John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book One

This book begins with a sample of “the arguments”, prose summaries of each book that Milton added to a later edition of the poem by the request of his printer. Probably even his contemporary readers found the poem too daunting. So I don’t know why I’m bothering to write my own take, but I’ll do my best. The epic poem is a very codified genre, meaning there is a long checklist of all the things you absolutely must include and the first pages are very much like ticking the items off. So there must be the statement of the theme (of man’s first disobedience – check) and the invocation to the muse, who is however not a pagan muse, but some unspecified heavenly muse who inspired Moses, and later on becomes more specifically defined as the Holy Spirit. Then we have the epic question (O Muse, what happened? and then the poet answers himself). What provoked Adam to eat of this deadly fruit and forfeit his wonderful life, where only one limitation existed? The Satan, of course. And now we get “in medias res”, or in the middle of things – the action starts not with the battle between God and Lucipher but with its aftermath. Satan and his troops lay vanquished in hell, drifiting upon the surface of the fiery lake for what in mortals’ time would be nine days and nights. But his punishment is not over, because now he is going to be tormented forever with the thoughts of his past happiness. He looks around and sees “a dungeon horrible” full of flames, which, however, produce no light “but rather darkness visible”, says Milton in one of his more often quoted lines (which also gave the title to a novel by William Golding).

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