RME Pre 1660
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John – A carpenter, rents out rooms
Alisoun – his much younger wife, a local beauty
Nicholas – a young and clever scholar renting a room from John
Absolon – the parish clerk
Nicholas sleeps with Alisoun while John is away. Then she goes to church and Absolon falls in love with her and tries to woo her by singing songs and participating in a play. Nicholas schemes to get to spend more time with her, so he tells John that another flood is coming (like the one with Noah). John gets into a large tub hanging from the ceiling so he can float away when the waters rise and Nicholas and Alisoun sneak off to have sex in John’s bed.
Absolon shows up, wanting a kiss, and Alisoun sticks her butt out. He gets mad. He gets a poker to burn her the next time, but instead Nicholas sticks his butt out and farts in Absolon’s face. Absolon burns Nicholas’ ass like crazy, shouts out for water to soothe the burn, and John thinks the Second Flood has come and cuts the tub loose, falling and breaking his arm. The neighbors show up and he’s considered mad and a cuckold.
Important to remember:
Popular fabliaux motifs – “second flood”, “misdirected kiss”
Finally, as the knight is heading home he meets an ugly old woman who says she will help if he will pledge himself to her.
The knight goes to the court and tells them what the old woman told him to say, that women want charge over their husbands and lovers. Then he has to marry the hag. She offers him the choice: she can either be ugly but loyal and good, or he can have her young and fair, but also coquettish and unfaithful. He tells her to choose for herself, and she magically becomes both beautiful and good.
Criseyde, the daughter of the seer Calchas, lives alone in Troy after her father abandons the Trojans to help the Greeks. Eventually she catches the eye of Troilus, a man who had previously scoffed at love, and becomes the object of his overwhelming desire. With the help of Criseyde’s uncle Pandarus he wins her love but soon loses it when the Greeks and the Trojans conduct an exchange of prisoners. Calchas, who knows of Troy’s imminent destruction, persuades the Greeks to exchange Antenor for his daughter and thus saves her from the doomed city. Criseyde promises Troilus that she’ll return to him after ten days but once she’s back in the care of her father she realizes the impossibility of her promise. Resigned to her fate, Criseyde yields to the flirtations of Diomedes, and her love for Troilus fades. When Deiphobus wins the armor of Diomedes, Troilus discovers a brooch he gave Criseyde upon her departure pinned to it. Heartbroken, he tries to find Diomedes and take his revenge during battle but after slaying many is in his turn killed by Achilles. As his spirit goes to heaven he reflects on the absurdity of all life itself.
DON’T FORGET: Antenor left open the gates of Troy to the enemy. Criseyde’s petty, small treachery in moving on after Troilus is dwarfed by this larger treachery. The circle Antenora is named after him in Dante’s Inferno. It is located in Hell’s Circle of Treachery, which is reserved for traitors of cities, countries, and political parties.
The landscape progressively clears out as well: cave, rock, medow (with flowers), cops (group of trees), a wilde, and finally only rolling hills with brackish lakes between. It mimics the souls movement from clinging to earthly things and comforts to contentment with merely keeping the goal of heaven in sight.
The pilgrim believes he has finally, after being robbed in “the wilde of Passion”, come to his goal destination. Instead he finds only brackish waters. He rises and sees the actual hill that he’d like to reach, and hears “None goes that way / And lives”. The pilgrim decides that the journey is so foul that death is fair. The poem ends “And but a chair” (referring to death); some scholars believe Herbert is alluding to a chariot – like the one that Elisha rides up into heaven in some traditions. Of course, a chair also provides relief and rest after the efforts of the day, thereby connecting the arch of the passing day and the arch of a passing life.
“I fell, and cry’d, Alas my King;
Can both the way and end be tears?”
Rhyme: ababcc, English Sestet, only not iambic pentameter
Meter: Somewhat irregular, but generally following the following pattern –
pentameter, dimeter, tetrameter, tetrameter, pentameter, dimeter
Or by # of feet: 10, 4, 8, 8, 10 4
“For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.”
Rhyme: ababa cdcdc efefe ghghg
“That, if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.”
“At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
Who straight “Your suit is granted,” said, and died.”
Something like a sonnet, 14 lines, not quite English, not quite Petrarchan
Meter: Iambic Pentameter
MEMORABLE LINES (said by Death):
“What do I here before his doore? /
He doth not crave lesse time, but more.”
STYLE: Five stanzas, six lines each
Mostly Iambic Tetrameter, a few instances of Trochee
“Unto an honest faithfull grave; / Making our pillows either down, or dust.” I think it’s an obvious reference to the afterlife in either heaven or hell.
Rhyme form based on the Shakespearean sonnet
Meter: four patterned metrical lines following pentameter, dimeter, tetrameter, pentameter
At the end, he hears not the voice of a Master, but one of a Father, he calls Childe and responds My Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:21 “Were you a slave when you were called? Do not let that bother you. Of course, if you have a chance to become free, take advantage of the opportunity.”
“And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame? / My deare, then I will serve. / You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat: / So I did sit and eat.”
Style: Three Stanzas, six lines each
Rhyme: ababcc dedeff ghghii
Meter: patterned metrical lines, pentameter, trimeter, pentameter, trimeter, pentameter, trimeter
Meter: patterned metrical lines, tetrameter, pentameter, tetrameter, pentameter, dimeter, dimeter, tetrameter
“O that I once past changing were;/ Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!” (Is reminiscent of the nuptial bower from PL, where flowers continuously blossom, and as they fall a new one grows in its place.)
Rhyme: ababa cdcdc efefe ghghg
Meter: The meter mimics the action of the poem. The first line is trimeter, followed by pentameter, pentameter, pentameter, and then a pulley-like action contracts the last line back to trimeter.
God bestows unto man strength, beautie, wisdome, honour, and pleasure. God doesn’t give him goodnesse, so he’ll alway struggle and need to come back to God for guidance.
That pretty much is Herbert dealing with why men aren’t created automatically good – God gave us freedom to choose, and yes, even to sin so that we will run to him when the world makes us weary.
Rhyme: Quatrains, not separated, with alternating line rhymes: ababcdcdefef…
Meter: Iambic Pentameter
Herbert uses the allegorical mode, again using a story, but this time there are two speakers. He is telling the story to a friend. He has a Lord “of whom some grounds, which may improve,/ I hold for two lives, and both lives in me”. He’s obviously talking about his earthly life and heavenly life. He offers his heart to his Lord, who has it washed in a font because his heart was foul (revealed by the Friend who interjects). Then his heart is thrown a scalding pan, labelled AFFLICTION, by which his heart is tenderized because it was too hard. Finally his bed, when he goes to sleep, is packed full of thorns representing thoughts, because his heart was dull. The friend responds, summarizing and showing the speaker his fortune in having a Lord who wants him to be better:
“The Font did onely, what was old, renew:
The Caldron suppled, what was grown too hard:
The Thorns did quicken, what was grown too dull:”
Satire of greed and lust.
Volpone — “sly fox”
Mosca — “the parasite/fly”
Voltore — “the vulture”
Corbaccio — “the raven”
Bonario — Corbaccio’s son
Corvino — “the carrion crow”
Celia — Corvino’s wife
Sir Politic Would-Be
Lady Would-Be — the parrot
Peregrine — sophisticated traveler
Nano — a dwarf
Androgyno — a hermaphrodite
Castrone — a eunuch
The Avocatori — judges of Venice
Volpone is pretending to be on his deathbed to dupe those who aspire to his fortune – Voltore, Corbaccio, and Corvino. Each arrives with a gift (possible mimicry/parody of the three kings?). Mosca (Volpone’s servant) makes each person promises about inheriting. Mosca tells Volpone about Corvino’s beautiful young wife, Celia. Volpone goes to see her in disguise as “Scoto the Mountebank”. He’s rejected, but Mosca arranges it so it seems necessary for Volpone to have a young woman for healing purposes. Bonario arrives to find his father Corbaccio in the act of disinheriting him.
Volpone tempts Celia w/luxury and gifts, but she resists him and he then attempts to rape her. Bonario rescues Celia. Volpone disguises himself and has it announced that he has died and left it all to Mosca. Mosca refuses to give up his wealthy new role. Volpone must reveal himself in order to re-retrieve his fortune.
NOTES AND ANALYSIS:
Set in Renaissance Italy. Each scene opening on the entrance of a new character – “french scenes”. Satirizes a morality play – “fools are the best”. Jonson is satirizing London Puritanism.
The Book of Genesis opens the Hebrew Bible with the story of creation. God, a spirit hovering over an empty, watery void, creates the world by speaking into the darkness and calling into being light, sky, land, vegetation, and living creatures over the course of six days. Each day, he pauses to pronounce his works “good” (1:4). On the sixth day, God declares his intention to make a being in his “own image,” and he creates humankind (1:26). He fashions a man out of dust and forms a woman out of the man’s rib. God places the two people, Adam and Eve, in the idyllic garden of Eden, encouraging them to procreate and to enjoy the created world fully, and forbidding them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In the garden, Eve encounters a crafty serpent who convinces her to eat the tree’s forbidden fruit, assuring her that she will not suffer if she does so. Eve shares the fruit with Adam, and the two are immediately filled with shame and remorse. While walking in the garden, God discovers their disobedience. After cursing the serpent, he turns and curses the couple. Eve, he says, will be cursed to suffer painful childbirth and must submit to her husband’s authority. Adam is cursed to toil and work the ground for food. The two are subsequently banished from Eden.
Sent out into the world, Adam and Eve give birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain, a farmer, offers God a portion of his crops one day as a sacrifice, only to learn that God is more pleased when Abel, a herdsman, presents God with the fattest portion of his flocks. Enraged, Cain kills his brother. God exiles Cain from his home to wander in the land east of Eden. Adam and Eve give birth to a third son, Seth. Through Seth and Cain, the human race begins to grow.
Ten generations pass, and humankind becomes more evil. God begins to lament his creation and makes plans to destroy humankind completely. However, one man, Noah, has earned God’s favor because of his blameless behavior. God speaks to Noah and promises to establish a special covenant with Noah and his family. He instructs Noah to build an ark, or boat, large enough to hold Noah’s family and pairs of every kind of living animal while God sends a great flood to destroy the earth. Noah does so, his family and the animals enter the ark, and rain falls in a deluge for forty days, submerging the earth in water for more than a year. When the waters finally recede, God calls Noah’s family out of the ark and reaffirms his covenant with Noah. Upon exiting the ark, Noah’s family finds that the earth is moist and green again. God promises that from this new fertile earth will follow an equally fertile lineage for Noah and his family. But humankind must follow certain rules to maintain this favor: humans must not eat meat with blood still in it, and anyone who murders another human must also be killed. God vows never to destroy the earth again, and he designates the rainbow to be a symbol of his covenant.
One night, Noah becomes drunk and lies naked in his tent. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, sees his naked father and tells his brothers, Shem and Japeth. Shem and Japeth cover their father without looking at him. Upon waking, Noah curses Ham’s descendants, the Canaanites, for Ham’s indiscretion, declaring that they will serve the future descendants of Ham’s brothers. A detailed genealogy of the three brothers’ descendants is given. Many generations pass and humankind again becomes corrupt. Some men, having moved west to Babylon, attempt to assert their greatness and power by building a large tower that would enable them to reach the heavens. Their arrogance angers God, who destroys the edifice. He scatters the people across the earth by confusing their common language, thus forever dividing humankind into separate nations.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell an authoritative story about the beginnings of the world that contains many contradictions. Scholars believe that the account is not the work of one author, but of a later editor or “redactor” who collected stories from various traditional sources into one volume. For instance, the author of the story of Cain and Abel shows a knowledge of Jewish sacrificial law that only a later writer would possess. Also, the narrator’s introduction of stories with phrases such as “This is the list of the descendants of Adam” (5:1) or “These are the descendants of Noah” (6:9) suggests these tales existed before the current writer or redactor collected them into their present form.
