Paradise Lost: Book 1 to 12 - Summary

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Book I

      The poem begins with the conventional epic invocation to the Muses and to the Great Eternal Light. Next, the theme unfolds itself; the scene is in Hell, Satan and his followers have been worsted in their war against God. Overthrown and stupefied, they lie on the burning lake, victims of God’s dire revenge. Satan recovers from his stupor and rouses his followers and discusses with them their position. The fallen spirits have been overthrown but not cowed in spirit. Something of the majesty and grandeur of their heavenly existence still lingers around them. Satan and his followers make their way to dreary plain of dry land. Satan encourages his drooping followers and inspires in them an unconquerable will and thoughts of revenge. He suggests to them that they may yet regain Heaven or perhaps regain other worlds, and particularly a new world inhabited by new beings of whom report had gone forth in Heaven. He suggests an elaborate conference and discussion. Accordingly, a great palace, Pandemonium, is built and in this council-chamber the great fallen angels hold conference.

      Milton begins with a statement of the theme of the whole poem—viz. Man’s disobedience and expulsion from Paradise. The cause of Man’s fall is Satan, who having rebelled against God, had been expelled from l leaven into Hell. The poet describes the rebellious angels gathering themselves together after their stunning fall through Choas. They are first shown lying dazed on the burning lake. Satan accosts Beelzebub, the next in dignity after himself, who is found lying nearest to himself. The two confer Satan things of converting Hell into Heaven and ruling there as in a new empire. Beelzebub calls upon Satan to rally his followers, who would rise from their stupor on hearing his voice. Satan, the leader of the revolt, calls upon his followers and encourages them to rise with fresh hopes of regaining supremacy in heaven. They rise, their numbers, their chief leaders are described. Some of these were afterwards worshipped as idols in Canaan, Syria, Babylon and Egypt, and some of them afterwards became the gods of Greek and Roman Mythology and the Celtic gods. To these Satan addresses his speech and comforts them with the hope of recovering Heaven and tells them of a new world and a new kind of creature to inhabit it, which there was a report or prophecy, God was going to create. To find out the truth of that prophecy and to take steps upon it, he orders a full council of the chiefs. The spirits erect a grand council hall, called Pandemonium. The magnificence of the Hall is described.

Book II

      The conference begins in Pandemonium and Satan invites the counsel of the chief leaders of his party. Moloch, Belial, Mammon, and various chiefs among the fallen angels, each counsels according to his own bent of mind. Beelzebub refers to Satan’s mention of the newly created world and suggests that they might take vengeance of God by making its inhabitants disobey Him. The question arises as to who is to undertake the risky job of discovering this new world and the still riskier act of trying to tempt the newly created inhabitants of the world. With the true courage and spirit of a born leader, Satan himself undertakes the exploit, and the result is announced amidst applause from his followers—that Satan should set out in quest of the new world and there tempt the new creatures of God. He reaches Hell’s gates, is confronted by the monsters of Sin and Death, parleys with them and tracing his way through Chaos finally reaches the confines of the Universe.

      The council begins with Satan on his throne of state. Various opinions are given. Moloch is for open war. Belial for peace lest they should suffer worse punishments or even be extinguished for ever. Mammon is for consolidation and for creating a new empire in Hell and working the gold mines there. Beelzebub however points out what an exquisite revenge they can have by destroying God's newly-created world and seducing the new inhabitants from their obedience to God. Volunteers are called upon to take up this undertaking. None would undertake the task of exploring this new world. All are afraid of the terrors of Chaos. Satan undertakes the task and the council is dissolved. The spirits go to enjoy themselves with various sports, philosophical discussions and exploration of the different parts of Hell etc. The rivers of Hell and the lake of Lethe are described. Meanwhile, Satan starts upon his journey and with difficulty comes to the gates of Hell, which are guarded by Sin and Death. Death and Satan challenge to each other and a dreadful battle would have ensued, but Sin intervenes saying that she was Satan's daughter and mistress and Death was their son! They join with Satan, who next plies his more arduous way through the realm of Chaos and Night. In the realm of Chaos no element is certain or consistent and everything is at discord. Chaos acknowledges the power of Satan and lets him go through it. Finally, Satan comes in sight of the New World.

Book III

       The scene opens in Heaven. The Almighty observes Satan and is aware of his designs on earth. He tells His Son about the errand on which Satan is set and of its destined success, and tells also that Man will be saved if he can find a redeemer. The Son of God freely offers himself as a ransom for Man, is accepted by the Father and praised by the angelic hosts. The theme next reverts to Satan and his journey. Satan has traveled through various regions and has finally descended into the inside of the Universe. Here disguising himself as a young angel he enquires of the angel Uriel the way to the newly created earth, pretending a pious desire to observe the handiwork of God and manifestation of his glory. He is directed by the angel and alights on Mount Niphates.

