Paradise Lost by John Milton is an enthralling and amazing epic poem. Yes, it tells of the battle between Heaven and Hell in glorious detail. And yes it tells how Adam and Eve lose paradise. But, just as moving for me, was how someone else lost paradise and lamented that horrible loss in beautiful prose: Satan.
The devil made him do it
It’s not often that you sympathise with the devil and even side with him (unless you’re an Al Pacino fan in The Devil’s Advocate). But reading Paradise Lost, it’s hard not to.
There’s a heroic feel about the way he goes up against heaven and how he dares to challenge his creator who seems to mock him endlessly. There’s a beauty in the battles that he wages with himself and his maker and how his ambivalence about causing the downfall of humanity makes you want to curse him in one verse and cheer him on in another.
And as you feel Adam’s shock and sadness when he sees Eve eating the fruit and drops the wreath he made for her, you wonder if the devil isn’t silently shedding a tear — both for Adam and Eve and for himself. Because the fledgling war between heaven and hell signalled another paradise lost for the angels of heaven. Now they would forever battle, the outcome seesawing between them and never able to return to the joy of days when they celebrated their existence and creator together.
Satan seems all so human.
At last, I made it
As some may know, this was my 3rd attempt at the book and without a doubt I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite a couple of overlong passages weighed down by an obscene amount of Greek and Roman mythology and Biblical references (but that’s probably because I didn’t know most of them). I did do a semester of Greek Mythology at varsity, but this was ridiculous.
It took me a while to finish the book, having to get used to the prose while commuting on the bus and tube. Once you do get into it, though, it flows smoothly and you start singing along with the meter unwittingly. It’s also a bit difficult at first to get into the language, although modernised, but once in you don’t want to get out. It’s a bit like hearing a song the first time that you really dislike and after a couple of hearings you find yourself putting it on your top playlist (I’m sure “Umbrella” by Rihanna comes to mind here for some people?).
My favourite scene is when Satan, just after tricking Adam & Eve, meets up with Death and Sin and tells them to go “prepare” things for him and his cronies. They merrily oblige and start organising things on Earth for the next big bash. Classic.
I can’t vouch for its accuracy and Adam does seem a tad bit dismissive of Eve at regular intervals (her being so “good with domestic affairs”), but it’s a brilliantly told story and really a fantastic read. It’s a bit of effort, but a paradise of payoff.
I’ll end off with some of my favourite quotes:
Meanwhile inhabit lax, ye powers of heaven
— An angel telling Adam & Eve to relax and take a chill pill
The old favourite:
Thus Belial, with words clothed in reason’s garb, counseled ignoble ease, and peaceful sloth, not peace.
— Announcing Belial, the smooth-talking, car-salesman demon.
And my favourite:
How few sometimes may know, when thousands err.
— And the thousands never want to ask the few either