name of the temple that rose out of the ground in Hell?

8. According to Milton, what had many of the pagan gods been before the history of Man?

9. What are Milton’s basic sources...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Book 2 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Moloch propose at the devilish council?

2. How does Belial’s proposal compare to Moloch’s?

3. What is Mammon’s argument at the council?

4. Who is Beelzebub, and what does he propose?

5. Who volunteers to go alone to spy on God’s new creation?

6. What is the volunteer’s true motive for his seemingly sacrificial act of exploring God’s new world?

7. Who does Satan meet at the gates of Hell?

8. Where did the barking Hell-hounds originate?

9. After which classical figure does Milton pattern the character of Sin?

10. Whom does Satan meet as he travels through the vast...

(The entire section is 289 words.)

Book 3 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the symbolic significance of the image of light in Book III?

2. Why is God referred to as “unapproached light”?

3. Whom does God point out to the Son as their dialogue begins?

4. Who answers God’s call for a volunteer to die for Man’s sins?

5. What is Jacob’s ladder in the biblical account?

6. How does Satan’s attitude toward God compare to Jacob’s as they each view the “stairway to Heaven”?

7. Who is Uriel? What does Satan ask of him?

8. Why does Satan disguise himself when he meets Uriel?

9. Why does the poet lament the fact that he finds “no dawn”?

10....

(The entire section is 275 words.)

Book 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Satan feel is his greatest fault?

2. How does Satan feel about his own free will?

3. Where does Satan (in the form of a bird) alight when he first enters Paradise?

4. What is God’s only prohibition to Adam and Eve in the garden?

5. Which mythological character does Milton allude to in Eve’s story of her first day on Earth?

6. In what forms does Satan appear in Paradise in Book IV.

7. Where do Adam and Eve sleep in Paradise?

8. How does Uriel travel from his post in the sun to Paradise when he comes to warn Gabriel about an evil spirit that is loose?

9. What does Satan tell Gabriel...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Book 5 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is responsible for the evil nature of Eve’s dream?

2. What does Eve’s dream foreshadow?

3. How does Adam comfort Eve after her frightening dream?

4. Who is asked to join Adam and Eve in their morning praise to God?

5. What kind of food does Eve prepare for Raphael?

6. To whom does Raphael allude when he greets Eve with “Hail Mother of Mankind”?

7. Who has no superior to obey in the “scale of Nature”?

8. Why does Satan rebel against God?

9. Who speaks against Satan when he gathers his legions of angels in the North of Heaven to convince them to rebel against God?

10....

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Book 6 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who commends Abdiel for opposing Satan and his legions of angels?

2. What is Abdiel’s definition of servitude?

3. Who is the leader of God’s angels in the war in Heaven?

4. Which side uses gunpowder in the war in Heaven?

5. Which side picks up mountains and uses them as weapons?

6. Why does neither of the armies win the war?

7. Who is sent to end the war and drive Satan and his angels out of Heaven?

8. For how many days do Satan and his angels fall?

9. Who is the narrator for the story of the war in Heaven?

10. What does the narrator warn Adam about?

...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Book 7 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the name of the poet’s muse?

2. What does the poet mean when he says that it is the meaning, not the name of the muse that he is calling forth?

3. What does God plan to do to repair the loss of Satan and his angels in Heaven?

4. Who is appointed by God to perform the act of creation?

5. Had the light appeared before the sun?

6. When is the firmament created and what is it later called?

7. On which day of creation does dry land appear?

8. Besides Man, what else is created on the sixth day?

9. What do God, the Son, and the angels in Heaven do on the Sabbath?

10. What happens...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Book 8 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is Raphael’s answer to Adam’s question about the superfluous number of celestial bodies that serve only Earth?

2. What does Adam think is the primary purpose of the celestial bodies?

3. What does Adam see in his first moments of life?

4. Why are Adam and the sun important to each other?

5. What is the first thing that Adam wants to find after his creation?

6. What is an example of free will in Book VIII?

7. How did God create Eve?

8. What happens to Adam when he observes Eve’s loveliness?

9. What warning does Raphael give Adam about his wisdom concerning Eve?

10. What is...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Book 9 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why is Book IX a central part of the epic poem?

2. What constitutes the climax of Paradise Lost ?

3. In what way is Book IX the turning point of the epic?

4. What is Adam and Eve’s tragic catastrophe?

5. How does the reader feel purged of his/her own emotional conflicts through the narrative?

6. Where has Satan been hiding for the last seven days?

7. How does Satan enter Paradise?

8. Why is Eve alone on the day of her temptation and fall?

9. According to the Serpent, what will be the effects of eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge?

10. What are the effects of the fall...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Book 10 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is sent from Heaven to judge Adam and Eve after the fall?

2. What is Adam and Eve’s punishment for their disobedience to God?

3. How does the Son judge the Serpent (Satan) for tempting Eve?

4. What do Sin and Death do to make Earth more accessible?

5. What will Eve’s descendants do to the Serpent’s offspring?

6. Who helps to bring Adam out of the depths of despair?

7. How does Death feel about his new empire on Earth?

8. What does Discord do on Earth after the fall?

9. What happens to Satan and his fallen angels when he arrives in Hell?

10. What happens to the fruit that is...

(The entire section is 283 words.)

Book 11 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is sent to Earth to tell Adam and Eve about their expulsion from Paradise?

2. In what form does Michael appear on Earth?

3. What is Adam’s reaction when he is told that he must leave Paradise?

4. According to Michael, where can God be found?

5. Where is Eve while Adam and Michael discuss future events?

6. What method does Michael use to reveal the future to Adam?

7. Who are the two just men from the Bible who stand alone in Book XI?

8. What is Adam’s first real example of Death in the vision?

9. What is a lazer-house?

10. Why does God send the rainbow to Noah after the flood?...

(The entire section is 270 words.)

Book 12 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What approach does Michael use to explain how the world will be restored?

2. Which seventeenth-century monarch can be compared to the character of Nimrod from the Bible?

3. Besides an empire, what did Nimrod build?

4. Who is the first leader of the mighty nation of Israel?

5. Who is sent to deliver the nation of Israel out of captivity?

6. Who is the enemy of the Israelites?

7. What becomes of Solomon’s people?

8. Who baptizes the first believers after Christ’s death?

9. Where is Eve while Michael is talking to Adam?

10. Who accompanies Michael as he leads Adam and Eve out of...

(The entire section is 214 words.)