GROUP DISCUSSION: Milton's Paradise Lost

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GROUP DISCUSSION: Milton's Paradise Lost

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Editat: set. 2, 2012, 2:42pm

So far, I have found 3 people (including myself) who want to read Milton's Paradise Lost. We will be reading it slowly (with supplementary material) and discussing it in depth as we go along. Everyone is welcome to join in, even if they will be reading more quickly than us. (It's unlikely you'll go slower, but you're welcome then, too!)

I'll probably start my actual reading of Book 1 in mid-to-late August, but here are some preliminary notes that I have collected:

Notes on the Introduction by David Hawkes, in the Barnes and Noble edition

Notes on Why Evil Exists, Lecture 18

The two people who will be joining me are: lilbrattyteen (Jonathan), and patito-de-hule (Robert)

ag. 4, 2012, 7:11pm

I will be following along but not likely rereading it now. I will try to be quiet.

(another Robert)

ag. 4, 2012, 7:22pm

You don't have to be quiet! Any input is good input. :)

ag. 4, 2012, 8:39pm

I'll be using the Riverside Milton for my reading. (If you mean for me to copy the pictures, Rachel, I don't know how.

The Argument speaks for itself, and I won't say any more about it unless you want.

The first 83 lines of the poem are a prologue. Milton addresses the Muse, as did Homer and Virgil before him. But what muse? I would assume that it is the Godhead and is duplicated in line 17 "And chiefly Thou, O Spirit." A footnote in the Riverside edition tells us that later Milton will tell us that Milton will call the Muse Urania, but clearly (?) wants us to associate her with the spirit that inspired Moses. ("Descend from Heav'n, Urania, if by that name / thou art rightly called" Book 7, lines 1-2). That might seem appropriate since this is the Hebrew cosmology and Urania is the Muse of Astronomy.

The theme (of the whole epic) he states in line 1 as "Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit / of that Forbidden Tree." This subject is expanded on in the Argument, which I skipped writing about.

This takes me through the first 26 lines, and I'm going to stop there until I see how closely the group wants to read this.


ag. 4, 2012, 11:42pm

Aside from a "close reading" type of discussion, the supplementary materials mentioned by Rachel provide some interesting reading. I was inclined to put an illustration of William Blakes, but couldn't remember the HTML. Now that I've reviewed the HTML tags, I would prefer to reference some collections of them.

Among my favorite are the William Blake illustrations which can be found here:
William Blake: Paradise Lost

Gustave Dore's are among the most famous: I also enjoyed his illustrations of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and Edgar A. Poe's Raven. I believe this collection of fifty includes all of the P. L., including the two in Rachel's first post:
Gustave Dore: Paradise Lost

My last selection is from John Martin. I believe he did two series of 12 illustrations. Here they are in one gallery:
John Martin: Paradise Lost

ag. 5, 2012, 12:14am

One last comment before I go to bed. One of the reasons I want to read Milton more closely than I have in the past is in the hope of recognizing allusions that I have missed in the past. Even nowadays authors cast pearls before us that came from Milton. One of the most common examples is

A gulf profound as that Serbonian Bog
Betwixt Damiata and Mount Cassius old
Where armies whole have sunk:

That has to be the most common one. Edmund Burke used the whole phrase in a speech to Parliament. Benjamin Disraeli as well as several Supreme Court justices have used it on numerous occasions. "Serbonian bog" has become a trite metaphor for a complicated mess.

Paradise Lost is also a challenge because Milton is so often himself used in 19th century novels as a way to get to sleep.

ag. 5, 2012, 12:52am

Paradise Lost is also a challenge because Milton is so often himself used in 19th century novels as a way to get to sleep.

That is one of my most vivid memories of Bram Stoker's Dracula. ;) I'm about to reread that book! And so is Jonathan! ;)

Editat: ag. 5, 2012, 1:16pm

Thanks for posting all of those pictures! (Re: #5) Now you've made me feel lazy with only two from Wikipedia. :)

I realized I forgot to mention which editions of Paradise Lost I'm reading.

Because of its critical essays, glossary, and extensive footnotes, I bought the Norton Critical Edition of PL

On my Nook, I have the Barnes and Noble edition, which has an interesting introduction and has a few footnotes:

My library has a copy of the Riverside Milton, and I'll probably check it out (in both senses of the word). I imagine that it, too has extensive footnotes and perhaps some interesting introductions as well:

Finally, I have the audiobook of Paradise Lost narrated by Charlton Griffin. I'll probably listen while reading:

Yes, I know that seems like overkill...but this time I WILL understand. I'm NOT fooling around. ;)

ag. 5, 2012, 7:24am

Just a quick jump-in from me; when I first read PL, a few years ago, I quickly discovered that I didn't "get it" unless I read it out loud, so I could play with Milton's rhythms and cadences and words. So, every Saturday morning one winter, I settled down with a pot of tea and the book, and read awhile out loud. It was lovely.

ag. 5, 2012, 7:26am

Well, I'm hoping that listening to it while reading will have the same effect. We'll see. :) If it doesn't, I'll try your suggestion. Thanks! :)

ag. 5, 2012, 7:27am

I got to where I could read the first 83 lines aloud last night. It's hard because there are no end stops and I'm not always sure where the voice inflections should be. That's for me, anyway. Thanks for the tip.

ag. 5, 2012, 7:29am

>10 The_Hibernator: - Oh, yes do let us know how that goes! Who's the reader/narrator of the version you're listening to?

ag. 5, 2012, 7:47am

The narrator is Frederick Davidson. I just happened to have free access to that one. Though maybe I should explore my options to see if there's a version that has fantastic ratings for narration.

