People have often commented on the fact that Milton himself resembles the Satan he creates in his poem; Satan who, when the story begins, has just been crushed attempted to launch a revolution to do away with God, because he thought God was a tyrant. The similarities between Milton and the Satan he creates are huge and worth pondering. But, at the end of the day, we should be careful about identifying Milton — a very serious Christian — too completely with Satan and his wingmen.
But Milton didn't just write Paradise Lost because he was upset and felt that he had lost his own paradise; he had been planning the poem for quite some time.
Milton, being Milton, also realized that to be a full member of the Cool Writer Club he had to write an epic. But, whereas most of those other poets wrote epics celebrating martial heroism i. If competing with the great poets of the past weren't enough, Milton was completely blind!
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He couldn't see. That means he had to dictate Paradise Lost to somebody the person who transcribes a dictation is called an amanuensis, by the way; ten points if you can use that word in conversation today. Just try writing your next essay by dictation, and then imagine writing a poem that is several hundred pages long. Have you ever gotten really angry or sad thinking about all of the suffering in the world, about how many people struggle just to exist?
Have you ever cried out in frustration, "Life is not fair! What's with all the injustice in the world? Nearly four hundred years ago John Milton struggled with the same questions in Paradise Lost. At the very beginning of the poem, Milton claims that he will "assert Eternal Providence" and "justify the ways of God to men. While he believes in a grand plan, Milton also tells us how important freedom and choice are; there is no such thing as fate or predestination in the world he describes.
Now, to review for a moment, predestination is an idea held by some Protestants which claims that everyone is already predestined for salvation Heaven or damnation that would be Hell when they're born. So the idea is that people are either born good or bad. According to this belief, there is nothing a person can do to escape his or her fate in the next life good works, charity, penitence and the like won't get anybody into Heaven because everything has already been decided.
Milton served the Commonwealth as a translator, polemicist, and all-around house intellectual. He claimed that the writing of his long pamphlets in defense of the new government cost him his eyesight. His enemies claimed it was divine retribution. Milton genuinely thought he was helping to fashion the Kingdom of God on earth, and—hard as this has proved for a later, secular age to understand—he was someone who would rather live there than write a poem about it.
This may also explain why he continued to serve the state even when Cromwell dissolved Parliament, in , giving way to the autocracy of the Protectorate, in which Cromwell assumed virtually kinglike powers. During the Restoration, despite a broad act of amnesty, those who had abetted and defended the killing of Charles I were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Even then, Milton spent time in the Tower of London and lived with the fear that he might be killed in retaliation for his scathing attacks on those who resisted the Cromwellian tide.
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Through the preceding years, Milton had suffered a number of personal disasters: in , his wife Mary died in childbirth, and a son died the following month. In , his second wife, whom he had married two years before, died as well, followed a month after that by their daughter. Milton had carried his epic around inside him for many years, and any number of calamities—including the outbreak of bubonic plague from to , which killed seventy-five thousand Londoners—might have prevented him from getting it all down on paper.
Its very completion must have seemed like divine Providence to Milton. Even while writing it, he believed that he shared a muse with Moses and King David and that she visited him nightly in his dreams; he woke up and dictated his poem in seemingly preformed stanzas. But Milton is carried back further than Adam and Eve. He organizes a revolt, loses, and is thrown with his many followers into Hell. To make up for the angelic absence, God creates earth and Eden and Adam and Eve.
Satan, having heard of this spot, decides to conquer it, by cunning, for himself and his devils. There is great pathos, for instance, when Satan encounters one of his followers disfigured by the fall:. The loss of place and power is felt in the most immediate and personal way. Instantly, Satan springs up in his actual form, since angelic touch reveals his true nature.
Of course, the clash of opposing forces brought out great poetry in Milton; there is sheer delight in the face-off between Satan and Gabriel, the warrior angel charged with keeping Eden safe a job he does very badly, it is worth noting.
The trash-talking between these two rises to glorious heights. Gabriel threatens:. We first meet Adam and Eve holding hands in the garden, and we see them last holding hands and striking out together into a fallen world. They are constantly changing, constantly evolving even before their fall. This central tension in the epic—why is such an ostensibly evil character so attractive?
The Enduring Relevance of Lucifer, Years After John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' - The Atlantic
American prestige television dramas have also cleverly convinced audiences to empathize with charismatic-sinner types. Think of how many viewers continued to love Tony Soprano, even after he strangled to death a Witness Protection Program informant in between taking his daughter on a tour of bucolic New England colleges. I liked it. Or even the charming, handsome Don Draper with his serial adultery.
Fears of Heresy, Blasphemy, and Religious Schism in Milton's Culture and Paradise Lost
All these characters share a rage generated from feeling that they are owed something, which also describes Lucifer. These shows reveal to their audience not just what is debased about certain values, but indeed what is debased in the audience when they thrill to evil. Milton, of course, believed that intrinsic depravity marked every soul. Sin may be universal, but there is something revealing in how the triumphalist values of American individualism are also the values held dear by Lucifer.