Description Of Hell In Paradise Lost Book 1

Describe Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost.

In book 1 of Paradise Lost, Milton describes hell as a dark, desolate wildness lit by never-ending fires. Satan awakens chained in a sea of molten flame. In this place that smells of sulfur, Satan and his minions mine ore and build a city that is a parody of God's celestial city in heaven.

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When John Milton describes hell in book 1 of Paradise Lost, he seems to be portraying a terrifying yet paradoxical place.

At first, he tells us hell is a world where torment and affliction know no limits. He tells of us "bottomless perdition":

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell.

Hell is not a place to relax, take or break, or unwind. It's a place of constant cruelty and "torture without end." It's so nefarious that Milton can't quantify it.

Yet Milton does quantify it by assigning it concrete properties. He refers to hell as a "dungeon horrible" and a "prison ordained / In utter darkness." Dungeons and prisons have specific boundaries. Yet maybe what separates the dungeon/prison of hell from an ordinary dungeon/prison is that the dungeon/prison of hell offers unlimited capacity.

As for light, there's not lots of that in Milton's hell. As we already know, hell is consumed by "utter darkness." Although, perhaps when Milton says "darkness," he doesn't mean literal darkness. Perhaps he means there's a lack of thought, awareness, or virtue. If it were truly dark, there wouldn't be fires. In Milton's hell, there's "floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire."

There's also people in Milton's hell. Maybe not people so much as creatures. There's the fallen angels, including Satan. Satan seems to think of hell as a kingdom—his kingdom. "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n," Satan tells the other devils. It reveals the extent to which Satan privileges power. He'd rather rule a place of "waste and wilde" than serve God in a place as perfect as heaven.

One more description that we always take note of occurs when Satan says,

The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

The emphasis on the psychological aspects of hell suggests that hell doesn't need specific physical properties or traits. It can exist abstractly in our heads on its own.

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Milton offers a vivid description of hell in book 1 of Paradise Lost. It is a place of "utter darkness" and chaos. As the poem opens, Satan and his minions have lost their war with God and his angels and awaken to find themselves in a lake of fire.

Satan, who wakes up before anyone else, notices that they are in a dismal, wild wasteland. Beyond the lake of fire in which he is chained, the flames of this fiery wasteland are everywhere. Rather than shedding light, they only make the never-ending "darkness visible." The place smells of "ever-burning" sulfur. It is a site of such "torture" and misery that the fallen Satan is stunned at the contrast between this and the light-filled heaven from which he and his minions have just fallen.

Nevertheless, Satan, though shaken and in pain, makes the best of this new environment. As he (because God allows it) breaks the chains pinning him in the lake of fire, he sees a shoreline littered with broken chariot wheels and the corpses of his dead followers. He wakes and leads his remaining legions from the "fiery waves" in which they are caught to a dark and "dreary plain." In a famous speech, he states that the mind

Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n

He brings his legions to a hill where they mine ore

with impious hands
Rifl'd the bowels of thir mother Earth
For Treasures better hid.

They build a city in hell called Pandemonium, which is a parody of God's celestial city in heaven. Here, Satan reigns over his dark, barren kingdom while plotting the revenge that will bring him to earth disguised as a serpent.

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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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