Editat: ag. 5, 2012, 8:04am

Ah! Looks like I OUGHT to own the Charlton Griffin one...Since I have a spare credit on Audible, maybe I'll just go ahead and get that one.

Dad: If you want, I can download it to your computer at home, too, since I'm allowed to use a few different computers for my Audible account. Or, I think, we can put it on your Nook? That is, if you'd like to see if listening helps you with the inflections, etc. Apparently, one should sell one's shirt to own this audiobook. ;)

ag. 5, 2012, 8:05am

Nobody would buy my shirt. Yes, you can download it when you come to visit.

ag. 5, 2012, 11:29am

Fascinating thread! I wish I had a hankering after PL, because I'd love to follow along with you. Hmmm. I suppose I haven't read it for ten years.... Maybe I'll feel a calling?

ag. 5, 2012, 1:20pm

We'll try to send out little "come to us" subliminal messages and see if you feel called. :)

ag. 5, 2012, 3:06pm

Hi, I think I will be lurking around your threat and see what you have to say. I tried to read it a couple of years ago, but found it very hard going and never finished it.

Editat: ag. 5, 2012, 4:35pm

Drachenbraut: Milton isn't the easiest thing to read. I did PL several years ago, but, with luck, escaped without actually learning anything. What I've been discussing with Rachel is taking it in small lumps. My suggestion (I'm open for others) is to read something like:
Lines 1-83 = Milton's voice, a prologue.
Lines 84-124 = Satan's voice, speaking to Beelzebub
Lines 125-156 = Beelzebub's reply
Lines 157-191 = Satan's voice again
Lines 192-241 = Milton's narrative

Of course we will probably bundle it up our own way, but for starters that seems small enough chunks, the longest being 83 lines, for a pretty close reading if that's what others in the group would like to do.

ag. 5, 2012, 11:03pm

I have found in the times I have read it since college that I should aim for a book a night. It takes time, each time I pick it up, to get congruent with the language, but I do after awhile. Too much of it at a time is too much, but there's is a natural break at the end of each book.


ag. 7, 2012, 4:47pm

19# patito-de-hule (you could not have choosen an easier name to write?) :D

Thank you very much for the suggestions on where to start the book, I will give it a try and will just follow very closely your discussions.
It got recommended to me a couple of years back, due to my interest in Religion and especially the early to late middle ages. The German social structure in that particular time period was very much influenced by religious beliefs, based on the thought of "The original sin". So this book seemed to fit in with my other books I own, or I have read about these topics.

Editat: ag. 7, 2012, 5:17pm

Patito de hule means "Rubber Ducky" and that's what some people call me. Others write "Patito" or just "Bob". It doesn't make any difference to me what they call me as long as they call me in time for supper. :)

I think Rachel's going to be out of town for a few days and I don't expect too much discussion before she gets home.

German social structure? What about English? Milton was there for the English Civil Wars--it began about the same time as the Thirty Years War ended.

As I read this, I intend to open the Old Testament and do some reflecting on the creation story. I think a lot of my recollections are based on traditions and I don't know exactly how much of them are actually OT.

ag. 7, 2012, 5:33pm

I think a lot of my recollections are based on traditions and I don't know exactly how much of them are actually OT

I agree. I'm confused about which of my traditions come from the Old Testament, which from the New, and which from literature and popular culture! I think the Norton Critical Edition will help with that, though. It even has some passages from the King James Bible stuck in as supplementary material. :)

Yes, I shall be on a trip and I'm not going to start my actual reading of PL until after I get back. :)

Editat: ag. 7, 2012, 5:39pm

# So patito, it will be :) Although, I find Rubber Ducky very entertaining as well.

Yes, the English had a very similiar social structure. At that particular time we were talking about the role of women in that time of history and how the beliefs in the "creation story" influenced the social structure of the people. That was how we came to talk about this book "epic poem", and how my friend thought how this book shows that Milton had a psychatric problem. Well, and than we started talking about the witch hunts across Europe and about the idiot (or two idiots) who wrote the "Hexenhammer", and finally ended the evening with an interesting discussion.

The idea with the bible is a good one. It has been a long while that I had a look in it. :)

But then again, I am an atheist, who is very much interested in the reasonings behind Religion and how it influences human behaviour.

# Hibernator - you are referring very often to Norton critical editons - maybe I am a bit dumb - but are this annotated books?

