Bob's Reviews > Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost by John Milton
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's review
Mar 26, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: poetry, classics

One of the things I value about our Dead Theologians reading group is that this forces me to read some of those "great" works I might otherwise never get to read. This past term we read and discussed Milton's epic poem about the temptation and fall of the first human couple. What is most insightful in all of this is the insight Milton gives us into the nature of evil. One thinks particularly of Satan's famous statement, "better to rule in hell than serve in heaven." What also stands out is the delusional character of evil. Satan little grasps neither the greatness of God's power nor his own impotence against that greatness yet he continues to entertain dreams of attaining pre-eminence.

The other highlight of Paradise Lost for me is Milton's lush and beautiful descriptions of pre-fall Paradise. At the same time, Milton's God seems remote compared to Christ or angels like Michael, Raphael or even Abdiel. Though not in clear evidence in the poem, one wonders if Milton's denial of trinitarian doctrine is reflected in this.

My edition also includes other works by Milton including Areopagitica (justifying free speech and press) and his defense of divorce (which comes across as a bit self-serving and misogynistic by today's standards). And there is a representative sample of Milton criticism, the most helpful to me of which was Stanley Fish's essay which argues that rather than emphasizing the form or devices of the poem, that it is most helpful to consider its effect on reader, experiencing in the fall our own human rebellion and hope of redemption.

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