Paradise Lost (Modern Library Classics)

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Overview

Edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon

John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem on the clash between God and his fallen angel, Satan, is a profound meditation on fate, free will, and divinity, and one of the most beautiful works in world literature. Extracted from the Modern Library’s highly acclaimed The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, this edition reflects up-to-date scholarship and includes a ...

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Paradise Lost

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Overview

Edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon

John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem on the clash between God and his fallen angel, Satan, is a profound meditation on fate, free will, and divinity, and one of the most beautiful works in world literature. Extracted from the Modern Library’s highly acclaimed The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, this edition reflects up-to-date scholarship and includes a substantial Introduction, fresh commentary, and other features—annotations on Milton’s classical allusions, a chronology of the writer’s life, clean page layouts, and an index—that make it the definitive twenty-first-century presentation of John Milton’s timeless signature work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this landmark edition, teachers will discover a powerful ally in bringing the excitement of Milton’s poetry and prose to new generations of students.”—William C. Dowling, Rutgers University
 
“This magnificent edition gives us everything we need to read Milton intelligently and with fresh perception.”—William H. Pritchard, Amherst College
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375757969
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 165,910
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Milton (1608-74) was one of England’s greatest poets and a master of polemical prose. He was a private tutor and served as Secretary for Foreign Tongues under Oliver Cromwell.

William Kerrigan, former president of the Milton Society of America and recipient of its award for lifetime achievement, is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts.

John Rumrich is the author of Matter of Glory and Milton Unbound. He is Thaman Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.

Stephen M. Fallon, author of Milton’s Peculiar Grace and Milton among the Philosophers, is professor of liberal studies and English at the University of Notre Dame.

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Read an Excerpt

PARADISE LOST the printer to the reader

Courteous Reader, there was no argument at first intended to the book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procured it, and withal a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the poem rhymes not. S. Simmons

The Verse

The measure is English heroic verse without rhyme, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Vergil in Latin; rhyme being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame meter; graced indeed since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause therefore some both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note have rejected rhyme both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoided by the learned ancients both in poetry and all good oratory.

1. The defense of blank verse and the prose arguments summarizing each book “procured” by Milton’s printer, Samuel Simmons, were inserted in bound copies of the first edition beginning in 1668, with this brief note.

This neglect then of rhyme so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming.

Book I The Argument

This first book proposes, first in brief, the whole subject, man’s disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise wherein he was placed: then touches the prime cause of his fall, the serpent, or rather Satan in the serpent, who revolting from God, and drawing to his side many legions of angels, was by the command of God driven out of Heaven with all his crew into the great deep. Which action passed over, the poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his angels now fallen into Hell, described here, not in the center (for heaven and earth may be supposed as yet not made, certainly not yet accursed) but in a place of utter darkness, fitliest called Chaos. Here Satan with his angels lying on the burning lake, thunder-struck and astonished, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in order and dignity lay by him. They confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded; they rise, their numbers, array of battle, their chief leaders named, according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining. To these Satan directs his speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven, but tells them lastly of a new world and new kind of creature to be created, according to an ancient prophecy or report in Heaven; for that angels were long before this visible creation was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this prophecy, and what to determine thereon, he refers to a full council. What his associates thence attempt. Pandaemonium the palace of Satan rises, suddenly built out of the deep. The infernal peers there sit in council.

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit

Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste

Brought death into the world, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater man

Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,

Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,

In the beginning how the heavens and earth

Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion hill

Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flowed

Fast by the oracle of God, I thence

Invoke thy aid to my advent’rous song,

That with no middle flight intends to soar

Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues

Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer

Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me, for thou know’st; thou from the first

Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread

Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast abyss

And mad’st it pregnant: what in me is dark

Illumine, what is low raise and support,

That to the highth of this great argument

I may assert eternal providence,

And justify the ways of God to men.

Say first, for Heav’n hides nothing from thy view

Nor the deep tract of Hell, say first what cause

Moved our grand parents in that happy state,

Favored of Heav’n so highly, to fall off

From their Creator, and transgress his will

For one restraint, lords of the world besides?

Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?

Th’ infernal serpent; he it was, whose guile

Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived

The mother of mankind, what time his pride

Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his host

Of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring

To set himself in glory above his peers,

He trusted to have equaled the Most High,

If he opposed; and with ambitious aim

Against the throne and monarchy of God

Raised impious war in Heav’n and battle proud

With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In adamantine chains and penal fire,

Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.

Nine times the space that measures day and night

To mortal men, he with his horrid crew

1. The first line’s introduction of an exemplary man recalls the epics of Homer and Vergil. Milton’s theme, however, is neither martial nor imperial but spiritual: humanity’s disastrous failure to obey God counterpoised by the promise of redemption. Of man’s: The proper name Adam is also the Hebrew word for generic man or humankind. He is both an individual male and, with Eve, the entire species: “so God created man . . . ; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1.27). Of man translates the Hebrew for “woman” (Gen. 2.23). fruit: Its dual meanings (outcome, food) are put in play by enjambment, a primary formal device by which Milton draws out sense “from one verse into another” (The Verse).

4. one greater man: Jesus, second Adam (1 Cor. 15.21–22; Rom. 5.19). Cp. PR 1.1–4.

5. blissful seat: translates Vergil’s epithet for Elysium, Aen. 6.639.