The major thematic link of the first eleven chapters is the structuring of the world around a system of parallels and contrasts. Light breaks into the darkness, land separates water, and “the greater light” of the sun opposes “the lesser light” of the moon (1:16). A more complex occurrence of parallel and contrast takes place with the account of man’s creation. Man is not only made in the image of God, paralleling him, but woman, made from the man’s rib, contrasts with man. The Genesis writer uses the poetic device of antistrophe, or the repetition of a line in reverse order, to highlight the parallels and contrasts in the creation of man:
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. 1:27-29
The antistrophe suggests that the world is logically organized around binary opposites, or basic opposing forces. Positive and negative, work and rest, and day and night are among the many binary opposites that the first chapters of Genesis describe. Good and evil is probably the most consistently explored binary opposite in the Old Testament, and the story of Cain and Abel initiates a lengthy analysis of the difference between good and evil. Cain’s deception and murder of Abel, as well as his evasive response to God’s questioning, describe his evil as inherent in his character and unmitigated by other good traits. God’s punishment, however, demonstrates both justice and mercy, establishing God as the absolute good that opposes Cain’s absolute evil. God exiles Cain from God’s presence, but marks Cain to protect him from the wrath of other people.
Images of the ground and of the earth recur in these chapters. In Genesis, mankind’s relationship with the ground is often a measure of the quality and fullness of human life. God creates Adam from dust, and Adam’s fate is connected to the earth when God curses him:
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it. . . .
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return. 3:17, 19
Cain is similarly cursed to the ground, for he is exiled from his home and sent to wander in a strange land. The ground is the object of God’s rage when God sends the flood and, in some respects, when he destroys the Tower at Babel. However, the ground is also the symbol of God’s blessing to Noah, for God’s promise of fertility to Noah’s family mirrors the green and plentiful quality of the earth.
In the account of Noah, God himself uses symbols as much as the authors of the story. God explicitly calls the rainbow a “sign,” or symbol, of his covenant with humanity after the flood (9:12-13). God frequently uses physical objects to show his spiritual purposes. But unlike the Greek gods of Homer or other Near-Eastern deities, the Hebrew God is never depicted as limited or defined by these objects. Rather, the authors of Genesis suggest that God is telling an elaborate allegorical story through the act of creation and that as God manages the affairs of the earth, symbolic meaning is one of the primary ways in which he communicates with his creations.
The central purpose of these introductory chapters is to construct a detailed etiology, or explanation of the origins of the world. The author is trying to account for the way that certain unfavorable elements of everyday human life came into being. The etiological concerns are clear enough in these chapters. The writers and the redactors have collected stories that explain how evil and separate nations entered the world, why women must live in a society characterized by male standards, why we as humans must work to survive, and why our daily labor is always so hard.
I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.
Nine generations of Shem’s descendants, the Semites, pass. God calls on a man named Abram, living with his father Terah and his wife Sarai in Haran, a city in upper Mesopotamia. God makes a covenant with Abram, promising to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation. Abram agrees to leave his home and move southwest to Canaan with his wife and his nephew, Lot, to a land that God has promised to give to Abram’s descendants. Abram takes up residence there and erects a number of altars throughout the land as symbols of his devotion to God.
After a brief stay in Egypt, Abram becomes wealthy and returns to Canaan, where, with the help of only 318 men, he defeats a legion of marauding armies from the East that has descended upon Sodom, where Lot is currently living. The king of Sodom recognizes Abram for his great deed, and the priest Melchizedek blesses Abram with a gift of bread and wine. Abram returns home where God speaks to him again regarding his covenant. Abram’s descendants, God promises, will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. A ceremony is performed in which God passes a blazing pot through pieces of sacrificed animals, symbolizing that his promise will not be broken. The writer notes that God considers Abram’s faith in him as a form of righteousness.
Sarai cannot become pregnant, but she wants to give her husband an heir. To this end, she sends her handmaiden Hagar to sleep with Abram. When Sarai becomes upset because of Hagar’s contempt, the handmaiden flees in fear. God speaks to Hagar and comforts her, promising her a son who will be a “wild ass of a man,” and Hagar returns to give birth to Abram’s first son, Ishmael (16:12). Once again, God speaks with Abram, this time enjoining Abram to remain blameless in his behavior and adding a new requirement to his everlasting covenant. Abram and all his descendants must now be circumcised as a symbol of the covenant, and God promises Abram a son through Sarai. The son is to be called Isaac, and it will be through Isaac that the covenant is fulfilled. God renames Abram “Abraham,” meaning “father of many,” and gives Sarai a new name, “Sarah.”
One day, God appears to Abraham in the form of three men. The three men say that Sarah will have a son, but Sarah, who is now ninety years old, laughs. The three men travel toward the eastern cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy the cities because of their flagrant wickedness and corruption. Abraham pleads on the cities’ behalf, convincing the Lord not to destroy the cities if only a handful of good men can be found there. The men enter the city of Sodom, and Lot welcomes them into his home. Night falls, and the men of the city surround Lot’s home, wishing to rape the three messengers. The messengers persuade Lot to flee the city with his family, telling him and his family not to look back as they leave. However, as God rains down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looks back at her home and is turned into a pillar of salt.
Abraham continues to gain political status in the area of Canaan, and Sarah eventually gives birth to Isaac. At Sarah’s bidding, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. God again speaks to Abraham in a test, asking Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham quietly resolves to obey, and when he takes Isaac to the mountains, Isaac asks what animal they are going to sacrifice. Abraham replies that God will provide an offering. Isaac is laid on the altar, and just as Abraham is ready to strike, the angel of the Lord stops him. God is impressed with Abraham’s great devotion and, once again, reaffirms his covenant.
Sarah dies. Abraham sends his chief servant to Abraham’s relatives in Assyria to find a wife for Isaac, to prevent his lineage from being sullied by Canaanite influence. The servant prays to be guided to the correct wife for Isaac. God leads him to Rebekah, whom he brings back to Isaac. Isaac marries Rebekah, and Abraham dies soon thereafter.
This section contrasts with the earlier parts of Genesis by telling the extended story of one man, Abraham, and his family rather than combining stories, songs, and genealogies. Genesis traces Abraham’s ancestry to Noah’s son, Shem, in order to establish that Abraham is a member of both the Hebrew and Semitic peoples. Historically, tribes of nomadic people known as habiru—many of whom were Semitic—frequently moved among the ancient Canaanite cities; scholars believe that these nomads may be the roots of the Hebrew people. Whether or not Abraham was indeed the original ancestor of the Hebrew people is uncertain. But the story of Abraham is nevertheless significant to the religious tradition of faith and obedience it prescribes.
God’s affirmation of his covenant with humankind now takes the form of an ongoing, personal relationship with a specific man and his descendants. The authors of Genesis describe God himself as a storyteller who uses the lives of the people who are obedient to him to describe a divine plot. God creates various symbols as reminders of the covenant, including the fiery pot at his second encounter with Abram, the custom of circumcision, and the renaming of Abram and Sarai. Poetic devices further emphasize the literary nature of the story and the importance of the covenant. God first verbalizes his covenant with Abram in the form of a song and later comforts Hagar in verse. These elements, especially the poetic, provide a break in the Genesis narrative, slowing down the plot and suggesting the grand, metaphysical significance of God’s promise to Abraham.
These stories demonstrate the ways in which God gives dramatic rewards for absolute faith and obedience. At God’s command, Abraham leaves his home to roam in a strange land; God’s reward is to cause Abraham to discover great wealth. Sarah, barren her entire life, gives birth to a son at the age of ninety, an event so unlikely that she laughs when she is told that it will occur. And finally, Abraham receives God’s greatest praise when he obediently stands poised to kill the very son through whom God has promised to fulfill his covenant. These moments depict absolute faith in God, despite the fact that his demands may seem illogical or unreasonable. What God consistently rewards is the abandonment of human reason and free will in favor of actions whose purpose is unknown or unknowable. As a result, these stories establish a version of God who knows what is best for mankind, but who reveals his purposes only selectively.
Another characteristic of the Old Testament God is the elusive manner in which he communicates with humans. Sometimes, people directly encounter God, as when God and Abraham converse. Frequently, however, God appears in the form of someone or something else, as when he visits Abraham in the form of three men. Throughout the Old Testament, God is alternately seen and unseen. Unlike the epics of the ancient Greeks, in which every event or action is described in full detail, there are always details in Genesis and the Hebrew Bible that remain unexplained because God so often insists on removing himself from the action. The most important instance of God’s absence is when God tests Abraham. After requesting that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, God disappears without stating his true intentions, leaving Abraham to move forward in silence to the mountain where he will, supposedly, kill his son. In this story, God’s absence serves the purpose of testing Abraham’s faith in the infallibility of God, even when God does not explain his demands. Furthermore, the removal of God from the story greatly increases the drama and suspense of the Genesis narrative.
Following Abraham’s death, God reveals to Isaac’s wife Rebekah that she will soon give birth to two sons who will represent two nations, one stronger than the other. When Rebekah delivers, Esau is born first and is extremely hairy. Jacob, who is smooth skinned, is born immediately after, grasping the heel of his brother. Isaac’s two sons grow to be opposites. Esau is a hunter and a brash man. Jacob stays at home, soft-spoken but quick-witted. One day, Esau comes home famished, demanding to be fed, and agrees to give Jacob his inheritance rights in exchange for a bowl of soup.
Like his own father, Isaac prospers in Canaan and, despite occasional errors in judgment, enlarges his property, making alliances with area rulers and continuing to erect monuments to God. One day, when he is old and blind, Isaac instructs Esau to catch some game and prepare him a meal so that he may give the elder son his blessing. While Esau is gone, Rebekah helps Jacob deceive his father, preparing a separate meal and disguising the younger son with hairy arms and Esau’s clothing. When Jacob presents Isaac with the meal, Isaac—smelling Esau’s clothing and feeling the hairy body—proceeds to bless Jacob, promising him the inheritance of God’s covenant and a greater status than his brother. Esau returns to discover the deception, but it is too late. Isaac, though dismayed, says that he cannot revoke the stolen blessing.
Jacob flees in fear of Esau, traveling to the house of his uncle Laban in upper Mesopotamia. En route, Jacob dreams of a stairway leading up to heaven, where angels and God reside. In the dream, God promises Jacob the same covenant he previously made with Abraham and Isaac. Jacob arrives at Laban’s house, where he agrees to work for his uncle in exchange for the hand of Laban’s daughter, Rachel, in marriage. Laban deceives Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister, before marrying Rachel. The two wives compete for Jacob’s favor and, along with their maids, give birth to eleven sons and a daughter.
After twenty years, Jacob heeds God’s urging and leaves to return to Canaan, taking his family, his flocks, and Laban’s collection of idols, or miniature representations of gods. Rachel, who has stolen the idolic figurines from her father, hides them under her skirt when Laban tracks down the fleeing clan in the desert. Unable to procure his belongings, Laban settles his differences with Jacob, who erects a pillar of stone as a “witness” to God of their peaceful resolution (31:48). Jacob continues on and, nearing home, fears an encounter with Esau. Jacob prepares gifts to appease his brother and, dividing his family and belongings into two camps, spends the night alone on the river Jabbok. Jacob meets God, who, disguised as a man, physically wrestles with Jacob until dawn. Jacob demands a blessing from his opponent, and the man blesses Jacob by renaming him “Israel,” meaning, “he struggles with God.”
The next morning, Jacob meets Esau, who welcomes his brother with open arms. Jacob resettles in Shechem, not far from Esau, who has intermarried with the Canaanites and produced a tribe called the Edomites. Jacob and his sons prosper in peace until one day Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped by a man from Shechem. Enraged, Jacob’s sons say they will let the Shechemite marry Dinah if all the members of the man’s family will be circumcised. The man agrees and, while the greater part of his village is healing from the surgical procedure, Jacob’s sons take revenge and attack the Shechemites, killing all the men. Isaac and Rachel die soon thereafter.
Jacob’s sons grow jealous of their youngest brother, Joseph, who is Jacob’s favorite son. When Jacob presents Joseph with a beautiful, multi-colored coat, the eleven elder brothers sell Joseph into slavery, telling their father that Joseph is dead. Joseph is sold to Potiphar, a high-ranking official in Egypt, who favors the boy greatly until, one day, Potiphar’s flirtatious wife accuses Joseph of trying to sleep with her. Potiphar throws Joseph in prison, but—ever faithful to God—Joseph earns a reputation as an interpreter of dreams. Years pass until the Pharaoh of Egypt, bothered by two troublesome dreams, hears of Joseph and his abilities. Pharaoh summons Joseph, who successfully interprets the dreams, warning Pharaoh that a great famine will strike Egypt after seven years. Impressed, Pharaoh elects Joseph to be his highest official, and Joseph leads a campaign throughout Egypt to set aside food in preparation for the famine.
