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Milton opens u   by formally declaring his poem¶s subject: humankind¶s first act of
disobedience toward God, and the consequences that followed from it. The act is Adam and
Eve¶s eating of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, as told in Genesis, the first book of
the Bible. In the first line, Milton refers to the outcome of Adam and Eve¶s sin as the ³fruit´ of
the forbidden tree, punning on the actual apple and the figurative fruits of their actions. Milton
asserts that this original sin brought death to human beings for the first time, causing us to lose
our home in paradise until Jesus comes to restore humankind to its former position of purity.

Milton¶s speaker invokes the muse, a mystical source of poetic inspiration, to sing about these
subjects through him, but he makes it clear that he refers to a different muse from the muses who
traditionally inspired classical poets by specifying that his muse inspired Moses to receive the
Ten Commandments and write Genesis. Milton¶s muse is the Holy Spirit, which inspired the
Christian Bible, not one of the nine classical muses who reside on Mount Helicon²the ³Aonian
mount´ of I.15. He says that his poem, like his muse, will fly above those of the Classical poets
and accomplish things never attempted before, because his source of inspiration is greater than
theirs. Then he invokes the Holy Spirit, asking it to fill him with knowledge of the beginning of
the world, because the Holy Spirit was the active force in creating the universe.

Milton¶s speaker announces that he wants to be inspired with this sacred knowledge because he
wants to show his fellow man that the fall of humankind into sin and death was part of God¶s
greater plan, and that God¶s plan is justified.

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The beginning of u   is similar in gravity and seriousness to the book from which
Milton takes much of his story: the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The Bible
begins with the story of the world¶s creation, and Milton¶s epic begins in a similar vein, alluding
to the creation of the world by the Holy Spirit. The first two sentences, or twenty-six lines, of
u   are extremely compressed, containing a great deal of information about Milton¶s
reasons for writing his epic, his subject matter, and his attitudes toward his subject. In these two
sentences, Milton invokes his muse, which is actually the Holy Spirit rather than one of the nine
muses. By invoking a muse, but differentiating it from traditional muses, Milton manages to tell
us quite a lot about how he sees his project. In the first place, an invocation of the muse at the
beginning of an epic is conventional, so Milton is acknowledging his awareness of Homer,
Virgil, and later poets, and signaling that he has mastered their format and wants to be part of
their tradition. But by identifying his muse as the divine spirit that inspired the Bible and created
the world, he shows that his ambitions go far beyond joining the club of Homer and Virgil.
Milton¶s epic will surpass theirs, drawing on a more fundamental source of truth and dealing
with matters of more fundamental importance to human beings. At the same time, however,
Milton¶s invocation is extremely humble, expressing his utter dependence on God¶s grace in
speaking through him. Milton thus begins his poem with a mixture of towering ambition and
humble self-effacement, simultaneously tipping his hat to his poetic forebears and promising to
soar above them for God¶s glorification.
Milton¶s approach to the invocation of the muse, in which he takes a classical literary convention
and reinvents it from a Christian perspective, sets the pattern for all of u   . For
example, when he catalogs the prominent devils in Hell and explains the various names they are
known by and which cults worshipped them, he makes devils of many gods whom the Greeks,
Ammonites, and other ancient peoples worshipped. In other words, the great gods of the classical
world have become²according to Milton²fallen angels. His poem purports to tell of these
gods¶ original natures, before they infected humankind in the form of false gods. Through such
comparisons with the classical epic poems, Milton is quick to demonstrate that the scope of his
epic poem is much greater than those of the classical poets, and that his worldview and
inspiration is more fundamentally true and all-encompassing than theirs. The setting, or world, of
Milton¶s epic is large enough to include those smaller, classical worlds. Milton also displays his
world¶s superiority while reducing those classical epics to the level of old, nearly forgotten
stories. For example, the nine muses of classical epics still exist on Mount Helicon in the world
of u  
but Milton¶s muse haunts other areas and has the ability to fly above those
other, less-powerful classical Muses. Thus Milton both makes himself the authority on antiquity
and subordinates it to his Christian worldview.

The   and the  are the great epic poems of Greek and Latin, respectively, and Milton
emulates them because he intends u   to be the first English epic. Milton wants to
make glorious art out of the English language the way the other epics had done for their
languages. Not only must a great epic be long and poetically well-constructed, its subject must
be significant and original, its form strict and serious, and its aims noble and heroic. In Milton¶s
view, the story he will tell is the most original story known to man, as it is the first story of the
world and of the first human beings. Also, while Homer and Virgil only chronicled the journey
of heroic men, like Achilles or Aeneas, Milton chronicles the tragic journey of men²the
result of humankind¶s disobedience. Milton goes so far as to say that he hopes to ³justify,´ or
explain, God¶s mysterious plan for humankind. Homer and Virgil describe great wars between
men, but Milton tells the story of the most epic battle possible: the battle between God and Satan,
good and evil.

