John Milton’s Paradise Lost

John Milton’s Paradise Lost was written in 1667. Initially published in ten books, a revised edition was put to print in 1674 changing the number to twelve.

The story follows the Biblical Genesis narrative, in which Lucifer and one-third of God’s angels rebel, and are cast from the Garden of Eden into Hell – here called Tartarus, the Greek version of the underworld. The narrative, like most Christian works pertinent to the subject of Hell, is intended to “justify the ways of God to men.”

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The Creation of Man – John Baptist Medina, 1688

The story begins with Lucifer and his fellow rebel angels chained to the lake of fire in Tartarus, where they have been cast after their rebellion from God.

The group quickly escapes. They discover minerals, which they use to forge a meeting place called Pandemonium, which serves as their base of operations as they calculate their next move: whether or not to wage a war against God.

Whereto with speedy words th’ Arch-fiend reply’d:
Fall’n Cherube, to be weak is miserable
Doing or Suffering: but of this be sure,
To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist.

Beelzebub suggests that they should corrupt God’s new creation, humankind, as revenge for the slight. Lucifer agrees, and volunteers for the task of infiltration Himself. As he builds a bridge between Tartarus and Earth, He is accompanied by His children, Sin and Death.

Meanwhile, in Heaven, God orders his angels to gather for a council, where they discuss Lucifer’s intentions. The Son, Jesus, offers himself as sacrifice for the corruption of humankind, paving the way for his crucifixion.

Lucifer travels through Night and Chaos to find Earth. He disguises himself as a cherub to deceive the archangel Uriel, who is guarding the sun. To gain passage beyond, Lucifer claims He would like to see God’s glorious creations; Uriel allows him to continue unmolested.

Upon landing on Earth, Lucifer stops to reflect upon Paradise. He derives pain from what He sees, which reaffirms His decision to commit Himself to becoming God’s antithesis.

O Hell! what doe mine eyes with grief behold,
Into our room of bliss thus high advanc’t
Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps,
Not Spirits, yet to heav’nly Spirits bright
Little inferior; whom my thoughts pursue
With wonder, and could love, so lively shines
In them Divine resemblance, and such grace
The hand that formd them on thir shape hath pourd.
Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish and deliver ye to woe,
More woe, the more your taste is now of joy;
Happie, but for so happie ill secur’d
Long to continue, and this high seat your Heav’n
Ill fenc’t for Heav’n to keep out such a foe
As now is enterd; yet no purpos’d foe
To you whom I could pittie thus forlorne
Though I unpittied: League with you I seek,
And mutual amitie so streight, so close,
That I with you must dwell, or you with me
Henceforth; my dwelling haply may not please
Like this fair Paradise, your sense, yet such
Accept your Makers work; he gave it me,
Which I as freely give; Hell shall unfold,
To entertain you two, her widest Gates,
And send forth all her Kings; there will be room,
Not like these narrow limits, to receive
Your numerous ofspring; if no better place,
Thank him who puts me loath to this revenge
On you who wrong me not for him who wrongd.
And should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I doe, yet public reason just,
Honour and Empire with revenge enlarg’d,
By conquering this new World, compels me now
To do what else though damnd I should abhorre.

So spake the Fiend …

Uriel notices His pain and warns the other angels that there is an imposter among them.

Adam and Eve have returned from a day of labor in Paradise, obeying God’s explicit order not to eat fruit off of the Tree of Knowledge. They lie down to rest. Lucifer, watching them from afar, sees their love for each other and reflects upon His loneliness.

Thus these two
Imparadis’t in one anothers arms
The happier Eden, shall enjoy thir fill
Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust,
Where neither joy, nor love, but fierce desire,
Among our other torments not the least,
Still unfulfill’d with pain of longing pines …

Lucifer takes the form of a toad and whispers in Eve’s ear in her sleep. The archangel Gabriel discovers Him there and threatens to cast Him out. When Lucifer prepares to do battle, God sends the sign of the Golden Scales of Justice to frighten Him off.

Eve awakens and tells Adam of her dream, in which an angel tempted her to take fruit from the Forbidden Tree. Concerned Lucifer’s corruption has taken hold, God sends Raphael to discuss Lucifer’s nature and tactics with Adam and Eve, as they are both naive to evil and defenseless to stop it.

Raphael relays the story of Lucifer’s jealousy over God’s selection of Jesus as his new Second-in-Command. Lucifer gathered the other angels enraged by this news and riled them up for a mutiny. Abdiel, who is among them to listen, decides not to rebel and returns to God to deliver the news of Lucifer’s treason. A two-day-long battle ensues, with Michael and Gabriel at the front lines of God’s army in defense of Heaven and one-third of God’s angels in Lucifer’s rebel army. The Dark Army is defeated on the third day, when God sends Jesus to deliver them to Tartarus in chains. Raphael warns Adam and Eve of Satan’s plans to corrupt them.

