John Milton is England’s greatest poet, and Paradise Lost is the greatest epic of the English language. There is a lot of bad interpretation though, mostly because of Satan-sympathizing romantics distorting the majesty of the erotic cosmos in which the poem is set.
Milton’s poetic reimagination of the Fall of Man is part theology and part rhetorical grandeur. Few works of the English language have merited as much consideration as Paradise Lost. Satan and his angels, having fallen from heaven, hatch a plan to get back at God. Thinking about the new creation, Satan volunteers to venture into Eden and disrupt what God has formed. Once out of the primordial chaotic soup, Satan peers over the beauty of Eden and spots Adam and Eve: “From this Assyrian garden, where the Fiend / Saw undelighted all delight, all kind / Of living creatures, new to sight and strange. / Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall, / God—like erect, with native honour clad / In naked majesty, seemed lords of all.”
Satan grows jealous of the passionate love and happiness of Adam and Eve. The contrast between Adam and Eve reveal Milton’s theology of love and sin. Passion dominates the poem: good passions and negative passions. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve exhibit the good passions: beauty, happiness, gentleness; for smiles does reason flow but to brute denied. Satan, meanwhile, is governed by the negative passions: envy, hatred, jealously. The Fall of Adam and Eve mark their manifestation of the negative passions: Eve eats without control – she “gorged herself” upon the apple. Adam becomes distraught and angered.
Yet, despite the fall, Adam receives the angelic vision of the salvation of mankind and is warmed by God’s love. Adam and Eve, who have been divided by Satan, reunite before taking their solitary wandering from Eden: “hand-in-hand, with Providence as their guide.” Milton’s ending brings us back to the beginning: love in unity, moreover, Providence as their guide shows God is with them even more intimately than before. Love in unity and the good passion: happiness, not envy, is restored. Despite the Fall, Milton tells us, we have actually grown closer together in love and with God.
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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