AND - Have a nice trip :)

Editat: ag. 7, 2012, 5:41pm

drachenbraut: have you read Religion for Atheists? I've read some good reviews of it. It looks interesting. (I'm not an atheist, but I still like to think about how religion influences human behavior.)

ETA: Yes, Norton Critical Editions are annotated books. They also include some biographical information about the author and some literary critiques of the book in question. They're generally very helpful if you're trying to read a book thoughtfully.

ag. 7, 2012, 6:51pm

Rachel and I have been very fond of Norton Critical Editions for several years. Most of them contain the test of the opus magnum to be discussed. That is followed by a section on context (biographical and historical contexts), several essays of contemporary criticism, and several essays of modern criticism. The Riverside edition contains the entire works of Milton, some introduction by the editor, and then each work with copious footnotes. Many of the footnotes are textual criticism (e.g. was this semicolon meant to be a comma, etc.) which I pass over, but many are interesting discussions of a word, name, or concept.

ag. 8, 2012, 4:44pm

# Hello patito - Thanks for the explanation on the Norton Critical Editions - I have just ordered my copy for "Paradise Lost" on Amazon. Maybe this will also help me to understand the book better.

This is the first time I am going to use a Critical Edition, and I am curious how I will like it. :)

Editat: ag. 18, 2012, 4:48pm

Here is a site that is about Salvador Dali's Paradise Lost Portfolio

ag. 22, 2012, 12:55am

Rachel, I'm just waiting for you on this. I have more questions than answers about PL book I.

ag. 22, 2012, 6:22am

Yeah, I'm trying. :) My plan is to start Book 1 this week.

Editat: ag. 23, 2012, 2:15pm

Hopefully this isn't a violation of copyright. I am using the course The Life and Writings of John Milton from The Great Courses to help me in my study of Paradise Lost. At the end of its lesson on Book 1 it lists the following discussion questions.

1. What do you make of Satan? Why does he seem to have all the good lines in the poem?

2. How is Satan a political figure: i.e., How is he like a ruler, a general, a king, a conquistador?

I'm going to consider these while reading through Book 1. :)

ag. 27, 2012, 12:20pm

Ah, well, I had an ineffective week. But I really will read book I THIS week. :) In the meantime, I have discovered this interesting paragraph by E. A. Poe. It was published in "The Philosophy of Composition" which I found in The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (Norton Critical Edition):

If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression--for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and every thing like totality is at once destroyed. But since, certeris paribus, no poet can afford to dispense with any thing that may advance his design, it but remains to be seen whether there is, in extent, any advantage to counterbalance the loss of unity which attends it. Here I say no, at once. What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones--that is to say, of brief poetical effects. It is needless to demonstrate that a poem is such, only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating, the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief. For this reason, at least one half of the "Paradise Lost" is essentially prose--a succession of poetical excitements interspersed, inevitably, with corresponding depressions--the whole being deprived, through the extremeness of its length, of the vastly important artistic element, totality, or unity, of effect.

I gather that Poe does not consider each book of Paradise Lost to be a poem, but that half of each book is "prose" that separates the emotional extremes of poetry. I shall watch for this when I read Book I THIS WEEK. :) For those of you who have zipped right ahead of me, which sections of Book I do you consider "poetry" and which "prose" by Poe's definition?

ag. 27, 2012, 1:16pm

I hereby disrespect Poe's opinion. The Arguments are prose. The rest is pure poetry.

In the field of linguistics, one branch is called pragmatics. In the subfield of pragmatics (but indeed, as any mathematician knows, a subfield is itself a field) the word hereby is known as an action-word tag. That is to say, by the use of the word "hereby," one inherently commits the action referred to in the remainder of the sentence.

"Inherently commits?" As you can see, I am not completely or reliably coherent this morning.

ag. 27, 2012, 1:30pm

Dad, you can't disrespect Poe's opinion. He has more soul than you do. :p

Editat: ag. 27, 2012, 2:07pm

I, too, have my reservations about what Poe says in this paragraph. I am also struggling through his thoughts in the same essay two paragraphs down when he says that:

Now the object, Truth, or the satisfaction of the intellect, and the object Passion, or the excitement of the heart, are, although attainable, to a certain extent, in poetry, far more readily attainable in prose. Truth, in fact, demands a precision, and Passion, a homeliness (the truly passionate will comprehend me) which are absolutely antagonist to that Beauty which, I maintain, is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.

Clearly, Poe defines "poetry" and "Passion" differently than I do. I would say that passion CAN be (though is not necessarily) an excitement or pleasurable elevation of the soul. I believe Poe was NOT a religious person (perhaps I'm wrong?). Thus he might not feel the type of Passion that CAN be an excitement of the soul. Therefore, perhaps he is not the best critic of "Paradise Lost" because he does not feel the religious passion that I assume Milton did.

However, I don't think the original paragraph I quoted should be so easily disregarded. He brought up a very good point. The purely poetic IS an "excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul." And such excitement can't be kept up continuously throughout a poem. There has to be ebbs and flows or else the reader will burn out. (It's similar to poorly written books these days which try to pack in so many action scenes that they cease to be exciting anymore. The senses need a rest.)

