Paradise Lost

By John Milton


Book I

"Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat"


Milton's claim that with Paradise Lost he intends to pursue "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme" (l. 16) is taken from a line in Ariosto's Renaissance epic, Orlando Furioso. Rather than a boastful assertion, it emphasizes the seriousness and importance of his undertaking, the attempt to "assert Eternal Providence | And justify the ways of God to men" (ll.25-6). There are several interrelated dimensions to Milton's meaning here. Implicitly there is also the context of contemporary political upheaval - the failure of the republican experiment during the 1650s.

The opening question Milton poses is an epic convention; Homer and Virgil began by asking the Muses to reveal the gods who had caused the events of the story they intend to discuss. Thus Milton asks,

"…what cause

Moved our grand parents in that happy state,

Favored of Heav'n so highly, to fall off

From their Creator and transgress his will"

Following convention, for Milton the answer is clear: it was Satan, "Th' infernal Serpent", who "with all his host of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring | To set himself in glory above his peers".

Milton describes the entry of the fallen angels into hell and as they cross the Styx, Satan laments on his fall and on his future in hell. After initially being reluctant

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime. . .

this is the seat

That we must exchange for heav'n, this mournful gloom

For that celestial light?"

he soon reconciles himself to hell:

"hail horrors, hail

Infernal world, and thou profoundest hell

Receive thy new possessor"

Satan convinces himself of his own potential to rival God: '"The mind is its own place, and in itself | Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n"'. Ultimately, Satan has concluded that it is '"Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heav'n"', from whence '"With rallied arms to try what may be yet | Regained in heav'n, or what more lost in hell?"' Satan rallies the fallen angels behind him in the manner of the classical hero, a leader whose inspiring rhetoric manages to induce unison and optimism: '"Princes, Potentates, | Warriors, the flow'r of heav'n, once yours, now lost, | … '"Awake, arise, or be for ever fall'n."'

In lines 376-521 Milton adapts the epic device of listing names of famous warriors for his own purposes: to illustrate the existence of evil throughout human history. Milton moves on to describe the rise of the temple in Pandaemonium. Implicit in this is an attack on the pomp and splendour of the Caroline court architecture and its creator Inigo Jones.

Book II

A debate is held about whether or not to attempt recovery of heaven. A third proposal is preferred, concerning an ancient prophecy of another world that was to be created, where the devils may seek to enact their revenge. Satan alone undertakes the voyage to find this world. He encounters Sin and Death, his vile and incestuous offspring, guarding hell's gates. Sin unlocks the gate, and Satan embarks on his passage across the great gulf of chaos between heaven and hell, till he sights the new universe floating near the larger globe which is heaven.

Book III

God sees Satan flying towards this world and foretells the success of his evil mission to tempt man. God explains his purpose of grace and mercy toward man, but declares that justice must be met nonetheless. His Son, who sits at his right hand, freely offers to sacrifice himself for man's salvation, causing the angels to celebrate in songs of praise.

Meanwhile Satan alights upon the outer shell of the new creation, where he finds an opening to the universe within. He flies down to the sun, upon which an angel, Uriel, stands guard. Disguised as a cherub, Satan pretends he has come to praise God's new creation, and thereby tricks the angel into showing him the way to man's home.

Book IV

Landing atop Mount Niphates, Satan experiences disillusionment, but soon proceeds on his evil errand. He easily gains secret entrance to the Garden of Paradise. He wonders at its beauty, and soon comes upon Adam and Eve, who excite great envy in him at their happy state. He overhears them speak of God's commandment that they should not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil under penalty of death, and thereby plots to cause them to transgress.

Uriel, becoming suspicious, comes to warn Gabriel and his angels, who are guarding the gate of Paradise. That evening, two scouts sent by Gabriel find Satan whispering in the ear of Eve as she sleeps next to her husband. The scouts apprehend and bring Satan to Gabriel who banishes him from Eden.

Book V

On the next morning, Eve relates to Adam a troublesome dream, and is comforted by him. God sends the angel Raphael to visit the couple to warn them of their enemy. The angel arrives and dines with them, then relates to them the history of Satan's fall: how jealousy against the Son of God led him to incite all those in his charge to rebel against God, and how one angel, Abdiel, resisted and remained faithful to God.

Book VI

Raphael continues to relate how Michael was sent to lead the faithful angels into battle against Satan (then called Lucifer) and his army. Wounded and in disarray, Satan and his powers retreat. During the night they invent weapons resembling cannons. When, in the second day's fight, Michael's angels are confronted with these devilish devices, they become enraged and pull up the very mountains and hurl them at Satan's crew. But the war continues into the third day, when God sends Messiah, his Son, to end the war. Riding forth in his flaming chariot, Messiah drives the rebels out of heaven and down into hell.

Book VII

Raphael then relates to Adam how God sent his Son to create a new world and new creatures to fill the place left by the fallen angels. The six days of creation are described.


Adam, desiring to extend the pleasurable visit with the angel, relates to Raphael what he remembers of his own creation, his first impressions of the world and its creatures, the Garden of Eden, and his first meeting and marriage to Eve. After repeating his warnings to Adam, the angel departs.

Book IX

Satan returns to earth, where he chooses the serpent as his best disguise. Next morning, when Adam and Eve go forth to their gardening tasks, Eve suggests they go in separate directions. With great reservation, Adam finally consents. The serpent finds Eve alone and approaches her. She is surprised to find the creature can speak, and is soon induced by him to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. Adam is horrified when he finds what she has done, but at length resigns himself to share her fate rather than be left without her, and eats the fruit also. After eating, they are aroused with lust and lay together, then fall to restless sleep. They waken to awareness of their nakedness and shame, and cover themselves with leaves. In their emotional distress, they fall into mutual accusations and blame.

Book X

The guardian angels return to heaven, sad for man's failure, and the Son of God descends to earth to judge the sinners. Mercifully, he delays their sentence of death many days, during which they may work to regain God's favor. Then, in pity, he clothes them both.

At the gates of hell, Sin and Death sense the success of Satan in this new world. They set out to build a highway over chaos to make future passage to earth easier. Satan meets them on his return voyage to hell, and marvels at the great structure. Upon his arrival in Pandaemonium, Satan boasts of his success to the assembly. Instead of applauding him, they can only hiss, for they and he have all been turned into snakes, their punishment from above.

God instructs his angels what changed conditions must prevail in the world, now in fallen state, while on earth, Adam bemoans his miserable condition and the fate of the human race. He harshly rejects Eve's attempt to console him, but she persists and wins his forgiveness. She proposes they commit suicide, but Adam reminds her of God's promise that her seed should wreak vengeance upon the serpent. Moreover, they must seek to make peace with their offended Lord.

Book XI

God sends Michael and his band to expel the sinning pair from Paradise, but first to reveal to Adam future events, resulting from his sin. The angel descends to Eden with the news of their expulsion, causing Eve to withdraw in tears. Michael leads Adam up a high hill, where he sets before him in visions what shall happen till the Great Flood.

Book XII

Michael continues his prophecy from the flood by degrees to explain who the Seed of woman shall be: the Saviour which was promised, who shall redeem mankind. Adam is consoled by these last revelations and resolves faithful obedience. He descends the hill with Michael and rejoins Eve, reconfirmed in allegiance to her husband. A flaming sword is placed to bar the gates behind them as Adam and Eve are sent away from Paradise.