      Meanwhile, in Heaven, God has seen Satan's journey through Chaos and predicts to His Son that Man would fall owing to the wiles of Satan. It is God's purpose however that Man shall not be lost if someone takes on himself the burden of his sins. The Son of God offers himself. The offer is joyfully accepted, and God foretells the incarnation of Christ. Satan has by this time alighted on the outer sphere of the World, and guided by the golden bridge which happened to be let down from Heaven at the time, he makes his way into the interior and passing through the outer spheres finally arrives at the sphere of the Sun. There the angel Uriel is on guard. Satan disguises himself as a cherub and is directed by Uriel, the Regent of the Sun, to Paradise. Satan alights on Mount Nephites.

Book IV

      With the happy regions of the world before his view, Satan is tortured by remorse. He regrets his rebellion and rages at his outcast state. Soon, however, pride and anger overcome all other sentiments and he continues his journey towards Eden. We have next the famous description of Eden and the still more famous and picturesque description of Adam and Eve in their state of innocence and bliss. He also overhears what Adam says about the Tree of Knowledge. During the night Satan tries to tempt Eve and is almost discovered by Gabriel with whom a battle is narrowly averted because Satan takes to his heels.

      Satan is now in sight of Eden and near the place where he must execute his bold design. But as he approaches the place, he is lost in doubt and the passions of fear, envy and despair lay hold on him, but finally, he resolves upon persevering in his evil course. He proceeds on to Paradise. The Garden is described. There is eternal spring there. It was a heaven on earth. Nature’s whole wealth was there in narrow space. It lay on the east of Eden, which itself stretched from what afterwards became Auran to what afterwards became the town of Seleucia. Satan overleaps the boundaries and changing himself into a cormorant he perches on the Tree of Life and surveys the scene. Soon he sees Adam and Eve, both so beautiful, Adam so strong, so muscular, so intellectual, Eve so lovely, so sweet, so modest. They stood whispering by a fountain’s side. About them frisked all the beasts of the earth. Satan felt a twinge of remorse and pity for them at the thought of his resolve to ruin them, but ruin them he must. He listens to their conversation. Adam dwells upon God’s kindness and the single prohibition not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve describes how frightened she was when she being by herself first saw her own reflection in the water of a lake, and she could not feel comfortable till she came back to the side of Adam. The sight of their mutual love filled Satan with envy, but he left them and proceeded for a survey of the place. Meanwhile, Uriel comes to warn Gabriel (who is commander of the angel guard) of his fear that some one of the fallen angels had perhaps escaped and come prowling to Paradise. Evening now approaches and the nightingale begins her song. Adam tells Eve that the time for rest has come after their labours of the day. Eve declares her readiness to obey him in all things without question and states that except in his company, nothing in Paradise gives her any pleasure and asks why the glorious stars continue to shine after they are asleep when there is no one to watch them. Adam explains the need of light lest things return to Chaos. In this way they enter their bower and fall asleep after their evening hymn to God, Satan returns and in the form of a toad tries to instill into Eve’s mind by way of her ear a bad dream or illusion. Meanwhile, after the report he had heard from Uriel, Gabriel had divided his guards into two batches to go round Paradise and meet from opposite directions. The party led by Ithuriel and Zephon came upon the fiend as a toad tampering with the ear of Eve. Satan, detected, started up in his own shape and being led to Gabriel, he defies him insolently. A fight was about to start between them, but a sign flew out of Heaven which restrained Satan from fight and caused him to flee in the darkness.

Book V

      We have another idyllic picture of Eden and its first great inhabitants, Adam and Eve. Milton gives us picturesque descriptions of the First Man and the First Woman, incidentally dwells upon the functions and the interrelationship between man and woman, describes also the life led by Adam and Eve, their work, their worship, etc. The Almighty in the meanwhile has sent the angel Raphael to warn man of the impending danger, so that Man, if he falls, may fall knowingly and by his own fault. Raphael is received and entertained by Adam to whom he narrates the story of the rebellion in Heaven and all its dire results.

      Book V opens the middle part of Paradise Lost, giving reason for the events of the first four books. The book begins with a lovely idyll of Paradise but trouble has been introduced there by the bad dream Satan had breathed into Eve's car. Adam tries to comfort her. Then arrives the Archangel Raphael, sent on purpose from Heaven to warn Adam of his peril. The rites of hospitality are done and conversation begins, in which Raphael describes to Adam and Eve the cause of the War in Heaven. Satan had revolted against God's decree to worship His Son. Satan fled to the North with his disaffected followers.

