Paradise lost, though written many centuries ago by John Milton remains a central subject that elicits debate among renowned scholars. In fact, we can say with finality that it has cemented its place in the Western literary canon. For all its universal qualities and its timelessness, ‘Paradise Lost’ is regarded as a product of extraordinary works of imagination of its kind and in its own time. What is fascinating about the poem is that it still enjoys an enviable level of canonical status. It has also established itself as an English Protestant Epic curved out of religious and political upheavals that existed in the 17th century and addressed to a specific ‘fit audience’ who had lost their fight on religious non-conformation and liberty. Even though Milton embodies the mantle of universal prophecy, it still bases its theological and philosophical ideas in the twists that came about with rebellion and conflict, just as they occurred at that specific point in time.
Milton devoted most of his time in learning and focusing on a variety of questions that ranged from the political, theological and philosophical backgrounds. His poem also reflects the range of his scholarly interests in the New World, history, astronomy, travel narratives and the so- called ‘God’s book of nature.’ The poet’s thinking was also evolving, and he willingly demonstrated his flexibility depending on the period that he was in his life. He often expressed his vie...
ws on the creation as being ex Deo or ‘from God’ rather than ex nihilo which means ’from nothing.’ Milton also touched on the concept of mortalism; which is the idea that the soul dies with the body and mainly conformed to Christology, which meant that he did not believe in the traditional Trinitarian theology. The context with which ‘Paradise Lost’s set is that of a combination of Protestant spiritual and humanist-scholarly tradition, that though overlapping never complemented each other at the time. This essay examines the philosophical questions that may arise and which have to be confronted as the reader goes through the poem, ‘Paradise Lost’.
One of the most controversial issues which emerge from the poem is whether or not Satan is a heroic figure and how he can befit the description of an epic hero. This question provokes responses that are derived from the closely held moral and religious values on one hand and the ability to conform to the strict literary interpretations on another. Satan, in the biblical and mythical context, is often portrayed as an evil figure which is also concurred by Paradise Lost where he tries to undermine the real hero by all means. He has also been prominently objectified and demeaned and is also considered an unsympathetic figure. Milton, in his poem, teases the reader into second guessing himself with the projection that Satan undoubtedly deserves to be seen in a different light.
The other question would be ‘Why God appears so mean to Satan, and yet he readily forgives humans’. Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’ introduces God as a wrathful and distant being. This seems to work in the favor of Satan
who is now portrayed as a hero worth emulating by every human since the reader can identify with his situation. When Aristotle’s notion of hamartia is applied to this scenario, especially when reading the poem, it seems more convincing that Satan may indeed be a hero since he was a good person who fell from grace. His earnest and persistence in pursuing that which he believes in make him appear more and more as a hero.
This leads to the next question about why Satan is more rebellious against God even though he knows that he has no chance of winning and why God still tolerates him. Satan, as is explained by Milton, wants to be different because he has apparently been transformed by the knowledge about himself as well as that about of God. He hopes to find answers by always challenging God. His intentions apparently were not to expose him as being rebellious and deceptive, but the truth of bordering on these characteristics is exemplified by his actions after he was sent into perpetual exile. In Paradise Lost, Satan raises certain critical philosophical questions. One of these questions seeks to establish whether it is wrong for humans to think of themselves as God’s equals since there has always been the saying that ‘man is created in God’s image.’ As one reads through the poem, he or she cannot help but admire Satan’s courage that s exuded when he poses such questions to God.
The final philosophical question that arises from reading the poem is ‘why God is disappointed when Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge and why the whole incident changes their lives.’ This has what evoked the title of the poem ‘Paradise Lost’ and indeed, paradise was lost when Adam chose to disobey God and chose Eve according to Milton. The ‘why’ and ‘how’ Milton chose to narrate this story of the power of human love challenges God’s claim to not to question human obedience. This offers an insight into the emerging centrality of the domestic sphere and also the extent to which theology has shaped the course of its development.
- Milton, John and John Leonard. Paradise Lost. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
- The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.