Literature: Paradise Lost
I've fallen and I can't get up.
"What in me is dark Illumine, what is low raise and support
; That to the height of this great argument I may assert eternal Providence
, And justify the ways of God to men
—Book 1, Line 22-26
is John Milton
's sprawling epic poem
exploring the Fall of Man, and attempting to reconcile the idea of God
's omniscience with Free Will. First published in ten books in 1667, the twelve-book version modern readers will be familiar with came out in 1674. Notably told largely from the perspective of Satan
himself, though other scenes focus on God
or Adam and Eve. Almost
to The Bible
, though chronologically most of the action (all
of it, if you don't count the lengthy Flashback
to the War in Heaven and Michael's summary of postlapsarian history yet to come) takes place entirely during the third chapter of Genesis. In epic theory (and yes, such a thing exists), Paradise Lost
is the final epic, as it has elements of everything from The Odyssey
up through The Divine Comedy
and The Faerie Queene
It's well-known as a source for mountains
of literary criticism and a host of Alternative Character Interpretations
. Many think the poem makes a better case
. William Blake
famously wrote that, "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devils' party without knowing it
." This was almost certainly not Milton's intent
, but while most critics acknowledge this, some assert that his intent is not the point
. Ever since forty years ago and Stanley Fish's Surprised By Sin
, other academic critics assert that this is
the point; the author intended to subvert Misaimed Fandom
by making the reader sympathetic to Satan in the opening part, but then surprising the reader by finding out that Satan was lying and is evil all along in the later parts. By this argument, the reader re-enacts the Fall by reading the work. The multitude of different ways to read it are undoubtedly part of the appeal for scholars and literature buffs alike — it helps that this opens limitless doors for reasonable argument
. They could read the sequel
but speculation is more fun.
Famously illustrated by Gustave Doré
, providing our page image.
Paradise Lost contains examples of:
- All-Loving Hero: The Son, aka Jesus.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Sin and Death.
- Anti-Villain: Satan is a persuasive and often pathetic individual whom the reader is often encouraged to admire or pity. Large portions of the work are dedicated to his rousing speeches as well as his anguished self-reflections.
- Archangel Michael: As a total badass.
- Archangel Gabriel: Also a badass, and the trumpeter and chief guard of all the angels.
- Archangel Raphael: Mr. Exposition where Adam is involved.
- Arch-Enemy: Satan's Meaningful Name is derived from the Semitic "Shai'tan" meaning "adversary."
- Author Appeal:
- The poem is filled with references to light, illumination, and color - appealing to John Milton for bittersweet reasons.
- Satan talks about democracy and egalitarianism, arguments that would strike close to Milton's heart due to his political beliefs.
- Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Satan famously proclaims, "Evil be thou my good."
- Bittersweet Ending: "The world was before them, where to choose their place of rest, and Providence thir guide. They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, through Eden took their solitarie way."
- Black and White Morality/Black and Gray Morality/Grey and Gray Morality/Evil Versus Evil: The book has been interpreted countless ways over the centuries.
- Blind Seer: Milton himself was blind, and as the narrator he makes a few allusions that seem to cast him in this role.
- Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good: The rebellious angels use their cunning and skill to invent guns, and turn back the loyal angels for a moment. The loyal angels respond with brute force: ripping up mountains and throwing them at the rebels. Jesus ends the fight the next day just by charging at the rebels with his overwhelming power.
- Byronic Hero: Satan.
- Cardboard Prison: The physical location of Hell is actually pretty easy to get out of, and Satan slips out to mess around with Earth. The demons are also free to return to God's graces at any time. They simply choose not to.
- Card-Carrying Villain: After realizing he can't fight fate and he isn't willing to say he's sorry, Satan gives a memorable speech which includes the line "Evil, be thou my good."
- The Chessmaster: Satan fancies himself one.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Eve gets bored and steps out when Adam starts doing this during Raphael's visit.
- Crossover Cosmology: Subverted; only the Christian creation story is portrayed as true, but Milton names many of the The Legions of Hell after preexisting pagan gods. It was common at the time for Christians to claim that pagan gods (including Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Egyptian, and Roman gods) were actually demons.
