Review: Paradise Lost

Well that’s an odd sort of book. It’s basically the story of the Fall of Satan plus Genesis, wrapped up in some crazy flowery poetry, writ long. It’s been on my ‘why not’ list for a long time and hearing more about it in Daemon Voices bumped it up a fair bit.

Am I glad to have read it? Yes. Is it a good book? Maybe. The poetry is absolutely beautiful in some places, but the story is one you’ve probably heard before, if you’ve any sort of judeo-christian upbringing, although it does embelish in spots. And oy does it get long. It thought there were 7 books for some reason, so when I finished number 7 and we’re barely into Genesis…, well, I knew I was wrong about that.

In any case, the first few books with the fall of Satan are very cool and I’d say worth reading. The rest, hit or miss.

Personally, I find the stories interesting, but probably not for a reason that any good Christian would necessarily be comfortable with. I truly enjoy taking rules, especially legalese and bending them as far as I can. Taking interpretations of things and trying to figure out how I can make it work out another way. So of course, the whole idea of the Fall of Satan / Original Sin is one that I’ve thought of … a lot.

A few thoughts (that will come up throughout the review):

  • Was Satan really wrong to try to become like God? Isn’t that the ultimate goal of a free creation, to grow even to the point of matching your Creator?

  • Was the choice of Knowledge really such a bad thing? Even if we were going to die anyways. Granted, this comes from the perspective of someone knowing they’ll die someday. Conversely, without that Knowledge, could Adam and Even really have freely made that choice?

  • God knew they would make that choice, wouldn’t He have? And if it was such a bad choice, He could have just scrubbed the universe and started over, who would have known?

Like I said, I’m sure a lot of hardline Christians would either be thrilled to hear any one of those questions–or alternatively actually thrilled to talk about it, in which case [mailto:[email protected]](feel free to email me :))

All that being said, here are my thoughts as I was reading Paradise lost. Good luck?

Book I

That, to the height of this great argument, I may assert Eternal Providence, And justify the ways of God to men.

I love that line: ‘justify the ways of God to men’.

Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host Of rebel Angels, by whose aid, aspiring To set himself in glory above his peers, He trusted to have equalled the Most High, If he opposed, and with ambitious aim Against the throne and monarchy of God, Raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud,

Is Satan traditionally considered to have conspired to equal God or, as stated here, gone so far as an armed rebellion. The two seem somewhat different to me, although I suppose I like a certain timeless view that might make the distinction less.

All is not lost—the unconquerable will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome?

An admirable refusal to give up! Go Satan?

But what if he our Conqueror (whom I now Of force believe almighty, since no less Than such could have o’erpowered such force as ours) Have left us this our spirit and strength entire, Strongly to suffer and support our pains, That we may so suffice his vengeful ire, Or do him mightier service as his thralls By right of war, whate’er his business be, Here in the heart of Hell to work in fire, Or do his errands in the gloomy Deep?

Point the first, I never really considered that Almighty literally means the Omnipotent.

Point the second: a job even for the defeated rebel, sent to 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,

The ultimate Self.

those male, These feminine. For Spirits, when they please, Can either sex assume, or both; so soft And uncompounded is their essence pure,

Dagon his name, sea-monster, upward man And downward fish; yet had his temple high

Huh. Dagon isn’t Cthulhuian? Interesting. Milton wrote about 300 years before Lovecraft.

Satan, Beelzebub, Mammon—last to fall.

Book II

He ceased; and next him Moloch, sceptred king, Stood up—the strongest and the fiercest Spirit That fought in Heaven, now fiercer by despair.

It’s interesting seeing this variety of Fallen—and how they changed.

On th’ other side up rose Belial, in act more graceful and humane. A fairer person lost not Heaven; he seemed For dignity composed, and high exploit. But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels: for his thoughts were low— To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds Timorous and slothful.

Another! The Voice.

Suppose he should relent And publish grace to all, on promise made Of new subjection; with what eyes could we Stand in his presence humble, and receive Strict laws imposed, to celebrate his throne With warbled hymns, and to his Godhead sing Forced hallelujahs, while he lordly sits Our envied sovereign, and his altar breathes Ambrosial odours and ambrosial flowers, Our servile offerings? This must be our task In Heaven, this our delight. How wearisome Eternity so spent in worship paid To whom we hate!

There’s a point there. Once you’ve outright rebelled, is there any way to go back to how things were? Would that benefit anyone?

