The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jesus of Nazareth is baptized by John the Baptist. This rite is attended by Satan, the Adversary, cloaked in invisibility. Thunderstruck by the pronouncement from Heaven that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, Satan hastily assembles a council of his peers. They choose “their great Dictator” to attempt the overthrow of this new and terrible enemy. God, watching Satan set out on his evil mission, foretells the failure of the mission to the angel Gabriel. The angels sing a triumphant hymn.

Led by the Spirit, Jesus enters the desert and pursues holy meditations. In retrospect, he examines his life, considers his destiny, but does not wish for revelation of his future until God chooses to give it. For forty days he wanders unharmed through the perils of the desert; then for the first time he feels hunger. Just at that moment, he meets an aged man in rural clothing. The old man explains that he was present at the baptism, then expresses amazement at the lost and perilous situation of the wanderer. Jesus replies “Who brought me hither will bring me hence, no other Guide I seek.” The old man then suggests that if Jesus were really the Son of God, he should command the stones to become bread. In his refusal, Jesus asks, “Why dost thou then suggest to me distrust, knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?” At this discovery, Satan abandons his disguise and enters a dispute attempting self-justification. Overcome in the argument, he vanishes as night falls. The other newly baptized people and Mary the mother of Jesus are distressed at his absence, but do not allow themselves to despair.

Satan calls a fresh council of war. He dismisses Belial’s suggestion to “Set women in his eye and in his walk” and receives a vote of confidence for his own plan of using honor, glory, and popular praise combined with relief from the suffering of physical hunger.

Jesus dreams of the ravens who fed Elijah by Cherith’s Brook and of the angel who fed him in the desert. Awakening, he looks for a cottage, a sheepcote, or a herd, but finds...

(The entire section is 841 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Judaea. Desert region east of Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea, where Jesus goes to be baptized in the Jordan River. Baptism gives him an overpowering sense of mission to proclaim the kingdom of God the Father, and he spends forty days wandering through the Judaean wilderness, absorbing the new reality. Afterward Satan accosts Jesus and tries to tempt him three times. The first temptation is to feed himself by turning a stone into bread or by accepting delicacies conjured up out of thin air. The second is to prepare himself for his new mission by acquiring the powers of a world ruler. For this temptation, Satan takes Jesus to a mountaintop from which they can see every place in the ancient world.


*Parthia. Mesopotamian territory in what is now northeastern Iran; the center of the Parthian Empire, which overran Israel briefly during the first century b.c.e. Looking east, over Parthia, from the mountaintop, Satan tempts Jesus with all the glory of the Asian king. He includes military victories that would place Jesus among such heroes of later ages as Charlemagne. He also suggests that Jesus can reunite the ten lost tribes of Israel, now scattered over the area. Jesus rejects this offer by saying that his time has not yet come.


*Rome. Largest city in Italy and center of the vast Roman Empire at the time Jesus was alive. Looking west from the mountaintop, Satan points...

(The entire section is 500 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Fixler, Michael. Milton and the Kingdoms of God. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Examines Paradise Regained in the historical, religious, political, and literary contexts of Milton’s life and works. It is particularly valuable in exploring the Puritan dilemma after the failure of their revolution.

Lewalski, Barbara K. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2000. A full and detailed biography of Milton by a scholar who has written on Paradise Regained.

Lewalski, Barbara K. Milton’s Brief Epic. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1966. A magisterial treatment of the religious background of Paradise Regained, with particular attention to the Book of Job and its historical interpretation.

Mayer, Joseph G. Between Two Pillars: The Hero’s Plight in “Samson Agonistes” and “Paradise Regained.” Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2004. A study of Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes (1671) as poems about temptation and the development of the heroes.

Pope, Elizabeth Anne. “Paradise Regained”: The Tradition and the Poem. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962. A helpful examination of the poem through the religious commentaries, legends, and sermons familiar to Milton and his original readers.

Stein, Arnold. Heroic Knowledge: An Interpretation of “Paradise Regained” and “Samson Agonistes.” Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957. An intelligent, free-ranging series of essays on Milton’s major late works as dramatic poems and the problems they present.

Wittreich, Joseph Anthony. Calm of Mind. Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve University Press, 1971. A collection of valuable critical studies on Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, including issues in their interpretation.