Paradise Lost

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Paradise Lost published in 2003.
Book 1 Quotes

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse…
What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the heighth of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 1.1.26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous opening passage, John Milton maps out his project in Paradise Lost. Milton aims to accomplish a great deal: he's going to write a great epic poem about the original human story (according to Christianity), the story of how Adam and Eve fell from grace and paved the way for all of human suffering.

There's a lot to unpack here--scholars have written whole books about these first few lines. Notice the word "fruit" in the first line--a punning allusion to the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which will eventually bring down Adam and Eve. Note, too, that Milton keeps on speaking about his relationship with a Heavenly Muse. Like Homer, the original epic poet, Milton describes himself as the passive transmitter of an age-old story: he's using his imagination and creativity to describe the Biblical story, but he remains (mostly) loyal to the Bible itself. Milton's project is at once incredibly humble and incredibly ambitious: he humbly acknowledges his dependence on a muse (in Homer's case a goddess, but for Milton something like the Holy Spirit) for inspiration, and yet also claims that his poem will accomplish a great feat, describing the ultimate "epic," and justifying the ways of God to mankind. Milton, as we'll see, will try to use his poem to explain the great moral mystery of the Biblical book of Genesis: how Adam and Eve could be said to deserve their punishment when it was God himself who created them.


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Fall’n Cherub, to be weak is miserable
Doing or suffering: but of this be sure,
To do aught 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. If then his Providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil…

Related Characters: Satan (speaker)
Page Number: 1.157-165
Explanation and Analysis:

Critics have often noted the irony of Milton's poem: although he's writing about God and the fall of man, the most fascinating character in the book isn't a man at all; it's Satan. In this passage, Milton shows Satan's fall from Heaven--cast out by God for rebellion, Satan writhes in agony in Hell. Satan tells his loyal follower, Beelzebub, that they must find hope: even if they've been punished for their acts of evil against God, they must spend their time doing evil and undermining the work of God.

A natural question, then, is how can Satan hope to undermine the authority of almighty, omnipotent God? Satan seems not to know himself--he's so new to the world of evil that he's working it out as he goes. In a way, Satan's ambition to overcome his odds and do evil is oddly inspiring, and Milton actually seems to build sympathy for Satan by narrating the story from his point of view. Some have argued that Milton is trying to "tempt" readers to sympathize with Satan, while others have argued that Milton actually  (subconsciously) sympathizes with Satan himself.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n…
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.

Related Characters: Satan (speaker)
Page Number: 1.254-263
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Satan claims that he would rather be free and independent of God's authority, even if it means living in Hell, than serve God mindlessly and be rewarded with Heaven. In other words, Satan aspires to be "his own boss"--he wants to rule over his henchmen the devils, essentially being the "god" of Hell. His argument here is that the devils can turn Hell into their own Heaven, as long as they remain free in their minds. This also foreshadows Satan's later realization that "Hell" is not a place at all--it's something he carries within himself. So far from being able to turn Hell into Heaven, he can in fact never escape Hell, no matter where he goes. But at this point in the poem he remains more optimistic.

While Satan's statement seems bitter, petty, and manipulative, on another level it's also somewhat inspiring--the way he talks about using his mind and his imagination to achieve happiness is, one could argue, deeply human. Satan is a kind of Romantic hero--a bold, imaginative, yet evil figure who aspires to cause pain and suffering to everyone rather than submit his pride to another's.

Book 2 Quotes

Thus Beelzebub
Pleaded his devilish counsel, first devised
By Satan, and in part proposed; for whence,
But from the author of all ill could spring
So deep a malice, to confound the race
Of mankind in one root, and earth with Hell
To mingle and involve, done all to spite
The great Creator? But their spite still serves
His glory to augment.

Related Characters: Satan, God the Father, Beelzebub
Page Number: 2.379-386
Explanation and Analysis:

Satan has assembled a vast group of devils, his henchmen (who were cast out of Heaven along with him). Satan has held the council to decide what to do now that their open revolt against God has failed, and everyone is confined to Hell. After a series of speakers come forward, Beelzebub takes the floor, proposing that the devils work their mischief on God's new creations, the human race.