Such applause was heard As Mammon ended, and his sentence pleased, Advising peace: for such another field They dreaded worse than Hell; so much the fear Of thunder and the sword of Michael

Is the implication that they could be killed/ended—for an otherwise immortal being, that does seem worse.

Thus saying, rose The Monarch, and prevented all reply; Prudent lest, from his resolution raised, Others among the chief might offer now, Certain to be refused, what erst they feared, And, so refused, might in opinion stand His rivals, winning cheap the high repute Which he through hazard huge must earn.

“Fine, I’ll do it myself. But don’t you dare volunteer now.” — Satan

The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair, But ended foul in many a scaly fold, Voluminous and vast—a serpent armed With mortal sting. About her middle round A cry of Hell-hounds never-ceasing barked With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung A hideous peal; yet, when they list, would creep, If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb, And kennel there; yet there still barked and howled Within unseen.

… that’s a visual.

Oh. And it gets worse. Rape and incest. Goodness.

Book III

Both what they judge, and what they choose; for so I form’d them free: and free they must remain, Till they enthrall themselves; I else must change Their nature, and revoke the high decree Unchangeable, eternal, which ordain’d Their freedom: they themselves ordain’d their fall.

If having freedom, one must fall, How free is it?

All the unaccomplished works of Nature’s hand, Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mixed, Dissolved on earth, fleet hither, and in vain, Till final dissolution, wander here; Not in the neighbouring moon as some have dreamed; Those argent fields more likely habitants, Translated Saints, or middle Spirits hold Betwixt the angelical and human kind. Hither of ill-joined sons and daughters born First from the ancient world those giants came With many a vain exploit, though then renowned: The builders next of Babel on the plain Of Sennaar, and still with vain design, New Babels, had they wherewithal, would build: Others came single; he, who, to be deemed A God, leaped fondly into Aetna flames, Empedocles; and he, who, to enjoy Plato’s Elysium, leaped into the sea, Cleombrotus; and many more too long, Embryos, and idiots, eremites, and friars White, black, and gray, with all their trumpery.

An interesting idea: What would there have been outside of Eden before the fall?

And now a stripling Cherub he appears, Not of the prime, yet such as in his face Youth smiled celestial, and to every limb Suitable grace diffused, so well he feigned: Under a coronet his flowing hair In curls on either cheek played; wings he wore Of many a coloured plume, sprinkled with gold; His habit fit for speed succinct, and held Before his decent steps a silver wand. He drew not nigh unheard; the Angel bright, Ere he drew nigh, his radiant visage turned, Admonished by his ear, and straight was known The Arch-Angel Uriel, one of the seven Who in God’s presence, nearest to his throne, Stand ready at command, and are his eyes

Given my only other reference is the Dresden Files… that’s a somewhat different Uriel. I do remember that Cherubim being in the highest order of angels (and distinct from archangels), although looking it up, in Judaism they’re often near the bottom and in Islam they’re ‘nearest to God’ (as above).

Book IV

The tempter ere the accuser of mankind, To wreak on innocent frail Man his loss Of that first battle, and his flight to Hell:

Implying an ‘if I can’t have it, no one can’ attitude which is neither adorable nor particularly evil.

A Heaven on Earth: For blissful Paradise Of God the garden was, by him in the east Of Eden planted; Eden stretched her line From Auran eastward to the royal towers Of great Seleucia, built by Grecian kings,

Huh. I hadn’t considered the idea that Eden could be a superset of the garden, I just always imagined a huge garden and that’s it. I wonder what other different ways it’s thought of.

From this Assyrian garden, where the Fiend Saw, undelighted, all delight, all kind Of living creatures, new to sight, and strange Two of far nobler shape, erect and tall, Godlike erect, with native honour clad In naked majesty seemed lords of all: And worthy seemed; for in their looks divine The image of their glorious Maker shone, Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure, (Severe, but in true filial freedom placed,) Whence true authority in men; though both Not equal, as their sex not equal seemed; For contemplation he and valour formed; For softness she and sweet attractive grace; He for God only, she for God in him

Huh. The idea that Satan didn’t know of Man and was surprised to see them. Interesting.

His lithe proboscis; close the serpent sly, Insinuating, wove with Gordian twine

That’s lovely phrasing.

On Juno smiles, when he impregns the clouds That shed Mayflowers; and pressed her matron lip With kisses pure: Aside the Devil turned For envy; yet with jealous leer malign Eyed them askance, and to himself thus plained. Sight hateful, sight tormenting! thus these two, Imparadised in one another’s arms,

Satan: not a fan of PDAs.