Poe seems to define "poetry" as the soul-elevating passages and "prose" as the continue-the-story-while-resting-the-soul passages. Even if I don't agree with his definition of "poetry," I still think he's got an interesting point, and I will look for those soul-elevating passages while I'm reading. :p

ag. 27, 2012, 4:45pm

Let me make a point and perhaps get some discussion rolling.

Paradise Lost, notoriously, is an epic poem. Satan is the protagonist, or perhaps the antagonist. As protagonist, he is an anti-hero. (Would someone argue that God is the protagonist and Satan the antagonist?) PL is also a tragedy, and Satan is its tragic hero. Satan's hubris, in the sense of Tragedy is portrayed in the following lines (258-262):

... Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

This passage occurs after the initial exchange between Satan and Belzebub when they have awakened in confusion to their new condition having been cast into the chaos that lies outside heaven. Milton, in Satan's voice goes on to say one of the most famous lines in the entire epic: (line 263)

Better to reign in hell, than serve in heav'n.

That is the kernal of Satan's hubris--his tragic fault.

ag. 28, 2012, 3:58pm

A digression, perhaps, on Plato? In Book II of Republic we have the following comments put in the mouth of Socrates:

Then God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men. For few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good is to be attributed to God alone; of the evils the causes are to be sought elsewhere, and not in him.

… neither will we allow our young men to hear the words of Aeschylus, that God plants guilt among men when he desires utterly to destroy a house. And if a poet writes of the sufferings of Niobe --the subject of the tragedy in which these iambic verses occur --or of the house of Pelops, or of the Trojan war or on any similar theme, either we must not permit him to say that these are the works of God, or if they are of God, he must devise some explanation of them such as we are seeking; he must say that God did what was just and right, and they were the better for being punished.

Plato, through Socrates, that the poet, Milton, must not say that God, by creating Satan, is responsible for the evil of Satan. Plato, of course, was referring specifically to Homer and to Homer's characters and gods rather than to Milton and Satan, but it is the principle we are interested in. Would Milton have agreed with these sentiments?

Would Milton say that Satan was better for the punishment he received from God?

This is the problem I have with seeing Satan as a tragic hero in Paradise Lost. A central theme in tragedy is pathos or suffering. And we must feel compassion for the the character's tragic flaw, his hubris.

Rachel, one time you talked to the priest at out church. You said that we are supposed to love all God's creatures and God created Satan. Should we, therefore, love Satan. The priest said that Satan is the "personification of evil" in the world. That answer denies him creaturehood. (Does that mean God didn't create Satan?) So what did Milton think. Does he answer the problem in Paradise Lost?

Editat: ag. 28, 2012, 4:14pm

Hmmm, that's funny. I remember the priest answering my question "that's an interesting question."

I don't know what Milton would say since there are so many different interpretations of his work. But it's possible that he believed in felix culpa, ("happy faults") the view that the Fall of humans was fortuitous because it brought about the coming of Christ. IF he believed in felix culpa, then it isn't too far of a stretch to say that he believed that Satan was better off reigning in Hell than serving in Heaven. Also, if Satan hadn't fallen, people wouldn't have the freedom to choose Hell (or the absence of God) over Heaven.

Editat: ag. 29, 2012, 4:29pm

One of the things I keep wondering is where Milton got this stuff. There is very little in the Bible, especially the Old Testement abotut the fall of the angels.

Starting with lines 364-373 in Book I

Nor had they yet among the Sons of Eve
Got them new Names, till wandring ore the Earth,
Through Gods high sufferance for the tryal of man,
By falsities and lyes the greatest part
Of Mankind they corrupted to forsake
God thir Creator, andth' invisible
Glory of him that made them, to transform
Oft to the Image of a Brute, adorn'd
With gay Religions full of Pomp and Gold,
And Devils to adore for Deities:

So, OK. It was centuries of Christian tradition that the old gods of the pagans were the fallen angels adopted by them (the paynim) as gods. Is this allegory? Did educated people (Christians) really believe that. One source cited in some of the notes on PL is Tertullian's apologetics, Ch. 22-24. But did Tertullian take the implication here seriously? I doubt it. It wouldn't make sense for him to say it explicitly when he was defending Christianity against Roman paganism. He does say the following in Chapter 23:

MOREOVER, if magicians do set before your eyes a scene of spectres,
and, by their black arts, or direful forms in necromancy, call up the souls of the dead ; if they throw children into convulsions, and a while after make them vent the fury in oracles; if by their juggling wiles they delude the senses with abundance of mock miracles, and inject dreams in the dead of sleep, by first invoking the assistance of their angels and demons, by whose sophistry even goats and groaning boards are wont to divine: if then these evil spirits will do so much at the impulse of men, what will they not do by their own impulse, and for their own interest ? They will surely collect the whole stock of malicious power into one effort for the defence of themselves and the kingdom of darkness.

