Before going into the details of Paradise Lost Book 1, it is relevant to give historical context for better understanding.
During the English Civil War (1642–1651), Milton, a supporter of the populists who sought to overthrow the monarchy, published pamphlets calling for divorce and press freedom. He spoke of meeting Galileo Galilei in 1644 in his book “Areopagitica,” The Inquisition put the elderly, blind astronomer under house imprisonment in Florence because of his heretical writings on the planet’s role in the universe. Milton used this trip as the basis of his case against censorship. He advocated for regicide and against the divine prerogative of kings in his treatise “The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates” (1649).
Eventually, the new leader of the Commonwealth administration, Oliver Cromwell, took notice of the contentious pamphlet and came to support its ideas. The Council of State offered Milton the position of Secretary of Foreign Tongues in March 1649, and he accepted it. His primary duty was to translate all official correspondence between the revolutionary government of England and other countries into Latin.
After Cromwell suspended Parliament and seized total authority, and especially after Cromwell’s death and his son Richard rose to power, Milton became more dubious about the regime, but he remained a loyal servant nonetheless. That is when Milton started having vision problems. As well, he started penning his groundbreaking blank verse poems, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
It was only thanks to the intervention of friends like Andrew Marvell, who later helped Milton while he wrote Paradise Lost, that Milton was spared execution after the Restoration of the Monarchy and the ascension to the throne of Charles II, when many of the Commonwealth supporters were put to death. Milton said that as he was writing the poem, his muse came to him in a dream. When he finally opened his eyes, he started writing the lines that would become the poem’s foundation.
Although 1667 saw the initial publication of Paradise Lost, 1674 saw the completion of the book’s final revision, the version we have today. Unfortunately, John Milton passed away soon after from gout.
Summary Paradise Lost Book 1
The prologue of Book I of Paradise Lost features Milton performing the typical epic job of calling upon the Muse and outlining his goals. He invokes Urania, the traditional Muse, but he also calls her the “Heav’nly Muse,” suggesting that this is a Christian work. He adds that the poem will reflect on man’s disobedience to God and the consequences of that disobedience. He says he will make plans to defend God’s ways to men as he wraps up the prologue.
After the invocation and prologue, Milton introduces the epic with a sketch of Satan chained to a lake of fire on his back with rebellious angels. As is customary with epic poetry, the poem opens in the midst of the action. The fallen angel Lucifer, now known as Satan, led an army of rebels in an epic conflict with God and his angelic forces. They lost, so they went down to Hell in flames.
Satan is said to be so large that he dwarfs the Titans and the Leviathan when he lays on the water. Beelzebub is Satan’s right-hand man and is often depicted next to the devil. Satan makes a remark on how God’s wrath has changed Beelzebub, making him more ferocious. Still, he adds, he plans to keep fighting against God.
Satan can break out of his bonds and emerge from the fire if he tries. He and Beelzebub take off for an empty plain. One by one, the fallen angels rise from the lake and fly to join their lord in the sky above the plain. During the formal cataloguing of the fallen angels, we meet each one individually. Milton makes it clear that God is the only one who has permitted these fallen angels to strive to break free of their shackles by using their own might.
There are many in this devil army, and they look formidable, but they are all too aware of their recent humiliating defeat. The Satan speaks to the crowd, rallying them to fight. They still have power, he reminds them, and that power will be used against God.
The speech motivates the devilish army, and at Mammon’s command, construction of the capital city of the Hellish dominion begins immediately. They discover useful materials in the Hellish mountains and immediately set about building a city there. Under Mulciber’s leadership as their architect, they create a magnificent Pandemonium as the capital of Hell. The Devil’s Army is like a well-organized swarm of bees when it flies like this. When the construction of the capital is finally finished, everyone gets together for the first great council.
Analysis of Paradise Lost Book 1
The opening lines of the poem read:
“Of Man’s First Disobedience,
and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree,
whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World,
and all our woe.”
By doing so, it gives the reader a synopsis of the entire story it is about to tell. The “first disobedience” occurs when Eve gives in to the serpent’s temptation and eats from the Tree of Knowledge. Shortly after eating the fruit, Eve informs Adam what she did. Because of the notoriety of this event, the phrase “forbidden fruit” is sometimes used to allude to anything desirable that is generally considered immoral.
Though the Bible does not specify, many people believe that the fruit in question was an apple, and Milton follows in the footsteps of other writers by using the term “fatal fruit” to describe the object of his obsession.
Despite popular belief, Milton does not make the couple’s decision to eat the fruit seem inevitable. In fact, it demonstrates that the couple was acting freely. Adam and Eve were both tempted by the serpent, but they made the conscious decision to eat the fruit anyhow.
As a proof of their allegiance to God, the couple was given authority over all of creation with the one exception of this forbidden fruit, and they were to uphold this rule on faith. This is crucial since Milton explicitly mentions in the poem that he intended to use the incidents to illustrate the “ways of God” to the audience.
The poem shows that he believed Adam and Eve had the strength to resist temptation on their own, but that they made a conscious decision to give in to it instead. This choice represents “the fall,” the time when the couple and their offspring lost God’s favour forever.
The poem not only recounts the tale of Adam and Eve and the Fall, but also details the devil’s origin and rise to power. Satan, also called Lucifer, is a former angel who was sent down to the underworld. After being sent out of heaven, Satan is quoted as saying,
“I would rather rule over hell than serve in heaven.”
Pandemonium, the capital of Hell, is a term created by Milton. Satan’s plan to get retribution with God for casting him out of heaven includes tricking Adam and Eve into sinning.
It was a pleasure for Adam and Eve to cultivate the garden in Eden. However, following the fall, God’s son is dispatched to earth to carry out retributive justice. To produce food, Adam will now be required to engage in backbreaking labour on the land. One of Eve’s punishments is that she will have a difficult labour and delivery.
The fall ultimately causes death on earth. At the end, Adam and Eve are on the ground, sobbing and begging for forgiveness as their tears flood the ground. In this part of the poem, the pair demonstrates that they have grown as a result of their mistakes and are ready to make amends.