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Paradise Lost: A Review
« on: August 26, 2008, 03:56:04 AM »
When that bright spirit, afterwards known as Satan, rose in rebellion against the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, presumptuously thinking himself equal to him in strength and following, he was overthrown by the Great Power and cast with his followers out of Heaven down to his future dwelling, flaming Hell.

Nine days he and his horrid crew fell through Chaos into the flaming pit yawning to receive them, and there lay for nine days,–rendered still more miserable by the thought of their immortality and the eternal bliss they had forfeited. Then Satan, rousing himself from the stupor consequent upon the fall, half rose and addressed the next in power to himself, Beelzebub.

“Thou art the same, yet not the same,” said he; “changed, lost is some of thy former brightness. Yet why repine? While we live, while we have so large a following, all is not lost. Our hate still lives, and have we but strength enough, we may still revenge ourselves upon him who thrust us into this accursed place.”

Rising from the lake, his great shield slung over his shoulders, the unconquered archangel walked over the burning marl to the beach of that fiery sea, and there with chiding words addressed the legions strewn around him. The great army rose hastily at the voice of its chief and passed before him, spirits whose heavenly names were now forever lost, who later became the gods of the idolaters. There was mighty Moloch, Chemos, those who later went by the general names of Baalim and Ashtaroth,–Thammuz, Dagon, Rimmon, Osiris, Isis, Orus and their train, Belial, and last of all, the Ionian gods.

His despair in part dissipated by the sight of this heroic array, their prince, towering high above all, addressed them. No one had foreseen the calamity that had overtaken them. Who could have guessed the power of the Almighty? But though overthrown they were not totally defeated. A rumor had long since been rife of the creation of another world with which they could interfere. At any rate, there must never be peace between them and the heavenly Powers. War there must be, war in secret, or war waged openly. As he ended, shield clashed against shield, and swords, quickly drawn, flashed before his eyes, and loud cries hurled defiance to Heaven.

The legions, led by Mammon, who in Heaven had been an honored architect, sought a hill near by, and quickly emptying it of its rich store of gold and jewels, built a massive structure. Like a temple in form was it, and round about it stood Doric columns overlaid with gold. No king of any future state could boast of a grander hall than this palace of Pandemonium which was so quickly reared upon a hill in Hell, and to which the heralds’ trumpets now summoned all the host.

On the massive throne, blazing with jewels, sat the fallen spirit, and thus addressed his followers: “Our success is sure in whatever we undertake. We shall never be riven with internecine warfare, for surely no one will quarrel over precedence in Hell. Therefore, united, we can, sure of our success, debate of the way in which we shall take up our warfare with the powers that have overthrown us.”

Moloch, Belial, Mammon, and Beelzebub spoke. Moloch was in favor of open war, since nothing could be worse than Hell, and continued assault against the Most High would, in annoying him, be a sweet revenge. Belial, who though timorous and slothful, was a persuasive orator, denounced Moloch’s plan. Since the ruler of Heaven was all-powerful, and they immortal, no one knew to what greater misery he could push them; perhaps he would bury them in boiling pitch to eternity, or inflict a thousand undreamed-of tortures. War, open and secret, he disliked, since it was impossible to conceal aught from the eye of the Most High. To make the best of Hell seemed all that was possible; in time they might become inured to its flames and better days might come, if they but accepted their doom patiently.

Mammon also considered war impossible. They could never hope to overcome the Almighty; neither could they hope nor wish for a reconciliation, for how hateful would be an eternity spent in cringing to one whom they hated. The desert soil of Hell teemed with riches, they could find peaceful pursuits, and it was his advice to continue there in quiet, untroubled by any thoughts of revenge.

Amid the murmur of applause that followed Mammon’s speech, Beelzebub, than whom none towered higher save Satan, arose, his face grave, his attitude majestic. “Would you, Thrones and Imperial Powers,” he cried, “think to build up a kingdom here, secure from the arm of Heaven? Have you so soon forgotten that this is not a kingdom ceded to you by the Most High, but a dungeon in which he has shut you for your everlasting punishment? Never will he forget that you are his prisoners; your lot will not be peace, but custody and stripes. What return can we make, then, but to think out some slow but sure and sweet revenge? It is not necessary to attempt to scale the walls of Heaven. Other things remain. There is this new world, his plaything. It may lie exposed, and we can at least make the attempt to seize it and lay it waste, and thus vex him.” As he saw their eyes sparkle, he continued: “We may in this attempt come near to the steps of our old abode and breathe again its delicious airs instead of these hellish flames. But first we must find some one, strong, wary, and watchful, to send in search of it.”

