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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Paradise Lost | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Paradise Lost, how does Milton contrast the motives of Satan and the Son?

Satan and the Son can be seen as counterpoints to each other. Satan is selfish and his motives are driven by jealousy, hatred, and evil. Though he volunteers in Book 2 to go alone on the dangerous mission to the new world to corrupt Adam and Eve, his goal is ultimately selfish. The Son, on the other hand, is driven by a sense of sacrifice and morality when he offers himself up to die for the sins of man. He too must go on a dangerous mission but his goal is selfless. In this way Satan and the Son are similar but opposite.

How does the story of Paradise Lost differ from the story of God, Satan, Adam, and Eve told in the Bible?

One way in which Paradise Lost differs greatly from the Bible is that Milton never claims that Paradise Lost should be read as a religious text, but rather that it is an epic work of fiction and that his characters are literary and allegorical. The additions he makes are his own interpretation and authorship, and he uses them to convey his ideas. One departure that Milton takes from the Bible is that of the story of the serpent tempting Eve. In Book 9 of Paradise Lost, Satan is in disguise as a snake, but in the Bible it is not made clear how the serpent became evil or that it is Satan. Additionally, at no point in the Bible is Satan ever depicted as a sympathetic character—something that Milton hints at throughout Paradise Lost. In many ways, by taking some artistic license Milton made a familiar biblical story seem new and interesting by developing the characters and their struggles as more complex.

How does Milton's sequel Paradise Regained continue the themes in Paradise Lost?

Paradise Regained carries over both the theological themes as well as the blank verse poetic structure of Paradise Lost. Since Paradise Lost ends with the fall of man after Adam and Eve are tempted to sin, Paradise Regained picks up with their attempts at redemption. Even though Adam was shown the suffering his act would cause future generations, he was also offered a path to redemption, so Paradise Lost ends on a hopeful note. Milton wanted to show that what was lost could be regained. Paradise Regained begins with the story of Jesus, and the theme of temptation is carried through by depicting the temptation of Christ.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, what are the functions of the muses?

In Books 1, 3, and 7, Milton calls upon various muses to help him tell the story of Paradise Lost, beginning with an invocation to Urania to help him tell his "heavenly tale." By doing so, he aligns his tale with previous epics, such as those of ancient Greece. The role of muses is to help inspire and guide writers to tell their stories, and Milton by turns calls upon various muses, such as astronomy, when he needs help telling a particular part of the story. The muse of astronomy helps Milton tell the story of Raphael and Adam's conversation about the origin of the planets, sun, and stars.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, why does Satan believe that his best revenge against God is to corrupt Man?

In Book 2, though Satan pretends to consider the differing advice of his council, he steadfastly believes that the best revenge against God is the corruption of man. He believes this because he realizes that he will never overthrow God or Heaven, but that by destroying God's newest creation he can hurt not only God but also his creatures, thereby causing the most pain possible. Milton says that "So deep a malice, to confound the race/Of mankind in one root, and earth with Hell/To mingle and involve, done all to spite/The great Creator?" The corruption is permanent and irreversible, and will cause suffering for all of man's future generations—and all because Satan wants to "spite" God.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, what might be concluded by the description of Satan's first observation of Eden?

In Book 4, Satan is overwhelmed by the beauty of Eden, and spends a moment considering what his life would be like if he lived there, happy. He sees how content and innocent God's new creatures are and a part of him can recall what it felt like before he became evil. Yet even though Satan can appreciate the beauty and innocence of Eden, it ultimately only serves to further solidify his plans to corrupt man as he realizes that wherever he goes, Hell and suffering will follow him. Seeing how different Eden is from Hell and how much God loves his new creatures makes him more determined to ruin it, as he proclaims, "spite then with spite is best repaid."

In Paradise Lost, what is the effect of Milton's use of blank verse rather than writing the poem in rhyme?

Even though Paradise Lost is not written in rhyme, it still has the rhythm of iambic pentameter, in which certain syllables are stressed in a pattern. The effect of this technique is that the poem reads more like prose, and the dialogue between characters is depicted more naturally since most people don't speak in rhyme. This also has the effect of making characters like Satan and God more relatable and complex and allows Milton more freedom in describing actions and settings. Additionally, Milton's use of blank verse highlights his skillful use of language and phrasing, since it is rarely apparent in the poem that the repeated rhythm of iambic pentameter can be monotonous.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, why did Satan choose to tempt Eve instead of Adam?

In Book 9 Satan chooses to tempt Eve instead of Adam because he (and Milton) sees her as the weaker of the two of them and therefore more open to manipulation. Satan knows that flattery is the way to get to Eve, while also exploiting her desire to be Adam's equal, and he tells her that eating "it gives you life/To knowledge." Satan knows that for Eve, having equal knowledge to Adam is power. Satan also correctly banks on the fact that, while Adam may be too smart to eat the fruit out of his own curiosity, his weakness is his love for Eve. Therefore, once Eve eats the fruit, Satan knows that Adam will, too, and the fall will be complete.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, how does Adam's love for Eve weaken his resolve and what problem does Raphael see in Adam's love for Eve?

In Books 7 and 8 Adam reveals to Raphael how great his love for Eve is, and how physically attracted to her he is. This worries Raphael, who cautions him that this is the kind of temptation that Satan can easily manipulate. Though Adam tries to reassure Raphael that he also loves Eve for other reasons, Raphael is right to be worried—it is Adam's love for Eve that ultimately causes him to eat the fruit since he cannot bear to be without her. Satan has anticipated this weakness in Adam, which is why he tempts Eve first. He knows that Adam will do whatever it takes to stay with her.

In Milton's Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve both respond to temptation, but are they equally responsible for the fall?

In Book 9, even though Eve eats the fruit first, she and Adam bear equal responsibility for the Fall. God gave them free will and it is their independent choice to eat the fruit knowing the consequences. Adam hesitates over leaving Eve alone, worried that she will be a prime candidate for Satan to tempt, and he is right. Eve lets herself be persuaded by the disguised Satan, and selfishly decides to offer Adam the fruit so that he will fall with her. Adam still has the agency to decline, but he willingly eats the fruit so that he can stay with Eve. In this way, they bear equal responsibility.

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