Book VI

      The story of the war in Heaven is continued and the narrative describes the punishment meted out to Satan and his followers. Raphael warns Adam against temptation by such rebellious spirits.

      Raphael continues his story and describes the War in Heaven. Gabriel and Michael march against Satan and defeat him. Satan retires, but next day he returns with his new invention of artillery with which he discomfits his enemies. The latter on the other hand tear up mountains and hurl them at Satan's ranks. On the third day of the battle, the Son goes forth to battle and routs the rebel angels completely and they are driven down to Hell. Raphael ends with a warning to Adam that the same Satan who had envied the Son was again envying Man and plotting against him.

Book VII

      Raphael describes the story of the creation of the world, of the evolution of the Cosmos out of Chaos, of the creation of the animal and the vegetable worlds and finally of Man and Woman.

      In Book VII Raphael describes to Adam the creation of Man's World. The expulsion of one-third of the angels from Heaven was the occasion for creating Man and the making of this world (obtained by carving out a slice from Chaos) for man's home and occupation. The Son was sent to perform the work of creation in six days and the angels celebrated his glory.


      Adam makes inquiries concerning stars and the heavenly bodies. Raphael answers rather vaguely. Adam next recounts his own experiences immediately after he came into consious existence, tells the angel about the Garden and how the Almighty had forbidden him to taste of the Tree of Knowledge. Her e is also a picturesque passage in which Adam describes how he first met Eve and was fascinated by her grace and her tenderness. The conversation over, Raphael departs for Heaven.

      Adam makes inquiries about all the mysteries he saw, such as the motions of the heavenly bodies, to which Raphael returns an evasive reply and exhorts him to search about matters more worthy of knowledge. Adam assents and relates to Raphael what he himself remembered since his own creation, his being placed in Paradise, his talk with God concerning solitude and society, his marriage with Eve. Raphael again repeats his warnings against Satan and departs.

      The above four books tell of the conversation between Raphael and Adam and occupy one day. There is apparently an interval of seven days before the action of Book IX takes place.

Book IX.

      The scene is still in Eden. Adam and Eve go forth unto their labors and Eve proposes to go a different way from Adam, each laboring apart. Adam tries to dissuade her but Eve persists in her ideas and Adam yields. It therefore comes to pass that Satan in the form of a serpent finds Eve alone and induces her to eat of the fruit of the Forbidden Tree. She falls a prey to dying temptation and induces Adam also to eat of the fruit. The fall and dire consequences of it and the immediate sense of shame and remorse are all very vividly described.

      The Third Part begins with Book IX. This book contains the crisis of the story. The act of disobedience is committed by Eve and Adam and the consequence foretold before must follow.

      After his flight from Gabriel (at the end of Book IV), Satan traverses the Earth in different directions—three times along the equator from east to west and twice through the solstitial and equinoctial points from north to south—making his journey always with the night and spending seven nights in this way. [This is according to Masson and most editors. Mr. Cowling puts a different interpretation on the words used and takes seven double nights for Satan’s journey—as Satan was always travelling with the night to avoid detection by Uriel the Regent of the Sun, which would make three and a half full days or roughly four days.] Finally he puts on courage to re-enter Paradise. By guile he ascends in a mist with the waters of the Tigris up through the Mountain on which Paradise is situated. He finds the Serpent into whose body he craftily winds himself. He waits until he finds Eve alone. With a masterly eloquence and cunning logic he persuades Eve that it is the forbidden fruit that has endowed him, though a mere serpent, with the power of speech and that if he as a serpent has acquired human thought and speech by the eating of this fruit, it would inevitably follow that she, a woman, would by the magic of the same fruit rise to the position and faculties of a goddess. The repressive thoughts against eating that fruit gradually melt away from Eve’s mind. She finds that the eating of the fruit would not be followed by death, as she had been previously assured. For the serpent had eaten and was alive—and not only alive, but actually endowed with human reason and the power of utterance. Her hesitation gradually disappears. She is overcome by Satan’s argument. She plucks the fruit and eats it. Earth trembles at the deed. She is now resolved to make Adam eat of it. For what is promotion to the status of a deity worth to her without Adam? Again if she must die, she could not tolerate the thought of Adam surviving to be married to another woman after her death. Whatever the result—whether she died or became a goddess,—she must make Adam accompany her in weal or woe. Meanwhile, Adam has missed her and comes in search of her, and he finds her just near the Tree of Knowledge. She describes what she has done and tells the story how the serpent has benefitted by eating of the fruit. Adam cannot bear the thought of Eve dying and leaving him alone in Paradise. To him Paradise was no Paradise without Eve in it. Besides, he thinks the serpent has not died but rather improved in faculty. Eve offers him the fruit which Adam eats greedily. Once again a shudder passes through nature. The act of disobedience is done. The immediate effect of the eating of the fruit is that both Adam and Eve are overwhelmed with a sudden invasion of a sensual passion that agitates them in all their limbs. They yield to these strange sensual feelings and yield to lustful embraces. At last fatigued, they rise up and for the first time in their life, they feel ashamed of their nakedness. Then follow mutual recriminations and taunts. Eve tells Adam that he, as her head and commander, ought to have prevented her from going into the danger zone of the Forbidden Tree. Adam bewails the folly of trusting in a woman. Their mutual accusations seem to have no end.