I will link my source for Tertullian because of some of the interesting footnotes in this particular site. Tertullian's Apology

Tertullian doesn't say that the pagans adopted the fallen angels for their gods, but likens their gods and demons to the angels and demons of Christianity. Bear in mind that the word daemonia meant household gods and only later did they take on the negative connotation that they had in the Christian literature. So whether Milton believed what he literally says here or not is open to question in my mind. It's more like an extended allegory. Rachel, you may remember my derivation of the name Desdemona in Othello. It is from deisi demonia to worship the demons. I compared this with an ecstasy and connected that with one of her quotes I was making fun of. Remind me which quote.

Anyway, there is more. Milton from this point goes on to list twelve Gods taken from among the fallen angels--i.e. giving Satans closest followers the names of pagan gods (as opposed to them giving their gods the names of demons.) He starts in a very Homeric mode with a catalog of the principal demons. Compare it to the second book of the Iliad when Homer began the catalogue of the ships:

Iliad II, lines 562-565
Now, you Muses living on Olympus, tell me—
for you are goddesses and know everything,
while we hear only stories, knowing nothing certain—
tell me the leaders of Danaans, the rulers.

or Paradise Lost book I lines 376--380

Say, Muse, thir Names then known, who first, who last,
Rous'd from the slumber, on that fiery Couch,
At thir great Emperors call, as next in worth
Came singly where he stood on the bare strand,
While the promiscuous croud stood yet aloof?

So he was about to catalog the angels in Homeric style. The twelve gods he lists are with their line numbers:

Moloch 392
Chemos 406
Baalim 422
Ashtaroth 422
Astoreth 438
Thammuz 446
Dagon 462
Rimmon 467
Osiris 478
Isis 478
Orus 478
Belial 490

I'll discuss some of these in another post.

ag. 28, 2012, 9:24pm

In listing twelve such principal angels, I followed a paper with the following full citation:

Satan's Apostles and the Nature of Faith in "Paradise Lost" Book
Author(s): Lee Erickson Reviewed work(s):
Source: Studies in Philology, Vol. 94, No. 3 (Summer, 1997), pp. 382-394
Published by: University of North Carolina PressStable URL:
Accessed: 27/08/2012 21:44

Dr. Erickson suggests a parallel between Satan, standing “on the strand” of the Lake of Fire calling the Angels and Jesus Christ walking on the beach of the Sea of Galilee calling his Apostles. It is an interesting theme, but a bit of a stretch IMO. Dr. Erickson points out my own difficulty in this interpretation when he says that other commentators list only ten. He says that they “know too much,” recognizing that two are given alternative names and that Baalim and Ashtaroth are but plural forms. Let me quote the lines following 419, where Baalim and Ashtaroth are “called”.

With these came they, who from the bordering flood
Of old Euphrates to the Brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground, had general Names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
These Feminine. For Spirits when they please
Can either Sex assume, or both.

For one thing Baalim is no more than the masculine plural of Baal and Ashtaroth is no more than the feminine plural of Ashtoreth, the next on the list. “Those male, these feminine.” Nevertheless, it is true that twelve names are listed as coming, and the parallel between them and the twelve Apostles is, indeed, an interesting point. I found the entire paper interesting and something to think about.

ag. 28, 2012, 10:49pm

Do you remember the Blood Money lyrics from Jesus Christ Superstar?

I have no thought at all about my own reward.
I really didn't come here of my own accord.
Just don't say I'm damned for all time.

Did you feel just a little bit of compassion for Judas Iscariot? In Paradise Lost do you feel just a little bit of compassion for the hero, Satan, who is "damned for all time"?

Is this a legitimate comparison? Is Judas Iscariot the tragic (anti-)hero of Jesus Christ Superstar? Is Satan the tragic (anti-hero) of Paradise Lost? Is there a comparison, or more of a contrast, in these to Dante's Inferno.

ag. 30, 2012, 5:04pm

Guess I'll go ahead and double post. See? I AM trying. :p

The Great Courses Western Literary Canon in Context Lecture Twenty-Two: The Rebel as Hero—Milton’s Paradise Lost

The purpose of this course is to introduce readers to pivotal works in the Western Literary Canon. I hope to go through this course from the beginning eventually, but since I have already started my study of Milton, I'll start with this lecture, and perhaps come back to it later.


Milton was a very well educated man. He is said to have read every book available, usually in its original language. Many of these books were used as the framework for Paradise Lost. Milton based his epic loosely on the Book of Genesis, but changed a few incidents and added many of his own invention.

Much of Milton's inspiration came from the the Greek and Roman ancient texts. He very likely considered Aeschylus’s Prometheus for his model of Satan revolting against divine law. Likewise, Sophocles’s Oedipus served as a model for the suffering and fall of Adam. And Virgil's Aeneas is called to mind when, in the end, Adam sees a vision of the future.

Satan uses Athenian rhetoric when he twists logic and makes the worse situation seem better. Milton's God imposes order on the universe with the scientific precision of an Aristotelian God. Professor Bowers says: "Aristotelian notions of pattern, logic, connection, and plausibility hold the whole epic together."

