Paradise Lost Book 1 Summary and Analysis
by John Milton

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Book 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Satan: the archangel, Lucifer, cast out of Heaven and ruling in Hell

Beelzebub: a fallen angel, second to Satan in power

Moloch: a fallen angel who later proposes “open war” with Heaven

Chemos: a demon who was later the god of the Moabites

Astarte: goddess of the moon fallen from Heaven and now in Hell

Thammuz: a fallen angel who later became a Babylonian god, symbol of fertility

Dagon: a fallen angel who later became a god of the Philistines; a sea monster who is half man, half fish

Rimmon: a fallen angel; later became a Syrian god

Osiris: an Egyptian male deity

Isis: wife of Osiris

Orus: son of Osiris and Isis

Belial: a lewd, depraved, fallen angel who is filled with lust

Mammon: a fallen angel interested in finding gold in Hell

Mulciber: a fallen angel; architect for Pandemonium

Milton prefaces “The Argument” to Book I of his epic poem with a defense of its unrhymed heroic verse. He declares that, besides “Homer in Greek” and “Virgil in Latin,” the best English poets of tragedy have also rejected rhyme. After a brief summary of Book I, the author introduces the subject of Paradise Lost which is “Man’s first disobedience” and his loss of Paradise. He invokes the “Heavenly Muse” or, in other words, the Holy Spirit who inspired “that shepherd,” Moses on Mt. Sinai. Insisting that his theme will be elevated above that of the pagan poets, Milton proposes to “justify the ways of God to men.” He reiterates the familiar story of the fall of Adam and Eve with a reminder that it was the “infernal Serpent” who was the cause. Declaring himself as God’s equal, Satan’s pride and rebellion have been the reason for his expulsion from Heaven. It was the envy of God’s new creation, Man, that prompted Satan’s revenge when he deceived Eve and, consequently, brought sin into the world.

The first action of the poem begins with Satan, a former archangel, chained on the burning lake in Hell after he and his angels have been cast out of Heaven. It is a wild, dismal wasteland in flames with darkness all around. Satan addresses Beelzebub, who is lying next to him, and assures him that “all is not lost.” He is startled by the frightening changes in Beelzebub’s appearance since his fall. Satan swears that he will never repent and bow to God, but will wage “eternal war” against him. His apparent confidence, however, is “racked with deep despair.” Convinced of God’s strength and supremacy, Beelzebub questions Satan’s optimism in this place of eternal punishment. But Satan quickly replies that they must stay strong and find ways to avenge God by changing good into evil whenever possible.

Since Heaven has given Satan free will, he recovers his strength and, followed by Beelzebub, lifts himself from the burning lake, flying to dry land. Satan concedes that here he must bid farewell to his former happy state and welcome the horrors of the “infernal world,” but at least he will be free. He relishes the idea that God will be far from this place and decides that it is “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Meanwhile, the other fallen angels still lie prostrate on the burning lake. Satan calls them to action, loudly shouting their heavenly titles, “Princes, Potentates, Warriors.” At the sound of their general’s voice, they spring up and take flight, filling the air like a “cloud/ Of locusts.”

The poet enumerates the primary fallen angels. First is Moloch, who became the “horrid king” in biblical times, forcing children to pass through fire as human sacrifices. The list continues with Chemos, god of the Moabites, who is much like Moloch. Astarte, Thammuz, Dagon, Rimmon, Osiris, Isis, and Orus are also fallen angels who later become pagan gods and goddesses after wandering around on Earth. Belial, whose name means “wickedness,” bears the distinction of depravity and lust.

With his customary pride, Satan speaks to the dejected group of angels, trying to boost their...

(The entire section is 2,181 words.)