Famine eventually plagues the land and, learning of the Egyptian supply of grain, Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt to purchase food. The eleven men present themselves to Joseph, who recognizes them immediately but refrains from revealing his identity. Joseph toys with his brothers to test their good will, first throwing them in jail and then sending them back to Canaan to retrieve their newest brother, Benjamin. They return with the boy, and Joseph continues his game, planting a silver cup in the boy’s satchel and threatening to kill the boy when the cup is discovered. When Judah offers his own life in exchange for Benjamin’s, Joseph reveals his identity. Joseph persuades his brothers to return to Egypt with Jacob, who, overjoyed, moves to Egypt with his family of seventy.
As Jacob approaches death, he promises Joseph that the covenant will pass on through Joseph and his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. However, when Jacob places his hands on the two boys to bless them, he crosses his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim, the younger son. Joseph protests, but Jacob says that Ephraim will be greater than Manasseh. Jacob dies soon thereafter and, accompanied by Egyptians, Joseph buries his father in Canaan. They return to Egypt, where Jacob’s descendants, the Israelite people, grow rapidly. Joseph eventually dies, instructing his family to return one day to the land God has promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The division of the world into binary opposites, initiated with the creation story, dominates the latter half of Genesis. Just as light absolutely opposes darkness and male absolutely opposes female in the creation story, Esau and Jacob are diametrically opposed in everything from their appearance to their occupations and behavior. Rachel and Leah constitute another pair of binary opposites, struggling with each other for Jacob’s affections. Oppositions continue, not only between Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Mannasseh, but with other, more intangible elements, such as the wrestling match between God and man, the contrast between abundance and famine in Egypt, and the decidedly joyful welcome of Esau after Jacob’s expectations of a violent homecoming. Alongside the motif of opposites runs a motif of substitution or crossing; Jacob is blessed instead of Esau, and Jacob himself crosses his arms when he blesses Joseph’s sons, bestowing the higher blessing on the younger son.
These opposing elements generate both irony and radical reversals in the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Esau does not merely receive a lesser blessing because Jacob steals his inheritance but is actually cursed to serve his younger brother forever, barred from the covenant entirely. Characters are increasingly tricky or deceptive in these stories, and their skill at deception usually earns them praise and privilege rather than punishment. Jacob deceives Esau, and as a result becomes the founder of one of the greatest nations in the Old Testament. Laban deceives Jacob, and receives twice as many years of service from him as a result. Rachel hides her father’s idols under her dress, and Jacob’s sons murderously trick the Shechemites. The most interesting deception, on a literary level, is Joseph’s decision to veil his identity from his brothers. The elaborate deception builds in suspense over four chapters, as the narrative does not make it clear whether Joseph plans to enact revenge or simply to scare his brothers. When Judah offers to give his life for Benjamin, and Joseph forgives his brothers, trickery is replaced by the possibility of redemption, foreshadowing God’s plan to reverse the Israelites’ fortune with a promise of abundance in a new land.
Joseph plays a game of punishment and redemption with his brothers, and God plays the same game with the whole of humanity throughout Genesis. God creates a realm of opposing forces, symbols, and reversals to suggest a pattern of how and through whom his covenant will be revealed. The game is in the foreground, while God and his reasons for playing the game move into the background of the Genesis narrative. The game becomes literal rather than figurative when God wrestles Jacob by the Jabbok River. The event is a metaphor for how God conveys his promise to humankind in the second half of Genesis. Just as the mysterious man never identifies himself to Jacob, so God recedes further and further from humankind. Jacob, however, is able to see past his opponent’s bodily appearance because he is persistent and faithful, eventually able to wrest a blessing from this obscured manifestation of God. The giving of the name “Israel” to Jacob not only commemorates this specific struggle but also commemorates the struggle of the Israelites with an unseen God. Joseph, the ancestor of the Israelites, never has an explicit conversation with God, yet he notes in the final chapter of Genesis that the happy outcome of the first trick his brothers play on him has helped to save many lives in Egypt. The experience of Joseph and Jacob shows that God’s covenant is fulfilled largely through the act of struggling.
The Song of Solomon is a series of lyrical poems organized as a lengthy dialogue between a young woman and her lover. A third party, or chorus, occasionally addresses the lovers. The first poem is spoken by the young maiden, who longs to be near her lover and enjoy his kisses. She explains that she has a dark complexion because her family sends her to work in the vineyards. She searches for her lover, comparing him to a wandering shepherd, and the chorus encourages her to follow the flocks to his tent.
The lovers lie on a couch together. The man praises the beauty of his beloved, comparing her to a young mare and comparing her eyes to doves’ eyes. He describes verdant and fertile surroundings. The maiden calls herself a rose and a lily, covered by the shade of her beloved, a fruit tree. She compares her beloved to a lively gazelle that arrives to take her away during spring when the plants are budding. The maiden boasts that the man now pastures his flocks of sheep among her lilies. She warns other women, “the daughters of Jerusalem,” not to fall in love too early (2:7).
While in bed, the maiden dreams that she is searching the city streets for her lover and that she finds him and takes him home. She envisions a lavish wedding procession, in which her happy bridegroom appears as King Solomon. The man speaks, comparing each part of the maiden’s body to animals and precious objects. He calls for her to come down from the mountain peaks to be with him. With intense yearning, he characterizes her as an enclosed “garden” full of ripe foliage and a flowing fountain (4:12-15). The maiden bids the wind to blow on her garden and invites the man into the garden. The man dines in the garden and calls for their friends to celebrate with the lovers.
In another dream, the maiden hears her lover knocking at her door late one night, but he disappears. Again, she roams the streets, but this time the city guards accost the maiden. She asks the “daughters of Jerusalem” to help her find her lover. The chorus asks her to describe the young man, and she compares each part of his body to precious metals, jewels, and animals.
The two find each other in the garden. The man continues to praise each part of the maiden’s body. He bids her to dance and likens her to a palm tree with breasts like fruit. The maiden invites her lover to the fields and villages, promising to give him her love among the blossoming vineyards. She wishes that he were her brother so that people would not comment about their open displays of affection. She urges him to “seal” his heart with her love, for love is strong. The maiden thinks back on her earlier chastity but is glad she has lost it peacefully “in his eyes” (8:10). The man says that, while King Solomon may have many vineyards, he is happy with his one vineyard, the maiden.
The Song of Solomon is also called “The Song of Songs,” suggesting that it is the greatest of all songs. The first title implies that King Solomon composed the collection of love poems, but Solomon’s name was probably added at a later date by the song’s editors, perhaps because of references within the text to the wise and prolific king. This attribution to Solomon led to the book’s inclusion in the Hebrew Bible and later, Christian versions of the Old Testament. Early Hebrew and Christian scholars long maintained that the love story is an allegory of God’s love for humankind, or of the intensity of divine love within the human heart. However, it is undeniable that the song celebrates not only human love but also the sensuous and mystical quality of erotic desire.
Modern scholars see similarities between The Song of Solomon and other ancient Near-Eastern stories in which the fertility of the earth depends upon the sexual encounter of a male and female deity. Although the biblical maiden and her lover themselves do not affect the fertility of the land, there are numerous parallels between the fertile vegetation of their surroundings and the success of their romance. The lovers recline on a green couch, whose color suggests a connection with nature. The song also explicitly compares the man and woman to vegetation: the woman is a flower and the man is a fruit tree. Images of plants and frolicking animals are symbols of life, and as such they are metaphors for the procreative act of human sexual relations. The song’s references to spring and the budding of plants further emphasize the budding of romantic arousal. The couple always celebrates their love in such verdant environments—in the wilderness, the vineyard, or the garden. It is in the city, where plants do not grow and the city guards are brutal, that the maiden searches for her lover but cannot find him.
The man’s comparison of the maiden to a “garden locked” and “fountain sealed” establishes the relationship between chastity and femininity (4:12). The image of an enclosed garden is a metaphor for female virginity that is frequently repeated in later medieval and Renaissance literature. In the Song of Solomon, the closed garden suggests that the girl is chaste and unsullied. The man’s dining in the garden implies that the two have consummated their relationship, and his invitation to the chorus to celebrate this event with feasting further indicates the completion of this rite of passage. Later, the two walk in a vineyard, and the girl remembers her earlier virginity when she was cursed to labor in the vineyard instead of enjoying it. Her memory while in the vineyard suggests the bittersweet nature of the loss of innocence.
The garden motif is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden in Genesis, where Adam and Eve enjoy God’s creation prior to the emergence of human wickedness. The parallels to Eden in The Song of Solomon suggest that the celebration of human sensuality is, itself, a good and not a wicked thing. The maiden and her lover, however, must enjoy their love within the boundaries and confines of gardens and fields. This limitation on the enjoyment of their sexual behavior is in keeping with the ongoing biblical theme that there are ethical requirements for enjoying God’s promises—for Adam and Eve to remain in the garden of Eden and for the Israelites to dwell in the promised land.
There is a general consensus among scholars that 1 Corinthians was written by the important early Christian missionary Paul of Tarsus. In late 56 or early 57 a.d., Paul was in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. From there, writing with his collaborator Sosthenes, he addressed a series of letters to the Greek city of Corinth, which he had visited between 50 and 52 a.d., and where he had converted both Jews and Gentiles to the Christian faith. Corinth was located on the isthmus connecting the Peloponnesian peninsula to the Greek mainland, and its advantageous location allowed it to become a prosperous merchant city. Prosperity, however, brought pagan hedonism. Corinth developed a reputation, widespread throughout the ancient world, for sexual license. Paul’s letters to the Christians at Corinth address his concern over a pressing issue: the rampant immorality associated with the paganism of Corinth. This immorality had begun to infect the Corinthian church. Paul was deeply concerned for the spiritual health of the Corinthian church, which had been deprived of his guidance for several years. As a result, Paul corresponded at greater length with the Corinthian church than with any of the other communities that he established. The New Testament preserves two of these letters, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and makes reference to at least one other lost letter (1 Cor. 5:9).
Paul begins 1 Corinthians with a greeting to “the church of God that is in Corinth,” in which he offers thanks for the faith and strength of the Corinthian church (1:2). He immediately begins, however, to list and address the problems that plague that church. The first problem, to which he devotes almost four chapters, concerns factionalism within the church. Paul has heard that the Corinthian church has divided itself according to the various preachers of the Gospel: “each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ'” (1:12). Paul stresses that each preacher of the Gospel is merely a servant of Jesus, and that all believers should be united in Jesus. The faithful should put aside their differences and remember that “[a]ll things are yours. . . . You belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (3:23). The place of the preachers is not to establish themselves as leaders among men; instead, “[p]eople should think of us as servants of Christ” (4:1).
Paul enumerates various immoral tendencies of the Corinthian Christians. He cautions them to condemn sexual immorality within the church. Membership in the community of the faithful, he teaches, means that the church faithful must adjudicate moral matters amongst themselves, chastising and expelling sinners. In response to questions put to him about specific confusions over religious practice, Paul sets forth a principle that becomes embedded in church doctrine: “To the unmarried . . . I say: it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry” (7:8-9). Paul advocates freedom of conscience within the bounds of faith. He does not mandate circumcision, although many early Christians, who were practically all Jewish, assumed that circumcision was a prerequisite for conversion to Christianity. Paul declares it permissible to eat food dedicated to false gods, provided that one does not compromise the conscience of another Christian by doing so.
In a break from his instruction, Paul spends Chapter 9 discussing his own case. He sees himself as a man who has sacrificed everything to preach the Gospel, forgoing material comfort and becoming all things to all people. Returning to his moral instruction, Paul invokes the example of the ancient Israelites, who were punished for their immorality and faithlessness, and exhorts the Corinthians to avoid idolatrous worship and sexual immorality. He explains to them that while it is not forbidden to eat certain foods, it is best to avoid offending people and to respect the consciences of others. Paul then speaks on public worship. He says that women must cover their heads during prayer, while men must pray with heads bared. When the Lord’s Supper is commemorated, it must be celebrated in true communal fashion, and must be preceded by careful self-inspection.
In Chapters 12 and 14, Paul speaks of the regulation of spiritual gifts in the church of believers. There are many instances in the Corinthian church of people prophesying and speaking in tongues. These spiritual gifts are important because they help to strengthen the community. All gifts, and all believers, are indispensable to the church. Each believer is a part of the incarnated body of Jesus, and each fulfills his or her own particular function. But Paul prioritizes prophecy, with its clarity of message, over speaking in tongues, which is generally indecipherable and therefore cannot provide instruction to the community. Paul interrupts this discussion of spiritual gifts with Chapter 13, which has become known as the Hymn to Love, in which he expounds upon the importance of love: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (13:13).
