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Paradise Lost | Study Guide

John Milton

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Paradise Lost | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Published in 1667, John Milton's 12-book epic poem Paradise Lost chronicles the fall of Lucifer from Heaven and the fall of man from Eden and has long been regarded as one of the greatest works of English literature.

Praised as a masterpiece—and condemned as heresy—Paradise Lost was particularly controversial for its sympathetic depiction of Satan. Tracing the character's origins back to before his fall from grace with the Divine, Milton paints a picture of Lucifer that attempts to explain his wickedness. Paradise Lost has allowed for endless analysis in relation to theological texts, the teachings of the Church, and classical epic poems such as those of Homer and Virgil.

1. C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books, wrote a preface to Paradise Lost.

The author and theologian C.S. Lewis first delivered the preface as a lecture at the University College of North Wales in 1941. The preface, in which Lewis discusses Milton's motives for writing the epic poem, was later published by Oxford University Press and became one of Lewis's most renowned works of theological interpretation.

2. Frankenstein author Mary Shelley was influenced by Paradise Lost.

Mary Shelley was fascinated with Milton's work and used an excerpt of Paradise Lost in the 1818 edition of Frankenstein. Shelley's novel shows Frankenstein's power of creation to be similar to that of Milton's God. Conversely, the doctor exerts his egotism over the divine much like Milton's Satan.

3. Scholars have compared Milton's description of Hell to St. Peter's Basilica.

Milton's description in Paradise Lost of Pandemonium, the capital of Hell, has been likened to both the Basilica and the Pantheon in Rome. The comparison rests on both structural similarities, as well as the notion of the Church's greatest monuments as false idols.

4. Some argue that Paradise Lost may relate to the English Civil Wars.

The English Civil Wars (1642–51) would have been fresh in the minds of reader's of Milton's epic. Milton was a supporter of republican values over monarchy, yet he undermines this viewpoint by depicting Satan as the character who rejects the authority of a supreme ruler.

5. Nineteenth-century poet William Blake and his wife read Paradise Lost together in the nude.

The English poet and painter was a huge fan of Milton's work and contributed his own artwork to illustrate editions of the epic. Scholars have theorized that Blake, well-known for experiencing strange visions, chose to read the poem in circumstances more reminiscent of Eden.

6. Milton's daughters stole books from his library and sold them.

The author had quite strained relationships with his three daughters, Anne, Mary, and Deborah. During his later years of near-blindness, his daughters' theft was evidence of their eagerness for his death.

7. Paradise Lost inspired the surrealist painter Salvadore Dali.

Surrealists often aim to display the depth of human imagination through everyday objects and life. Salvador Dali, famous for works such as The Persistence of Memory as well as his flamboyant personality and unique mustache, created a set of 10 etchings based on Milton's epic.

8. Milton's "sequel" to Paradise Lost tells the story of Christ's temptations.

Milton wrote Paradise Regained, first published in 1671, in a much plainer poetic style to emulate Christ's simplicity in mortal life. The collection consists of only 4 books, compared to Paradise Lost's 12.

9. Milton alluded to numerous classical epics, particularly Virgil's The Aeneid.

Although preoccupied with a Christian mythology, Paradise Lost features literary allusions to the epics of Homer, Virgil, and later Italian authors such as Dante. One noteworthy instance is Milton's comparison of the fall of Troy to Adam and Eve's expulsion from heaven.

10. Rapper Eminem uses images and text from Paradise Lost in a music video.

The video for Eminem's song "Rap God" shows the pervasive influence Milton's work has had, even on contemporary artists. The video's many images reflect Satan and the Fall of Man. Just as Paradise Lost is a long epic poem, Eminem's "Rap God" is one of the longest songs ever recorded at 1,560 words. Several of the verses in the song begin with lines from Paradise Lost.

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