- Crush Blush: Eve, "blushing like the morn" on becoming Adam's wife.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: God makes things interesting by only fielding exactly as many angels as Satan has demons to keep the battle at a stalemate until the Son takes the field and wipes the floor with the entire rebel army on his own. The Son is so terrifying that the demons throw themselves into Hell.
- Dark Is Evil: A frequent image, starting early in the poem.
No light, but rather darkness visible
- Deadpan Snarker: “To whom thus Satan with contemptuous brow./Gabriel? thou hadst in Heaven the esteem of wise,/And such I held thee; but this question asked/Puts me in doubt (Book IV, 883-886)."
- Despair Event Horizon: Satan gets one when two cherubs rebuke him for having changed into his demonic self:
Abashed the devil stood
And felt how awful Goodness is
And saw Virtue in her shape how lovely
Saw, and pined his loss...
- Distracted by My Own Sexy:
- Divinely Appearing Demons: Lucifer's depiction in this book is as his angelic self, and the work presents him as a tragic Anti-Villain rather than Made of Evil.
- Driven by Envy: Satan, and arguably Eve.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: The human race after being kicked out of paradise.
- Eldritch Abomination: Chaos and Old Night.
- Evil Counterpart: God, the Son and the Holy Spirit face the Anti-Trinity of Satan, Sin and Death. Satan is Sin's father. Sin is Death's mother. Satan is Death's father. It is appropriate to feel Squicky once you realize what it all means. Of course, this is very much intentional, portraying a perverted Trinity.
- Evil Makes You Ugly: The angels cannot recognize Satan as Lucifer, owing to his changed looks.
- External Retcon: For The Bible and for various myths from other cultures.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Not in the poem itself, but in the paintings of John Martin inspired by it, the Pandemonium (Palace of Demons) looks suspiciously Roman and Satan himself is depicted as a man (not as the traditional horned monster) in a Roman Emperor's ceremonial uniform◊.
- Flashback: Three full books of it, documenting the War in Heaven and the creation of Earth, all of which is being told to Adam and Eve by the angel Raphael.
- Foregone Conclusion: Satan will fall, and humanity will sin.
- Full-Circle Revolution: Satan leads a revolt against God and the Son in the name of equality, and, of course, puts himself on a pedestal and appoints himself leader after the revolution.
- Gambit Roulette: Justified Trope. God's plans for the universe are extremely long-term and mind-boggling circuitous but unlike a mortal planner, he already knows how all of it is going to work out.
- Glamour Failure: When Satan is despairing, his angelic disguise "slips."
- God: Actually quite a minor character.
- God Is Evil: According to Satan and the fallen. Some readers agree with him.
- God Is Good: He explains that he has given his creations free will, making them "fit to stand but free to fall." and that he forgives the repenters.
- Good Is Not Nice: God does throw Adam and Eve out of Paradise, despite their repentance for disobeying him.
- Good People Have Good Sex: Yes, Milton shows pre-fallen Adam and Eve had lots of sex in Eden, and were planning to have children (more hands to help in the garden). The crucial part is that this was sex without carnal lust: they were not at all in a hurry. After the fall, the very first thing they do is run off into the bushes.
- Healing Factor: The angels have this, making the war in Heaven pretty brutal. Becomes an instance of And I Must Scream when the rebellious angels are cast into the lake of fire.
- Hell Invades Heaven: It's the trope codifier/forerunner by depicting Satan's rebellion against God.
- Hell of a Heaven: After losing the war, Satan states that "The mind is its own place, and in it self. Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."
- A Hell of a Time: Pandæmonium in particular sounds like a nice place to visit, and Mammon suggests tidying up around Hell and building a good place to live there.
- Hijacked by Jesus: Milton places the gods of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks in Satan's army, reflecting common beliefs of his time.
- Hope Is Scary: Satan refuses to let this trope affect him:
So farwel Hope, and with Hope farwel Fear
- Human Sacrifice: Moloch is particularly pointed out for this.
