Paradise Lost Summary

“Paradise Lost” is an epic poem written in blank verses by John Milton. He was planning to write such a great work (ten books that later became twelve) since 1639, but spent a lot of time gathering the sources of inspiration - from Biblical verses to events of English history - and thinking them over. The first drafts of the poem are dated by 1640-1641 and the first edition was printed only in 1667.

Milton turns to the eternal topic of the Fall of the Man from Bible, but also takes it in a wider context - as an allusion to the revolution in England (1640-1650) and as general way from falling from grace to traumatic growth, development and, finally, restoration and being forgiven.

The first book starts from the author’s plea to the divine Muse. He asks to help him in describing the fall of the humankind and its salvation. Then Milton describes the defeated Satan and his legions, lying in the burning pits of Hell and points at him as the ultimate cause of Adam’s and Eve’s sin.

But then we, as readers, see that Satan deserved the name of the first of the Archangels. Despite his devastating loss and the miserable state of his army now, he raises them, encourages them to build Pandemonium - the great city, the capital of Hell with the palace and throne for Satan, for he proclaims that it is better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. Hell starts to look a bit more suitable for living, but only in a physical way. The absence of God and His light still makes it a miserable place.

Satan calls his most devoted demon, Beelzebub and commands him to continue their fight against God and if they should do only evil to overthrow His reign than so be it. The higher ranks of the demons gather in the palace for a council. Milton portrays the Hell’s population with lots of familiar traits: they sing, they have contests, feasts and arguments and don’t look as embodiments of pure evil, but rather as the members of the resistance planning to change the current regime.

The council discusses if they should try and attack Heaven again or find another way. Satan tells them that God planned to create another world and populate it with humans. Instead of fruitless attempts to attack Heaven itself, Satan suggests to be patient and cunning, wait for this world to be created and then seduce its inhabitants, distort them and use them either in the battle against God or to show Him that his best creation is ruined. The leaders of the demons discuss this for a long time, the most hot-headed of them want to get revenge here and now, but finally they all agree that their forces are insufficient to conquer Heaven in direct attack. So they agree to wait and try Satan’s plan. Satan himself volunteers to rise from Hell again and investigate if this new world is already created.

Author leaves the demons and, praying God to grant him clarity of vision, describes Him, as omniscient being who already knows Satan’s plans and even knows that they will succeed. He calls His Son and tells Him that, as a God, He granted humans the right to choose their path, even if this path is sinful. He is ready to forgive them, but not before the humans are punished enough for their vanity and desire to become equal to God. His Son in His mercy asks Father to let Him suffer for the humanity and give His life for theirs. God accepts this sacrifice and orders His Son to be born as a mortal human. Angels sing glory to the mercy of the Father and Son.

Meanwhile, Satan is still searching for the newly created world. He transforms into a beautiful Cherub and comes to the Sun to talk to the archangel Uriel. Uriel tells him that the humanity is already created and shows him the way to Earth. But the archangel is not as naive as it seems. The moment Satan leaves, Uriel rushes to Gabriel, the guardian of the Earthly Heaven, to warn him that some evil spirit disguised as a cherub, will come soon. Gabriel gathers his angels to patrol Earth and find the trespasser.

They find Satan, now in the form of a toad, near the ear of sleeping Eve. He whispers her about the beautiful and magnificent things she will see and be capable of if she only bites the forbidden fruit. The angels capture Satan and bring him to God. God reveals that He knows all the plans that are even not yet conceived and He will defeat Satan whatever he does against God. Satan now knows that he is destined to lose, but, as embittered as he is now, he still decides to fight until he can. Satan retreats.

The inevitable loss throws him in the psychological, not physical Hell. Alone, where his demons can’t see him, Satan grieves that Hell is inside him, he is Hell himself and he won’t be able to escape it for eternity.

At that time, Eve tells Adam about the strange dream, fascinating and disturbing at the same time, which she had that night. But God sent to Adam His archangel Raphael to warn Adam about the consequences. Raphael tells Adam about Satan’s plan and his jealousy to the God’s Son. Satan, driven by his offence and pride, took half of the Heaven’s legions loyal to him and drew them to the North to plan the attack. The battle was devastating for both sides: the machines invented and created by Satan halved the Heaven’s army. It was only the God’s Son who led the counter attack and threw Satan’s forces away from Heaven to the pits of Hell. So now Satan will use any opportunity to corrupt God’s creations to have his revenge, and the dream Eve had was one of such attempts.

But Adam isn’t contempt with all the answers. He asks Raphael questions about how the world is working and gets the answer that it’s not for human intelligence to understand. Than Adam says that he understands all the hazards but he loves Eve so much that even if she is not right and not as spiritually perfect as he is, everything she says and does seem beautiful to him, so he can’t displease God but he doesn’t want Eve to be sad either. Raphael says that now Adam is risking to lose something that is much greater than his physical lust and attachment - the divine love. But when Adam asks again what divine love is and even dares to question if angels understand what is happening between him and Eve, Raphael sternly answers that the concept of divine love and angels’ love is also beyond Adam’s understanding.

Next night Satan takes the form of a snake and comes to Eve again. He says that due to the forbidden fruit he now can think and talk and grew beyond his animal nature, so Eve and Adam also can become more than mere humans, growing beyond the God’s plan for them. Eve surrenders and tastes the fruit. Adam is shocked by what she has done, but still, he loves her so much. It’s better for Adam to share her burden and punishment whatever they are than leave her alone in suffering. So Adam also bites the apple for the sake of his wife.

They feel excited, but pure love changes to the primitive lust, their consciences are dim and both Adam and Eve start to feel something new for them and painful - guilt and shame. They start arguing bitterly but their love helps them reconcile even in this dire situation and decide to seek mercy from God. 

God, already knowing what happened, sends His Son to judge the sinners. The Son with the heavy heart does this, but sees them repenting and asks His Father for mercy. God sends Archangel Michael to Adam and Eve to say that they indeed will be exiled from Earthly Heaven to live in pain and sorrow and finally die and crumble to dust, but The Son of the God will eventually come to their children and save humanity once and for all. Adam and Eve leave Earthly Heaven in despair.

Using this crisis to their favour, Sin and Death who were in Hell before, escape and enter Earth, following the Satan’s trace. They start to build a steady bridge between Hell and Earth and Satan, returning to his palace, proclaims his victory.

Thinking of their bleak fate, Eve asks Adam to find Death and to become the first and only its victims, sparing their future children from suffering. But Adam, encouraged by Michael, asks her not to do this and try to earn their forgiveness with rightful life in obedience to God. Adam tells her that Michael took him to the highest of the mountains to show the future. He comforts Eve saying that The Son of the God will come indeed for He loves them both no matter how sinful they are. And it is be Eve’s daughter who will participate in the key role in the salvation of humanity. Adam also tells Eve the future story of Christ, his life, death, resurrection and saving His people. Both humans find the inner piece, and, as Satan always has Hell inside of him, Adam and Eve find a little Heaven they carry in their souls.

They hold each other’s hands and voluntarily leave the Garden of Eden, which is covered by thick smoke behind their backs.