Satan strode forth, his courage and his consciousness of it making his face shine with transcendent glory. “Long is the way and hard; its dangers unknown and terrible, but I should be a poor sovereign did I hesitate in the attempt to seek it out. I do not refuse the sovereignty, for I fear not to accept as great a share of hazard as of honor. Stay here; charm away your time, and I will seek deliverance abroad for all of us.”

As he spoke he rose to depart, fearful lest others might now offer to go and share the glory with him.

The legions rose with a sound like thunder, bowed in deepest reverence and went forth, some, to explore their dismal abode, others to amuse themselves at games, others to discuss Free Will and Fate, while their leader pursued his way toward the gate of Hell.

The nine-fold gates were of brass, iron, and adamantine rock, reaching high to the mighty roof, and most horrible were the Shapes that guarded it.

On one side sat a creature, woman to the waist, below, a serpent, surrounded by a crew of hell hounds, forever barking and then seeking refuge within her. On the other, a Shape, black, fierce, terrible, crowned with the likeness of a kingly crown, and shaking in its hands a dreadful dart. As he strode, Hell trembled. Satan, undaunted, met him with fierce words. As the two stood, their lances pointed at each other, the woman shrieked and ran between them.

“Father, rush not upon thy son! Son, raise not thy hand against thy father!” She then explained that she was Satan’s daughter, Sin, who had sprung from his head full grown, and that she later became by him the mother of the creature called Death who sat with her to guard the gates.

Satan at once unfolded to them his plan of seeking the new world and making a happy home for both Sin and Death, where they could forever find food to gratify their hideous cravings. Charmed by his highly-colored pictures, and forgetful of the commands from above, Sin opened the mighty doors, so that the flames of Hell spread far out into Chaos, but her strength failed her when she attempted to close them again.

For a moment Satan looked out into the mixture of Hot and Cold and Moist and Dry that formed Chaos, and then started forth, now rising, now falling, his wings heavy with the dense masses, now wading, now creeping, until at last he reached the spot where was fixed the throne of Chaos and of Night. Here Satan learned of the situation of the new world and soon caught a glimpse of it, hanging like a star, by a golden chain, from Heaven.

Sitting in Heaven, high throned above all, God, all-seeing, all-knowing, was conscious of Satan’s escape from Hell and his approach to the new world. To his Son, sitting on his right hand, he pointed out the fallen spirit. “No prescribed bounds can shut our Adversary in; nor can the chains of hell hold him. To our new world he goes, and there, by no fault of mine, will pervert man, whom I have placed therein, with a free will; so to remain until he enthralls himself. Man will fall as did Satan, but as Satan was self-tempted, and man will be deceived by another, the latter shall find grace where his tempter did not.”

Great was the joy of the Son when he learned that man would receive mercy for his transgression. “Pardon and mercy he shall receive,” declared the Father, “but some one must be willing to expiate his sin for him; the just must die for the unjust. Who in Heaven is willing to make the sacrifice?”

For a moment all the Heavenly quire stood mute; then the Son of God spoke and implored his Father to let his anger fall on him, since he could not wholly die, but could arise from death and subdue his vanquisher.

When his Father accepted the sacrifice, and named him Son of God and Man who should hereafter be Universal King, Ruler of Heaven and Earth, Heaven rang with the shouts of the Angels, who, casting down their amaranthine wreaths until the golden pavement was covered with the garlands, took their golden harps and sang the praises of the Father and the Son.

While they sang, Satan walked over the vast globe on which he had alighted, through what in after years, when the world was peopled, was to be the Paradise of Fools, the spot to which the spirits of all things transitory and vain, of those who had worked for their reward in life instead of in Heaven, would come. He walked around the dark globe until, directed by a gleam of light, he found the spot where a ladder led up to Heaven. Just below it, down through the spheres, was the seat of Paradise to which he was bending his way.

Down through the crystal spheres he bent his way toward the Sun, which attracted him by its superior splendor. Espying Uriel, the Angel of the Sun, he quickly took the form of a youthful Cherub, and, approaching Uriel, told him that having heard of the new world he had been seized by a longing to quit the bands of Cherubim and see for himself the wonderful work of the Creator.