Notice that Satan has actually planted Beelzebub to propose such an idea--the whole "debate" is just a farce, allowing the other devils to think that they have a democratic voice. (In this devilish council Milton also critiques the human politics of his time). Beelzebub is trying to persuade his fellow devils to go along with Satan's plan: to use fraud, instead of open rebellion, to try to hurt God--and to do this by corrupting mankind, God's favored new creation. And while we know the result of this plan of "deep malice," Milton also notes the bright side: all of Satan's mischief will be in vain. One day, God will send Jesus Christ to redeem mankind, saving the human race from damnation in Hell. It is characteristic of the Christian universe that evil, while horrific by itself, is actually useful for achieving good ends. Milton will show how Satan's rebellious evil actually helps God and ensures God's plan.

If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert;
For man will hearken to his glozing lies,
And easily transgress the sole command,
Sole pledge of his obedience: so will fall
He and his faithless progeny: whose fault?
Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Related Characters: God the Father (speaker), Satan, Adam
Page Number: 2.91-99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this Book, we transition from Hell to Heaven, and the contrast couldn't be clearer. God wields effortless authority over his angel followers, the setting is filled with light and music, and everything is also a little bit less interesting. Here, the angels ask God what will happen when the devils try to corrupt mankind. To everyone's surprise, God says that Satan will succeed: he will tempt Adam and Eve to disobey God.

The big question here is, why isn't God himself responsible for mankind's fall? If God is all-powerful and created the human race, and foresaw their fall, then isn't he liable for the corruption of his own creations? God responds that he created mankind with the gift of free will: mankind is "sufficient to have stood yet free to fall." Therefore, God isn't directly responsible for humans' decisions--he allows them to be free of all control, including his own.

Why does God endow mankind with free will? One could argue that he does so because free will allows human beings to achieve more and please God further. It's true that free will can be dangerous, since devils can tempt human beings into sin. And yet it's only through free will that humans can truly embrace God--they choose to do so, rather than being forced to.

This passage also brings up the important idea of predestination--if God can foresee what will happen, and states it now (and God is never wrong), then do Adam and Eve really have free will? Many of Milton's contemporaries, the Calvinists, believed wholly in predestination--that God has already chosen who goes to Hell and who goes to Heaven, and all human action is just the playing out of that predetermined plan. Milton doesn't buy this idea, however, as he emphasizes with the "free to fall" statement. God's foreknowledge can then be explained with the idea of time. In many versions of Christianity, God exists outside of time, and so he can see what will happen in the future, but it's not the future to him--all times exist at once in the scheme of divine eternity. Thus within their own concept of time, Adam and Eve have free will, but to God it's as if they've already chosen to sin.

Book 3 Quotes

So man, as is most just,
Shall satisfy for man, be judged and die,
And dying rise, and rising with him raise
His brethren, ransomed with his own dear life.
So Heav’nly love shall outdo Hellish hate,
Giving to death, and dying to redeem,
So dearly to redeem what Hellish hate
So easily destroyed, and still destroys
In those who, when they may, accept not grace.

Related Characters: God the Father (speaker), God the Son, Adam
Page Number: 3.294-302
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, God continues to explain his plan for the human race to his angels. God explains that mankind will not be wholly damned after its fall. Rather, a future "man" will make a sacrifice, allowing all of mankind to ascend with him back to a state of grace.

God characterizes the sacrifice as crucial to the redemption of humankind. Satan's evil cannot be allowed to win; the only way to make sure that mankind ends up in Heaven is to have someone atone for mankind's innate corruption. Immediately after the passage, God's Son (who, in human form, will be Jesus Christ) volunteers to go to Earth and sacrifice his life for the sake of the human race. (It's also worth noting that the scene was parodied in the second Book of the poem when Satan volunteered to "sacrifice himself" and fly over the abyss to go corrupt the world of men.)