Paul moves toward his conclusion with an exposition on the doctrinal question of the resurrection of the dead. He reminds the Corinthians of the core Christian doctrine. The resurrection of Jesus, he insists, is a cardinal point of the Christian faith. The future resurrection of all the dead stems from Jesus’s own resurrection, and it is the future resurrection—the promise of eternal life—that makes Christian sacrifice meaningful: “If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:33). Paul explains the nature of resurrection, noting that the physical body will not be resurrected. Rather, it is the spiritual body that is immortal. The immortality of the spiritual body signifies the true victory of faith over death, and Paul concludes, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:57). Finally, 1 Corinthians ends with Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to take up a collection for the benefit of the poor in Jerusalem. He expresses his hope that he will be able to visit Corinth soon, and in the meanwhile urges the Corinthians to accept his emissary Timothy with open arms. He charges them to “[k]eep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (16:13-14).
In 1 Corinthians, through the issues that he chooses to address, Paul provides us with historical insight into the early Christian Church. It was a church without any single supreme authority. The missionaries and preachers who spread the Gospel in the decades after Jesus were by no means homogenous in their approaches to Christian doctrine and practice. Paul speaks of divisions in the church at Corinth that stem from perceived differences in the Gospel as preached by various missionaries. It seems that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas (the Aramaic name given to Peter) each had adherents in the Corinthian church. It is possible that the Christians at Corinth, recent converts who were inadequately instructed in Christianity, simply misunderstood the missionaries and believed doctrinal differences to exist. It is also possible that there were actual important differences between the Christianity of Peter and that of Paul. Instances of disagreements between early Christian leaders are both implicit and explicit in The New Testament. For instance, in Acts 15, it is evident that the apostles Peter and James are more conservative than Paul with regard to adhering to Jewish law. But it is also true that in Corinthians, Paul addresses a group of people with little knowledge of Paul’s Jewish culture. A certain amount of confusion was probably inevitable.
Paul’s letter is remarkable in that it exhorts the Corinthians toward unity rather than ideological division. He does not mandate resolving whatever differences may exist between the factions of the Corinthian church. Rather, he reminds them of the all-important unity that binds them and supersedes their differences. Throughout 1 Corinthians, the themes of unity and the importance of freedom of conscience within certain moral boundaries are constantly stressed. This freedom of conscience extends from doctrinal issues to questions of practice: for instance, Paul permits the Corinthians to eat food sacrificed to idols (10:26-27), in direct defiance of the principle established by the church leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:28-29). In his discussion of the various spiritual gifts granted to the faithful, Paul returns again to the theme of unity through diversity: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord” (12:4-5).
Paul’s great commandment is to love. He hopes that love will bind the community together despite its differences, and lead people to achieve faith and godliness in anticipation of the imminent Second Coming. Paul attempts to unify the church by accepting varying beliefs and practices, but his emphasis on unity does not reflect any willingness to compromise his religious faith. Paul’s accepting attitude has limitations, and 1 Corinthians is filled with Paul’s righteous indignation. He does not hesitate to “say this to your shame” to the Corinthians, nor to chastise them for their moral misdeeds (15:34). In this letter, Paul assumes the voice of a stern but loving parent. He says, “In Christ Jesus I became your father” (4:15), and he tells the Corinthians, “I fed you with milk” (3:2). The family of believers is open to all who are faithful. Unlike many of the early Christians, Paul is willing to accept Gentile as well as Jew: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . slaves or free” (12:13). But acceptance does not mean tolerance of repeated misdeeds and the refusal to repent: “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (5:13).
The Book of Revelation is strikingly different from the rest of the New Testament. It is populated by winged and wild creatures, locust plagues, and seven-headed beasts. Revelation is filled with obscure and fantastic symbolism, and it teems with mystical references. However, it lacks any real internal structure. Unlike the other New Testament books, which tend to mix narrative with sermon-style preaching, Revelation is essentially a long, uninterrupted record of a mystical vision, offering little interpretation for its intricate symbols. Revelation has been read for thousands of years as a code that, properly interpreted, can reveal the secrets of history and the end of the world. The numbers and symbols in Revelation have been read into any number of traumatic events in ancient and modern history.
Revelation was a product of this time of early growth and confusion, but also of a long Jewish tradition of apocalyptic literature. The Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Zechariah contain long apocalyptic segments. The most famous Old Testament apocalypse, the Book of Daniel, was written circa 165 b.c. The apocalyptic genre became more popular after 70 a.d., when the apocryphal apocalypses, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra, were written in response to the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by Roman armies. There is enough apocalyptic literature that it can be classified as a genre of its own, with its own particular characteristics. Some of these common features are revelations made to a human emissary through a supernatural agency, heavy symbolism, numerology with obscure significance, extravagant imagery, and concern about a cataclysmic day of judgment or the end of the world. Apocalyptic literature tends to take a deterministic view of history—that is, apocalypses are generally driven by the belief that history inexorably follows a set path ordained by God. All of these characteristics of the apocalyptic genre are present in Revelation.
The introduction of Revelation names the author, John, and explains the immediacy of the message: the end of days is at hand. John extends a greeting to the Christian communities in seven major Near East cities in the name of the God of history. On the Sabbath, John falls into a prophetic ecstasy. He sees a vision of a shining Jesus, surrounded by seven stars and seven lamp-stands: these represent the seven churches of Asia. In 2:1-3:22, John is given orders to deliver a message to each of the churches, addressing specific strengths and failings of each church, providing encouragement to some and driving others to repent before Judgment Day. Jesus reminds them that his coming is imminent. The first half of John’s revelatory experience begins with the opening of the heavenly door: “Come up here,” a voice calls to him, “I will show you what is to take place in the future” (4:1). John sees God enthroned and surrounded by twenty-four elders.
Lightning flashes and thunder sounds. Old Testament angels with six wings and many eyes sing praises to the Lord. God holds a scroll sealed with seven seals, and nobody is worthy of breaking the seals except Jesus, by virtue of his sacrifice. Jesus appears here as “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered,” but also as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5-6). Breaking the first four seals, Jesus releases the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: victory, war, famine, and pestilence. When the fifth seal is broken, the souls of martyrs cry out for justice, but they are urged to have patience until the appointed number of people have been martyred. The breaking of the sixth seal unleashes a massive cosmic upheaval that devastates the world.
Before the breaking of the seventh seal, an angel marks 144,000 people—12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel—with the seal of God to protect them from the coming devastation. Other righteous people, too, are to be saved: a “great multitude . . . [of people] from all the tribes and peoples and languages” have cleansed themselves and they, too, will be protected (7:9). Finally, it is time to open the seventh seal (8:1). But the opening of the seal is anticlimactic; when it is opened, it is revealed that there are seven trumpets that need to be blown. Four of the trumpets blow, each bringing with it disaster and destruction, with fire falling from the sky (8:6-12). With the fifth trumpet, the chimney leading out of the Abyss is unlocked, and bizarre locusts emerge in the smoke, stinging anyone unmarked by God’s seal. The sixth trumpet unleashes a vast troop of cavalry who kill “a third of humankind” (9:18). However, the survivors nevertheless refuse to stop worshipping idols and behaving immorally. An angel descends from heaven, announcing the imminent fulfillment of “the mystery of God” with the blowing of the seventh trumpet (10:7).
The prophet is ordered to consume a scroll, which will taste sweet but be bitter in his stomach (8:10). He is told that two prophets will arise to preach the word of God in Jerusalem, but will be killed after 1,260 days by “the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit” (11:7). God will revive these prophets, and will strike Jerusalem with a powerful earthquake. Finally, the seventh trumpet blows, and John hears voices shouting, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (11:15). The moment for justice, punishment, and triumph has arrived, with lighting, thunder, earthquakes, and hail.
The second half of Revelation begins with the opening of God’s sanctuary in heaven. A woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,” gives birth to a child who is almost eaten by a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns (12:1). The child is saved from the dragon and brought to heaven. The archangel Michael makes war on the dragon, who is Satan, defeats him, and drives him from heaven. The dragon continues to pursue the woman, who yet again escapes him. Instead, he makes war on her children. The dragon delegates his power to a fantastical creature identified only as “the beast,” who makes war on the saints and curses God (13:4). A false prophet, “another beast,” arises and convinces people to worship the first beast (13:11). The prophet sees Jesus and his 144,000 righteous followers entrenched on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He hears the news that the Day of Judgment is at hand, and that Babylon the Great—probably symbolic of the Roman Empire—has fallen. Angels begin to spill out of the blood of the wicked like wine from a winepress. While the righteous sing hymns to Moses and Jesus, seven angels empty seven bowls of plagues across the Earth, bringing suffering and destruction to the wicked. People refuse to repent, and instead curse God. With the pouring out of the seventh bowl, “it is done” (16:17).
John is shown a vision of the Whore of Babylon, who symbolizes the Roman Empire. An angel announces the fall of Babylon and warns God’s faithful to abandon Rome, lest they be punished together with the wicked. Those wicked people who made their livings from Rome’s trade will mourn her downfall, but the righteous will rejoice. Many voices surrounding the throne of God sing his praises at the news, and announce that the Lamb, Jesus, is soon to be wedded to his “bride,” the faithful of God (19:7). John is ordered to write the wedding announcement: “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9). In the final battle, the gates of heaven open, and Jesus, clad now as a warrior named “Faithful and True,” leads the hosts of heaven in a war against the beast and the kings of the Earth (19:11). The beast and his false prophet are hurled into a fiery lake, and the other opponents of Jesus are killed. Together with the saints, Jesus reigns for 1,000 glorious years. At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan gathers his forces, Gog and Magog, and again leads them into battle against the saints, but they are consumed by fire. Satan, too, is hurled into the fiery pit. On the Day of Judgment, which follows immediately, everyone is resurrected and judged “according to their works” (20:12). After Judgment Day, John sees a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth,” and a new holy city of Jerusalem descended from heaven (21:1). The New Jerusalem is a picture of shining perfection, carved of precious stones and lit by the glory of God and Jesus, who are present in Jerusalem instead of a temple. John is commanded to publicize the vision that he has received: “Do not seal up the words of the prophesy of this book, for the time is near” (22:10). In the conclusion of Revelation, Jesus himself promises that God will come soon to reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
The Book of Revelation was probably written sometime between 81 and 89 a.d. by a man named John, in and around the cities in Asia Minor. Some scholars contend that Revelation indeed talks about the future, but it primarily seeks to understand the present, a time that was almost certainly one of extreme stress for Christians. Revelation itself indicates that John understood that a persecution of Christians living in western Asia Minor was imminent, and that the persecution would come from the Romans, who would make demands for emperor worship that the Christians would have to resist. John’s revelation is an attempt to persuade the small churches to turn away from imperial cult worship and toward the true God, who was in charge of history and who will triumph in the end. Revelation seeks to accommodate the contradiction of the triumph of God in history with the continued oppressive rule of the Romans.
Revelation’s heavy use of imagination and provocative symbolism is central to its rhetorical power. Revelation turns to poetics and aesthetics to depict the imperial city of Rome as a beast, stating that “its feet were like a bear’s and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth” (13:2). The beast has ten horns and seven heads and carries on its back “Babylon the great, mother of whores, and of the earth’s abominations” (17:5). Babylon, who is “drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of the witnesses to Jesus,” represents the Roman Empire (17:6). She is eventually judged by the more powerful God, who causes her fall in Revelation’s climax: “He has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants. . . . Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (14:8, 19:2).
John’s potent imagery is not only a “call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (13:10), but it also tries to move the audience to a decision to turn away from the beast “so that you do not take part in her sins” (18:4), and instead to turn toward the God of justice who “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (21:4). Revelation persuades Christians to stake their lives on that decision. In Babylon, everything is for sale. John does not hedge about the immorality of such disparities between the rich and the poor. When Babylon is destroyed, neither God, Christ, the saints, the apostles, nor the prophets mourn. Those who are upset are “the merchants of the earth” (18:11) and “all whose trade is on the sea” (18:17). In addition, “the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her will weep and wail” (18:9).