Directed by the unsuspecting Uriel, Satan sped downward and standing upon the top of Niphates, surveyed Eden.

As he looked, his spirit was troubled. He had brought Hell with him, and his unhappy thoughts boiled and surged in his troubled mind. “Sun, I hate thee, because thy beams recall to me what I was and how I fell. The matchless King of Heaven deserved no such return from me. His service was easy. Had I only been created a lower Power!–But even then, might not some higher one have led me into temptation? What shall I do, whither shall I fly, to escape infinite wrath, and infinite despair? Hell is around me, I myself am Hell! There is no hope for me. Submission is the only way left, and I could not unsay what I have said; I could never bridge the gulf made by my revolt. Farewell to remorse! Good is forever lost to me, and I must now make Evil my good. I can at least divide the empire of the world with the King of Heaven.”

As he realized how his bitter thoughts had dimmed his countenance he smoothed it over with outward calm, but not before Uriel, from the Sun, had noted and wondered over his strange gestures.

Leaping over the high natural walls of Paradise, Satan, in the form of a cormorant, perched himself on the Tree of Life. Beautiful was the scene before him. All the trees and plants were of the noblest kind. In the midst of them stood the Tree of Life with its golden fruit, and not far off the Tree of Knowledge. Southward through Eden ran a river, which, passing under a huge hill, emerged into four great streams wandering through many afterwards famous realms. Between the rows of trees stretched level lawns where grazed the happy flocks, and over the green mead were sprinkled flowers of every hue. No fairer scene ever met living eyes, and fairest of all were the two stately forms, in whose looks shone the divinity of their Maker. Hand in hand they passed through the garden, refreshed themselves with the delicious fruits, and were happy in each other.



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Re: Paradise Lost: A Review
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2008, 03:56:30 AM »

As he gazed on them while the animals fell asleep and the sun sank below the horizon, Satan, still torn with conflicting emotions, ruminated over the unhappiness he was to bring the lovely pair. He admired them, he could love them; they had not harmed him, but he must bring unhappiness upon them because of their likeness to their Creator. Through them only could he obtain his longed-for revenge.

Anxious to learn where to attack them, he prowled about them, now as a lion, now as a tiger, listening to their conversation. They spoke of their garden, of the Tree of Life, and of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die,” had been their warning. Eve recalled the day of her creation, when she had first fled from Adam, and then yielded to his embraces, and Satan, watching their caresses, envied and hardened his heart. “Live while ye may!” he muttered. “Soon will I return and offer you new woes for your present pleasures.”

In the mean time, Gabriel, warned by Uriel, who suspected that an evil spirit had crept into Paradise, had set watches around the garden. Ithuriel and Zephon, sent to search for him, spied Satan in the form of a toad, sitting near the ear of Eve, tainting her dreams with foul whispers. Touched by Ithuriel’s spear, he was forced to resume his own shape and was taken to Gabriel. The angry Satan attempted to use force, but warned by a sign from Heaven that his strength was insufficient, fled, murmuring, through the night.

When morning dawned on Eden, a morn of unimaginable beauty, Adam waked Eve from her restless slumbers, and heard her troubled dreams, in which she had been tempted to taste of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He comforted her, and after their morning hymn, in which they glorified their Creator, they set about their pleasant work of pruning the too luxuriant vines of their Paradise. In the mean time, the Father above, knowing the design of Satan, and determined that man should not fall without warning, sent Raphael down to Adam to tell him that he was threatened by an enemy, and that, as a free agent, if he fell, his sin would be upon his own head.

Six-winged Raphael swept down through the spheres and stood in Paradise, welcomed by Adam. Eve hastened to set before their guest every delicacy that Eden knew, and while she was preparing these Adam listened to the Angel’s warning.

To emphasize the sin of disobedience, Raphael related to the pair the story of Satan’s conspiracy with the other powers because the Father had proclaimed the power of his Son. The Father, knowing Satan’s confidence in himself, had allowed him for two days to fight an equal number of his legions of angels, among whom was Abdiel who had fled, indignant, from Satan’s ranks, and on the third day, when the legions of evil lay crushed beneath the mountains which the shining angels had heaped upon them, the Son of God drove forth in his chariot, and single-handed, forced them before him, terror-stricken, until, Heaven’s wall having opened, they fell downward for nine days, in horror and confusion into the depths of Hell. The Messiah, returning home in triumph in his chariot, was welcomed by the bright orders into the home of his Father.