Abashed the Devil stood, And felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely; saw, and pined His loss; but chiefly to find here observed His lustre visibly impaired; yet seemed Undaunted. If I must contend, said he, Best with the best, the sender, not the sent, Or all at once; more glory will be won, Or less be lost.


Book V

Of leaves and fuming rills, Aurora’s fan, Lightly dispersed, and the shrill matin song Of birds on every bough; so much the more


But he thus, overjoyed; “O fruit divine, Sweet of thyself, but much more sweet thus cropt, Forbidden here, it seems, as only fit For Gods, yet able to make Gods of Men: And why not Gods of Men; since good, the more Communicated, more abundant grows, The author not impaired, but honoured more?

To create your own peer. These things taken alone, I’ll admit makes me wonder if perhaps there’s virtue to Satan’s claims. It’s never only this though.

As Heaven’s great year brings forth, the empyreal host Of Angels by imperial summons called, Innumerable before the Almighty’s throne Forthwith, from all the ends of Heaven, appeared Under their Hierarchs in orders bright: Ten thousand thousand ensigns high advanced, Standards and gonfalons ’twixt van and rear Stream in the air, and for distinction serve Of hierarchies, of orders, and degrees;

Such wording. Also, gonfalons. That’s what really jumped out to me.

Book VI

Among the constellations war were sprung, Two planets, rushing from aspect malign Of fiercest opposition, in mid sky Should combat, and their jarring spheres confound.

The one where Heaven and Hell duke it out and it’s… surprisingly boring.

The bottom of the mountains upward turned; Till on those cursed engines’ triple-row They saw them whelmed, and all their confidence Under the weight of mountains buried deep;

Not that often you just see whelmed.

Itself instinct with Spirit, but convoyed By four Cherubick shapes; four faces each Had wonderous; as with stars, their bodies all And wings were set with eyes; with eyes the wheels Of beryl, and careering fires between;

Oh ‘traditional’ angels. How weird thou art.

At thy request, and that thou mayest beware By what is past, to thee I have revealed What might have else to human race been hid; The discord which befel, and war in Heaven Among the angelick Powers, and the deep fall Of those too high aspiring, who rebelled With Satan; he who envies now thy state, Who now is plotting how he may seduce Thee also from obedience, that, with him Bereaved of happiness, thou mayest partake His punishment, eternal misery;

Unusual ordering. I was wondering if there were two great battles for Heaven. Now I think I understand.

Book VII

For some reason, I thought there were 7 parts. Seeing we’re only halfway through… there are not.

So spake the Almighty, and to what he spake His Word, the Filial Godhead, gave effect. Immediate are the acts of God, more swift Than time or motion, but to human ears Cannot without process of speech be told, So told as earthly notion can receive.


Also, the levels of difference between God and man.

So sang the Hierarchies: Mean while the Son On his great expedition now appeared, Girt with Omnipotence, with radiance crowned Of Majesty Divine; sapience and love Immense, and all his Father in him shone.

Just coming to the realization: is this Jesus, we’ll before he was Jesus, leading the armies of God? Not something I’d ever considered.

God saw the light was good; And light from darkness by the hemisphere Divided: light the Day, and darkness Night, He named. Thus was the first day even and morn: Nor past uncelebrated, nor unsung By the celestial quires, when orient light Exhaling first from darkness they beheld; Birth-day of Heaven and Earth; with joy and shout The hollow universal orb they filled, And touched their golden harps, and hymning praised God and his works; Creator him they sung, Both when first evening was, and when first morn.

Ah, still before Creation. Timey whimey.

So this is basically the first part of Genesis, only even more flowery. Got it. It does include animals that the original authors of Genesis had no way to know about, so that’s cool.

Of all his works: therefore the Omnipotent Eternal Father (for where is not he Present?) thus to his Son audibly spake. Let us make now Man in our image, Man In our similitude, and let them rule Over the fish and fowl of sea and air, Beast of the field, and over all the Earth, And every creeping thing that creeps the ground.

Huh. Why have I not heard the ‘We’ of Genesis explained as the Father and Son before?


This to attain, whether Heaven move or Earth, Imports not, if thou reckon right; the rest From Man or Angel the great Architect Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge His secrets to be scanned by them who ought Rather admire;

That’s an interesting thought experiment. God created a beautiful universe to be admired, not explained. I think that’s akin to where anti-science Christians come from.

That goes on for rather a while…

“… But of the tree whose operation brings Knowledge of good and ill, which I have set The pledge of thy obedience and thy faith, Amid the garden by the tree of life, Remember what I warn thee, shun to taste, And shun the bitter consequence: for know, The day thou eatest thereof, my sole command Transgressed, inevitably thou shalt die, From that day mortal; and this happy state Shalt lose, expelled from hence into a world Of woe and sorrow.”