Summary: Lines 1-26: The Prologue and Invocation
Milton opens Paradise Lost by formally declaring his poem’s subject: humankind’s first act of disobedience toward God, and the consequences that followed from it. The act is Adam and Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, as told in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In the first line, Milton refers to the outcome of Adam and Eve’s sin as the “fruit” of the forbidden tree, punning on the actual apple and the figurative fruits of their actions. Milton asserts that this original sin brought death to human beings for the first time, causing us to lose our home in paradise until Jesus comes to restore humankind to its former position of purity.
Milton’s speaker invokes the muse, a mystical source of poetic inspiration, to sing about these subjects through him, but he makes it clear that he refers to a different muse from the muses who traditionally inspired classical poets by specifying that his muse inspired Moses to receive the Ten Commandments and write Genesis. Milton’s muse is the Holy Spirit, which inspired the Christian Bible, not one of the nine classical muses who reside on Mount Helicon—the “Aonian mount” of I.15. He says that his poem, like his muse, will fly above those of the Classical poets and accomplish things never attempted before, because his source of inspiration is greater than theirs. Then he invokes the Holy Spirit, asking it to fill him with knowledge of the beginning of the world, because the Holy Spirit was the active force in creating the universe.
Milton’s speaker announces that he wants to be inspired with this sacred knowledge because he wants to show his fellow man that the fall of humankind into sin and death was part of God’s greater plan, and that God’s plan is justified.
The beginning of Paradise Lost is similar in gravity and seriousness to the book from which Milton takes much of his story: the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The Bible begins with the story of the world’s creation, and Milton’s epic begins in a similar vein, alluding to the creation of the world by the Holy Spirit. The first two sentences, or twenty-six lines, of Paradise Lost are extremely compressed, containing a great deal of information about Milton’s reasons for writing his epic, his subject matter, and his attitudes toward his subject. In these two sentences, Milton invokes his muse, which is actually the Holy Spirit rather than one of the nine muses. By invoking a muse, but differentiating it from traditional muses, Milton manages to tell us quite a lot about how he sees his project. In the first place, an invocation of the muse at the beginning of an epic is conventional, so Milton is acknowledging his awareness of Homer, Virgil, and later poets, and signaling that he has mastered their format and wants to be part of their tradition. But by identifying his muse as the divine spirit that inspired the Bible and created the world, he shows that his ambitions go far beyond joining the club of Homer and Virgil. Milton’s epic will surpass theirs, drawing on a more fundamental source of truth and dealing with matters of more fundamental importance to human beings. At the same time, however, Milton’s invocation is extremely humble, expressing his utter dependence on God’s grace in speaking through him. Milton thus begins his poem with a mixture of towering ambition and humble self-effacement, simultaneously tipping his hat to his poetic forebears and promising to soar above them for God’s glorification.
Milton’s approach to the invocation of the muse, in which he takes a classical literary convention and reinvents it from a Christian perspective, sets the pattern for all of Paradise Lost. For example, when he catalogs the prominent devils in Hell and explains the various names they are known by and which cults worshipped them, he makes devils of many gods whom the Greeks, Ammonites, and other ancient peoples worshipped. In other words, the great gods of the classical world have become—according to Milton—fallen angels. His poem purports to tell of these gods’ original natures, before they infected humankind in the form of false gods. Through such comparisons with the classical epic poems, Milton is quick to demonstrate that the scope of his epic poem is much greater than those of the classical poets, and that his worldview and inspiration is more fundamentally true and all-encompassing than theirs. The setting, or world, of Milton’s epic is large enough to include those smaller, classical worlds. Milton also displays his world’s superiority while reducing those classical epics to the level of old, nearly forgotten stories. For example, the nine muses of classical epics still exist on Mount Helicon in the world of Paradise Lost, but Milton’s muse haunts other areas and has the ability to fly above those other, less-powerful classical Muses. Thus Milton both makes himself the authority on antiquity and subordinates it to his Christian worldview.
The Iliad and the Aeneid are the great epic poems of Greek and Latin, respectively, and Milton emulates them because he intends Paradise Lost to be the first English epic. Milton wants to make glorious art out of the English language the way the other epics had done for their languages. Not only must a great epic be long and poetically well-constructed, its subject must be significant and original, its form strict and serious, and its aims noble and heroic. In Milton’s view, the story he will tell is the most original story known to man, as it is the first story of the world and of the first human beings. Also, while Homer and Virgil only chronicled the journey of heroic men, like Achilles or Aeneas, Milton chronicles the tragic journey of all men—the result of humankind’s disobedience. Milton goes so far as to say that he hopes to “justify,” or explain, God’s mysterious plan for humankind. Homer and Virgil describe great wars between men, but Milton tells the story of the most epic battle possible: the battle between God and Satan, good and evil.
Summary: Lines 27-722: Satan and Hell
Immediately after the prologue, Milton raises the question of how Adam and Eve’s disobedience occurred and explains that their actions were partly due to a serpent’s deception. This serpent is Satan, and the poem joins him and his followers in Hell, where they have just been cast after being defeated by God in Heaven.
Satan lies stunned beside his second-in-command, Beelzebub, in a lake of fire that gives off darkness instead of light. Breaking the awful silence, Satan bemoans their terrible position, but does not repent of his rebellion against God, suggesting that they might gather their forces for another attack. Beelzebub is doubtful; he now believes that God cannot be overpowered. Satan does not fully contradict this assessment, but suggests that they could at least pervert God’s good works to evil purposes. The two devils then rise up and, spreading their wings, fly over to the dry land next to the flaming lake. But they can undertake this action only because God has allowed them to loose their chains. All of the devils were formerly angels who chose to follow Satan in his rebellion, and God still intends to turn their evil deeds toward the good.
Once out of the lake, Satan becomes more optimistic about their situation. He calls the rest of the fallen angels, his legions, to join him on land. They immediately obey and, despite their wounds and suffering, fly up to gather on the plain. Milton lists some of the more notable of the angels whose names have been erased from the books of Heaven, noting that later, in the time of man, many of these devils come to be worshipped as gods.
Among these are Moloch, who is later known as a god requiring human sacrifices, and Belial, a lewd and lustful god. Still in war gear, these fallen angels have thousands of banners raised and their shields and spears in hand. Even in defeat, they are an awesome army to behold.
Satan’s unrepentant evil nature is unwavering. Even cast down in defeat, he does not consider changing his ways: he insists to his fellow devils that their delight will be in doing evil, not good. In particular, as he explains to Beelzebub, he wishes to pervert God’s will and find a way to make evil out of good. It is not easy for Satan to maintain this determination; the battle has just demonstrated God’s overwhelming power, and the devils could not even have lifted themselves off the lake of fire unless God had allowed it. God allows it precisely because he intends to turn their evil designs toward a greater good in the end. Satan’s envy of the Son’s chosen status led him to rebel and consequently to be condemned. His continued envy and search for freedom leads him to believe that he would rather be a king in Hell than a servant in Heaven. Satan’s pride has caused him to believe that his own free intellect is as great as God’s will. Satan remarks that the mind can make its own Hell out of Heaven, or in his case, its own Heaven out of Hell.
Satan addresses his comrades and acknowledges their shame in falling to the heavenly forces, but urges them to gather in order to consider whether another war is feasible. Instantly, the legions of devils dig into the bowels of the ground, unearthing gold and other minerals. With their inhuman powers they construct a great temple in a short time. It is called Pandemonium (which means “all the demons” in Greek), and the hundreds of thousands of demonic troops gather there to hold a summit. Being spirits, they can easily shrink from huge winged creatures to the smallest size. Compacting themselves, they enter Pandemonium, and the debate begins.
Throughout the first two or three books of Paradise Lost, Satan seems as if he’s the hero of the poem. This is partly because the focus of the poem is all on him, but it is also because the first books establish his struggle—he finds himself defeated and banished from Heaven, and sets about establishing a new course for himself and those he leads. Typically, the hero or protagonist of any narrative, epic poem or otherwise, is a person who struggles to accomplish something. Milton plays against our expectations by spending the first quarter of his epic telling us about the antagonist rather than the protagonist, so that when we meet Adam and Eve, we will have a more profound sense of what they are up against. But even when the focus of the poem shifts to Adam and Eve, Satan remains the most active force in the story.
One important way in which the narrator develops our picture of Satan—and gives us the impression that he is a hero—is through epic similes, lengthy and developed comparisons that tell us how big and powerful Satan is. For example, when Satan is lying on the burning lake, Milton compares him to the titans who waged war upon Jove in Greek mythology. Then, at greater length, he compares him to a Leviathan, or whale, that is so huge that sailors mistake it for an island and fix their anchor to it. In other epics, these sorts of similes are used to establish the great size or strength of characters, and on the surface these similes seem to do the same thing. At the same time, however, the effect of these similes is to unsettle us, making us aware that we really do not know how big Satan is at all. No one knows how big the titans were, because they were defeated before the age of man. The image of the Leviathan does not give us a well-defined sense of his size, because the whole point of the image is that the Leviathan’s size generates deception and confusion.
More than anything, the similes used to describe Satan make us aware of the fact that size is relative, and that we don’t know how big anything in Hell is—the burning lake, the hill, Pandemonium, etc. Milton drives this fact home at the end of Book I with a tautology: while most of the devils shrink in size to enter Pandemonium, the important ones sit “far within / And in their own dimensions like themselves” (I.792-793). In other words, they were however big they were, but we have no way of knowing how big that was. Finally, it is important to note that the first description of Satan’s size is the biggest we will ever see him. From that point on, Satan assumes many shapes and is compared to numerous creatures, but his size and stature steadily diminishes. The uncertainty created by these similes creates a sense of irony—perhaps Satan isn’t so great after all.
The devils in Paradise Lost are introduced to the story here in Book I in almost a parody of how Homer introduces great warriors in the Iliad. The irony of these descriptions lies in the fact that while these devils seem heroic and noteworthy in certain ways, they just lost the war in Heaven. As frightening and vividly presented as these creatures are, they did not succeed in killing a single angel.
In Book I, Milton presents Satan primarily as a military hero, and the council of devils as a council of war. In doing so, he makes Paradise Lost resonate with earlier epics, which all center around military heroes and their exploits. At the same time, Milton presents an implicit critique of a literary culture that glorifies war and warriors. Satan displays all of the virtues of a great warrior such as Achilles or Odysseus. He is courageous, undaunted, refusing to yield in the face of impossible odds, and able to stir his followers to follow him in brave and violent exploits. Milton is clearly aware of what he’s doing in making Satan somewhat appealing in the early chapters. By drawing us into sympathizing with and admiring Satan, Milton forces us to question why we admire martial prowess and pride in literary characters. Ultimately he attempts to show that the Christian virtues of obedience, humility, and forbearance are more important.
Satan opens the debate in Pandemonium by claiming that Heaven is not yet lost, and that the fallen angels (or devils) might rise up stronger in another battle if they work together. He opens the floor, and the pro-war devil Moloch speaks first. Moloch was one of the fiercest fighters in the war in Heaven, and he anxiously pleads for another open war, this time armed with the weapons of Hell. He reasons that nothing, even their destruction, could be worse than Hell, and so they have nothing to lose by another attack. Belial speaks up to contradict him. He eloquently offers calm reason to counter Moloch’s fiery temper, and claims that God has not yet punished them as fiercely as he might if they went to war with him again. After all, they are no longer chained to the fiery lake, which was their previous and worse punishment; since God may one day forgive them, it is better that they live with what they now have. But peace is not really what he advocates; rather, Belial uses his considerable intelligence to find excuses to prevent further war and to advocate lassitude and inaction. Mammon speaks up next, and refuses to ever bow down to God again. He prefers to peacefully advance their freedom and asks the devils to be industrious in Hell. Through hard work, the devils can make Hell their own kingdom to mimic Heaven. This argument meets with the greatest support among the legions of the fallen, who receive his suggestion with applause.
Quiet falls upon the crowd as the respected Beelzebub begins to speak. He also prefers freedom to servitude under God, but counsels a different course of action than those previously advocated. Apparently, he says, rumors have been circulating in Heaven about a new world that is to be created, to be filled with a race called Man, whom God will favor more than the angels. Beelzebub advises, at Satan’s secret behest, that they seek their revenge by destroying or corrupting this new beloved race. The rest of the devils agree and vote unanimously in favor of this plan. They must now send a scout to find out about this new world, and in a feat of staged heroics, Satan volunteers himself.
