In Paradise Lost, Milton produced poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution – Paradise Lost’s apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to ‘justify the ways of God to men’, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.
I say: Goodness me, was this a piece of work. I sort of knew that before I started reading it, but a lot of classics are said to be difficult and aren’t, but this definitely fits the bill. And not merely because of the old-timey English or the fact that it’s a poem and therefore the line breaks make no sense, but mostly because Milton goes into such painstaking detail about things and has an annoying overabundant use of similes. Nothing was ever just anything, it had to be compared to three of four things, preferably named things, from Greek mythology, or Roman history, or Jordan geography.
I didn’t know half of the people, events or places he was talking about so it all just went over my head.
Now, this is an epic poem and I like what he’s done with the story of Heaven and Hell, Adam and Eve, Good vs. Evil etc., and I did learn a great deal about some of the ideas I’ve heard of before but never bothered to find out from whence they came (ha!). Likewise with the quotes, there is a richness of amazing quotes here.
There are so many different subjects of discussion here – I’ve just written an essay on the meaning of Satan being able to enter paradise after being banned from Heaven, and the way evil and hell are portrayed – and it’s all incredibly interesting. Even if you’re not a religious person (I’m not, but I love reading about the different religions) it’s still a great tale. I also found interesting how Milton differentiates between Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Mammon which people tend to say is the same person.
Well, Lucifer and Satan are the same, but even so.
So yeah, as much as I would love to give this a 5/5 because it really is that epic, I simply cannot because of what I mentioned above. I do see myself re-reading this in a few years, and perhaps I’ll find Milton’s way of writing less annoying.