BOOK REVIEW - JOHN MILTON Ė PARADISE LOST 1667 Penguin Classics.

 

Epic poems donít get more epic than this. Only Danteís Divine Comedy comes close. The blind poet Milton, writing during Cromwellís Protectorate years and the Restoration period, deals with the fall of Adam & Eve and the fate of Satan himself.

 

The poem is divided into twelve books; each proceeded by an argument, or summary statement of content. Early books deal with the fall of Satan, after a doomed attempt to start a revolution in Heaven. Failing, and captured by the archangels, Satan, (aka Beelzebub Lucifer and The Morning Star) is cast into the bottomless pit known as Hell.His real suffering is that he can never look on the beautiful face of God again.

 

In Hell, Satan learns that God has created a new World, Earth, and a new species, Mankind. Satan decides to corrupt the new entity, and he calls a surprisingly democratic council of war in the Halls Of pandemonium. When none of his minions desire the dangerous mission to Eden, Satan decides to go there alone. He has the skills of a shape-shifter, and disguises himself as various creatures to be able to spy on the newly made Adam & Eve.

 

God knows all things, and all events of the future, but from Miltonís unconvincing argument about free will for humanity, he makes no effort to prevent the events to come. The angels do become aware that Satan has escaped from Hell, and may be at large in Eden. They search for him, and warn Adam & Eve of his plans. The angels also give more details of the spectacular battle against Satan during his fall. The leader of the forces of Good was surprisingly Jesus. Though not yet born, he was an eternal part of God from before the beginning of time.

 

Saran manages to get through the cordon of angels; ad corrupts the unguarded Eve, who takes the forbidden fruit. Adam learns of her fate, and in a radical departure from the scripture version of events, Adam consciously decides to share Eveís fate because he loves her too much not to. He takes the forbidden fruit himself, and the pair faces their banishment on Godís orders.The description of the first man and woman feeling their love turn to lust and the corruption of their minds is very potent writing.

 

Though banished to earth, the pair have a guiding angel, who gives them prophesies of the fate of humanity to come, in effect a potted summary of te rest of the Bible. Miltonís masterpiece has some unforgettable episodes, and more of our idea of what Heaven & hell look like comes from this poem than from scripture itself.The poem inspired many imitators, and a modern science fiction book Philip Pullmanís His dark materials trilogy draws many references from it, telling much the same story with a very atheistic slant. Miltonís version is very devout but none the worse a read for that.

 

© Copyright. Arthur Chappell

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