Raphael also reaffirms God’s strictest rule to the curious Adam, who pulls him aside to confess his thirst for knowledge: though he has given them domain over all the fruit-bearing plants and beasts within Paradise, humankind must not harvest from the Tree of Knowledge, on penalty of death.

This Garden, planted with the Trees of God,
Delectable both to behold and taste;
And freely all thir pleasant fruit for food
Gave thee, all sorts are here that all th’ Earth yields,
Varietie without end; but of the Tree
Which tasted works knowledge of Good and Evil,
Thou mai’st not; in the day thou eat’st, thou di’st;
Death is the penaltie impos’d, beware,
And govern well thy appetite, least sin
Surprise thee, and her black attendant Death.

Adam also confesses his physical desire for Eve. Raphael tells him he must commit himself to her in a chaste, pure sense, in keeping with God’s love. With this final piece of advice, Raphael returns to Heaven.

Eight days later, Lucifer returns to Paradise. Within this eight days, He has carefully surveyed the creatures of Paradise and, determining the serpent to be the most clever, assumes its form. Eve and Adam have separated on Eve’s wishes, so as to perform more work – a request Adam hesitates upon, but ultimately obliges out of love for her. Lucifer discovers Eve working alone and immediately descends upon her. He praises her beauty. Naive Eve, unfamiliar with lustful-minded flirtation, is both flattered and amazed to meet a beast who can talk. When she asks Lucifer how it is a serpent can speak, He explains that this ability came from consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He deceives her, telling her that it is actually God’s plan that she and Adam eat from the tree; his prohibition against it is a test of their courage.

Eve, tentatively, relents to his wiles and takes a bite. She is distraught by her disobedience and hurries to discover Adam as Satan slinks away, satisfied the seed of his corruption will eventually flower.

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The Temptation and Fall of Eve – William Blake, 1808

When Eve finds Adam, he is making a wreath of flowers for her. He drops the wreath when she admits what she’s done. Rather than rejecting her, Adam decides that he would rather join her in being fallen than live alone in Paradise. He, too, eats from the fruit. The fruit teaches them Lust, and together they discover its pleasures in sinful sex.

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Adam and Eve after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge

God is immediately aware of what his children have done. He sends Jesus to deliver His punishments with both “mercy and justice.” Jesus first punishes the Serpent whose body Satan took. He is forever prohibited from walking upright again. Then, Jesus relays his punishment to Adam and Eve. They are to know pain and death. Eve, and all women, are condemned to suffer the pain of childbirth and submit always to the will of their husbands, whereas Adam, and all men, must hunt and farm a depleted Earth, surviving only on the fruit of their difficult and thankless labor.

Lucifer returns to Tartarus to the triumphant cheering of His army. He deceives his council in Pandemonium into believing He has defeated God. Sin and Death travel to Earth on the bridge they built between it and Tartarus, where they are transformed into serpents, reaching for fruit on ethereal trees that reduces to ash just as they approach close enough to eat it.

God commands his angels to transform Earth. The Earth now suffers four seasons, rather than a single comfortable climate of abundant growth.

Adam and Eve argue after the fall bitterly. Adam, in a rage, questions why God ever made her for his companionship. Eve, heartbroken, begs Adam not to abandon her; she hopes their love can help them survive the newer, more dangerous version of the world. Then, in a moment of extreme self-pity, Eve accepts the blame for the expulsion of mankind from Paradise and contemplates suicide. Touched by her speech, Adam forbids her to commit suicide – an order she must comply, thanks to God’s edict that women must now submit entirely to the will of their husbands. He reasons that in order to get revenge on Lucifer for corrupting them, they should reject His word and pray to God instead.

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Adam and Eve pray to God after their temptation

God hears their prayers and sends Michael to Earth. Michael tells them they must leave Paradise forever. Before they depart, Michael enchants Eve to make her sleep and leads Adam to the highest hill in Paradise, where he shows him a reflection of mankind’s future: the sins of his future generation, the prophet Enoch being saved by God from warring men, the Great Flood and Noah’s salvation through the Ark, and the Tower of Babel, where the pure language Adam speaks is corrupted. In contrast to this apocalyptic future, Michael also shows Adam the sacrifice of the Son, Jesus, redeeming mankind of the Original Sin he and Eve have just committed. Michael imparts the following final words to Adam before returning to Heaven:

This having learnt, thou hast attained the sum
Of Wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knew’st by name, and all th’ ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Nature’s works,
Or works of God in Heav’n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all riches of this World enjoy’dst,
And all the rule, one Empire: only add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Virtue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come called Charity, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt though not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A paradise within thee, happier far.

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Adam and Eve depart Paradise with Michael

Finally, after Eve awakens and is told of Michael’s vision to Adam, the two slowly, woefully, exit Paradise.

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