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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Book 4

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 4 of John Milton's book Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost | Book 4 | Summary



Now that Satan has gained entrance to Paradise, he stands on a nearby mountain and views it for the first time. He has a moment of doubt as he beholds its beauty and pristine landscape. He thinks about his relationship with God, who had only shown him kindness and fairness until he rebelled. He laments the fact that God had made him a powerful angel in Heaven, because it gave him the yearning for more power. Satan considers repenting to God but still feels too bitter over everything that has transpired for it to be an honest confession. He also realizes that because he lives separated from God and thus in despair, he is unable to escape Hell even in this new Paradise. Hell is in his mind.

Newly determined, Satan recommits to his plan to corrupt man and overthrow good with evil. Satan enters Paradise and disguises himself as a bird, roosting in a tree in the Garden of Eden. From his perch he notices two beings that look different from all the other animals in the Garden. He watches them eat and drink and is filled with envy and rage. Satan experiences another pang of guilt as he contemplates what he is about to do to these two humans, but his resolution to corrupt them remains. He leaves the tree and approaches them.

The story shifts to Adam and Eve, who are discussing how blessed they feel to be in the Garden and how they must remain obedient to God's order that they not eat any fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve have no concept of death, but they agree that it must be bad and they know they will suffer it if they disobey God. Eve recalls how she first met Adam and the story of her earliest understanding of being alive. She describes encountering her reflection in a pond without realizing she is seeing herself. She remembers initially turning away from Adam when she met him because she found herself more beautiful. As Satan eavesdrops on them, he is filled with jealousy at their happiness. He decides to use the Tree of Knowledge as the tool of his corruption because God has forbidden it.

Uriel has been watching the disguised Satan from afar and realizes that he has been fooled. He tells one of the guardian archangels of Eden, Gabriel, that he suspects a fallen angel has entered Paradise. Gabriel sends two angels to search for the being that Uriel described, and they find Satan disguised as a toad. They force him to shape-shift back into his true form, and they bring him to Gabriel, who recognizes him as Satan. Gabriel questions him, and Satan tries to lie about his motives. Gabriel sees through him and tells Satan he will bring him back to Hell and seal the gates so he can never leave. They prepare to battle each other, but God puts a stop to it, sending up a pair of Golden Scales in the sky. The scales show that if Satan tries to fight, he will be defeated. Convinced that he would be on the losing end of a battle, Satan leaves for Hell.


Because Satan ultimately refuses to repent to God, all that is left for him is suffering and Hell; he remains determined to spread that suffering to God's new world. Even though Satan is moved by the beauty of Paradise and the innocence of Adam and Eve, seeing what he can no longer attain moves him to recommit to his plan of corruption. Milton again shows Satan as a somewhat sympathetic character, afflicted by envy and doubt. It's no coincidence that this is also the first time that the reader has access to Satan's internal thoughts, which conflict with his outward displays of confidence and hubris. The idea that Hell can exist in Satan's mind as well as being an actual place is an important concept; after Adam and Eve are told that they must leave Paradise, the archangel Michael assures them that Paradise is not just a physical location, but a state of mind that they can find within themselves.

The Tree of Knowledge and God's command that Adam and Eve not eat from it suggests the connection between ignorance and innocence. Adam and Eve are so ignorant that they don't even understand the concept of their punishment: death.

Eve's story of coming into existence and learning about her origin reflects the prevailing beliefs about women during Milton's time that women were inferior to men. Milton portrays Eve as vain when she gets caught up in her own reflection and is unable to recognize Adam's superiority when she first sees him. Milton argues that Adam is in communication with God while Eve primarily experiences God indirectly through her love of Adam. In Satan's eyes this makes Eve the easier target of his temptation. However, it is important that Milton explicitly says that Adam and Eve, as a married couple, have a physical relationship and that there is nothing implicitly evil or corrupt about sex.

God's interference in the conflict between Satan and Gabriel shows what power he has over everything—a power that Satan recognizes—causing him to flee rather than stay and battle Gabriel.

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