Delighted by the recital of Raphael, Adam asked him to relate the story of the Creation, and explain to him the motion of the celestial bodies. He then told Raphael of his own creation; how he awoke as from a sleep and found the Sun above him and around him the pleasant groves of Paradise; how he named the animals as they passed before him, according to the will of God, and how he had pleaded with his Maker for a companion and equal, until the Creator, casting him into a sound sleep, took from his side a rib and formed from it his beauteous Eve. As Adam concluded, the setting sun warned Raphael to depart.

Satan, after fleeing from Gabriel, had hidden in the dark parts of the earth, so that he could creep in at night unseen of Uriel. After the eighth night, he crept in past the watchful Cherubim, and stealing into Paradise, wrapped in the mist rising over the river that, shooting underground, rose up as a fountain near the Tree of Life, he crept, though not without loathing, into the serpent, in which form he could best evade the watchful eyes of the heavenly guards and accomplish his purpose.

When morning dawned, Eve asked Adam for once to permit her to work alone, so that they might accomplish more. Adam, who constantly desired her presence, prayed her to remain, warning her of the enemy of whom Raphael had spoken, and telling her that they could resist temptation more easily together than when separated. But Eve was obdurate, and Adam finally consented that she should go alone to work.

As she moved among the groves, tying up the drooping flowers, like to Pomona in her prime, or to Ceres, the sight of so much beauty, goodness, and innocence moved even the serpent, as he approached, intent on the destruction of her happiness. But as he looked, the thought of her joy but tortured him the more, since happiness was no longer possible for him.

This was before the serpent had been compelled to crawl his whole length on the ground, and as he moved on, fold on fold, his head proudly reared, his scales brilliant in color, he was not an unpleasant object to look upon. He circled about Eve as though lost in admiration, until her attention was attracted, and then astounded her by addressing her in her own language. When she demanded by what means he had acquired speech, he told her by the plucking and eating of a certain tree in the garden, which he had no sooner tasted than he felt his inward powers to develop until he found himself capable of speech.

Eve at once asked him to take her to the tree, but when she recognized the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, she demurred, assuring the serpent that God had commanded them not to touch it, for if they ate of it, they should surely die. “Am I not alive?” asked her tempter, “and have I not eaten of it? Is it not a rank injustice that you should be forbidden to taste it and to lack the Knowledge of Good and Evil which it would give you? Where can the offence lie? It must be envy that causes such a prohibition.”

His words, the sight of the fruit, and natural hunger all prevailed on Eve, and she plucked a branch from the tree and tasted the fruit. As she ate she saw Adam coming in search of her, holding a garland which he had been binding to crown her. To his reproaches, she replied with the arguments of her tempter, until Adam, in despair, determined to taste the apple that he might not lose Eve. Paradise without her would not be Paradise, and no new wife could make him forget her.

After the first exhilaration of the food was past they began to reproach each other, mindful of their destiny, of which they had been warned by Raphael, and, engaged in this fruitless chiding, they were found by the Son, who, informed of their transgression by the angels, sought them out in their place of concealment. Adam and Eve he sentenced to a life of sorrow and labor, the serpent to go despised and ever at enmity with man. Then, pitying the unhappy pair, he clad them in skins and re-ascended to Heaven.

While this was occurring in Eden, Sin and Death, feeling in some mysterious way the success of their parent, determined to leave Hell and seek their new home. Passing through Chaos, they pushed the heavy elements this way and that, cementing them with Death’s mace until they constructed of them a bridge from the gates of Hell to the point on earth at which Satan had first alighted, and here met him, just returning, flushed with success, to Hell.

All the followers of Satan were gathered in Pandemonium to hear the news of his success, which he related, overjoyed at having wrought the ruin of mankind and revenged himself on God by so small a thing as the eating of an apple. As he concluded and stood waiting their applause, he heard a universal hiss, and saw himself surrounded by serpents, and himself changing into an enormous dragon. The great hall was filled with the monsters, scorpions, asps, hydras, and those who stood waiting without with applause for their leader were likewise changed into loathsome reptiles. Without the hall a grove sprang up, loaded with tempting fruit, but when, tortured with thirst, they tried to eat, it turned in their mouths to bitter ashes. After a time they were permitted to take again their own shapes, but were compelled to resume this serpent-form for a certain number of days each year, to crush their pride.


