John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” is a celebrated epic in English Literature. He transforms the Biblical account about the Fall of Man from Paradise into rich, illustrious and timeless poetry.
Paradise Lost: Book I
In Hell, Satan, lying on the burning lake, just fallen from heaven, looks around bewildered, finds Beelzebub. Satan describes how he and a bunch of other angels fought with God and lost. Although they’ve been beaten, all is not lost. Satan suggests that he and Beelzebub move to a nearby plain and think about how to war against God, deal with the horrors of their circumstances, and repair their losses. He then suggests that his forces reassemble on the plain so they can figure out a plan of action. Satan addresses the fallen angels, and tells them to rise up now, or remain fallen forever. The angels rise up quickly, assemble in squadrons. They all look unhappy, though they are glad to find that Satan is not in total despair. Satan rekindles their hope with a speech. The angels are brave soldiers and nobody could have foreseen that such an awesome army could ever be defeated. Don’t worry, he tells them, they will rise again, but they can’t fight God in the same way. They have to use fraud or guile this time. Eventually the angels build a palace, a huge temple like structure that has sculptures adorning it, given the name Pandemonium. The fallen angels enter the building to have a council.
Satan is sitting on his throne in pandemonium. He addresses the angels, saying that he still hopes to regain Heaven. He says that now they must debate about the most effective way to fight God. The consultation began and after much disagreement, Beelzebub’s proposal is preferred. Rumor has it that God is building a new world. They should check it out. Maybe they can destroy mankind, or seduce them to the devil’s party. The fallen angels vote in favor of Beelzebub’s plan. Satan says he will look for the new world. Satan makes his way towards the gates of Hell and finds them shut and guarded by sin and death. Satan convinces them to open the gate. Satan passes through the great gulf between hell and heaven, directed by chaos. Satan approaches Heaven, and he can see the new world hanging from Heaven by a golden chain. He moves towards it for vengeance.
In heaven, God is looking down at his angels, at Adam and Eve, and at Satan. His Son (not named Jesus yet) sits on his right. He sees Satan approaching the new world. God describes Satan’s malice to His Son. He tells his son that Satan will succeed in his design to corrupt man. But everyone has a choice. Obedience, without choice, is meaningless. God stresses that predestination doesn’t exist, all fall by own choice. Because mankind was deceived, he will find grace at some point. Satan will get nothing. God foretells that mankind will be saved ultimately by a savior who will die for their sins. The son offers to be the redeemer, and the god agrees to it. Meanwhile, Satan emerges from Chaos at the outer edge of the created universe. He wanders through various regions and at last comes to the single opening in the shell. Satan descends into the inside of the universe. Having reached the sun, he asks an angel Uriel for further directions. Uriel does not recognize Satan in his new appearance (a young Cherub = a different order of angel) and points out the way to earth. Satan lands on earth on Mt. Niphates near Eden (Paradise).
Paradise Lost: Book V
Next morning Eve relates to Adam her troublesome dream. God observes them with pity and calls the Archangel Raphael to his side. He instructs Raphael to tell Adam about the danger in store for him. When Raphael arrives in Paradise, the couple warmly welcomes him. After the meal, Eve leaves the scene and allows Raphael to speak to Adam. Raphael says that man is the highest being on Earth because of his God-given ability to reason, and warns Adam to always choose obedience to God. Adam wonders how any being created by God could choose to be disobedient, but Raphael explains that Adam was created as perfect yet mutable, endowed with the power to maintain his perfection but also the power to lose it. Adam desires to know more, and asks how disobedience first came into Heaven. To answer, Raphael relates the story of Satan’s fall.
When Heaven was still at peace, Raphael explains, all the angels were obedient to God. One day the Father announced to them that he had begotten a son, who was to rule at his right hand. While God’s announcement pleased most of the angels, one of them was angry. He was high in God’s esteem and feels slighted. He conceives deep malice and disdain. Jealous of the Son, he persuaded one third of the other angels in Heaven to join him. That angry angel lost his heavenly name, and is now called Satan.
Paradise Lost: Book VI
Raphael warns Adam that Satan is plotting against mankind. Satan, in order to get revenge, wishes to make them commit sin to tarnish God’s beloved creation. Raphael adds that Satan may also want others to rebel against God and suffer a similar fate.
Paradise Lost: Book VII
Adam asks Raphael about how he, man, came to be, how and why the earth was created. Raphael tells him that after Satan’s fall, God saw that heaven had lost half its population. God decides to populate heaven with a creature who, given free will, would earn their way into his glory.
Raphael says that God sends the Son down into Chaos to create Earth. On the first day, the Earth is first formed out of Chaos and given light and dark, or night and day, in equal measure. On the second day he creates the atmosphere. On the third day Land is separated from water. On the fourth day he creates the sun, moon and stars. On the fifth day he populates the ocean with birds and reptiles. On the sixth day, he populates land with beasts and insects, and finally creates man in his image, followed by his female counterpart. He gives man authority over all the animals on Earth. God gives Adam one command: he must not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, which gives knowledge of good and evil. The Son, finishing with his work, hangs Earth beneath Heaven by a chain. Pleased with his work, God rests on the seventh day.
Paradise Lost: Book VIII
Adam asks Raphael about the stars, sun, and planets. Eve leaves them to take care of her garden. Raphael talks about heaven a bit, and even mentions creatures living on other planets, but warns Adam that they should not get too curious. Adam then tells Raphael what he remembers about when he was created. He remembers waking up in a beautiful place and wondering about his own existence. He has a dream and God answers him that it was he, God, that created him. Adam tells God that he would like a companion. Adam is put to sleep and God takes a rib from his side. From it, God forms a woman, the most beautiful to Adam of all God’s creatures. Adam and Raphael have a discussion about love. Adam confesses his carnal and passionate love for Eve. Raphael recommends a pure love that rejuvenates and expands mind and body. Afterward, Raphael takes his leave to return to Heaven and Adam goes to sleep.
