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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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John Milton | Biography


John Milton was born on December 9, 1608, to a middle-class, religiously Protestant family in London. He attended St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge. As a young student he began writing poetry and started training to become an Anglican priest. Even though his interest in religion prevailed throughout his life, he gave up his pursuit of the priesthood and instead devoted his time to writing poetry and to studying ancient and modern languages, literature, science, politics, and philosophy.

Milton's interest in politics also led him to write a series of political pamphlets during the English Civil Wars (1642–51), in which he advocated for the right to divorce and to have freedom of the press and argued that the monarchy should be abolished. After King Charles I was executed, Milton served as a secretary of foreign language in the new republican government until the monarchy was restored; at this point Milton was considered a dangerous revolutionary. Meanwhile, he began losing his eyesight, and by 1651 he had gone completely blind. Paradise Lost was published in 1667 in 10 books and later republished in a 12-book version (1674). Comprising nearly 11,000 lines written in blank verse, the poem was immediately popular. In the early 21st century, it is regarded as the greatest epic poem in English.

Milton's other works include History of Britain (1670), which covers the settlement of the island up to the Norman Conquest in 1066. A volume containing two long poems, Samson Agonistes and Paradise Regained, was published in 1671. Samson Agonistes focuses on the last day of the biblical Samson's life and how he regains favor with God after giving into temptation, is blinded, and is captured by his enemies. Paradise Regained tells about how Jesus resists Satan's temptation in the wilderness. Both poems are examples of Christian heroism in which characters are tempted to turn away from God, reject temptation, and then reaffirm their faith. Milton died in November 1674.

Milton's works have influenced storytelling ever since they were published. Paradise Lost offers something unusual in literature: an imaginative vision of what everyday life in Paradise might have been like. Furthermore, Milton used a variety of literary devices, including epic similes—long, elaborate figurative comparisons—that have influenced authors to the present day.

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