Paradise Lost Paradise Lost discussion


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Lucifer the hero? God the tyrant?

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Darren I've always loved half of this book, maybe a third of it actually. Every time Lucifer re-enters the story it becomes a fascinating struggle for freedom against the unreasonable tyrant that is god. Every time he leaves the story it becomes a dreadfully boring account of Adam and Eve's child like actions.

God and Jesus are stubborn old minds, Jesus is particularly loathsome, he seems more like a cowardly lion who only steps forward when he realises that he will survive and be okay at the end of it. I've always suspected Milton of being more subversive than his reputation claims.

Anyone else think that Lucifer is the real hero of Paradise Lost?


Walter Ullon "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it." -William Blake

The above perhaps explains why it all becomes very boring when Lucifer is out of the picture. He really understood the devil for his true Promethean character, the more you understand the parallels between these two characters, the more you'll enjoy the poem.


message 3: by Zadignose (new) - added it

Zadignose Not quite the same topic, but I've often thought that Samuel Richardson could not have so effectively written the character of Lovelace in his novel Clarissa if he didn't understand, and to a degree relish his understanding of the villain.


Onyx88 PL is one of my favorites. I'm fascinated by books that make me root for the "bad guy." I have always found myself cheering Lucifer on, every time I read this one. I think the language Milton uses adds to that effect, since the pace and rhythm pick up when Lucifer enters the scene (in most cases), and there's a feel of urgency or importance behind his actions. Then, when he leaves the scene, the rhythm slows again, and the descriptions feel boring and hum-drum.


Carla Eh - I don't see Lucifer as the true hero, but I certainly see God as the villain. God creates everyone in the poem to fall, and the result of each fall is always greater subservience to God. If narcissism is supposedly the greatest sin in the story, I find it odd that God created all of his inventions with vanity as their main flaw - especially since this is the flaw that leads to both the fall of Satan and the fall of Man.


Aafaq Ahmed The most debated issue after The Paradise Lost got published. Lucifer though glorified alot with chivalerous dignity, still at the end he is shown as defeated by immortality. Lucifer is here of speeches and courage and God is here of good deeds.


message 7: by Orestesss (new) - added it

Orestesss God wins over Lucifer in the end, as the story goes, and so we are told of a victory of faith over doubt and knowledge. Lucifer champions individuality, while God demands obeisance. To the believer, faith and following is to be preferred, while the non-believer will choose doubt and fight for his freedom.

In all, I found that Milton paints a wonderful picture of this struggle between reason and faith, even if he does of necessity depict Lucifer as angry and hateful. In all this Christian writing, Milton at the same time shows all the reasons why to be against God even if he should exist. Yet Milton himself appears to have chosen faith despite of this, and such is the nature of believers.

I think Milton to have been quite intelligent, and so this work also shows that believing is more an affair of the heart and the emotions than one of the mind. I respect his mind and his choice, though I personally make other choices.

Lucifer's speeches are much more inspiring than Jesus', but that is, I think, also the point. To know Lucifer's reasons and still side with God because that is the right thing to do (according to Christians), and God is, after all, more knowledgeable and more powerful.

Paradise Lost is one of my favourite books ever. Paradise Regained I find less enjoyable, indeed largely because the character of Satan seems much less inspired in that work.


message 8: by Benjamin (last edited Mar 06, 2013 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Benjamin I'm not certain whether I say the following from the Christian perspective or from Milton's perspective. Either way, I think it holds.

We like our world in flux. It allows us to interpret all things in a way that we understand and benefit. We live, then, in a murky world of shifting grays.

This tale, however, is written in black and white: absolute right and absolute wrong. Or put another way, ultimate morality vs. ultimate immorality. This is troublesome as we find that we have more in common with Satan than with God. It offends us because Satan occupies the place of absolute wrong, and therefore, so do we. We don't like that since it is human nature to be self-oriented, so we call God a tyrant and fashion Satan as the tragic fallen hero/freedom fighter.

So perhaps the real story is not about Satan versus God, but rather, us versus God. And we're always the good guys, right?


message 9: by Gary (last edited Mar 06, 2013 08:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss When Milton writes from the perspective of Lucifer he is attempting to show the thought processes and the rationalizations of evil. True evil believes itself to be good. It presents its perversity as pleasure, its brutality as justice and its deprivation as freedom.

Such is the talent of Milton in revealing that process that for centuries people have sympathized with the Devil as a character. But doing so fundamentally misses the point that Milton was trying to make. Lucifer is the definitive unreliable narrator. It takes a more careful reading to find the logical fallacies, misrepresentations and twisting of the facts that Milton throws in to show his real meaning.


message 10: by Arunava (last edited Mar 07, 2013 01:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Arunava Ghose Benjamin wrote: "I'm not certain whether I say the following from the Christian perspective or from Milton's perspective. Either way, I think it holds.

