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- In writing Paradise
Lost, Milton drew on an immense reserve
of biblical, classical, and other learning.
Yet many of those who read and admired
Milton's poem in the next two centuries
were not learned; Paradise Lost was
often one of the very few books found in
British and American households. While
it is clearly possible to enjoy Paradise
Lost on its own, how necessary is an
understanding of Milton's learning
and his sources to an informed appreciation
of the poem? How, if at all, has reading
the texts gathered on this Web site changed
your way of reading Paradise Lost?
Lost recounts the same events described
in Genesis 1–3, yet it is many times longer. Milton
both expands upon the events of Genesis
and incorporates material from other sources
or his own imagination.
- How far does Milton rely on Genesis, and which elements of his narrative
have no basis in Genesis? What might account for Milton's inclusion
of these episodes? (Choose one and analyze it in depth.)
- Does Milton see himself as another Moses, divinely inspired to add
to the biblical text?
Lost may be seen as belonging to a
long tradition of Genesis commentary, while
differing on many points of both style
- How closely does Milton's representation of work, sex, emotions,
the nature of man and woman, and other aspects of human life in Eden
before the Fall correlate with the views of Augustine, Calvin,
- Why does the Fall happen, and is God at all responsible for it, according
to the earlier commentators and according to Milton?
- Does Milton's account of these matters in Christian
Doctrine accord with the poem?
- Compare Rachel
Speght's and Aemilia Lanyer's
(NAEL 8, 1.1317–19) accounts of Eve's
personality and her culpability in the
Fall with Milton's accounts.
- Do Speght and Lanyer agree with Milton on any points?
- To what extent does Milton fall among the ranks of commentators on
Genesis opposed by Speght and Lanyer? To what extent does he anticipate
- What resemblances
and what differences do you find between
the representation of the Fall in Du
Bartas's Divine Weeks and Works and
in Milton's poem?
- In describing
the creation of Eve, Milton drew on the story
of Narcissus told
in Ovid's Metamorphoses.
- In what particular respects does
Eve's story of her creation resemble
or refer to the myth of Narcissus?
How does reading Ovid change your understanding
of Eve's personality, if at all?
- Is Eve, in the story of her creation
and later, "narcissistic," according
moralization of the Narcissus story
psychological theory? Which of
these versions of narcissism seems
more useful in shedding light on Milton's
poem, and why?
- On his trip
to Italy in 1638–39, Milton may have
seen a number of remarkable Renaissance
paintings and tapestries portraying episodes
- What similarities do you perceive between Milton's evocations of
Adam and Eve, the Edenic garden, the Fall, and the Expulsion and the
pictorial representation of these individuals and events by Veronese,
Cranach, Dürer, the maker of the Medici Tapestries, and Masaccio?
- Which of these images seems closest to Milton's imaginative portrayal,
and what is your basis for making this judgment?
- As revealed
in The Reason of Church Government Urged
Against Prelaty (NAEL 8, 1.1811–16),
Milton had long considered the composition
of an epic poem based on British history
and modeled on the works of Homer, Virgil,
and Tasso. Yet by the time he came to write Paradise
Lost, his chosen theme and his relation
to the epic form had altered considerably.
- How does Milton undertake to reconceive the epic subject?
- How does he reconceive the epic poet's relation to his muse?
- Milton seriously considered composing an epic based on the life of
King Arthur. Do the materials on Arthurian
literature gathered in the Middle Ages section of this Web site help
you to imagine what that epic might have been like, why Milton was attracted
to this theme, and what led him to reject it?
- Like the
classical epics of Homer and Virgil, represented
here in modern translations, Paradise
Lost is written without rhyme. Yet most
early modern translations of Homer and Virgil,
such as Chapman's Odyssey and Dryden's Aeneid made
use of rhyme, a device Milton attacked in
his note on The Verse of Paradise
- Do you find Milton's objections valid in respect to these rhymed
- Do these rhymed translations sound and feel more or less "classical" than
modern ones? Why do you think this is?
- Paradise Lost includes one striking instance of rhyme, at the
moment Eve takes the forbidden fruit: "Forth reaching to the fruit,
she plucked, she eat. / Earth felt the wound, and nature from her seat
. . ." (Book 9, lines 781–82). What, in view of the significance
of Eve's act, and Milton's comments on rhyme, might explain this
in the second edition of Paradise Lost, Marvell's commendatory poem is the first important
evaluation of Milton's epic.
- What elements of Paradise Lost especially impress Marvell? What
doubts does he express, and do you find any justification for them?
- Compare Marvell's critique with the later comments of Joseph Addison
(NAEL 8, 1.2485–88) and Samuel Johnson (NAEL 8, 1.2769–74). What
do the comments of these later writers reveal about the reputation and
influence of Paradise Lost in the eighteenth century? What cultural
and aesthetic concerns do they bring to their reading of the poem, and
how do these differ from those which occurred to Marvell?
- To Romantic
poets such as Blake, Shelley, and Byron,
Satan could be seen as the true hero of Paradise
Satanic/Byronic hero had an enormous
impact on nineteenth-century literature and
continues to influence our way of reading Paradise
- Is there anything in Milton's sources, or in the events of his
own life, which could have suggested the idea of Satan as hero? Is there
anything to suggest that Milton consciously intended such a portrayal?
- Is it conceivable that a man of Milton's learning and reflectiveness
could have been, as Blake claims, "of the Devil's party without
- To what extent do Blake's and Shelley's comments on Satan's
character accord with your own response to the first two books of Paradise
Lost? If you have seen Satan as a hero, are you "of Blake's
party without knowing it"?