While the other devils break into groups to discuss the outcome of the debate and to build other structures, Satan flies off to find Hell’s gate. When he approaches, he sees that it is actually nine gates—three each of brass, iron, and adamantine—and that two strange shapes stand guard in front. One looks like a woman down to her waist, but below has the form of a serpent, with a pack of howling dogs around her waist. The other is only a dark shape. Satan chooses to confront the shape, demanding passage through the gates. They are about to do battle when the woman-beast cries out. She explains to Satan who she and her companion are and how they came to be, claiming that they are in fact Satan’s own offspring. While Satan was still an angel, she sprang forth from his head, and was named Sin. Satan then incestuously impregnated her, and she gave birth to a ghostly son named Death. Death in turn raped his mother Sin, begetting the dogs that now torment her. Sin and Death were then assigned to guard the gate of Hell and hold its keys.
Apparently, Satan had forgotten these events. Now he speaks less violently to them and explains his plot against God. After Satan’s persuasion, they are more than eager to help him. Sin unlocks the great gates, which open into the vast dark abyss of night. Satan flies out but then begins to fall, until a cloud of fire catches and carries him. He hears a great tumult of noise and makes his way toward it; it is Chaos, ruler of the abyss. Chaos is joined by his consort Night, with Confusion, Discord and others at their side. Satan explains his plan to Chaos as well. He asks for help, saying that in return he will reclaim the territory of the new world, thus returning more of the universe to disorder. Chaos agrees and points out the way to where the Earth has recently been created. With great difficulty, Satan moves onward, and Sin and Death follow far behind, building a bridge from Hell to Earth on which evil spirits can travel to tempt mortals.
Just as Book I may be seen as a parody of military heroism, the devils’ debate in Book II can be read as a parody of political debate. Their nonviolent and democratic decision to wreak the destruction of humankind shows the corruption of fallen reason, which can make evil appear as good. Milton depicts the devils’ organization ironically, as if he were commending it. Satan, for example, diplomatically urges others “to union, and firm faith, and firm accord,” making Hell’s newly formed government sound legitimate and powerful when it is in fact grossly illegitimate and powerless (II.36). It is possible that Milton here satirizes politicians and political debates in general, not just corrupt politicians. Certainly, Milton had witnessed enough violent political struggles in his time to give him cause to demonize politicians as a species. Clearly, the debate in Hell weighs only different evils, rather than bringing its participants closer to truth.
This scene also demonstrates Milton’s cynicism about political institutions and organizations. The devils’ behavior suggests that political power tends to corrupt individuals who possess it. Even learned politicians, as Belial is here in Book II, who possess great powers of reason and intellectual discourse, have the power to deceive the less-educated public. In his other writings, Milton argues that political and religious organizations have the potential to do evil things in the name of order and union. After the debate in Hell is concluded, the object of parody shifts to philosophers and religious thinkers. Following the debate, the devils break into groups, some of which continue to speak and argue without any resolution or amenable conclusion. Similar debates over the sources of evil and of political authority were fiercely contested in Milton’s time. Milton calls the devils’ discussions “vain wisdom all, and false philosophy,” a criticism which he extends in his other writings to the words of the religious leaders of his time (II.565).
After Beelzebub takes the floor, it becomes clear that the caucus has been a foregone conclusion. Satan lets the sides rhetorically engage each other before he announces through Beelzebub the plan he had all along. Satan and Beelzebub conspire to win the argument, and do, without any of the other devils recognizing the fraud. Satan’s volunteering to be the scout then silences all possible dissent, since he is heralded as the leader of Hell. Here again is a parody of Hell mimicking Heaven: Satan offers to sacrifice himself for the good of the other devils, in a twisted imitation of Christ. The parallel is made even more blatant when Sin cries out to Satan at the gate of Hell: “O father, what intends thy hand . . . against thy only son?” (II.727-728). Sin’s statement foreshadows how God will send his only Son to die, for the good of the humankind. Satan believes he is free, and both Belial and Mammon celebrate the freedom of the devils even in Hell, and yet we see that they have no power to do anything except distort Heavenly things, twisting them into evil, empty imitations.
Satan’s encounter with Sin and Death is an allegory, in which the three characters and their relationships represent abstract ideas. Sin is the first child of Satan, brought to life by Satan’s disobedience. Since Satan is the first of God’s creations to disobey, he personifies disobedience, and the fact that Sin is his daughter suggests that all sins arise from disobedience and ingratitude toward God. To those who behold her birth, she is first frightening but then seems strangely attractive, suggesting the seductive allure of sin to the ordinary individual. Sin dwells alone and in utter torment, representing the ultimate fate of the sinner. That Death is Sin’s offspring indicates Milton’s belief that death is not simply a biological fact of life but rather a punishment for sin and disobedience, a punishment that nobody escapes.
Book III opens with a second invocation to his muse, this time addressed to “holy light” (III.1). Milton asks that the heavenly light shine inside him and illuminate his mind with divine knowledge so that he can share this knowledge with his readers.
The scene shifts to Heaven, where God has been watching all of the events in Hell with his Son sitting at his right hand. He sees Satan flying up toward the new Earth and the parents of mankind. At the same time, he sees everything that will happen because of it, perceiving past, present, and future simultaneously. He sees that man will fall, of his own fault, because God gave him free will—yet without that will, man would not be capable of sincere love. Man would merely go through the motions. While it would be just to punish man for his own actions, God determines that he will act primarily out of love and mercy. The Son, full of compassion, praises God for his kindness toward man, but asks how mercy can be given without destroying justice. God answers that a suitable sacrifice must be made: someone worthy must offer to die to pay for man’s sin. The angelic choirs are silent, but the Son immediately offers himself. He will become mortal so that God can yield to Death and conquer Hell. God is overjoyed, even though he will be giving up his son, because he knows that it is good to sacrifice his son for the salvation of the human race, in order for justice and mercy to be served. Those that have faith in the Son will be redeemed, but those who do not accept grace will still be doomed to Hell. The choirs of angels now break into a song of praise extolling the goodness of both Father and Son, which will turn a sorrowful deed into greater glory for both God and man.
The story returns to Satan, who lands on Earth in what is now China. There are not yet any living things there, or any of the works of man that will eventually distract man’s mind from God. At length, Satan sees a high-reaching structure in the distance, an enormous kingly gate in the sky with stairs leading all the way down to Earth. This gate guards Heaven, which was at that time visible from Earth. Flying over to it, Satan climbs up a few steps to get a better view. He sees the new creation in all its glory, but can only feel jealousy. He does not stay put for long, though: he is drawn by the golden sun, hanging above the green and lush land, and flies toward it. There he sees an angel standing on a hill. To deceive him, Satan changes to a cherub, or low-ranking angel. Recognizing the other angel as the Archangel Uriel, Satan approaches and addresses him. Satan claims to have just come down from Heaven, full of curiosity about the new world he has been hearing so much about, and curious about its inhabitants. Satan’s transformation and his speech are so flawless that even Uriel cannot see through the subterfuge. The Archangel is pleased that a young angel is showing so much zeal to find out about the world that God brought out of the Chaos from earth, air, wind and fire. He happily points out the way to Paradise, where Adam lives. After giving his due respects, Satan flies off with dark intentions.
As the narrative of Paradise Lost shifts from its sustained focus on Hell and Satan and begins to present glimpses of Heaven and God, we may feel that the story loses some of the intense interest and appeal that it began with. The discussion in Heaven is moving and theologically interesting, but the parts of the poem treating the evil designs of Satan are written with more potency and rhetorical vigor. The characters in Heaven play a relatively passive role, watching the story unfold, while Satan actively and endlessly devises his evil machinations. Moreover, the sinful, evil characters hold our attention more easily than the pure and virtuous ones. Satan appears to be the active hero, struggling for his personal desires, and God may seem rather dull. These observations, however, are beside the point that Milton hopes to prove to his readers: God’s reason and grace rule the universe and control all of those who live there.
The encounter between Satan and Uriel demonstrates Satan’s capacity for deception and fraud, as he subverts Uriel’s role as a guardian by disguising himself as a cherub. Uriel is unable to recognize Satan in part because he does not believe it possible that Satan would be lurking around. As a devout and virtuous angel, Uriel is unable to recognize evil even when it presents itself right in front of him. Through Satan’s deception of Uriel, Milton shows the significance of the sin of fraud, or hypocrisy. Fraud is an especially damaging sin because it is invisible to others, hurting them in ways they are not even aware of. In the Inferno, Dante maintains that fraud is the worst of all man’s sins. Milton goes almost as far in showing that leading innocent people to evil is much worse than leading yourself to evil.
Milton reveals his own personal theological positions in Book III. Through God’s initial speech, for example, Milton discards the orthodox Calvinist position of predestination. Omniscient God, seeing the fall in the future, says that men cannot blame God for their fate, or for acts of evil or bad luck, insisting that man possesses free will, even though God can foresee what they will do. God’s speech here contradicts the Calvinist belief, held by most of Milton’s fellow Puritans, that the fate of every man’s soul is decided before birth. Milton refuses to abandon his belief in free will, insisting that man must have free will in order to prove his sincere love for God. This balance between free will and virtue is a paradox—man is free to choose, but only truly free when he chooses the good.
Milton had to confront certain problems inherent in any attempt to represent beings and events outside of time and human understanding. To have God and the Son appear as separate characters in a work of fiction poses particular problems and risks in terms of logical consistency. There may not be a completely coherent way to represent God and the Son as characters who are both independent and human-like, but at the same time consubstantial, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. It was extremely ambitious of Milton to risk heresy by putting words in God’s mouth, and he lessens this risk by incorporating numerous biblical allusions into the speeches of God and the Son.
By making God and the Son two different characters, Milton asserts that they are essentially separate but equal entities. Milton did not believe in the Holy Trinity completely, and believed that the Son was created after God, not coeternally. The relationship between God and the Son is not fully revealed. Appearing as separate characters with separate comments, they may still share a mind. Some actions, like God’s plea for a volunteer, and the Son’s subsequent volunteering, argue that they do not share a single mind. God asks for a volunteer, yet he must know ahead of time that his Son will be the only volunteer. The precise nature of the relationship between the two remains mysterious.
Satan lands atop Mount Niphates, just north of Paradise, the Garden of Eden. He becomes gripped with doubt about the task in front of him; seeing the beauty and innocence of Earth has reminded him of what he once was. He even briefly considers whether he could be forgiven if he repented. But Hell follows him wherever he goes—Satan is actually the embodiment of Hell. If he asks the Father for forgiveness, he knows it would be a false confession; he reasons that if he returned to Heaven, he still could not bear to bow down. Knowing redemption or salvation cannot be granted to him, he resolves to continue to commit acts of sin and evil. He does not notice that during his internal debate, he has inadvertently revealed his devilish nature. He is observed by Uriel, the archangel he tricked into pointing the way. Uriel notices his conflicting facial expressions, and since all cherubs have permanent looks of joy on their faces, Uriel concludes that Satan cannot be a cherub.
Satan now approaches Eden, which is surrounded by a great thicket wall. He easily leaps over it like a wolf entering a sheep’s pen. Inside he sees an idyllic world, with all varieties of animals and trees. He can see the tallest of the trees, the Tree of Life—and next to it, the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. He perches himself on the Tree of Life, disguised as a cormorant, a large sea bird. Finally, he notices two creatures walking erect among the other animals. They walk naked without shame, and work pleasantly, tending the garden. Satan’s pain and envy intensifies as he sees this new beautiful race, created after he and his legions fell. He could have loved them, but now, his damnation will be revenged through their destruction. He continues to watch them, and the man, Adam, speaks. He tells Eve not to complain of the work they have to do but to be obedient to God, since God has given them so many blessings, and only one constraint: they must not eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve agrees wholeheartedly, and they embrace.
Eve tells Adam of her first awakening as she came to life and how she wondered who and where she was. She found a river and followed it upstream to its source. Her path led to a clear, smooth lake, and Eve looked into the lake, seeing an image in its surface, which she soon discovers is her own. She hears a voice explaining to her that she was made out of Adam, and with him she will become the mother of the human race. Overlooking Adam and Eve, Satan sees his opportunity. If the Father has given them a rule to follow, then they might be persuaded to break it. He leaves the two for a while, going off to learn more from other angels.