We like our world in flux. It allows us to interpret all ..."


Sorry to intrude into the discussion; but your response fascinates me. However, I doubt if PL is all 'Black' & 'White'. Is there not enough in the text to glorify the struggle between the "human-ness" of Lucifer and the "Humane-ness" of the creator ? The doubts and despair of the reader in being a part of the struggle makes this a 'glorifying experience. Thanks Benjamin.
I am not a Christian, but I believe, morality and humanity goes beyond the boundaries of formal religion.


Benjamin I read your response several times before sitting down to write this reply. I appreciate your comment about morality and humanity going beyond the boundaries of formal religion. Nevertheless, this is, quintessentially, a tale woven around the beliefs of a formal religion. It was in that vein that I wrote about PL being written in hues of black and white. Consider: in the face of God (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent) what standing does Satan, or any other created being for that matter, have to press a claim of injustice or unfairness. To be in opposition to the likes of God is to be absolute wrong, just as God is the essence of absolute right. How could it be otherwise? As we read, our sympathies may lay with Satan, but the ultimate right, as alien as it may seem to us, is God and whatever he chooses. As Gary stated in the post above yours, "[t]rue evil believes itself to be good. It presents its perversity as pleasure, its brutality as justice and its deprivation as freedom." God's actions may seem arbitrary to us, but that is a mere consequence of perspective: there is nothing, indeed, there cannot be anything, arbitrary in or about God.

Would that Satan's foe had been any entity less or other than God, we could could happily free ourselves from this moral dilemma. But that is not the case, and so we are left with the disturbing suspicion that we are somehow indicted along with rest of the fallen angels. Is that not the point of this story?

Thanks again for continuing the discussion, Arunava!


Arunava Ghose Benjamin wrote: "I read your response several times before sitting down to write this reply. I appreciate your comment about morality and humanity going beyond the boundaries of formal religion. Nevertheless, thi..."

I completely appreciate where you are coming from, Benjamin. After all, the book starts with the lines - "Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit/.......
Even so, our "glorification" of the hero is essentially Pagan/Greek. Hence our very essential and basic sympathies are with the David (excuse me for this most inappropriate simile !!). But then, David was a 'good shepherd'. Lucifer wasn’t. In fact PL is probably the first major work in English where the ‘glory’ of the Christian Hero is depicted in such proportions and magnitude.
When I speak of the universality of ‘morality and humanity’ in PL, I am essentially talking of virtues that go beyond religious boundaries. When we speak of ‘Tragedies’ today, we are aware of the great multitude of connotations and definitions that prevail across various annals of world literature. I found PL to portray an excellent example of the essence of the ‘Christian hero’ in difference to the ‘Greek hero’ or for that matter the hero in Vedic – Indian literature.
Yet, while we enjoy the variety in our understanding of heroism and tragedy, there is a unity in this diversity, which binds us all in what we collectively call as ‘human civilization’. I believe – morality and humanity are two strong threads that bind this collective belief.


Benjamin Arunava wrote: "Benjamin wrote: "I read your response several times before sitting down to write this reply. I appreciate your comment about morality and humanity going beyond the boundaries of formal religion. ..."

I follow your meaning when you draw out the continuity of the themes of heroism and tragedy - the unity in the diversity as you eloquently put it - in your discussion. I cannot disagree with such an observation when considering PL as a literary work among others to be contrasted and compared.

I am very curious as to how you view the Christian hero as compared to the Greek or the Vedic heroes. I hope that you will also humor me by helping me fill in the blanks where the hero in Vedic literature is concerned as I have no experience to draw from.

My own observations are rooted not only in my Western cultural upbringing, but more specifically, my Christian (Lutheran) religious beliefs. In other words, reading Milton and understanding how he views the world, is something that feels achingly familiar. Like coming home after a long absence. Perhaps I am merely projecting my own world view (twenty-first century American though it is) onto Milton and his tale - I have to acknowledge that possibility - but I recognize the unquestioning belief in one God as all in all. It is a rather irrational approach to viewing the world and our place in it, but I think that is precisely what Milton's work illuminates so well.

I look forward to your (and others' if the so choose) response(s). Good Day!


Arunava Ghose The essence of the “Christian Hero” is very appropriately explained by Gary – particularly in the second paragraph. The “glory” of PL lies in Milton’s confirmed faith in man and absolute belief that ultimately man would see through Lucifer.
In the great heroes of Greek Tragedies, there is ‘Hamartia’ – the tragic flaw due to which the most powerful fall from ‘grace’. Now to state the ‘Ambition’ of Lucifer as a tragic flaw would surely be a case of extreme over simplification.