Book X

      The Son of God as the representative of God Almighty comes down to earth and pronounces doom on Adam and Eve and the Serpent. Adam and Eve are to be cast out of Eden and Satan is to be permanently conveyed into a reptile. Satan jubilantly returns to Pandemonium and narrating his exploits to his followers suddenly finds himself and his followers transformed into reptiles. Sin and Death now boldly ascend from Hell to the earth and claim possession of the world and its inhabitants as theirs. The Almighty, however, foretells their ultimate overthrow, the redemption of man through the mediation of a Saviour. We next get a picture of Adam and Eve in the depths of remorse and repentance kneeling in supplication before the deity whom they have disobeyed.

      Book X describes the immediate consequences. God passes sentence of Death on Man though with pity on his helplessness and sends His Son to announce it to Adam and Eve, since His Son is to be both Ransom and Redeemer of Man. Sin and Death are overjoyed and build a bridge from Hell to the new World and come to invade it Satan returns to Pandemonium with a view to reporting his triumph. But he is greeted with a universal hiss. The fallen angels have suddenly been turned into serpents and deluded with a show of the Forbidden Fruit, they eat dust and ashes. Satan is in the same way transformed agreeably to the sentence passed on him. God foretells the final victory of His Son over Sin and Death, but for the present commands his angels to make certain changes in Heaven and the Elements. On earth, the quarrels between Adam and Eve continue. But some appeasement follows. The thought of suicide comes into Eve’s mind, so that the curse of Death should not light on her children. Adam dissuades her and reminds her that Eve’s Seed would be born he who would avenge the crime of the Serpent.

Book XI

      The Son of God takes pity upon remorseful Man and Woman below and on His intercession, the Almighty Father sends down Michael to the earth with a view to tell Adam and Eve their hopes about the future, namely, the hope of redemption through a Saviour. Michael tells Adam and Eve of their coming banishment from the Garden of Eden, but at the same time tells them that, in the years to come, they and their children will be comforted by Divine Grace. Incidentally, Michael unrolls before Adam the story of the World till the Great Flood.

      The Son of God presents to his Father the prayers of Adam and Eve and reports their repentance. God accepts their repentance but declares they must not stay any longer in Paradise. Adam discerns Michael’s approach from a distance. He reports God’s orders of expulsion. Eve laments her state. Adam submits. Michael leads Adam up a high hill and sets before him in the form of visions what shall happen to the human race till the Flood.

Book XII

      Michael’s narrative is continued. He traces the history of the chosen people of God till the coming of Christ and foretells the subsequent progress and triumph of Christianity. He winds up his narrative with renewed promises of the ultimate redemption of Man from the toils of sin and death. Man has been thus consoled by a future prospect of hope and salvation, but he cannot avoid the immediate punishment due to him for his disobedient action. He has to pay the price of sin. The fiery cherubim descend down on him and they and Michael lead Adam and Eve to the gates of Eden. From there they go forth to a life of hardship and misery, so different from the happiness they had known in Eden, and yet consoled with the hope of the ultimate redemption of mankind.

      In Book XII, Michael recites the history of the human race after the Flood, the times of Abraham, Moses, Jacob and comes down to the birth of Christ, the Seed of Woman who (with his Death and Resurrection and Ascension) is to restore to Man Paradise and Life Eternal. Michael reviews the history of Christ’s Church till his second coming. Adam is comforted by this recital and descends from the Hill with Michael. Meanwhile, Eve has had a pleasant dream in which she is assured of the deliverance of the human race by Christ, born of her seed. Adam wakens Eve and Michael leads them both by hand out of Paradise. The fiery sword of the angels waves behind them as the cherubs fall into their posts. Adam and Eve pass out through Eden, with slow foot-steps, hand in hand.

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