Book 4 Quotes

Be then his love accursed, since love or hate,
To me alike, it deals eternal woe.
Nay cursed be thou; since against his thy will
Chose freely what it now so justly rues.
Me miserable! Which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.

Related Characters: Satan (speaker), God the Father
Page Number: 4.69-78
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Satan flies from Hell to Earth. As he travels, he thinks to himself about the misery that is his life now. In Heaven, Satan was happy to be a powerful angel--in Hell, however, Satan is tormented by constant misery; the misery of being hated by God and being the enemy of the universe itself. Satan goes on to say that he carries Hell with him wherever he goes--his bitterness and lust for power is now so intense that he is always miserable, even if he should fly back to Heaven itself.

In short, the passage shows Satan in the depths of despair. He's a glutton for authority--and God will never allow him to satisfy his appetite. As a result, Satan's only solace is to cause misery and pain to others, such as Adam and Eve.

And should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I do, yet public reason just,
Honour and empire with revenge enlarged,
By conquering this new world, compels me now
To do what else though damned I should abhor.

Related Characters: Satan (speaker), God the Father
Page Number: 4.388-392
Explanation and Analysis:

In this surprising passage, Satan has arrived in terrestrial paradise. He's stunned by the sight of Adam and Eve--he's never seen a human being before. Moreover, Satan finds the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve themselves, to be extremely beautiful. As he stares, Satan goes through inner torment: he realizes that, were he still an obedient angel, he would love the humans' world and try to nurture it, enjoying their beauty and innocence. Yet Satan refuses to allow his own sympathies to change his will. Instead, he resolves to do what he was sent to do: corrupt mankind and destroy this beautiful world.

The passage shows Satan in a somewhat sympathetic light: he's committed to evil yet instinctively still longs for good, and laments what his past actions have brought about. In his pride, however, he feels that he has no choice but to harden his heart and go on with his hateful plan. Milton thus suggests that evil isn't liberation from God's authority; rather, it's a prison of its own. Satan gets no pleasure from undermining paradise--it's a bitter burden for him.

This one, this easy charge, of all the trees
In Paradise that bear delicious fruit
So various, not to taste that only Tree
Of Knowledge, planted by the Tree of Life,
So near grows death to life, whate’er death is,
Some dreadful thing no doubt; for well thou know’st
God hath pronounced it death to taste that Tree,
The only sign of our obedience left
Among so many signs of power and rule
Conferred upon us, and dominion giv’n
Over all other creatures that possess
Earth, air, and sea.

Related Characters: Adam (speaker), God the Father
Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 4.421-432
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Milton sets the scene for the fall of man. In paradise, Adam and Eve have one easy job: to tend to the plants and animals (who are all peaceful and tame), and only avoid the Tree of Knowledge, since God has forbidden them from eating its fruit. Adam tells Eve that their job is exceptionally easy, and the reward is great: because of their obedience, God has made them lords of the Garden of Eden, free to command all the animals and enjoy the beauty of Paradise.

Interestingly, Adam tells us that God has warned him not to eat the fruit because it will bring death. And yet Adam doesn't know what death is--he's totally innocent. In other words, God has instructed Adam and Eve to obey him, but hasn't told them why, exactly. There are some who have argued that God has designed the rules of the Garden of Eden so that Adam and Eve will inevitably eat the fruit--the mystery of what the fruit is, and what death is, is simply too interesting to ignore. (Such critics often point to the writings of Saint Paul for an explanation of why prohibition creates sin.) Others argue that God has kept humans in a state of ignorance so that they'll be happy forever--they don't know what death is, but that's a very good thing. Yet another idea is that God eventually wants Adam and Eve to eat of the Fruit of Knowledge, but only when they're ready, and only when he allows it--thus the tree itself isn't evil, it's only their disobedience to God that's evil.

Straight side by side were laid, nor turned I ween
Adam from his fair spouse, nor Eve the rites
Mysterious of connubial love refused:
Whatever hypocrites austerely talk
Of purity and place and innocence,
Defaming as impure what God declares
Pure, and commands to some, leaves free to all.
Our Maker bids increase, who bids abstain
But our destroyer, foe to God and man?
Hail wedded love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety,
In Paradise of all things common else.