Milton also relied heavily on medieval theology. Milton's avowed purpose for the epic was to "justify the ways of God to men." Early on, he sets a theme that even very bad situations result in good with God's plan. He seems to support the medieval Christian concept of felix culpa: "the happy fault" which suggests that the seemingly disastrous fall of Adam was, indeed, good because it necessitated the coming of Christ. This philosophy is in keeping with Boethius’s notion of theodicy in The Consolation of Philosophy. (Theodicy attempts to resolve the problem of evil by suggesting that in God's omnibenevolence all evil leads to good.) Another theologian we are reminded of by Milton is Augustine--Milton's portrayal of original sin as a fall into sexual depravity has a distinct Augustinian ring to it. And Milton got many of his notions of Heaven and Hell and of the war between Satan and God's angels from Dante.

Finally, Bowers suggests that Milton may have wanted to model Satan's craving for revenge on Shakespeare's Hamlet, but "in the end, Satan lacks the grandeur of Shakespeare’s tragic characters; instead, he suffers a kind of comic debasement also found in Shakespeare."

Milton's learnedness extended beyond just literature. He studied all maps of Africa, Asia, and the Americas which were being produced during his time. Paradise Lost can be considered an allegory for British colonization. Each mention of modern-day places could be a reference to a British colony, or a place which Milton imagines the empire might soon set its boots upon.

Milton also intended Paradise Lost to be an allegory for the failure of Oliver Cromwell's rebellion. This allegory led to one of the many paradoxes of Paradise Lost. Milton was a very voluble supporter of Oliver Cromwell throughout the rebellion and right on to the Cromwell's terrible end. Milton only escaped execution because he was seen as a "harmless" blind man. Although in life he was a champion of freedom from tyranny and a supporter of the fallen rebel, he outwardly condemned Satan's revolt. Because Milton could sympathize with Satan's injured pride, he made Satan into an alluring character--so charismatic that many people thought (and some still think) that Milton was on Satan's side without knowing it.

This view led to a romantic view of Milton which strongly influenced literature for the following centuries. Wordsworth and Keats both longed to emulate Milton. Lord Byron emulated Milton, but chose a comic epic: Don Juan. However, none of the emulations reached the literary sublimity of Paradise Lost, which was the last great epic Poem of English literature. However, the epic style was soon adopted in a new format: the novel. James Joyce carried on the epic tradition, while Virginia Woolf introduced lyrical novels. Milton's rebel-as-a-hero tradition was picked up in the 19th century in Lord Byron's Manfred and Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. Heroes like Bronte's Heathcliff, Goethe's Faust, and Melville's Captain Ahab are anti-heroes.

Professor Bowers even suggests that in a twist of mimesis, the cultural climate created by this barrage of Satanic heroes opened the door for a real-life Satanic hero: Napoleon. The rise of Napoleon later influenced writers like Tolstoy and Stendhal. Life imitates art, and art imitates life.

ag. 30, 2012, 6:23pm

Very nice. I wasn't planning to write anything so formal, but now I'll have to just to keep up with you Joneses. Hmm. Did Ernest Jones ever write anything on Paradise Lost? Probably not--Satan would be kind of hard to get on a couch and analyze.

...his other Parts besides
Prone on the Flood, extended long and large
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the Fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or Earth-born, that warr'd on Jove,
Briareos or Typhon, whom the Den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that Sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th' Ocean stream:

Book I, lines 194-201

No. Jones would need a pretty big couch for this Leviathan.

"Satan uses Athenian rhetoric when he twists logic and makes the worse situation seem better. Milton's God imposes order on the universe with the scientific precision of an Aristotelian God. Professor Bowers says: 'Aristotelian notions of pattern, logic, connection, and plausibility hold the whole epic together.' "

In my next comment (not ready yet) I was going to point the use of pre-Socratean sophisms in lines 84-282. These are the first lines of the story proper where Satan and Beelzebub awaken to their new situation. It's where we get our first impression of the characters of two of the best of the worst. But more about that soon.

Editat: set. 2, 2012, 4:29am

43> patito - Last week I received my copy of the Norton Critical edition and I will start reading as recommended by you. I also hope by following this thread that even my 'poor brain cells' will finally be able to grasp the text. *wink*

set. 4, 2012, 5:04pm

My intention here was to write some of my notes on lines 84-282 where Satan comes to lying on the lake of fire, but I'd like first to do a ramble on the first part of line 84 because initially it puzzled me.

"If thou beest he;" line 84.

It was difficult to me at first to read this line in any tone of voice that made sense to me. Neither of the audio book recordings really helpped. Then I remembered falling off my bicycle at age 13 and coming to:

"Where am I? . . . What time is it? . . . Am I hurt? . . ."

Those were my first ten words. Now with that kind of confusion in mind, I read the line:

"If thou beest he . . . (blink, blink, uhhh) But O how fall'n! How chang'd."

The footnotes and commentaries call the sentence an anacoluthon, sometimes used rhetorically to express confusion. Nice!

