Paradise Lost

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Death Character Analysis

A black, terrifying figure with an insatiable hunger. Death is the product of Satan and Sin’s incestuous union, and after his birth he immediately pursues his mother and rapes her, fathering the dogs that torment her. Death enters Earth after the Fall and causes all life to succumb to him.

Death Quotes in Paradise Lost

The Paradise Lost quotes below are all either spoken by Death or refer to Death. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Paradise Lost published in 2003.
Book 9 Quotes

No more of talk where God or angel guest
With man, as with his friend, familiar used
To sit indulgent, and with him partake
Rural repast, permitting him the while
Venial discourse unblamed: I now must change
Those notes to tragic; foul distrust, and breach
Disloyal on the part of man, revolt,
And disobedience: on the part of Heav’n
Now alienated, distance and distaste,
Anger and just rebuke, and judgment giv’n,
That brought into this world a world of woe,
Sin and her shadow Death, and misery
Death’s harbinger…

Related Characters: God the Father, Adam, Sin, Death
Page Number: 9.1-13
Explanation and Analysis:

With the beginning of the final third of the poem, Milton turns to the tragic side of his story. He explains that it's time for him to talk about the fall of man--the tragic, repeatedly-foretold event to which his poem has been building up for hundreds of lines now. Man's fall into sin was a crushing defeat for the universe itself, because it ushered in a history of death, misery, disease--all that we now know of human history.

Milton describes the fall of man here, but doesn't yet mention that man's fall is, ultimately, a good thing, because it paves the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. Milton doesn't give this passage anything like a silver lining: instead, he emphasizes the enormous stakes of Adam and Eve's disastrous decision, and saves his optimism and hope for the poem's end.

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Book 10 Quotes

Fair daughter, and thou son and grandchild both,
High proof ye now have giv’n to be the race
Of Satan (for I glory in the name,
Antagonist of Heav’n’s Almighty King)
Amply have merited of me, of all
Th’ infernal empire, that so near Heav’n’s door
Triumphal with triumphal act have met,
Mine with this glorious work, and made one realm
Hell and this world, one realm, one continent
Of easy thoroughfare.

Related Characters: Satan (speaker), Sin, Death
Page Number: 10.384-393
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Satan has returned to Hell, and encounters his two incestuous offspring, Sin and Death, who have been busy building a bridge from Hell to Earth. Satan proudly tells his children that he has successfully corrupted the entire human race, allowing Sin and Death a "free reign" on Earth.

The passage shows Satan at the height of his power: he thinks that he's succeeded in defeating (or at least wounding)  God by tempting Eve and Adam into sin. As a result, Satan believes, Death and Sin are free to further lead Adam and Eve down the path of evil, and make "Hell and this world, one realm" (an echo and perversion of God's earlier plan to make Earth and Heaven one). He even fully accepts the name Satan (which means "Adversary") for the first time--it's not his original angelic name, but one that he now embraces, as he thinks himself as a worthy antagonist to God.

Yet even here at the height of his success, Satan's victory rings hollow: he's spread misery and pain to others, but done nothing to alleviate his own. Indeed, he won't be allowed to glory in his "victory" for long, as God will further punish and humiliate him and the other devils.

Book 11 Quotes

Adam, Heav’n’s high behest no preface needs:
Sufficient that thy prayers are heard, and Death,
Then due by sentence when thou didst transgress,
Defeated of his seizure many days
Giv’n thee of grace, wherein thou may’st repent,
And one bad act with many deeds well done
May’st cover: well may then thy Lord appeased
Redeem thee quite from Death’s rapacious claim;
But longer in this Paradise to dwell
Permits not; to remove thee I am come,
And send thee from the garden forth to till
The ground whence thou wast taken, fitter soil.

Related Characters: Michael (speaker), God the Father, Adam, Death
Page Number: 11.251-262
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the angel Michael comes to Eden to cast out Adam and Eve. Michael is sympathetic to Adam and Eve's pain, but he's also firm--God himself has sent Michael to expel human beings from Paradise forever. Michael explains to Adam that he and his descendants will be forced to live in a hard, challenging world--they'll have to do hard work to survive, tilling soil and hunting for food, and struggling against each other all the while. Nevertheless, Michael makes it clear that Adam isn't totally out of favor with God--Adam will be granted the gift of long life, and it will be many centuries before he dies (in the Bible, we're told that Adam survived for hundreds of years before succumbing to death), so he has plenty of time to repent and make up for his "one bad act with many deeds well done."

Michael's explanation also covers one criticism of the logic in the Bible's story. In Genesis, God first declares that if Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they will die "on that day." And yet they obviously don't--so in a way, the serpent (who in the original story is just a snake, not Satan) was right in saying that the fruit would give them knowledge and not kill them. Here, however, Michael smooths over this discrepancy by saying that God has mercifully kept Death away from Adam and Eve for a while, despite the fact that death was "due by sentence when thou didst transgress."

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Death Character Timeline in Paradise Lost

The timeline below shows where the character Death appears in Paradise Lost. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 2
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
...After she arrived in Hell, Sin gave birth to the dark figure, who is called “Death.” Death immediately pursued Sin and raped her, and she then gave birth to the hounds... (full context)
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Free Will and Predestination Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
...who seems to have forgotten all of this, now speaks more kindly to Sin and Death. He reveals his plan to find God’s new world and corrupt it, and he promises... (full context)
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
...Ulysses or the Argonauts, but says that Satan’s journey was even more perilous. Sin and Death follow behind him, as “such was the will of Heav’n,” and they start building a... (full context)
Book 3
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Free Will and Predestination Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
...then the Son volunteers himself. He promises to become mortal and give himself up to Death, but then break Death’s power and return victorious to life, bringing with him all of... (full context)
Book 10
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
The scene then jumps slightly back in time, as Sin and Death wait at the Hell’s gates where Satan left them. Sin suddenly senses that Satan has... (full context)
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
...him to take all the credit for the bridge, and she says that she and Death will make this world his. Satan responds by saying he is proud of his children,... (full context)
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Sin and Death enter the mortal universe and immediately begin infecting it, and Satan flies swiftly down to... (full context)
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Free Will and Predestination Theme Icon
Meanwhile Sin and Death arrive on Earth. Death says that all places are alike for him, as he experiences... (full context)
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
...years of suffering. He wonders if God’s wrath will be infinite, and he longs for Death to come for him. (full context)
Book 11
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
...Eve feels she doesn’t deserve this illustrious role, and she still feels ashamed for bringing Death into the world. But she resolves to never leave Adam’s side again, and to try... (full context)
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Disobedience and Revolt Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Michael tells Adam that he will be allowed to live many years before Death takes him, but that he and Eve must leave Paradise immediately. Adam is upset, and... (full context)
Book 12
Hierarchy and Order Theme Icon
Sin and Innocence Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
...After three days, however, the Son will rise from the dead, defeating Satan, Sin, and Death in one great resurrection. He will appear to some of his disciples and then ascend... (full context)