Paradise Lost: Book IX
Satan returns to the Garden of Eden the night after Raphael’s departure. He sneaks in over the wall, avoiding Gabriel and the other guards. Satan slips into the garden in the form of mist. He then hides himself in the snake. Morning comes and Adam and Eve go out to tend the Garden of Eden. Eve suggests they split up and divide the work to get more of it done. They go off to do their gardening independently. Satan finds Eve alone and flatters her. Eve is amazed that the serpent knows how to speak and asks how this is possible. Satan replies that it is because he ate from a tree in the garden. He brings her to the Tree of Knowledge to show her. Eve, at first, says she cannot eat from the tree, but Satan persists, arguing that God actually wants them to eat from the tree. God forbids it only because he wants them to practice their free will. Eve feels tempted. She reaches for the fruit, plucks it from the tree, and takes a bite. The Earth then feels wounded and nature sighs in woe, for with this act, humankind has fallen. Eve’s first fallen thought is to find Adam and to have him eat of the forbidden fruit too so that they might be equal. She finds him nearby, and tells him that she has eaten the fruit, and that her eyes have been opened. Adam realizes that if she is to be doomed, then he must follow. He eats the fruit. The two are seized with lust, and Adam leads Eve back to the bank where they first lay together. They sleep and arise. They recognize their sin, and realize that they have lost Paradise. They realize for the first time that they are naked. Adam sews together fig leaves to cover themselves. Angry and confused, they continue to blame each other for committing the sin.
Paradise Lost: Book X
In heaven, God knows immediately that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Gabriel and the other angels fly back up to Heaven and report that they did all they could to prevent Satan from re-entering the Garden. God says this was destined to happen. He then sends his Son down to Earth to pass judgment on the couple. In Eden, the Son calls to Adam, who comes forth shamefacedly along with Eve. They are embarrassed by their nakedness. The Son asks them if they have eaten from the tree. Adam admits blames Eve to give the fruit to him to eat, and Eve blames the serpent for persuading her to take it. The Son then curses the serpent, saying he shall walk on his belly. He then punishes Adam and Eve. He tells Eve that childbirth will be painful and that she must submit to her husband. For Adam, the ground will not be as fertile as it once was. He then makes them clothes before returning to His Father in Heaven. Sin and Death, at the gates of hell, inspired by Satan’s success, build a bridge from hell to earth so that mankind can more easily be brought to hell and Sin, Death, and Satan can more easily invade earth. Satan returns to hell and sends Sin and Death to reign on earth. Death will corrupt all living things, causing them to die, and Sin will corrupt the thoughts and deeds of humankind.
Satan goes back down to Hell, where his followers have been eagerly waiting his return. Satan speaks to them from Pandemonium, tells them of his triumph. They do not cheer however, as he expected. Instead they hiss. Satan feels himself be turned into a giant snake, and he himself hisses with them. The fallen angels have all been transformed into snakes, along with Satan. A grove of trees appears in Hell, with fruit that turns to ashes as soon as the snakes try to bite it. Sin and Death arrive on Earth and begin their work. In Heaven, God tells his angels that he will allow Sin and Death to stay on Earth until Judgment Day. After then, they must return to Hell and be forever locked up with Satan and the other devils. God sends the angels to tip the axis of the earth so that now it will have seasons. Now man will be fighting against nature instead of working with it.
Adam laments the transformation. He repels Eve. Eve, despondent, longs for death. Adam forbids it. Eve’s speech affects Him. He becomes calm, consoling her and sharing responsibility for their fall. They must stop blaming each other, he says. They must live with their mistakes and make the most out of their fallen state. They return to the spot where they were punished. There, they fall to their knees, confess their sins, and ask for forgiveness.
Paradise Lost: Book XI
God hears the prayers of forgiveness from Adam and Eve. He decides to lighten his judgment of the two. He commands the Archangel Michael to go down to Earth and escort Adam and Eve out of Paradise. They can no longer live in a pure place now that they are impure. But through leading a good and moral life, they may be reunited with God after their death. To make the news easier on them, God allows Michael to show Adam a vision of what is to come in the future of humankind. Adam and Eve wake and Adam says that perhaps all is not lost. Michael approaches Adam and tells him that he and Eve must leave Eden. Adam laments their loss of Eden, but mostly because he will be far from God. Michael replies that God is everywhere, even outside of Eden. The Archangel then puts Eve to sleep and takes Adam up to a high hill to show him visions of humankind’s future. He shows him Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve, and the first vision of death. The angel shows him the ways that death will take the lives of men: disease, war, and old age. Michael narrates the stories of the sons of Cain, the prophet Enoch, introduction of violence into mankind, and Noah and the Flood.
Michael continues relating the story of the future of humankind to Adam. He tells the story of how God chose one nation, Israel, to be his chosen people. He tells the story of Abraham, Moses, and David, and how finally Christ will come to bring redemption. He also foretells that the kingdom of god will never be truly established on the earth, until the Messiah returns for the second time at Last Judgment to judge all humankind and reunite heaven and earth.
Michael finishes by telling Adam to add deed to the knowledge which he has been given, to add virtue, patience, temperance and love. “Then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far.”
Michael then holds both Adam’s and Eve’s hands and leads them out of Paradise.