I went to one of those old-fashioned humanist high schools where we studied Greek and Latin and rhetoric. In grammar we learned that the conditional clause and main clause of a conditional sentence are called the protasis and apodosis respecitvely. Ana- (without) and -apodosis form the word an anapodoton. Go ahead! Google that word. It is a sentence with the main clause, the apodosis, missing. Thinking through all this, I can fully understand what Milton is doing here and I can now read that line aloud. :)

set. 4, 2012, 5:50pm

I'll catch up!

Editat: nov. 5, 2012, 10:27am

Ok, I've now read book one, though I'm still not at the same level as patito on comprehension, so unfortunately I can't discuss his points. I have a great difficulty reading stuff like this, so my plan is to read through Paradise Lost just for shallow comprehension purposes, read some criticisms, and then go back and read it for deeper meaning. Sorry if people get bored with my "simple comprehension" notes! :p

By the way, the audiobook recording by Charlton Griffin is very well done. It helped me get through the first book.

After reading Book I, I decided to go back line by line and try to figure out what Milton was saying. I'll post my notes as I go through, in case there's anyone else out there who is at the basic level I'm at.

Rachel's Notes on Lines 1 - 26 of Book I
Milton is asking the Holy Spirit to guide him as he tells us about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. He invokes the Holy Spirit as the Heavenly Muse who inspired Moses on Sinai (lines 6-8) and then the spirit of God in the Temple on Mt. Zion (line 10). Milton believes that the Holy Spirit will help him soar above earlier poets, who invoked their muses from the oracle at Delphi (lines 11-16). He asks instruction from the Holy Spirit so that he may "justify the ways of God to men."

nov. 13, 2012, 7:19pm

Rachel's Notes on Lines 27 - 36 (What made Adam and Eve revolt?)

First, we will describe what caused Adam and Eve to fall from God's favor by breaking the only law that God asked them to obey (i.e. not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was the Serpent who first seduced Adam and Eve to revolt. The Serpent's guile was stirred up by envy and revenge, so he deceived Eve.

Rachel's Notes on Lines 36 - 83 (Satan and his minions have fallen from Heaven)

Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"

It happened after Satan's pride had cast him and his rebel angels out of Heaven. Because Satan thought he was equal to his Lord God, he and his host of rebels had warred against Heaven in a vain attempt to place Satan above his peers. But God hurled Satan and his rebels from Heaven - headlong, like fiery meteors bound in unbreakable chains - to crash ruinously into Hell. {Much like the Titans thrown to the pits of Tartarus in Hesiod's Theogeny (664 - 735)} the celestial demons spent nine days and nights lying vanquished in the fiery gulfs of Hell. Satan's doom made him angrier, because he had not only lost the happiness of Heaven, but he now must endure eternal suffering instead. Pissed off, he looked around. Dismay and affliction, stubborn pride and steadfast hate were palpable in all he saw. Hell dismally stretched as far as his immortal eye could see.

Hell was like a gigantic furnace with raging fires - but instead of giving off light, the flames emitted darkness visible. This palpable darkness illuminated sights of woe, regions of sorrow, and doleful shades. Hell was a place where peace and rest would never dwell. Hope would never come here, but instead came endless torture. The torment fed the flames, urging the fire on for eternity. Such was the place that Eternal Justice had prepared for the rebellious. Here, they would eternally remain in darkness, as far away from God and the light of Heaven as 3X the distance from Earth to the far reaches of the universe. {In other words, Hell was located in Chaos...beyond the universe. Milton's Hell was not in the center of the Earth, like in Dante's Inferno.} How unlike Hell was from Heaven, from whence they fell!

Satan saw his companions-in-arms overwhelmed by the tempestuous fires. Weltering in the tempestuous flames by his side, Satan saw Beelzebub - who was his peer in leading the host of fallen angels. Satan broke the horrible silence by saying:

Rachel's Notes on Lines 84 - 126 (Satan tells Beelzebub that he's still pissed off and this war ain't over yet)

{Satan speaks with obscure syntax to show that his passion overpowers reason. I'm trying to ruthlessly clarify it for the sake of my notes, though.}:

"If you are he! But how you have fallen! How changed from him who was so shiny in Heaven! If you are he who joined with me in glorious we join in misery and ruin. Into what pit have we been thrown? How far have we fallen? God has proven himself much stronger than we. Who knew the strength of that mighty arm?! But despite what those powerful arms and His mighty rage can further inflict on us, I do not repent.

"My pride had been injured, so I fought God with my innumerable army of spirits who preferred me as their leader. We fought a battle on the planes of Heaven and shook His throne. So what if we lost that battle? All is not lost! We have not lost our vengeful natures, our immortal hate, or our courage to never yield! What else is there to live for, besides the will to succeed?

"He'll never get me to bow to him and deify his power! We had Him worried...He was afraid he would lose against my powerful army. Fate has given us immortal bodies, so our army will be just as strong as before. But now we know our Foe better! Now, we can wage a more successful war - an eternal war that is irreconcilable to our Foe...that Foe who now joyfully reigns as tyrant in Heaven."