6. Sing Heav’nly Muse: the verb and subject of the magnificently inverted sixteen-line opening sentence. By invoking a Muse, Milton follows a convention that dates from Homer. Yet Milton’s Muse is not the muse of classical epic (Calliope) but the inspiration of Moses, David, and the prophets (cp. 17–18n). secret: set apart, not common. When the Lord descends to give Moses the law, thick clouds and smoke obscure the mountaintop, and the people are forbidden on pain of death to cross boundaries around the mountain (Exod. 19.16, 23).

8. shepherd: The vocation of shepherd is a key vehicle for Milton’s integration of classical and scriptural traditions. Moses encounters God while tending sheep on Mount Horeb (Oreb) and later receives the law on Sinai, a spur of Horeb (Exod. 3; 19). (Or the doubling of names may simply acknowledge the inconsistency of Exod. 19.20 and Deut. 4.10.)

9. In the beginning: opening phrase of Genesis and the Gospel of John.

10. Chaos: classical term for the primeval state of being out of which God creates, also referred to as “the deep” (as in Gen. 1.2) and “the abyss” (as in l. 21). Sion hill: Mount Zion, site of Solomon’s Temple, “the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 6.1, 13). Adding to the persistent doubleness of the invocation, Milton requests inspiration from two scriptural sites associated with God’s presence and prophetic inspiration. Both sites receive dual designations: Mount Horeb/Sinai and Mount Zion/Siloa’s brook.

11–12. Siloa’s brook . . . God: spring whose waters flowed through an underground aqueduct, supplied a pool near (Fast by) Solomon’s Temple, and irrigated the king’s lush garden (cp. 4.225–30). Jerome says it ran directly beneath Mount Zion (A. Gilbert 1919, 269). Scripturally, it symbolizes David’s monarchical line (Isa. 7–8, esp. 8.6). In opening the eyes of the man born blind, Jesus sends him to wash his eyes with its waters (John 9). Cp. 3.30–31. oracle of God: the holiest place in the Temple, the tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 6.19). The classical Muses haunt a spring (Aganippe) on Helicon (cp. 15n), “the sacred well, / That from beneath the seat of Jove doth spring” (Lyc 15–16). In identifying the spring near the “Holy of Holies” as similarly a site of inspiration, Milton again links scriptural and classical prophetic and poetic traditions.

14. no middle flight: Milton will go beyond middle air, whose upper boundary is as high as the peaks of tall mountains, and soar to the highest Empyrean, the abode of God. His soaring ambition recalls the myth of Icarus, whose failure to follow a middle flight caused him to tumble into the sea (cp. 7.12–20).

15. Aonian mount: Helicon, Greek mountain favored by the Muses (cp. 11–12n). Hesiod says that while he tended sheep on Helicon (like Moses on Horeb), the Muses called him to sing of the gods (Theog. 22).

16. Translates the opening of Orlando Furioso (1.2) and is reminiscent of Masque 43–45; cp. similar claims by Lucretius (De Rerum Nat. 1.925–30) and Horace (Odes 3.1.2–4).

17–18. 1 Cor. 3.16–17, 6.19. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit (l. 21). In Milton’s theology, the diverse functions of the Holy Spirit derive from “the virtue and power of God the Father,” in this case “the force or voice of God, in whatever way it was breathed into the prophets” (CD 1.6, p. 1194). The site of revelation progresses from Horeb/Sinai to Sion hill/Siloa’s brook to, finally, the individual human heart.

21. brooding: Milton thus renders the Hebrew word translated as “moved” in the AV (Gen. 1.2) but as incubabat (brooded) in St. Basil and other Latin patristic authors (see also 7.235). Cp. Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici: “This is that gentle heat that brooded on the waters, and in six days hatched the world” (73).

24. argument: subject matter; cp. 9.28.

25. assert: take the part of, champion.

26. justify: vindicate; cp. Pope, Essay on Man: “Laugh where we must, be candid where we can,/But vindicate the ways of God to man” (1.15–16). Milton’s word order permits dual readings: either “justify (the ways of God to men)” or “justify (the ways of God) to men.” Cp. SA: “Just are the ways of God,/And justifiable to men” (293–94).

27–28. Milton introduces the narrative with a query, an epic convention; cp. “Tell me, O Muse, the cause” (Vergil, Aen. 1.8). Homer also depicts the Muses as all-knowing: “Tell me now, ye Muses that have dwellings on Olympus—for ye are goddesses and are at hand and know all things” (Il. 2.484–85).

29. grand: great, original, all-inclusive; cp. line 122.

30. fall off: deviate, revolt (as in l. 33).

33. Cp. Il. 1.8.

36. what time: when; cp. Masque 291, Lyc 28.

44–49. Him . . . arms: “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness” (2 Pet. 2.4; cp. Jude 6).

45. “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10.18); cp. Homer’s Hephaestus “hurled . . . from the heavenly threshold . . . headlong” (Il. 1.591–92).

46. ruin: a fall from a great height, from the Latin ruina; cp 6.867–68.

48. adamantine: unbreakable (Gk.); cp. Aeschylus’s Prometheus, clamped “in shackles of binding adamant that can- not be broken” (Prom. 6). The myth of adamant persists today; the indestructible claws of the Marvel Comics hero Wol- verine are made of “adamantium.”

49. durst: dared.

50–52. The rebel angels regain consciousness after nine days falling from Heaven (6.871) and nine days rolling in the fiery gulf. Hesiod’s Titans fall nine days from heaven to earth and another nine from earth to Tartarus (Theog. 720–25). Milton, like many Christian mythographers, deemed the Titans’ rebellion a pagan analogue for Satan’s fall.

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