Related Characters: God the Father, Adam, Eve
Page Number: 4.741-752
Explanation and Analysis:

In this fascinating passage, Milton defends his interpretation of the Bible. There's a longstanding debate among Christian scholars--did Adam and Eve have sex before their fall from Paradise? Milton declares that they did--in fact, he argues that there's nothing inherently sinful with sex at all, as long as it's practiced in the context of marriage, and done with God's approval. God created human beings to have sex (as expressed in his command to "be fruitful"), though in the Garden of Eden, sex was an entirely different experience for Adam and Eve. Sex wasn't a product of sinful lust at all--rather, Adam and Eve had sex because of their love for each other, for God, and, perhaps, simply because it was pleasurable and innocent.

By praising sex and placing it in Eden, Milton is taking a stand against the Puritanical Christians of his time, who saw all sexuality as inherently sinful and shameful.

Book 5 Quotes

Happiness in his power left free to will,
Left to his own free will, his will though free,
Yet mutable; whence warn him to beware
He swerve not too secure: tell him withal
His danger, and from whom, what enemy
Late fall’n himself from Heav’n, is plotting now
The fall of others from like state of bliss;
By violence, no, for that shall be withstood,
But by deceit and lies; this let him know,
Lest wilfully transgressing he pretend
Surprisal, unadmonished, unforewarned.

Related Characters: God the Father (speaker), Adam, Raphael
Page Number: 5.235-245
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, God tries his best to keep Adam and Eve "sufficient to have stood yet free to fall." Satan has just visited Eve in a dream and filled her with corrupting thoughts. It seems that Eve is going to tempt Adam to disobey God. God decides to give mankind more of a chance to redeem itself, so they can't claim ignorance when they fall (after all, what you dream about isn't really free will). God thus instructs the angel Raphael to fly to the Garden of Eden and teach the humans about God and Satan, and warn them that Satan might try to tempt them. With the knowledge of Satan, Adam and Eve will have sufficient defenses to ward off Satan in the future.

The passage is important because it refutes the argument that Adam and Eve were inevitably going to be corrupted--they have no freedom to resist. On the contrary, as Milton shows it (diverging from and expanding upon his Biblical inspiration), God took every precaution to keep Adam and Eve free from evil--or, as he puts it, to keep them from arguing that they had no freedom after they fall, as God knows they inevitably will.

Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend
The supple knee? ye will not, if I trust
To know ye right, or if ye know yourselves
Natives and sons of Heav’n possessed before
By none, and if not equal all, yet free,
Equally free; for orders and degrees
Jar not with liberty, but well consist.
Who can in reason then or right assume
Monarchy over such as live by right
His equals, if in power and splendour less,
In freedom equal?

Related Characters: Satan (speaker)
Page Number: 5.787-797
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, narrated by Raphael to Adam, Satan assembles his angels and urges them to rebel against the divine authority of God. To do this, he makes a long speech in which he invokes the principles of equality, pride, and freedom. His speech is full of contradictions and hypocrisies, and yet it's also full of interesting points. Notice that Satan's language (freedom, equality, liberty) parallels the language of the European Enlightenment. Furthermore, Satan makes a surprisingly democratic argument, saying that no being should live under the ultimate authority of another being, even if that being is more powerful.

The argument is particularly surprising since Milton actually supported the rebellion of English people against the authority of the king of England--he favored the "commonwealth" of Cromwell over the monarchy of Charles I. Some people have interpreted the speech to mean that Milton himself subconsciously supported Satan's rebellion against God--he couldn't help casting Satan as a democratic crusader challenging a tyrant. Others have argued that Milton saw divine authority as entirely different from earthly authority, and believed that while it's right to depose kings because they are merely human, and don't deserve absolute power, God himself is the appropriate divine authority in the hierarchy of the universe, so it's entirely proper that he should rule absolutely.