Though he was in pain and wracked with deep despair, Satan boasted. Beelzebub answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 127 - 156 (Beelzebub is concerned that they are now thralls of God)

"Oh powerful prince, you led the embattled angels to war; your deeds endangered Heaven's perpetual king, and made him defend his supremacy (whether that supremacy was upheld by strength or chance or fate...). I regret our army's defeat. We have lost our place in Heaven. The entire army has come as close to dying as our immortal bodies are capable. Our minds and spirits will return to us soon, but we will suffer for eternity in Hell. What if God (who I now believe is almighty, since He could not have overpowered our army otherwise) has left us our spirits and strength intact only so that we can better endure our sufferings? Or perhaps he will use us as his slaves? What good does it do us to have our strength if we are only to endure eternal punishment?"

Satan answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 157 - 191 (Satan says that they're so good at being bad, and decides to recuperate)

"Well, Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable, whether we're active or not. But be sure of this: Our acts will never be for good. Our sole delight will always be to do ill! We will always resist His wishes! If he wishes to bring good out of our evil acts, then we shall pervert His wishes and use good acts for evil. We will pervert His plan!

"Do you see that God has called our vengeful pursuers back to the gates of Heaven? The storm of sulfurous hail that He shot at us has abated. And the raging lightening and thunder has perhaps spent its wrath and will cease to bellow through the vast and bottomless deep. Let us not miss our chance if God's fury has been satiated.

"Look at the dreary plains of Hell, illuminated by the darkness of Hellfire. Let's sail these fiery waves over there, and we can rest (if rest is possible). After we have gathered our strength, we'll discuss how we can offend our enemy, repair our losses, and overcome this dire calamity. We will either gain reinforcement from hope, or resolution from despair."

nov. 14, 2012, 1:43pm


That line, the 9th line of Canto III of Dante's Inferno, seems appropriate to this discussion of Milton's Paradise Lost. This "lake of fire" is seemingly beyond comprehension to the main participants of the thread so far. Should we "abandon all hope" who enter here? If we are not reading for enjoyment, why do we even want to put the effort in to read something like this?

We are not university students who want to torture ourselves with some calculus that will never be used in our future careers. We know the basic story that is told in this work. We are not snobs who just want to prove that we understand it--indeed, we have admitted publicly that we do not understand it. We might even ask, "Is Paradise Lost truly a great work of epic poetry? Or is it just that academics of that age and ours have praised it highly because they are eggheads?" What the **** is art, anyway?

The fact of the matter is that when I was a child (just prior to Neanderthal times), I often did not "appreciate" great novels, musical compositions, paintings and sculptures, and so on until I began to understand somewhat just what the author/composer/artist was doing. I was passionate about order and composition but yet too untrained to understand what they meant. Dickens! UGH!!! Like many young students I was made to read Tale of Two Cities by nuns who probably lived during that period of turmoil in France. What did I care about social issues in early 19th century France? In fact, for years I thought it was about the late 18th century (1789) French Revolution. But an understanding of those issues, and especially how they related to the issues seen by Dickens in his own time and place brought an appreciation that I had earlier not thought possible.

So it must be with Paradise Lost which, by the way, I have read long ago in its entirety without true understanding. We all know the basic drift of the story told in this epic poem. If not, we have but to read "The Argument" at the beginning of each book. But the influence of this poem on society in the centuries following its original publication make it interesting. Let me give an example.

When I retired, I was interested in the American Revolution. I wanted to know just what was in the minds of those "fools" who risked their lives, liberty, and sacred honor to begin a violent revolution against the "legitimate" government of their country. And what did the loyalists think about all of this? (I was always certain that had I lived at the time I would have been a Tory because I believed in the legitimacy of the established government.) But one of the works I read was Edmond Burke's speech introducing his resolutions on conciliation with America on March 22, 1775. One quote is relevant here:

"For high and reverend authorities lift up their heads on both sides; and there is no sure footing in the middle. This point is the great Serbonian bog, Betwixt Damiata and Mount Cassius old, Where armies whole have sunk. I do not intend to be overwhelmed in that bog, though is such respectable company."

Here he is quoting from Paradise Lost. There is no citation, but we can assume that his hearers in the House of Commons well understood his reference. Understanding the rhetoric puts a new level of understanding on what Burke said. Not just his literal meaning (indeed, is the quote to be taken literally?) but some of the passion and feeling in what he said. And that is precisely what I was wanting to understand about the revolutionaries and their supporters and opponents. The age of rhetoric has come to a close or, at least, a hiatus with the widespread distribution of print and electronic media. But if we are truly to understand the motives of people of that era we must understand what they were reading.

So there are practical reasons as well as æsthetic reasons for wanting to understand what was certainly important literature. We are not eggheads just to want to pick through this and see what bones and tidbits we can find.

Editat: nov. 14, 2012, 2:07pm

I'm reading it because I want to understand Milton's philosophy of evil.

ETA: Well, ok, I'm also reading it because I want to understand how Milton impacted literature and popular culture...but mainly I'm interested in his depiction of Satan.