 

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It is characteristic of a classical epic that the poet invokes the aid of his patron muse. Milton
marries his Christian theme and neo-classical method by invoking, as his muse, the Holy Spirit,
third Person of the Trinity. This section is a prayer, in which Milton states his subject, and asks
for divine assistance in giving voice to it. Milton states that his purpose is to:
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Note that this section contains only two sentences. The main verb, in the first, is the thirty-ninth
word in the sentence. The various indirect objects of the verb ³sing´ reflect the magnitude of the
poem's subject and its author's task: ³disobedience...Death«woe...loss of Eden...one greater
Man.´

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Note how easily Milton moves from prayer into an account of Satan's fall, by asking who or
what caused man to fall. According to Milton, Satan's motive was to be above his peers. The
expulsion of Satan from Heaven is depicted more fully in Book 6 (his revolt, partly, in Book 5)
of u   .

Satan is cast out of Heaven, together with his ³horrid crew´. Nine days they lie on a lake of fire,
then regain consciousness to find themselves in Hell.

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Satan acknowledges how utterly his confederate, Beelzebub, has been changed, for the worse, by
the devils' defeat, but stresses fact that they are still united in their fall. He recognises God's
superior strength, but points out that he now knows the extent of God's power, previously
unknown because untried. Despite the change they have outwardly undergone, Satan stresses the
unchanged nature of his attitude to God's Son, ³the potent Victor´. ³All is not lost´ because
Satan will never submit freely to God's authority. Satan suggests that God's rule was endangered
by his revolt, that he will never sink to the indignity of asking forgiveness, and outlines his
intention of conducting further warfare against God. Satan's speech smacks of wishful thinking;
he speaks boastfully, but at the same time tortured by pain and profound despair.

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Beelzebub acknowledges Satan's trial of God's might, bewails loss of Heaven, and the
punishment the fallen angels are suffering, though this will not be alleviated by death. He
suggests that God has deliberately left devils their strength, to be His slaves, carrying out ³his
errands in the gloomy deep´ of Hell.

Satan replies that the devils' task must be never to do anything good, but always to strive to
pervert to evil ends whatever God does, turning to evil His good actions. Satan suggests leaving
the lake of fire in which they lie, and reassembling their forces.
Note Satan's resolution and his taking the initiative. As the poem continues we also note
Beelzebub's support of Satan, his ready agreement with all he says - Beelzebub is very shrewd:
he makes sure he defers to his superior. Milton gives some account here of the topography of
Hell.

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Satan and Beelzebub leave the lake of fire and fly to land. Milton compares Satan with the sea-
monster, Leviathan, and stresses the fact that it is only with God's permission that the devils quit
the lake. Satan acknowledges the horrible nature of Hell, but argues that, for him, to be in
Heaven would be Hell (being subservient to God) and it is better to reign where he is than serve
in Heaven. Beelzebub repeats Satan's suggestion, advising him to call to other angels, who will
be revived by sound of their leader's voice.

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Satan, ³the superior fiend´, goes to the edge of the burning lake and calls to his legions who are
lying inert on its surface. Note his sarcastic humour: he asks, in effect, ³Are you having a rest?
Have you chosen to lie in the lake as a way of adoring God (by readily bowing to His will)?´

The devils, waking, stir themselves, fly up into air, and assemble around Satan The chief devils
are named and described:

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The devil host assembles in military fashion. The devils move forward, and come to a halt ready
for inspection by Satan. Milton describes the martial prowess and glory they retain despite their
fall, and notes how moved Satan is by this display of loyalty.

Note that Moloch and Belial reappear in Book 2, where they are more interestingly portrayed as
speakers in the great debate.

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Satan opens his address to his followers by praising them, claiming that none save the Almighty
could have matched their strength. He claims that it is hard to believe the fallen angels will not
re-ascend to Heaven, and regain their rightful position. Satan blames God for apparently holding
His position by ³repute´ and the ready submission of the angels, while concealing His true
strength, and thereby tempting the followers of Satan to rebel.

Satan mentions the rumour, heard in Heaven, of the creation of a new world, and suggests the
idea of exploring it, as ³celestial spirits´ will never be held in bondage by the ³infernal pit´ of
Hell. Satan finishes by insisting that war of some kind ³must be resolved´. As he concludes his
speech, the devils affirm their loyalty, striking their shields with their swords, ³hurling defiance´
at Heaven.

Note how Satan flatters his legions - he persuades them they can still thwart God's designs and
that Hell cannot hold them. He hints at war, but leaves it till later to determine what kind of
conflict this will be. This prepares us for the great debate of Book 2.

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Utilising the natural mineral wealth of Hell, the devils, under the guidance of the materialist
Mammon, construct a great council chamber. This is u  (³All devil place´ or ³place
of all devils´ ). Satan's heralds proclaim a solemn assembly to be held in Pandemonium, and the
devils scale themselves down in size, till they are small enough to be ³at large´ in the hall. (³At
large´ means having enough space in which to move freely - but Milton puns on the expression)
The chief devils, however, retain their full dimensions, and the ³great consult´ begins.

Note the pictorial and vividly realistic description of building operations (mining, founding and
so on), which gives a sense of Hell as a real place.

http://www.teachit.co.uk/armoore/poetry/paradiselost.htm#3 ½  Moo 2002