John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (the end)

Michael explains to Adam that Noah with his family and animals are going to survive the flood. The flood is going to be so strong that the hill on which Paradise is located is going to break off and sail down to the Persian Gulf, where it is going to settle down and become a bare island, populated only by sea animals, to teach Adam that there is no place “to which God attributes sanctity”, because only holy people sanctify any place. Then he shows the next part of the vision to Adam: the Ark gets stuck on the top of Mount Ararat, Noah lets a raven and then a dove through the window, the dove returns with the olive branch, Noah and his folks can leave the ark and a rainbow appears in the sky. Adam is now overjoyed to see the humankind survive and asks about the meaning of the rainbow: is it a means to bind the clouds together, so that they don’t rain anymore? “Close enough”, answers Michael, “it’s to signify God’s covenant with man and to show that there will not be a mass destruction of mankind until the Last Judgement, when the world is purged by fire and only the just will survive.”

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

The next vision is that of people having a lot of good time and illicit sex, and only one just man trying to admonish them. When they don’t listen to him, he goes away and builds an ark, after which God sends the flood and drowns all the wicked. Adam is himself in floods of tears when he sees it and he wishes he had never seen it, as he is sure it means the doom for all his descendants, because what chance does Noe have in his tiny boat? Michael explains to him that the drowned people are those whom he saw earlier fighting. Now, after the war, the winners became too comfortable with their success, while the losers cooled in their religious zeal, finding that God was of no help to them and deciding to focus on making the best lives for themselves under the circumstances. (The Helpful Footnote thinks it might be Milton commenting upon his fellow Puritans’ loss of revolutionary zeal after the death of Cromwell and welcoming the Restoration.) But Adam should not lose heart, because the sole just man with his family are going to be saved.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

The next vision is that of giants being at war, looting cattle and attacking cities. Only one middle-age man speaks “of justice, of religion, truth and peace”, for which he is mocked and threatened, but God saves him by taking him up to heaven in a cloud. Adam cries and says these are possibly even worse than Cain and Abel, because they are also killing their brothers, but on a mass scale. Michael explains that the fighting men were born from the union between the daughters of men and sons of God, which Adam witnessed in the previous vision, and they fight because in their times the prevailing mistaken notion was that glory and honour is something that can be only won in battles and by conquering other nations. The only just man is Enoch (as with previous scenes, Michael doesn’t use names and it’s other textual hints that allow the readers to identify the characters), who was according to some traditions taken to Heaven alive. But now Michael is going to show Adam what is going to happen to the good and bad people.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

Michael shows Adam another vision: a group of tents, among which some men are busy with making music and other with making things out of metal. (These are, as the Helpful Footnote reminds us, the descendants Cain – Jubal and Tubalcain, identified in Genesis as respectively a musician and a blacksmith). They are approached by another group (sons of Seth) who are interested only in worshipping God and studying his works (although how Adam could tell it only “by their guise”, I can’t guess). Then out of the tents issue some women “richly gay/in gems and wanton dress” singing and dancing; the grave sons of Seth can’t help eyeing them and finally pair off to have a big wedding, during which all the tents resound with music and song. Adam says that he likes it much better, but Michael hastens to put a damper on it, saying that those in the tents are atheists, thinking only about the arts which make life more pleasant and convenient, and the happy wedding Adam has just seen is, in fact, a sorry spectacle of how “the sons of God” were led astray. (Milton follows here an established tradition, interpreting the mysterious episode in Genesis 6 about “the sons of God” marrying “the daughters of men” as the sons of Seth marrying the daughters of Cain. Although in fairness, if they had not married the daughters of Cain, whom should they have married? Their own sisters? The Bible doesn’t mention if Abel had any children.) Adam is very sad to hear that and comments, “What a shame that those who started their lives so well were led astray!” (Look at yourself, buddy.) “But at least I can see there’s always women to blame.” Michael tempers this misogyny with… another dose of modified misogyny, saying it’s not women who are to be blamed but effeminate men, who should have known better. But now he’s going to show Adam another vision. I wonder whether it’s going to be another depressing one.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

Michael continues to get Adam down telling him that the two men he’s just seen are his own sons, but not to worry, Abel will get his reward in the afterlife. That piece of news must have made parenting his sons really a cinch. Adam is shocked both by the news, but also by the fact that he has just seen death for the very first time in his life. “Is it always like that?”, he asks. “Of course not”, answers Michael cheerfully, “there are also many other kinds of death, for instance in accidents, famine or through diseases caused by intemperance in food and drink.” He produces another vision of a huge hospital with people tortured by illnesses of various kind and begging for death as the only way out of here. Adam cries and asks how man, created in the image of God, can be tortured like that, and Michael again gives his universal answer: it’s the original sin and thus your own fault. Adam asks whether death always has to look so horrible, and Michael answers, somewhat too optimistically, that if you don’t overeat or drink too much, you can live until ripe old age but even that you have to expect that you’ll gradually lose your beauty, faculties, and become depressed. Adam says that he’s not that keen on living too long, but Michael answers he has to submit to the will of Heaven regarding the appointed length of his life. Invoking the will of God is a universal way of ending all discussion for a religious person, but it’s not very convincing. It also reminded me of something: Adam earlier says to Eve that they have to keep on procreating so that the Saviour can be born, which makes sense. But why should people keep on procreating after Jesus’ birth?

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

Michael takes Adam to the top of a mountain, as big as that on which Jesus was later on put by Satan. We are treated to another of Milton’s interminable lists of “I learnt the whole atlas by heart” kind. It’s also quite improbable that either Adam or Jesus could see all the places listed, which include those in Asia, Africa and Europe (although Europe is dealt with very briefly), unless they were granted some kind of superpower. At least Milton recognizes they couldn’t see America, but it doesn’t stop him from listing the places they could see “in spirit”. Michael treats Adam’s eyes with some special drops, removing the film of sin, after which Adam temporarily sinks to the ground and closes his eyes, overcome by the sensory overload. But Michael tells him to open his eyes and the first scene he sees is that of Cain killing Abel, although of course he doesn’t know yet what that means. Milton adds some explanation to the Genesis account of this story: God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice because it was not sincere, not because he didn’t like vegetarian food.

John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 11 (ctd.)

Michael tells Eve that she shouldn’t mourn for her home, because her home is wherever her husband is. Adam, who’s recovered a bit by now, says that if he knew his prayers would change God’s mind, he would pray incessantly, but he knows it’s no use. But he is really sad to leave Paradise, because it’s full of hallowed memories for him, even if God won’t come any longer to visit, and he dreamt about showing his futures sons (again, not daughters) the places where he saw God and the like. Michael tells Adam that humankind was not meant to live forever in Paradise anyway; if they continued to live and multiply, Paradise would be like the capital where Adam would live like the king and his children would come to visit. (What future did God envisage for man if he wanted him to be fertile and at the same time immortal? Would he create another Earth for the spillover population or would he in time dematerialise some people and take them to Heaven?) But God is still going to take care of Adam and Michael is now going to tell him about the future of him and his children, but first he needs to put Eve to sleep, like she cannot take too much information or something. Have I mentioned Milton’s treatment of Eve makes me quite mad?