Meanwhile, Uriel comes before the Archangel Gabriel, at the gate of Eden, and tells him about the shape-changing spirit that he saw from the hilltop. They both suspect that it might be one of the fallen ones. Gabriel promises that if the spirit is in the garden, they will find it by morning. Around this time, Adam and Eve finish their day’s work. They go to their leafy bower, praising God and each other for their blissful life, and after a short prayer, they lie together—making love without sin, because lust had not yet tainted their natures.
Night falls, and Gabriel sends search parties into the Garden. Two of his angels find Satan, disguised as a toad, whispering into the ear of Eve as she sleeps. They pull him before Gabriel, who recognizes him, and demands to know what he is doing in Paradise. Satan at first feigns innocence, as they have no proof that he means harm. But Gabriel knows him to be a liar, and threatens to drag him back to Hell. Enraged by this threat, Satan prepares to fight him. The two square off for a decisive battle, but a sign from Heaven—the appearance in the sky of a pair of golden scales—stops them. Satan recognizes the sign as meaning he could not win, and flies off.
As Book IV opens, Milton presents Satan as a character deeply affected by envy and despair. Earlier in the poem, Satan seems perfectly confident in his rebellion and evil plans. His feeling of despair at the beauty of Paradise temporarily impairs this confidence. While in Hell, Satan tells himself that his mind could make its own Heaven out of Hell, but now he realizes that the reverse is true. As close to Heaven as he is, he cannot help but feel out of place, because he brings Hell with him wherever he goes. For Satan, Hell is not simply a place, but rather a state of mind brought on by a lack of connection with God. Satan’s despondent recognition of this fact corresponds with what Milton sees as the worst sin of all: despair. If even this beautiful new world cannot make Satan forget Hell, then he can never hope to seek forgiveness and return to Heaven. As the Bible says, the one sin that cannot be forgiven is despairing of forgiveness; if one cannot even ask for mercy, it cannot be granted. Satan realizes this, and decides that the only course of action is to enjoy his own wickedness, and pursue it with all his strength. Milton preempts the crucial question of whether Satan could have successfully repented back in Book III. There, God said that he would give grace to humankind because Satan would prompt humankind’s sin. But he would not help the fallen angels, and especially Satan, because their sin came out of themselves and from no other source.
Satan’s continuing process of degradation is reflected in his use of progressively despicable, lowly disguises. Through these first three books of Paradise Lost, Satan’s physical presence takes many different forms. In Book I, he is a monumental figure so large that the largest tree would seem a paltry wand in his hand. In Book III, he disguises himself as a cherub, but his inner turmoil ultimately ruins this benign-seeming appearance. Satan is later described as leaping over Eden’s fence like a wolf into a sheep’s pen. While he does not exactly take the form of a wolf, he continues to be compared to and associated with wild, predatory animals. He takes the shape of a bird atop the Tree of Life, then morphs into a toad to whisper temptation into Eve’s ear. Satan’s shapes become progressively less impressive and stately. Once an imposing figure, he shrinks himself to become a lesser angel, then a mere bird, and finally a much less appealing animal: a toad.
In this book, we are presented with Eve’s first memories of awakening to consciousness, though we have to wait until Book VIII to see Adam’s first memories. Eve’s account subtly underscores her distance from God and need for guidance. She awakens in shade rather than daylight, suggesting her separation from the light of God’s truth. Almost immediately, she finds herself captivated and deceived by an image—her reflection in the water, which she does not recognize as merely an image. She admits that she would probably still be by the water’s edge, fixated there in vain desire, if it wasn’t for God’s calling her away. This image recalls the story of Narcissus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a story that Renaissance poets such as Petrarch used to show that erotic desire is based on visual images that are inherently vain and deceptive. Milton’s allusion to Narcissus makes a similar point: human beings, especially women, need God’s help to escape the trap of desire based on images. Significantly, it is the voice rather than the visual image of God that calls her away. Also noteworthy in this context is the fact that in his first speech to Eve, God says that Eve is herself an image—the reflection of Adam.
After God leads Eve away from her reflection, she first encounters Adam under a platan tree. Platan is the Greek name for plane tree, and by giving the name of the tree in Greek rather than English, Milton alludes to Plato, the Greek philosopher, whose name is etymologically linked with that of the plane tree. The most well-known of Plato’s arguments is the thesis that reality consists of ideal forms that can only be perceived by the intellect, in contrast with the deceptive shades or reflections of these ideal forms that human beings perceive in everyday life. Milton associates the platan tree, or Plato, with Adam, suggesting that he is closer to the ideal forms or essences of things, whereas Eve is more part of the world of images, shade, and illusion, and is led away from illusions only reluctantly.
Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve was controversial in his time. Milton paints an idyllic picture of an innocent, strong, and intelligent Adam, whereas Christian tradition more typically emphasizes Adam’s basically sinful nature. The Puritans, like many other Christians, viewed the sexual act as inherently sinful—a necessary evil that cannot be avoided precisely because man has fallen. Milton, in contrast, makes a point of noting that Adam and Eve enjoy pure, virtuous sexual pleasure without sin: they love, but do not lust. Milton implies that not only is sex not evil, but that demonizing it goes against God’s will. He persuasively argues that God mandates procreation, and that anyone who would advocate complete abstinence (as St. Paul does in the New Testament) would be an enemy to God and God’s magnificent creation. Furthermore, Eve’s story about seeing her reflection in the water hints that her vanity may become a serious flaw—and weakness—later on. Her curiosity is sparked by her lack of understanding about who she is and where she is. She traces the river back to its source just as she wishes to trace herself to her source, through emotional self-reflection, in search of answers to her difficult questions. Also, her willingness to listen and believe the voice she hears, which tells her about her identity, also foreshadows that she will trust another voice she will hear later—Satan’s.
Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve is controversial in our own time because the discourse between Adam and Eve strikes many modern audiences as misogynistic. Milton portrays Adam as her superior because he has a closer relationship to God. The idea that Adam was created to serve God only, and Eve is created to serve both God and Adam, illustrates Milton’s belief that women were created to serve men. The narrator remarks of Adam and Eve that their difference in quality was apparent—”their sex not equal seemed” (IV.296). Milton implies that she is weaker in mind as well as body than Adam. Eve herself freely admits her secondary and subordinate role. When she explains her dependence on him she explains to Adam that she is created because of him and is lost without him. Having Eve herself possess and verbalize these misogynistic, submissive views adds a peculiar and somewhat disturbing power to the conversation. Milton’s views on the relations between men and women were certainly common, if not dogmatic, in his time. Milton’s reading of the Bible dictated that in marriage the woman is to obey the man, and that he is her ruler. The relationship between Adam and Eve, though unequal, remains perfectly happy, because they both in the end live in praise of God. Eve accepts her role as Adam does his own, and God loves both equally.
With Raphael’s departure for Heaven, the story no longer consists of conversations between heavenly beings and humankind. Milton explains that he must now turn to Adam and Eve’s actual act of disobedience. The poem must now turn tragic, and Milton asserts his intention to show that the fall of humankind is more heroic than the tales of Virgil and Homer. He invokes Urania, the “Celestial Patroness” (IX.21) and muse of Christian inspiration, and asks for her to visit him in his sleep and inspire his words, because he fears he is too old and lacks the creative powers to accomplish the task himself. He hopes not to get caught up in the description of unimportant items, as Virgil and Homer did, and to remain focused on his ultimate and divine task.
Satan returns to the Garden of Eden the night after Raphael’s departure. Satan’s return comes eight days after he was caught and banished by Gabriel. He sneaks in over the wall, avoiding Gabriel and the other guards. After studying all the animals of the Garden, Satan considers what disguise he should assume, and chooses to become a snake. Before he can continue, however, he again hesitates—not because of doubt this time, but because of his grief at not being able to enjoy this wondrous new world. He struggles to control his thoughts. He now believes that the Earth is more beautiful than Heaven ever was, and becomes jealous of Adam and Eve and their chosen status to occupy and maintain Paradise. He gripes that the excess beauty of Earth causes him to feel more torment and anguish. Gathering his thoughts into action, he finds a sleeping serpent and enters its body.
The next morning, Adam and Eve prepare for their usual morning labors. Realizing that they have much work to do, Eve suggests that they work separately, so that they might get more work done. Adam is not keen on this idea. He fears that they will be more susceptible to Satan’s temptation if they are alone. Eve, however, is eager to have her strength tested. After much resistance, Adam concedes, as Eve promises Adam that she will return to their bower soon. They go off to do their gardening independently.
Milton begins Book IX as he began Books I and VII: with an invocation and plea for guidance, as well as a comparison of his task to that of the great Greek and Roman epics, the Iliad, Odyssey, and the Aeneid. Milton explains by way of this invocation that Adam and Eve’s fall is the major event that occurs in Paradise Lost. Their fall is the poem’s climax, even though it comes as no surprise. By describing the fall as tragic, Milton conveys the gravity and seriousness of this catastrophe for all of humankind, but he also situates Adam and Eve’s story within the literary conventions of tragedy, in which a great man falls because of a special flaw within his otherwise larger-than-life character. The fall paves the way for humankind’s ultimate redemption and salvation, and thus Milton can claim that his epic surpasses Homer’s and Virgil’s because it pertains to the entire human race, not one hero or even one nation.
Milton mocks the knightly romances of the Middle Ages on the grounds that they applaud merely superficial heroism. The idea of the chivalrous warrior was an oxymoron in Milton’s view. Milton presents his hero as a morally powerful person—Adam’s strength and martial prowess are entirely irrelevant. Milton voices doubts about whether his society will appreciate a real Christian hero, or whether he himself is still skilled enough or young enough to complete his literary task, balancing his confidence in his own ability with the humility appropriate to a Christian poet.
Satan’s return to the story presents him as a changed and further degenerated character. Before the temptation of Eve, we see Satan go through another bit of soul-searching. This time, however, he does not waver in his determination to ruin humankind, but only makes a cold expression of regret for things that might have been. Milton notes that Satan is driven to action by the grief and turmoil he feels inside and by his wounded sense of pride. It is clear now that Satan’s decision to corrupt humankind is final, yet he still thinks about how he would have enjoyed the beauty of Earth if he had not rebelled. Milton displays the internal agony that results from the sin of despair: Satan can clearly see, despite all his previous arguments, that it would have been better to remain good. However, he has forbidden himself from even considering the possibility of repentance. As a result, he degenerates further and further, making his mind and body his own personal Hell.
Milton has given absolute power to the reason and free will of both men and Satan, only to show that the mind can defeat itself—using reason to arrive at an unreasonable position. Satan’s thoughts are increasingly contradictory and confusing, becoming hard for us, and perhaps for himself, to follow. Satan comes to believe his own faulty logic and his own lies. In Books I and II, his ability to reason is strong, but now in Book IX he can hardly form a coherent argument. Ironically, Satan has proved the truth of his own earlier statement that the mind can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. Satan intended to make a heaven out of Hell, where he would be an evil version of God. Instead, he has brought his torture with him, and made a hell out of the earth that, but for him, would be heavenly.
Satan, in the form of the serpent, searches for the couple. He is delighted to find Eve alone. Coiling up, he gets her attention, and begins flattering her beauty, grace, and godliness. Eve is amazed to see a creature of the Garden speak. He tells her in enticing language that he gained the gifts of speech and intellect by eating the savory fruit of one of the trees in the garden. He flatters Eve by saying that eating the apple also made him seek her out in order to worship her beauty.
Eve is amazed by the power that this fruit supposedly gives the snake. Curious to know which tree holds this fruit, Eve follows Satan until he brings her to the Tree of Knowledge. She recoils, telling him that God has forbidden them to eat from this tree, but Satan persists, arguing that God actually wants them to eat from the tree. Satan says that God forbids it only because he wants them to show their independence. Eve is now seriously tempted. The flattery has made her desire to know more. She reasons that God claimed that eating from this tree meant death, but the serpent ate (or so he claims) and not only does he still live, but can speak and think. God would have no reason to forbid the fruit unless it were powerful, Eve thinks, and seeing it right before her eyes makes all of the warnings seem exaggerated. It looks so perfect to Eve. She reaches for an apple, plucks it from the tree, and takes a bite. The Earth then feels wounded and nature sighs in woe, for with this act, humankind has fallen.