- Hurricane of Puns: Although there is wordplay throughout, Satan and Belial have the most impressive example of this when they make a long series of puns about their cannons, pretending they are talking about negotiation but using terms that also have artillery-related meanings.
- If I Can't Have You: Eve's motive for giving the apple to Adam is murder — so he will not be happy with another woman.
- Ignored Epiphany:
- Satan is deeply moved by the beauty of Earth when he sees it for the first time and contemplates how happy he might have been if he hadn't rebelled.
- And when Satan falls in Love at First Sight with Eve, leaving him so enchanted that, for a moment, he becomes "stupidly good". But then he realises he can never have her and carries on with his original plan out of spite.
- Incest Is Relative: This is how Death is created by Satan and Sin. Death then rapes his own mother.
- In Medias Res: The story begins with the immediate aftermath of the War in Heaven, which is retold in the middle of the story. This is just one of many thematic devices used to tell the Fall of Mankind as a classical epic.
- Ironic Hell: When Satan returns, a copy of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil appears in Hell, but when the demons try to eat the fruit, they taste ashes.
- It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: Raphael was actually pronounced Ray-fee-al in Milton's time.
- Kirk Summation: When Satan gathers the angels under his command to make his campaign speech for rebelling against God, Abdiel is the only one present who refutes his arguments and declines to join the rebellion.
- The Legions of Hell: Satan gives his New Era Speech to them.
- Let's Split Up, Gang: Eve suggests that she and Adam can get more gardening done if they work separately. This is just after they have been warned that Satan is somewhere in the garden.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: Satan would rather reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven, and his minions go right along with him. They are all in a literal Self-Inflicted Hell, and can go back to Heaven at any time they wish, yet are staunchly determined to remain free.
- Light Is Good: Frequent imagery, both for the unfallen angels and the pre-fallen demons.
- Light Is Not Good: The name "Lucifer" literally means "light bearer" in Latin.
- Male Gaze: Yes, in literary form, with Eve. Repeatedly.
- Motive Decay: Satan opens with a lot of stirring rhetoric, but by the later books he's mostly just trying to piss off God in any way he can, no matter who he has to hurt to do so. Interestingly, this may have been intentional, as part of the story's philosophy is that evil degrades the sinner—as he sins Satan is becoming less of a person, and thus less developed. Also note his size throughout the books: he starts out as indescribably large, larger than Titans or Leviathan (both have no definite size), but he shrinks down bit by bit, until he takes the form of small creatures on Earth.
- Motive Rant: Part of justifying the ways of God to Man is giving a clear a picture of God's (and Man's) enemy, which means explaining the Arch-Enemy's motive in full.
- The Muse: John Milton asks for Urania, muse of astronomy (and thus, knowledge of God's creation) to inspire him. He clarifies that he's not actually invoking a pagan goddess, just the represented idea.
- Narcissist. Satan, whose pride causes the fall.
- New Era Speech: Satan's "to reign in Hell" speech in Book I.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Adam and Eve are called out for eating the fruit of knowledge. This is the story of the fall of mankind, after all.
- Noble Demon: Some readers interpret the demons this way because they believe in their cause.
- Odd Name Out: For the angels we have Abdiel, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, etc. (Hebrew Names) and Lucifer (The Latin One). The Hebrew version is Lucifel.
- Omniscient Morality License: God gets one.
- Parental Incest: Not intentionally.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The book is so well-known that the old arguments about Satan as the book's hero are Played for Laughs in an early scene in Animal House.
- Pride Before a Fall: We meet The Legions of Hell just after they fall from Heaven; Raphael tells us about Lucifer's disastrous War in Heaven in Book VI.
- Primordial Chaos: The vast, violent and unpredicatable gap between Heaven and Hell, which Satan braves through in order to find Paradise.
- Pyrrhic Villainy: Satan, who knows and laments the fact, but just can't let go.
- The Quest: Satan takes off a long, dangerous journey through Chaos, the gap between Heaven and Hell, in his mission to find Eden and the new creation.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Satan's entire arc. It doesn't end well for him.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
- Delivered by Abdiel to Satan before the battle begins in Book 6.