Unjust thou say’st
Flatly unjust, to bind with laws the free,
And equal over equals to let reign,
One over all with unsucceeded power.
Shalt thou give law to God, shalt thou dispute
With him the points of liberty, who made
Thee what thou art, and formed the Powers of Heav’n
Such as he pleased, and circumscribed their being?

Related Characters: Abdiel (speaker), Satan
Page Number: 5.818-825
Explanation and Analysis:

Satan has assembled a band of followers to rebel against God, and tried to sway the angels with bold arguments about rebelling against tyranny. And yet there's one angel who disagrees with Satan: Abdiel. Abdiel tells Satan that he's being absurd for suggesting that he (Satan) has the right to rebel against the supreme authority of the universe, the being who created everyone, including Satan himself. This argument is similar to God's own argument in the Biblical book of Job. God afflicts Job, a righteous man, with all kinds of trials and tribulations, and Job finally cries out at his unjust treatment. God's ambiguous response is mostly to invoke his own power and wisdom--who is Job to question the being who created Job in the first place? What laws of justice or fairness can Job (or in this case Satan) invoke that God himself didn't create, and doesn't already embody perfectly?

The character of Abdiel also shows that (in Milton's universe at least) angels, like humans after them, have a degree of free will--they can choose to obey or disobey God. This makes Abdiel all the more admirable, in that he not only chooses freely to return to God, but goes against his leader and all his peers in doing so.

Book 7 Quotes

But lest his heart exalt him in the harm
Already done, to have dispeopled Heav’n,
My damage fondly deemed, I can repair
That detriment, if such it be to lose
Self-lost, and in a moment will create
Another world, out of one man a race
Of men innumerable, there to dwell,
Not here, till by degrees of merit raised
They open to themselves at length the way
Up hither, under long obedience tried,
And earth be changed to Heav’n, and Heav’n to earth,
One Kingdom, joy and union without end.

Related Characters: God the Father (speaker), Adam
Page Number: 7.150-161
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Raphael is still telling Adam about the history of the world. After Satan rebelled against God and was cast out of paradise, God decided to repopulate his universe with new beings. He decided to create the race of man--in other words, Adam and Eve and all their descendants. By creating Adam and Eve, God said, he would replenish his ranks (replacing the fallen angels) and exercise his own creativity and love. God also lays out a plan that is not strictly adherent to the Bible, but that makes more sense in Milton's universe--God created Adam and Eve as innocent but he gradually intended to "raise" them up until they were like angels themselves, and then God would join the earthly Paradise with Heaven itself. This is a fleeting glimpse of what might have happened had Adam and Eve not eaten of the forbidden fruit, and it both makes God seem more sympathetic (Adam and Eve weren't always going to be ignorant and simple followers, but would have gained God-approved wisdom) and the Fall itself more tragic (instead of this happy progression to Heaven, we get our present world of suffering and struggle).

In terms of the "plot," this quote is important because Adam is hearing it. From hereon out, Adam has no deniability--when he chooses to disobey God, he knows full-well what he's doing: he knows that he is turning down a life of eternal happiness.

Book 8 Quotes

Solicit not thy thoughts with matters hid,
Leave them to God above, him serve and fear;
Of other creatures, as him pleases best,
Wherever placed, let him dispose; joy thou
In what he gives to thee, this Paradise
And thy fair Eve; heav’n is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowly wise:
Think only what concerns thee and thy being;
Dream not of other worlds…

Related Characters: Raphael (speaker), God the Father, Adam
Page Number: 8.167-175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adam has just asked Raphael for the truth about the universe: does the Earth revolve around the Sun, or vice versa? Raphael refuses to answer Adam's question. Instead, he tells Adam that he should focus on the here and now: he should focus on being an obedient servant to God, and tending to his wife, Eve.

First, notice that Milton is commenting on the scientific squabbles of his day: Copernicus and Galileo have challenged the Church's usual doctrine by declaring that the Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. Milton refuses to take sides in such a debate (and for that matter, he probably didn't want his poem to favor the wrong answer, lest future readers be baffled by the bad science), and instead focuses on how too much knowledge can be sinful. Indeed, it's arguably the quest for forbidden knowledge that is at the heart of the Fall of Man.