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Re: Paradise Lost: A Review
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2008, 03:57:10 AM »
When God saw the entrance of Sin and Death into the world, he proclaimed to his Saints that their seeming victory was but temporary, and that eventually his Son would defeat Sin, Death, and the Grave, and seal up the mouth of Hell. Then, as the Halleluias rang out, he ordered the angels to make certain changes in the universe as a punishment to man. The Sun was so to move as to affect the earth alternately with a cold and heat almost unbearable; to the Moon were assigned her motions; the other planets were to join in various ways, often “unbenign.” The winds were assigned their stations to torment the earth and sea, and the thunder was set to strike terror to the heart of man. The poles of the earth were pushed aslant, and soon the effects of the changes were felt in heat, cold, wind, and storm.

Adam, though absorbed in his own misery and momentarily expecting Death, saw the changes, and bemoaned his woes the more. How would his mysterious progeny despise him, since he was the cause of their being brought into the world of woe! When Eve attempted to comfort him he drove her from him with harsh words, saying that in time to come women would be the unhappy cause of all man’s misery, as she had been of his. At last, seeing the futility of his outcries Adam began to cheer his wife, recalling the promise that their offspring should crush the head of the serpent, and suggested to her that they go to their former place of prayer and pour forth to God their true contrition and repentance.

The glad Son, presenting these prayers at his Father’s throne, interceded with him for them, since their contrition now was worth more than their worship in a state of innocence. His intercession was accepted, but since they had lost the two gifts of Happiness and Immortality, they must leave the garden lest they be tempted to taste next of the Tree of Life and make their woe eternal.

Michael was sent down to drive them from the garden, and if the pair seemed repentant and disconsolate he was ordered to comfort them with the promise of better days and to reveal to them somewhat of the future. In habit as a man Michael descended and declared to Adam and Eve that they could no longer abide in Paradise. When Adam, himself broken with grief, attempted to console the heart-broken Eve, the Angel comforted her also, and causing a sleep to fall upon her, led Adam to a hill-top, whence could be seen the hemisphere of the earth, soon to be covered by the seats of empires.

Touching Adam’s eyes with three drops from the well of life, the Angel showed him a long panorama, beginning with the crime of Cain, and showing the building of the Ark and its landing on Ararat. When he perceived that Adam’s eyes were weary, he recited to him the story of Abraham, of the deliverance from Egypt, the wandering in the Wilderness, of the royal stock of David from which would spring the seed so often promised Adam, who should ascend the hereditary throne, and whose glory should be universal.

Overjoyed, Adam inquired when would take place the final death stroke to Satan, the bruising with the Victor’s heel. Michael responded that Satan was not to be destroyed, but his works in Adam and his seed, and that the sacrifice of the Son’s life for man would forever crush the strength of Satan’s progeny, Sin and Death. Then, to that Heaven to which he would reascend, the faithful would go when the time came for the world’s dissolution, and there would be received into the bliss eternal.

Strengthened and sustained, Adam went down from the mount and met Eve, just awaking from comforting dreams.

The Cherubim descended, and, urged by the Angel, the two took their way into the wide world that lay before them, and looking back beheld the flaming swords of the Cherubim at the gates of their lost Paradise.


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Re: Paradise Lost: A Review
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2008, 03:58:46 AM »
The Creation of the Identity of 'Satan'


After having been thrown out of Heaven with his crew, Satan lay nine days in the burning lake into which he fell. Then, rousing himself, he rose from the liquid flames, flew over the lake, and alighting upon the solid though burning land, thus addressed Beelzebub, who had accompanied him.

  “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
  Said then the lost Archangel, “this the seat
  That we must change for Heaven?–this mournful gloom
  For that celestial light? Be it so, since He
  Who now is sovran can dispose and bid
  What shall be right: farthest from Him is best,
  Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
  Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
  Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
  Infernal World! and thou, profoundest Hell,
  Receive thy new possessor–one who brings
  A mind not to be changed by place or time.
  The mind is its own place, and in itself
  Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
  What matter where, if I be still the same,
  And what I should be, all but less than he
  Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
  We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
  Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
  Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,
  To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
  Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
  But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
  The associates and co-partners of our loss,
  Lie thus astonished on the oblivious pool,
  And call them not to share with us their part
  In this unhappy mansion, or once more
  With rallied arms to try what may be yet
  Regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell?”