Darren Most seem to comment on the "Lucifer the hero" part of the question and ignore "god the tyrant".

In Paradise Lost, god is an out of touch, bumbling tyrant who thinks nothing that every one of his angels are too scared to stand up and serve him, even jesus only agrees to carry out god's task once he is told that he will come to no harm. God himself does nothing but hand down laws and rules, while others simply want freedom (lucifer) and the child-like Adam and Eve are so clueless that he might have well put two simpletons in the garden. Putting these un-experienced adult-childs up against the most powerful and cunning angels makes god look like a senile and out of control meglomaniac.


message 16: by Gary (last edited Mar 08, 2013 02:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss It is sometimes difficult to pick out the voice and tone of an author, particularly in poetry, and especially when it is several centuries old, and the nuances of the language have moved on. However, there are a couple of things one should keep in mind when reading PL when it comes to how God and Lucifer are characterized.

The problem with reading about God in PL is that much of that information is presented by Lucifer, who has just lost a war in Heaven and been kicked out. As I noted before, Lucifer is the definitive unreliable narrator. You can't read anything that is from his POV as factual.

In Milton's interpretation, the Devil is often petulant in his presentation of the "facts" that led up to losing the war in Heaven, and derisive in his characterization of those he opposes. For instance, Lucifer wants "freedom" but doesn't address what that really means. Freedom to do what? Freedom isn't the ability to do harm or control others. Lucifer wants to rule. Milton explains in Areopagitica that what many people call "freedom" is really "license" to harm others. When Milton writes as Satan, he's really presenting the ability to manipulate and oppress others as "freedom" because that's the POV of evil.

God is "bumbling" because that's how Lucifer describes him, but that characterization doesn't really hold up in light of the facts. God is not so bumbling that He didn't just win a war in Heaven and kick out Satan in the action just before PL begins... but that's a bit of fact that Satan slides right past, because if God is a bumbler then Satan is an incompetent.

Similarly, in attacking Adam and Eve, Lucifer goes for the "soft target" of God's domain. Humans are the weakest and most vulnerable moral beings in Creation. But Lucifer aggrandizes his achievement in managing to win a victory in the most minor skirmish. He literally only manages to corrupt a young girl and her boyfriend. We are tiny, insignificant things in the grand scale of Milton's interpretation, but even that minor victory is changed over the course of Milton's work, and all is revealed to have been part of a vast, celestial plan. However, that small victory is presented by Satan as a grand and glorious victory over the tyranny of God.

In the years since he wrote PL, Milton's work has been read and interpreted using various methods. Lucifer is a Byronic Hero, a Shakespearean one, a mythological hero in the Nordic, Greek, etc. and in ways described by Arunava and Benjamin above. The problem is that such readings ignore the deeply ironic nature of Milton's presentation of Lucifer's logic. They take the prose as literal, without a care to the fact that Milton is presenting the viewpoint of a twisted persona.

I would make a parallel between PL and Frank Herbert's Dune series, in which Herbert addresses the galactic tyranny and oppression of "the super-man." Many people read those books without cluing into the fact that Herbert was really suggesting that Paul "Muad-dib" Atreides is really the villain of the piece. He's a villain in a galaxy of villainy, but one who leaves more destruction in his wake than any natural force. Many reviewers, critics and readers sympathize with that character (myself included) because we associate ourselves on an emotional level with him, and he gains the benefit of our seemingly endless human capacity to rationalize our own behavior. We are much more likely to "connect with" the character who is the major perspective narrator. Thus, Lucifer is often described as a hero not only because the major protagonist almost always is in most works of fiction, but because we are inclined to associate ourselves with the main character because that's the nature of reading a text told from the POV of a particular character.


Arunava Ghose Gary wrote: "It is sometimes difficult to pick out the voice and tone of an author, particularly in poetry, and especially when it is several centuries old, and the nuances of the language have moved on. Howev..."

Thanks for your luicid and very compelling arguement, Garry. We havebeen taught to read PL just the way you argue. Lucifer is surely not the "christian" hero as say in TS Eliot's 'M in the C'. I am purposefully bringing in this comparison since it is the only way such subjective arguements could give us a clearer vision and an acceptance of the variety and uniqueness of each great work of Literature.


Darren The story is not told solely through the eyes of Lucifer. The story switches completely to the conversation between God and his minions and is told completely apart from Lucifer. As are the tales of many angels throughout the story and almost all of the Adam and Eve sections. Only Lucifers own story and his recalling the past events are through his eyes. You are very wrong when it comes to this.