Notice, however, that innocent Adam has already developed a curiosity and appetite for knowledge, foreshadowing his disobedience of God. God sent Raphael to reassure Adam about obeying God and accepting ignorance, and yet Raphael's visit seems to have had the opposite effect: it's made Adam more likely to question God's authority and desire more knowledge.

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.

O foul descent! that I who erst contended
With Gods to sit the highest, am now constrained
Into a beast, and mixed with bestial slime,
This essence to incarnate and imbrute,
That to the heighth of Deity aspired…
Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long back on itself recoils;
Let it; I reck not, so I light well aimed,
Since higher I fall short, on him who next
Provokes my envy, this new favourite
Of Heav’n, this man of clay, son of despite,
Whom us the more to spite his Maker raised
From dust: spite then with spite is best repaid.

Related Characters: Satan (speaker), Adam
Page Number: 9.163-178
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Satan transforms into a snake. He's come into the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve into disobeying God's authority and eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Satan feels great shame and self-hatred as he transforms into a snake, which he sees as a lowly, ugly beast--he remembers the time when he lived in Heaven and his body was beautiful, and when he even aspired to be equal to God himself. He's fallen a long, long way since that time: now, every second of his life is full of misery. Indeed, he's so miserable that his only pleasure is to cause misery to other.

Milton uses clever language to foreshadow Satan's own punishment. In the final line, Satan mentions dust--after tempting Eve, God punished snakes by condemning them to eat "dust." Furthermore, the word "spite" (echoing several times in the last few lines) recalls the hissing sound of the snake, reflecting Satan's transformation.

Queen of this universe, do not believe
Those rigid threats of death; ye shall not die:
How should ye? by the fruit? it gives you life
To knowledge. By the Threat’ner? look on me,
Me who have touched and tasted, yet both live,
And life more perfect have attained than Fate
Meant me, by vent’ring higher than my lot.
Shall that be shut to man, which to the beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain
Of death denounced, whatever thing death be…

Related Characters: Satan (speaker), God the Father, Eve
Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 9.684-695
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Satan, disguised as a snake, tries to tempt Eve into eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The snake uses a series of arguments. It claims that it can talk because it ate of the Tree of Knowledge, and the fruit made it wise. The snake also suggests that eating from the tree will elevate Eve's status in life, making her more divine and majestic. Finally, the snake insists that the Tree will not, as God had claimed, make Eve die--the snake has eaten from the tree, and it's clearly not dead. In fact, the snake says that God will praise Eve for eating the fruit, rather than punish her, because eating the fruit shows that she is brave enough to risk death, "whatever thing death be."

One thing to notice about the snake's arguments is that they suggest two opposing sets of morals. One set of morals favors bravery, heroism, striving, and daring uncertainty--one could call this a romantic or chivalric set of values. The other set of values (which the snake criticizes) favors obedience, loyalty, and trust in one's station in life. In the end, the first set of values is just more fun: Eve, who's been shown to be ambitious and curious, wants above her allotted station in life, and this is the sin for which she's ultimately punished.

What fear I then, rather what know to fear
Under this ignorance of good and evil,
Of God or death, of law or penalty?
Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine,
Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste,
Of virtue to make wise: what hinders then
To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.

Related Characters: Eve (speaker), God the Father
Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 9.773-784
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Eve finally gives in to the snake's arguments and eats from the Tree of Knowledge. She's persuaded by the snake's points, but mostly because she's a naturally ambitious, inquisitive person. Eve decides that the Tree doesn't really kill people at all--it just makes them wise and intelligent. Like the proverbial child, Eve is interested in eating from the Tree of Knowledge precisely because it is forbidden to her. As a result, she eats, and mankind falls from grace. Even the earth itself "felt the wound" of this small, symbolic action.

Eve's decision to eat from the Tree parallels the Biblical description of the fall of man, though with much more detail thrown in. As in the Bible, Milton writes that the woman ate from the Tree first-- a detail that was often used to justify the lowered position of women in Western society.

