Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Paradise Lost - Book I Lines 1 - 191

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.
Book 1, 44-49
Gustave Dore (Source)
Since I am having trouble interpreting Paradise Lost, I am painstakingly going through and interpreting it. I can then use these notes while I read it for deeper meaning later. :) To see other posts about Paradise Lost, go to my master post

Rachel's Notes on Lines 1 - 26 of Book I (Milton's invocation)

Psalm 125.4 - "Do good, O Lord, unto those that be good, and to them that are upright in their hearts." 

Milton is asking the Holy Spirit to guide him as he tells us about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. He invokes the Holy Spirit as the Heavenly Muse who inspired Moses on Sinai (lines 6-8) and then the spirit of God in the Temple on Mt. Zion (line 10). Milton believes that the Holy Spirit will help him soar above earlier poets, who invoked their muses from the oracle at Delphi (lines 11-16). He asks instruction from the Holy Spirit so that he may "justify the ways of God to men." 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 27 - 36 (What made Adam and Eve revolt?)

First, we will describe what caused Adam and Eve to fall from God's favor by breaking the only law that God asked them to obey (i.e. not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil). It was the Serpent who first seduced Adam and Eve to revolt. The Serpent's guile was stirred up by envy and revenge, so he deceived Eve. 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 36 - 83 (Satan and his minions have fallen from Heaven)

Isaiah 14:12 - "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" 

It happened after Satan's pride had cast him and his rebel angels out of Heaven. Because Satan thought he was equal to his Lord God, he and his host of rebels had warred against Heaven in a vain attempt to place Satan above his peers. But God hurled Satan and his rebels from Heaven - headlong, like fiery meteors bound in unbreakable chains - to crash ruinously into Hell. [Much like the Titans thrown to the pits of Tartarus in Hesiod's Theogeny (664 - 735)] the celestial demons spent nine days and nights lying vanquished in the fiery gulfs of Hell. Satan's doom made him angrier, because he had not only lost the happiness of Heaven, but he now must endure eternal suffering instead. Pissed off, he looked around. Dismay and affliction, stubborn pride and steadfast hate were palpable in all he saw. Hell dismally stretched as far as his immortal eye could see. 

Hell was like a gigantic furnace with raging fires - but instead of giving off light, the flames emitted darkness visible. This palpable darkness illuminated sights of woe, regions of sorrow, and doleful shades. Hell was a place where peace and rest would never dwell. Hope would never come here, but instead came endless torture. The torment fed the flames, urging the fire on for eternity. Such was the place that Eternal Justice had prepared for the rebellious. Here, they would eternally remain in darkness, as far away from God and the light of Heaven as 3X the distance from Earth to the far reaches of the universe. [In other words, Hell was located in Chaos...beyond the universe. Milton's Hell was not in the center of the Earth, like in Dante's Inferno.] How unlike Hell was from Heaven, from whence they fell!

Satan saw his companions-in-arms overwhelmed by the tempestuous fires. Weltering in the tempestuous flames by his side, Satan saw Beelzebub - who was his peer in leading the host of fallen angels. Satan broke the horrible silence by saying: 

Rachel's Notes on Lines 84 - 126 (Satan tells Beelzebub that he's still pissed off and this war ain't over yet)

[Satan speaks with obscure syntax to show that his passion overpowers reason. I'm trying to ruthlessly clarify it for the sake of my notes, though.]:

"If you are he! But how you have fallen! How changed from him who was so shiny in Heaven! If you are he who joined with me in glorious enterprise...now we join in misery and ruin. Into what pit have we been thrown? How far have we fallen? God has proven himself much stronger than we. Who knew the strength of that mighty arm?! But despite what those powerful arms and His mighty rage can further inflict on us, I do not repent.

"My pride had been injured, so I fought God with my innumerable army of spirits who  preferred me as their leader. We fought a battle on the planes of Heaven and shook His throne. So what if we lost that battle? All is not lost! We have not lost our vengeful natures, our immortal hate, or our courage to never yield! What else is there to live for, besides the will to succeed? 

"He'll never get me to bow to him and deify his power! We had Him worried...He was afraid he would lose against my powerful army. Fate has given us immortal bodies, so our army will be just as strong as before. But now we know our Foe better! Now, we can wage a more successful war - an eternal war that is irreconcilable to our Foe...that Foe who now joyfully reigns as tyrant in Heaven."

Though he was in pain and wracked with deep despair, Satan boasted. Beelzebub answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 127 - 156 (Beelzebub is concerned that they are now thralls of God)

"Oh powerful prince, you led the embattled angels to war; your deeds endangered Heaven's perpetual king, and made him defend his supremacy (whether that supremacy was upheld by strength or chance or fate...). I regret our army's defeat. We have lost our place in Heaven. The entire army has come as close to dying as our immortal bodies are capable. Our minds and spirits will return to us soon, but we will suffer for eternity in Hell. What if God (who I now believe is almighty, since He could not have overpowered our army otherwise) has left us our spirits and strength intact only so that we can better endure our sufferings? Or perhaps he will use us as his slaves? What good does it do us to have our strength if we are only to endure eternal punishment?"

Satan answered:

Rachel's Notes Lines 157 - 191

"Well, Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable, whether we're active or not. But be sure of this: Our acts will never be for good. Our sole delight will always be to do ill! We will always resist His wishes! If he wishes to bring good out of our evil acts, then we shall pervert His wishes and use good acts for evil. We will pervert His plan! 

"Do you see that God has called our vengeful pursuers back to the gates of Heaven?  The storm of sulfurous hail that He shot at us has abated. And the raging lightening and thunder has perhaps spent its wrath and will cease to bellow through the vast and bottomless deep. Let us not miss our chance if God's fury has been satiated. 

"Look at the dreary plains of Hell, illuminated by the darkness of Hellfire. Let's sail these fiery waves over there, and we can rest (if rest is possible). After we have gathered our strength, we'll discuss how we can offend our enemy, repair our losses, and overcome this dire calamity. We will either gain reinforcement from hope, or resolution from despair."  


  1. "If then his Providence
    Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
    Our labour must be to pervert that end,
    And out of good still to find means of evil;"

    I really like those lines. It shows the determination of the agents of evil to make God suffer grief. Their plan is to impede God's will.

    Good luck with your reading. I really love Milton's PL and Areopagitica.

  2. Hi Lemon Tree! I certainly see that there's a lot in Milton to enjoy...right now I'm pounding my head against a wall trying to figure out what Satan's saying though. ;)

    I think I'll better be able to appreciate his pregnant word use after I've gone through it the first time. :)There have been a couple of times where I stopped and said "wow, that's beautiful." But unfortunately right now I'm focusing a little too much on just the basics to appreciate the beauty.

    I'll read it again when I finish my "interpretive" reading though. :)

  3. Thanks for the explanation. Helped a lot given that my exams are approaching!


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