  So Satan spake; and him Beelzebub
  Thus answered:–"Leader of those armies bright
  Which, but the Omnipotent, none could have foiled!
  If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge
  Of hope in fears and dangers–heard so oft
  In worst extremes, and on the perilous edge
  Of battle, when it raged, in all assaults
  Their surest signal–they will soon resume
  New courage and revive, though now they lie
  Grovelling and prostrate on yon lake of fire,
  As we erewhile, astounded and amazed;
  No wonder, fallen from such pernicious highth!”

  He scarce had ceased when the superior Fiend
  Was moving toward the shore; his ponderous shield,
  Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round,
  Behind him cast. The broad circumference
  Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb
  Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
  At evening, from the top of Fesolè,
  Or in Valdarno, to descry new lands,
  Rivers, or mountains, in her spotty globe.
  His spear–to equal which the tallest pine
  Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast
  Of some great ammiral, were but a wand–
  He walked with, to support uneasy steps
  Over the burning marle, not like those steps
  On Heaven’s azure; and the torrid clime
  Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with fire.
  Nathless he so endured, till on the beach
  Of that inflamèd sea he stood, and called
  His legions–Angel Forms, who lay entranced
  Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
  In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades
  High over-arched embower; or scattered sedge
  Afloat, when the fierce winds Orion armed
  Hath vexed the Red-Sea coast, whose waves o’erthrew
  Busiris and his Memphian chivalry,
  While with perfidious hatred they pursued
  The sojourners of Goshen, who beheld
  From the safe shore their floating carcases
  And broken chariot wheels. So thick bestrewn,
  Abject and lost, lay these, covering the flood,
  Under amazement of their hideous change.
  He called so loud that all the hollow deep
  Of Hell resounded:–"Princes, Potentates,
  Warriors, the Flower of Heaven–once yours; now lost,
  If such astonishment as this can seize
  Eternal Spirits! Or have ye chosen this place
  After the toil of battle to repose
  Your wearied virtue, for the ease you find
  To slumber here, as in the vales of Heaven?
  Or in this abject posture have ye sworn
  To adore the Conqueror, who now beholds
  Cherub and Seraph rolling in the flood
  With scattered arms and ensigns, till anon
  His swift pursuers from Heaven-gates discern
  The advantage, and descending, tread us down
  Thus drooping, or with linked thunderbolts
  Transfix us to the bottom of this gulf?–
  Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen!"
          Book I., 240-330.


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Re: Paradise Lost: A Review
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2008, 12:19:09 PM »
-Paraphrased commentary by John Ottenhoff

Given its reputation as a cornerstone of the fossilized canon, the case against it seems virtually open and shut. Exhibit A: all those biblical and classical allusions, all the footnotes and latinate English in iambic pentameter, all those irrelevant discussions of angels and devils, good and evil. Exhibit B: John Milton, king of patriarchal literature by dead white males and prima facie guilty of misogyny, offends modern sensibilities. Exhibit C: Milton's attempt to justify the creation story of Genesis -- as his maintenance of a Ptolemaic cosmos -- introduces a host of encumbrances and embarrassments for modern Christians. Exhibit D: Paradise Lost is just plain hard to read: it's long, difficult and demanding.

Why bother? Because Paradise Lost demands a level of reflection that few other texts can duplicate, and that every reader should experience. It raises issues still relevant for our culture -- questions about creation, war, pride, relationships, nature, progress, technology and freedom. Paradise Lost remains a vital and crucial work, stimulating and rewarding not just for academics, in whose classrooms, unfortunately, it usually resides, but for the general reader as well.

To read Paradise Lost is to realize that no matter how secular our society has become, we all still struggle -- whether we want to or not -- with questions about right and wrong, about free will and choice, about the nature of God, and about the relations between God, woman and man. To read Paradise Lost is to enter into the world of passionate argument and debate, not the cold world of a fossilized classic. Indeed, Paradise Lost continues to challenge the social and religious status quo -- and the status quo of reading itself, for it especially rewards modern critical emphases upon readers' responses and the slipperiness of language.

That Milton's text promotes disputation can be seen in the disparate reactions it has provoked over the centuries. Despite recent challenges and protests, Paradise Lost is still acknowledged, in the terms of one detractor, as the canonical text par excellence of English literature." Yet in the 1920s, modernists, including T. S. Eliot, pronounced Milton dead. Critic F. R. Leavis proclaimed in 1936 that Milton's dislodgment in the past decade, after his two centuries of predominance, was effected with remarkably little fuss." Firmly relodged in the university curriculum as a work of religious orthodoxy, Milton, in the words of Marxist critic Christopher Hill, must now "be defended from his defenders almost more than from the declining band of his enemies."