However I with thee have fixed my lot,
Certain to undergo like doom; if death
Consort with thee, death is to me as life;
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself.

Related Characters: Adam (speaker), Eve
Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 9.952-959
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adam discovers that Eve has sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam is still a loyal servant of God, but he also loves Eve, his wife. Therefore, Adam makes a horrible choice; knowing full-well that the fruit of the Tree will destroy him, he eats it. Adam loves Eve so completely that he's blinded to his duty to God.

In the passage, Milton criticizes the chivalric tradition of England. Adam loves his wife so completely that he's willing to disobey God for her sake. Such behavior could be interpreted as romantic and incredibly noble. But Milton sees it as sinful: Adam errs in choosing to love a mortal being more than he loves God. Nevertheless, Milton describes Adam's act of sin as more heroic and perhaps admirable than Eve's: as a result, Adam is punished less harshly than Eve when God discovers his creations' sin.

O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear
To that false worm, of whomsoever taught
To counterfeit man’s voice, true in our Fall,
False in promised rising; since our eyes
Opened we find indeed, and find we know
Both good and evil, good lost, and evil got,
Bad fruit of knowledge, if this be to know…

Related Characters: Adam (speaker), Satan, Eve
Related Symbols: The Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Page Number: 9.1067-1073
Explanation and Analysis:

After Adam and Eve have both eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, they at first feel excited and pleased with themselves, and they have lustful sex for the first time. But afterwards, they come to realize that the fruit of the Tree has condemned them to a life of misery: they're aware of sin and evil now, and they're ashamed to be alive. A sure sign of their sinful nature is that they immediately begin to argue amongst themselves. Here, for instance, Adam claims that Eve has destroyed him by tempting him to eat from the Tree--he blames Eve for listening to the snake.

It's ironic that Adam and Eve have begun arguing so forcefully, since only a few hours before, Adam had claimed that he and Eve were "one." Milton shows how feeble and nonsensical such declarations of love really are: Adam and Eve are not, in fact, "one" at all anymore--their sin, instead of romantically bringing them together, has only torn them apart.

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."

Book 12 Quotes

O execrable son so to aspire
Above his brethren, to himself assuming
Authority usurped, from God not giv’n:
He gave us only over beast, fish, fowl
Dominion absolute; that right we hold
By his donation; but man over men
He made not lord; such title to himself
Reserving, human left from human free.

Related Characters: Adam (speaker), Nimrod
Page Number: 12.64-71
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Michael gives Adam a vision of the future of the human race. Michael explains that in the future, some humans will fall under the dominion of a great human tyrant named Nimrod. Nimrod, a megalomaniac, will force his subjects to build a huge tower (the Tower of Babel) in an attempt to reach Heaven. Adam is outraged by Michael's description of Nimrod, saying that humans should not rule over other humans--everyone should be equal and worship God together.

The passage is interesting because it suggests something about Milton's political leanings. Milton risked his life to oppose a tyrannical monarchy in England, but he also believes in the total worship of God. As he sees it, humans can only serve one absolute master--the Lord. To serve another, such as a king (or a Pope) is a sin, a violation of the natural order of things.

They looking back, all th’ eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

Related Characters: Adam, Eve
Page Number: 12.641-649
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the poem, Adam and Eve prepare to leave terrestrial paradise forever. They cry, but only a little bit: their interactions with Michael have inspired them to be strong and look forward to the future. Adam and Eve have been told that one day, a Messiah will redeem mankind from their sins, allowing all human beings to enter Heaven.

The poem is tragic, yet it also ends on a note of cautious optimism. Adam and Eve know that their lives will be long and hard, but also full of fulfillment and discovery. They can no longer walk with God and dine with angels, but "Providence" is still "their guide"--they haven't been totally cast away from God like Satan and his devils. And though they've argued with each other since losing their innocence, husband and wife continue to love and respect each other--thus, they hold each other's hands as they leave Paradise. In short, Milton leaves Adam and Eve to live in a world of sin, confident that one day, sin will be redeemed with the grace of God.

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