But still, a choice.

Though sleeping, where I lay, and saw the shape Still glorious before whom awake I stood: Who stooping opened my left side, and took From thence a rib, with cordial spirits warm, And life-blood streaming fresh; wide was the wound, But suddenly with flesh filled up and healed: The rib he formed and fashioned with his hands; Under his forming hands a creature grew, Man-like, but different sex; so lovely fair, That what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now

Which someone leads people to believe that men have one fewer rib even today. They do not… (there is some variation actually, which I didn’t know, but not based on sex)

Book IX

O Earth, how like to Heaven, if not preferred For what God, after better, worse would build?


But what will not ambition and revenge Descend to? Who aspires, must down as low As high he soared; obnoxious, first or last, To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils: Let it; I reck not, so it light well aimed,

Satan knows and doesn’t even care any more.

Why then was this forbid? Why, but to awe; Why, but to keep ye low and ignorant, His worshippers? He knows that in the day Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear, Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as Gods, Knowing both good and evil, as they know.

If that was it, it doesn’t seem quite as worth. Knowledge of good and evil for death. But what does it mean to be as Gods?

Book X

Was known in Heaven; for what can ’scape the eye Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart Omniscient? who, in all things wise and just, Hindered not Satan to attempt the mind Of Man, with strength entire and free will armed, Complete to have discovered and repulsed Whatever wiles of foe or seeming friend. For still they knew, and ought to have still remembered, The high injunction, not to taste that fruit, Whoever tempted; which they not obeying, (Incurred what could they less?) the penalty; And, manifold in sin, deserved to fall.

God knew and did nothing. Once again; it’s an argument if this is truly a freely made decision or perhaps inevitable.

He came; and with him Eve, more loth, though first To offend; discountenanced both, and discomposed; Love was not in their looks, either to God, Or to each other; but apparent guilt, And shame, and perturbation, and despair, Anger, and obstinacy, and hate, and guile. Whence Adam, faltering long, thus answered brief.

I’ve never quite understood how eating the fruit gave rise to shame; to all of these other things. Guilt, sure. But the rest?

And on the Serpent thus his curse let fall. Because thou hast done this, thou art accursed Above all cattle, each beast of the field; Upon thy belly groveling thou shalt go, And dust shalt eat all the days of thy life. Between thee and the woman I will put Enmity, and between thine and her seed; Her seed shall bruise thy head, thou bruise his heel.

All serpents (beasts, unaware) cursed for all time because Satan took that form. Seems vindictive.

Some say, he bid his Angels turn ascanse The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more, From the sun’s axle; they with labour pushed Oblique the centrick globe: Some say, the sun Was bid turn reins from the equinoctial road Like distant breadth to Taurus with the seven Atlantick Sisters, and the Spartan Twins, Up to the Tropick Crab: thence down amain By Leo, and the Virgin, and the Scales, As deep as Capricorn; to bring in change Of seasons to each clime; else had the spring Perpetual smiled on earth with vernant flowers,

Seasons as another punishment? An interesting, more modern addition.

For though the Lord of all be infinite, Is his wrath also? Be it, Man is not so, But mortal doomed. How can he exercise Wrath without end on Man, whom death must end? Can he make deathless death? That were to make Strange contradiction, which to God himself Impossible is held; as argument Of weakness, not of power. Will he draw out, For anger’s sake, finite to infinite, In punished Man, to satisfy his rigour, Satisfied never?

Every generation punished for this one sin. It would be interesting to have each choose for their own—but that circles back to free will and choosing what one cannot understand.

Book XI

But, longer in that Paradise to dwell, The law I gave to Nature him forbids: Those pure immortal elements, that know, No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul, Eject him, tainted now; and purge him off, As a distemper, gross, to air as gross, And mortal food; as may dispose him best For dissolution wrought by sin, that first Distempered all things, and of incorrupt Corrupted.

Everything is worse than in Eden.

But, longer in that Paradise to dwell, The law I gave to Nature him forbids: Those pure immortal elements, that know, No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul, Eject him, tainted now; and purge him off, As a distemper, gross, to air as gross, And mortal food; as may dispose him best For dissolution wrought by sin, that first Distempered all things, and of incorrupt Corrupted.

The idea of Sin corrupting the entire world. Oh, that’s a thing.

Book XII

I don’t have any particular comments at this point, mostly… It’s a very long book.