Christians too have been uncertain how to treat this "Christian classic." Samuel Johnson, the dean of 18th-century letters, claimed that "in Milton every line breathes sanctity of thought, and purity of manners, except when the train of the narrative requires the introduction of the rebellious spirits; and even they are compelled to acknowledge their subjection to God in such a manner as excites reverence, and confirms piety." But Johnson was wrong about the orthodoxy of Paradise Lost, as has been confirmed by generations of strife over the text. Many Protestants have found the theology of Paradise Lost lacking in huminity and charity; salvation through Christ's blood is hardly mentioned. A professor I knew at Calvin College, while perhaps taking some satisfaction in speaking of Paradise Lost as the "discovery of man's darker side of himself," was obliged to highlight Milton's Arminian emphasis on free will, antitrinitarianism, and -- from a Calvinist point of view -- generally suspect standing as a great Christian writer. Roman Catholics have been equally appalled: the Virgin birth and the crucifixion have little place in Paradise Lost; and several gratuitous reminders -- notably in the description of the Paradise of Fools -- exhibit Milton's contentious attitude toward Rome. According to Cardinal Newman, good Catholics must feel a great repugnance for Milton. Milton provides an elusive target for those who would enshrine him as the creator of the great orthodox Christian epic -- no matter their place on the theological spectrum.

Paradise Lost is, as Joseph Summers put it, full of "embarrassments" for those trying to enlist it in their causes. It will disappoint most moralists and strike striving militalists as "subversive" and dangerous for young citizens: epic battles -- and warfare in general -- come off looking quite silly indeed. Neither does this epic fit the conservative agenda of the most vocal defenders of the canon; it hardly gives a blueprint for timeless Republican living. But just as Milton allows little comfort for those seeking to claim him as a stern Puritan or saintly Christian, so too he frustrates those who would attempt to make Paradise Lost merely a great work of literature. Paradise Lost challenges its readers repeatedly to use their intellects but also to recognize their need for faith; it challenges readers to exercise freedom and responsibility but also, finally, to embrace the ethic of obedience. Milton wants his readers to know that they will be changed after confronting Paradise Lost -- for the better should they grasp the meaning of his work, for the worse should they disregard it.

Milton repeatedly alerts us to the gap between our understanding as humans and the reality of God. We wish to shape a God on our own terms -- a friendly, comprehensible God -- but Milton allows no such thing. Even if one rejects the God of Christianity, one can appreciate the way Paradise Lost makes the point that human nature and spirituality are not reducible to empirically known data; some things transcend language and experience. Similarly, Milton reminds Christians that theological debate serves a limited purpose. Paradise Lost encourages us to consider questions of free win, predestination, original sin and divine foreknowledge. Yet just as frequently Paradise Lost cautions that such debates lead us into "wand'ring mazes." We must exercise our reason to decipher Milton's text that celebrates reasoning -- but also warns us that reason can fail, that obedience finally must persist.

In his recounting of the War in Heaven, in considering Satan's fall, in showing life in Eden, Milton reminds Christians that a faithful life isn't a simple matter of either/or, of yes/no. Paradise Lost insists that we make reasoned choices but also that we choose within the crucible of obedience; Paradise Lost celebrates human experience, knowledge and even sensuousness but insists that we place those elements within God's perspective. One of my students commented, "I admire Milton's attempt to make Christianity workable, livable and on a human sphere, with at least a semblance of worth, rather than portraying the realm of humanity as a place of degradation, evil and corruption.... I like Milton because he doesn't oversimplify Christianity. He doesn't make it easy for us to figure out what is going on, and rightly so." This work offers no blueprint for the Christian life or a moralistic lament for lost innocence -- just a means for interrogating one's search for a way through a complicated, fallen world.


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Re: Paradise Lost: A Review
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2009, 04:39:57 AM »

I loved this book. The entire volume.

It gives another view on the 'other side' so to speak. Definately one of Milton's timeless classics.

I personally thought Milton painted Lucifer in too much of a paternalistic view.

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A Critique of "Paradise Lost"

Started by Lorenzo on Book Reviews

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Last post January 22, 2011, 01:24:01 PM
by Lorenzo

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