Lucifer was not incompetent, he was arrogant. He took on the most powerful being in that universe and lost. God simply sat back and let millions die before deciding to use his supreme power to end a war that never needed to happen. He has a son that comes across as a scaredy-cat until he is assured that no real harm will comes to him, all the while Lucifer is moving into the unknown, and has no assurances of his own survival. He can die at any time and still pushes forward, Jesus only fights when his dad has his back.


message 19: by Gary (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss Darren wrote: "The story is not told solely through the eyes of Lucifer. The story switches completely to the conversation between God and his minions and is told completely apart from Lucifer."

I did say "much of that information is presented by Lucifer" not all of it, so I was really only talking about those aspects of God that are described from Lucifer's POV.

But I take your point. It's been an awful long time since I read this piece, but IIRC the two narratives come from Lucifer and Adam & Eve. Perhaps someone can remind me if we ever get a neutral, 3rd person POV narrative?


message 20: by Benjamin (last edited Mar 11, 2013 06:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Benjamin Darren wrote: "The story is not told solely through the eyes of Lucifer. The story switches completely to the conversation between God and his minions and is told completely apart from Lucifer. As are the tales o..."

Understanding the theology of the Trinity would really be helpful in illuminating why Jesus is not a coward who hides behind the majesty of his father. As we read of the exchange between Father and Son as Lucifer prepares his assault in the north, it seems rather insular - as though nothing else matters. It is as though the loyal two-thirds of the heavenly host do not exist. This is because in the person of the Godhead, all else is extemporaneous. Though the battle begins with one set of the heavenly host against the other, the act of rebellion is against the absolute sovereignty of God, represented in the persons of the Father and his Son. It is in this respect that we see Christ as the ultimate and only victor in the war against evil. The Father and Son are one in all things, and yet the Son is still subject to the Father's bidding. Therefore, to see Christ defeat Lucifer is to see God himself defeat Lucifer. Was it an unfair contest? It certainly wasn't God who initiated it, so the question is really rendered moot.

If we remove the theology from the tale, we still see the Son part from his father to confront the host of Lucifer on his own. Remember also that the loyal angels part to let the Son engage without their aid. Hardly the image of cowardice.

And finally, in all this discussion about POV, I think it is important to note that we rarely, if ever, see the story told from the point of view of either the Father or the Son. One might argue that the narrative told by Raphael is one and the same as that of God, but I would vigorously disagree as Raphael, like all angels, is a created being and therefore separate. To offer narration in any significant degree from the POV of God is folly as he is incomprehensible to us. Did not Raphael explain as much to Adam when relating the reasons for creation? So we are left with a few sparse statements between Father and Son or statements issued forth as either decrees or judgments, hence the cold detachment we feel as readers.

Of course we received statements meant to justify actions from the likes of Lucifer. Of course we feel compelled by those arguments as we are the offspring of those corrupted by Lucifer. I think that is by Milton's design. But I also think it is by Milton's design to illustrate the utterly alien nature of God to us by consequence of that corruption. We are disquieted that God needs no justification as he is God and just in all things.


Darren Benjamin wrote: "Darren wrote: "The story is not told solely through the eyes of Lucifer. The story switches completely to the conversation between God and his minions and is told completely apart from Lucifer. As ..."

We are talking about Milton's story, not the bible.

And you don't need to see the story from god or jesus's point of view to see their actions, that's not how storytelling or writing works.


Arunava Ghose Absolute or sweeping statements are a hindrance to our understanding of great literary works. Rather, we should be enjoying the variety of our perceptions while reading the same text. Hence I can only partially agree with Darren when he says - "We are talking about Milton's story, not the bible". For myself, I, being a non-christian from India would surely not have enjoyed the PL without a basic reading of the Bible or the Testaments. Moreover, I am yet to hear a sincere lecture/talk on PL without a reference to the Bible.
Darren's elucidation of PL/Lucifer/God on 10th March'13 was was insightful and personally very valuable. However his last comment on how one should read PL and what a readers perspective should be, sounds somewhat like a diktat - I believe, he ought to give more space for other readers to 'enjoy' reading the PL.
I should be thanking Gary for the persuasive nature of expression. His thoughts (as stated by me earlier) are very much similar to my Prof. who took us through PL in college.


message 23: by Gary (last edited Mar 14, 2013 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Foss Well... PL is derivative of the Bible, and Milton had a pretty good handle on that particular piece of writing, so I don't think one can really separate the two as is being suggested here. Even if that were not the case, I think the description of the aspect of God described above is pretty much identical to Milton's. The presentation in PL is from the POV of Satan. Taking the presentation as literal is much more problematic than those who want to take the Bible as literal as Milton was purposefully presenting an ironic viewpoint.


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