- Satan gets one in Book 4, when two Cherubs fail to recognize him and he calls them on it. One angel, Zephon, rebukes that Satan was no longer the brilliant, beautiful archangel he once was and thus unrecognizable. At that moment, Satan realizes what he'd lost.
- Rebellious Rebel: Abdiel joins the rebelling angels to listen to Satan's speech, but he rejects it.
- Red Right Hand: The devils are all marred somehow by the Fall. Belial actually uses the phrase to refer to God's anger, a Shout-Out to Horace.
- Revenge by Proxy via Revenge Through Corruption: Satan can't hurt God, so he'll go after His beloved Adam and Eve instead.
- Rousing Speech: Beezelbub in the first book.
- Satan: Generally read as either a Byronic Hero, an Anti-Hero, or just a Villain Protagonist. Maybe more than one.
- Satan Is Good: In his own mind, and from several readers' perspectives through the centuries.
- Scaled Up: A seminal example — Satan turns into a large snake when tempting Eve with the Forbidden Fruit. He also (involuntarily and temporarily) turns into a snake in Hell when cursed by God, as do the Legions of Hell.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: The main point of Satan's story is to show that damnation is the will of the sinner, not God, who is always ready to forgive. Satan and his angels pointedly cast themselves into Hell after losing the War in Heaven.
- Shapeshifting: The devils can do this.
- Shoot the Dog: God, when he casts Adam and Eve off Heaven.
- Snakes Are Sexy: Satan and Eve's interaction comes across as quite sexually-charged, with Satan taking a while to drink in Eve's beauty, beguiling her with his own gorgeous appearance (at which point the metaphor of snakes as phallic symbols undeniably comes into play), then proceeding to flatter and pervert her. Blake's illustrations even show the snake wrapped around Eve while feeding her the Fruit of Knowledge with its mouth.
- Snake People: Satan's daughter/lover Sin is one of these.
- Sole Survivor: Abdiel is the only angel who listened to Satan's speech to remain in heaven.
- Start My Own: Used almost word-for-word when the demons propose creating a "Heaven in Hell" as an alternative to rebelling against God. Had blackjack and hookers existed at the time, they certainly would have been signature attractions.
- Start of Darkness: Both Satan's fall and mankind's "original sin."
- Strawman Has a Point: Satan argues against God by invoking democracy, free speech and egalitarianism, casting God's authority in the light of a dictatorship. This subject matter hit close to home for Milton, who was an outspoken critic of earthly censorship and autocracy.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Milton lets you hear Satan's anguished thoughts, wrought in beautiful poetry, to move the reader to pity Satan as he steers irrevocably toward eternal evil.
- That Man Is Dead: The reader is frequently reminded that the names of all the fallen angels have been erased from heaven, and that what they are called is what humans have named them to be, not their 'real names'.
- Then Let Me Be Evil - "So should I purchase dear short intermission bought with double smart. This knows my punisher, therefore as far from granting he as I from begging peace." More directly: "Farewell, remorse! All good to me is lost. Evil, be thou my good."
- These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: How angels "express" love.
- This Is Your Brain on Evil: The Forbidden Fruit makes you feel happy, invincible, and horny, and leaves you with a What Have I Done-hangover the next morning.
- To Create A Playground For Evil: Satan's goal for the world.
- To Hell and Back: Sort of — the whole thing opens on The Legions of Hell immediately after being tossed down there, but Satan does come back as far as Earth.
- Trope Namer: Lent the very word "pandemonium" to the language. We use it in English to mean chaos, but in the story it's actually an ordered, reasonable place. One demon suggests it so as to make a Heaven out of Hell.
- The Unapologetic: Satan refuses to repent. He'd rather take over Hell.
- Villainous BSOD: After he first enters Eden, Satan has one and starts questioning his actions. It passes pretty quickly.
- Villain Protagonist: Much of the poem is from Satan's point of view. Milton makes Satan's point of view so sympathetic at times that it's lead to several centuries of Alternative Character Interpretations.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: How Satan portrays himself to the other fallen angels.
- You Can't Fight Fate: God knows exactly how all of Satan's schemes will fall apart before he even thinks of them, and talks at length about it.