Eve’s first fallen thought is to find Adam and to have him eat of the forbidden fruit too so that they might be equal. She finds him nearby, and in hurried words tells him that she has eaten the fruit, and that her eyes have been opened. Adam drops the wreath of flowers he made for her. He is horrified because he knows that they are now doomed, but immediately decides that he cannot possibly live without Eve. Eve does not want Adam to remain and have another woman; she wants him to suffer the same fate as she. Adam realizes that if she is to be doomed, then he must follow. He eats the fruit. He too feels invigorated at first. He turns a lustful eye on Eve, and they run off into the woods for sexual play.
Adam and Eve fall asleep briefly, but upon awakening they see the world in a new way. They recognize their sin, and realize that they have lost Paradise. At first, Adam and Eve both believe that they will gain glorious amounts of knowledge, but the knowledge that they gained by eating the apple was only of the good that they had lost and the evil that they had brought upon themselves. They now see each other’s nakedness and are filled with shame. They cover themselves with leaves. Milton explains that their appetite for knowledge has been fulfilled, and their hunger for God has been quenched. Angry and confused, they continue to blame each other for committing the sin, while neither will admit any fault. Their shameful and tearful argument continues for hours.
The ease with which Satan persuades Eve to sin paints an unflattering portrayal of woman, one that accords with Milton’s portrayal throughout the poem of women as the weaker sex. Eve allows the serpent’s compliments to win her over, demonstrating that she cares more about superficial things such as beauty than profound things such as God’s grace. Furthermore, that Eve gives in to the serpent after only a few deceptive arguments reveals her inability to reason soundly. Not only is she herself corruptible, however, but she also seeks to corrupt others: her immediate reaction upon discovering her sin is to lure Adam into her fate. Rather than repent and take full responsibility for her actions, she moves instinctively to drag Adam down with her to make him share her suffering. Eve thus comes across as an immoral and harmful being, one whose values are skewed and who has a bad influence on others.
Satan’s argument that knowledge is good because knowing what is good and evil makes it easier to do what is good wrongfully assumes that knowledge is always good. This flaw in his argument is the theological thrust of this book: though the intellect is powerful and god-like, obeying God is a higher priority than feeding the intellect. Milton believes that one cannot first obey reason and then obey God; rather one must trust God and then trust reason. Raphael’s wise argument from Book VIII about the limitations of human knowledge and the need to feel comfortable with this limited knowledge, is blatantly neglected or forgotten. If Eve had stayed to listen to Raphael and Adam’s discussion and had recognized the dangers of working separately, then she could have been safer from Satan’s temptation. Or if Adam had relayed Raphael’s warning message to Eve more thoroughly and persuasively, and if he had denied Eve’s suggestion that they work separately, then the fall might have been avoidable. Eve overestimates the powers of her ability to protect herself and to resist temptation, and Adam underestimates the need to protect Eve and share his knowledge with her. Both must suffer from each other’s shortfalls.
Adam sins not out of a desire to gain the knowledge from eating the fruit, but out of recognition that Eve has left him with little or no alternative. Adam needs even less persuading than Eve to eat the apple, and does so knowing that he is disobeying God. He knows that he could not be happy if Eve were banished, and his desire to stay with Eve overwhelms his desire to obey God. Adam’s sin of temptation is choosing Eve over God, letting physical and emotional impulses overtake reason. The wreath of flowers he makes for Eve symbolizes his love for her. When he sees that she has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, he drops the wreath, symbolizing her fallen state. The dropping of the wreath may also hint at Adam’s disappointment in Eve as a spiritual lover and companion, and even his falling out of pure love with her. After Adam eats from the apple, his attraction to Eve changes subtly, and he looks at her more like a connoisseur, eager to indulge. The sexuality the two display is now perverted, their love in the dark forest more lustful and animal-like than their earlier love in the lush, bright bower. Their arguing and blaming of each other demonstrate their lack of unity and peace, and demonstrate, as does the Earth’s sighing, their fallen state.
The scene returns to Heaven, where God knows immediately that Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. Gabriel and the other angels guarding Paradise also know, and they fly back up to Heaven. They report that they did all they could to prevent Satan from re-entering the Garden. God tells them that he allowed it himself without condoning it, and acquits his angels of any guilt. He then sends his Son down to Earth to pass judgment on the couple.
In Paradise, the Son calls to Adam, who comes forth shamefacedly along with Eve. They are embarrassed by their nakedness. Asked if they have eaten from the tree, Adam admits that Eve gave the fruit to him to eat, and Eve blames the serpent for persuading her to take it. The Son first condemns the serpent, whose body Satan possessed to tempt Eve. He ordains that all snakes now must crawl on their bellies, never to carry themselves upright again. The Son decrees that Adam and Eve’s children will bruise the serpent’s head, while serpents will forever bite humans by the heel. As punishment for the couple, Eve and all women to follow will give birth in pain, and must submit to their husbands. Likewise, Adam and all men after him will have to labor to hunt and harvest food in cursed ground. After passing these sentences, the Son returns to Heaven.
Meanwhile in Hell, Sin and Death remain at the gate of Hell where Satan left them. Sensing that Satan has succeeded in his task, they finish the bridge linking Hell to Earth and begin to travel toward Earth to meet him. At the edge of Paradise, Sin and Death meet Satan. They congratulate him for succeeding in his mission and promise him that they will infect the Earth. Death will corrupt all living things, causing them to die, and Sin will corrupt the thoughts and deeds of humankind. They also tell Satan that his success must have allowed them to leave Hell, proving that he has established his control over humankind and Earth. Satan thanks Sin and Death for their praises and urges them to hurry on their way to conquer Earth. Satan believes that he has in fact acquired the special powers Sin and Death spoke of, when in truth God allows them to enter Earth so that the Son can conquer them when he becomes human. Now, Satan goes back down to Hell, where his followers have been eagerly waiting his return. Satan speaks to them from Pandemonium, tells them of his triumph, and expects to hear riotous applause. Instead, he hears hisses signifying scorn for him and his devastating act. The devils have all been transformed into snakes, along with Satan, who did not understand the punishment the Son foretold. A grove of trees appears in Hell, with fruit that turns to ashes as soon as the snakes try to bite it.
Sin and Death arrive on Earth and begin their work. From Heaven, God sees that they have come to Earth and tells his angels that he will allow Sin and Death to stay on Earth until Judgement Day. After then, they must return to Hell and be forever locked up with Satan and the other devils.
God now calls for his angels to alter the universe. They tilt the Earth’s axis or alter the path of the sun (the poem allows for both interpretations). Now humankind will have to endure extreme hot and cold seasons, instead of enjoying the constant temperate climate that existed before Adam and Eve’s fall from God’s grace. Meanwhile, Discord follows Sin to Earth and causes animals to war with each other and with humans too. Seeing these changes, Adam is sorrowful, and laments. He knows that the rest of humankind will suffer because of his disobedience, and wishes that he could bear all of the punishment upon himself. He curses life and wishes that Death would come at once to alleviate his misery. Instead, Eve comes to him. But Adam is angry; he blames and insults Eve’s female nature, wondering why God ever created her. She begs his forgiveness, and pleads with him not to leave her. She reminds him that the snake tricked her, but she fully accepts the blame for sinning against both God and him. She argues that unity and love can save them in a fallen world. She longs for death and suggests that they take their own lives, but Adam forbids it. Eve’s speech affects Adam. He becomes calm, consoling her and sharing responsibility for their fall. They must stop blaming each other, he says. They must live with their mistakes and make the most out of their fallen state. Remembering the prophecy that Eve’s seed would bruise the head of the serpent, he feels that there is hope for humankind and advises that they obey God and implore his mercy and forgiveness. They return to the spot where they were punished. There, they fall to their knees, confess their sins, and ask for forgiveness.
If Book IX presents the climax of Paradise Lost, then Book X presents its resolution, as the punishments that the Son hands out restore some sort of order to the world. Satan and the other supporting characters disappear from the rest of the poem, eliminating the source of human temptation and thus focusing the poem on Adam and Eve’s regret. But Adam and Eve begin to redeem humankind with their repentance at the end of Book X. As a result, these characters will disappear from the story, and humankind’s predicted redemption will take precedence as the story continues, with Adam and Eve learning about their fallen future.
The devils’ punishment to live as snakes forever tempted by fruit on a glorious tree echoes Satan’s temptation of Eve. Now they must forever suffer the pains of desire without ever having hope of attaining their wishes, a punishment befitting their crime. To have the devils frozen in a state of perpetual desire and unattainable satisfaction is fit for a group of evildoers who continue to battle God through their disobedience.
Milton uses the concept of typology—the Christian belief that Old Testament characters symbolize and predict New Testament characters—to demonstrate the intimate relationship between the fall of humankind and the redemption of humankind. This relationship between the fall and the resurrection forms the base of the Christian interpretation of the Bible. Milton considers Mary, the mother of the Son (Jesus), to be the “second Eve.” As Sin and Death came into the world through Eve, the Son would conquer Sin and Death through Mary. Likewise, Milton considers Jesus to be a “second Adam” who corrects Adam and Eve’s disobedience through his resurrection. Through these comparisons between Eve and Mary, and Adam and Jesus, the fall and the resurrection become intertwined. The fall is the cause of human history; the resurrection is the result of human history.
Although Adam and Eve are ailing at the end of Book IX, they take action in Book X and separate their fate from Satan’s fate. Satan, as Milton shows, cannot allow himself to repent. His damnation is permanent since his disobedience comes from within and without repentance. On the other hand, humankind’s disobedience comes from the temptation of another. This idea helps to explain Adam and Eve’s actions and subsequent punishment at the end of Book X. Realizing the terrible consequences of their actions, they come dangerously close to rationalizing suicide, but Adam decides to beg God for forgiveness—the only right answer, in Milton’s opinion. Though the coming of the Son and the salvation of humankind had already been foretold, the couple’s decision to repent is crucial in God’s willingness to forgive them. God will show mercy when asked, but as we see with Satan, there can be no mercy without repentance. In one of the most important quotations in Paradise Lost, Milton poetically demonstrates the importance of Adam and Eve’s decision in the last several lines of Book X. Adam explains how their repentance and prayer will occur, and then as they pray, Milton duplicates Adam’s explanation as the actual action of their prayer. As Adam explains to Eve:
What better can we do, than to the place
Repairing where he judg’d us, prostrate fall
Before him reverent, and there confess
Humbly our faults, and pardon beg, with tears
Watering the ground. . .
This moment of prayer is crucial because now humankind will not all go the way of Satan, because man produces what the devil could not: true sorrow and regret.
Milton gives Eve the ability to argue persuasively to Adam, showing her intelligence and talents after all. Eve displays a new humility and grace when she repents after the fall. Her strength lies in her ability to relate her feelings to Adam, feelings that Adam shares. Eve’s contemplation of suicide is a sign of weakness, but after Eve’s moving speech, Adam is able to help see—and to help her see—why they should not commit suicide. As they lose hope of Paradise, they witness the hope of their race: God’s Son, Jesus. It is this hope that prevents the couple from taking their own lives when they realize the extent of their punishment. They choose hope over despair. Milton resolves their distinguished differences through a display of unity: Eve’s loving and emotional arguments to stay together and Adam’s rational argument to repent help them begin to save humankind together. Their similarities and teamwork, not their differences and occasional parity, allow them to obey reason and survive.
Before presenting his argument, Milton defends the very idea of writing a treatise such as Areopagitica. He compliments England for having overcome the tyranny of Charles I and the prelates, but his purpose is to voice his grievances. Milton defends this purpose, holding that to bring forth complaints before the Parliament is a matter of civil liberty and loyalty, because constructive criticism is better than false flattery. He concludes his introduction by encouraging Parliament to obey “the voice of reason” and to be “willing to repeal any Act” for the sake of truth and upright judgment.
The Origins of the Licensing System
Milton begins with historical evidence noting that Ancient Greece and Rome did not adhere to the practice of licensing. In some cases, blasphemous or libelous writings were burnt and their authors punished, but it was after production that these texts were rejected rather than prior to. Milton’s point is that, if a text is to be rejected, it should first be “examined, refuted, and condemned” rather than prohibited before its ideas have even been expressed. Milton points out that licensing was first instituted by the Catholics with the Inquisition. This fact appealed to Parliament’s religious beliefs since it was dominated by Protestants, and there were conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics in England; see Protestant Reformation. Milton provides historical examples of the aftermath following the Inquisition, including how there were popes in Rome beginning in the 1300s who became tyrannical licensers. For example, Pope Martin V became the first to prohibit the reading of heretical books, and then in the 1500s the Council of Trent and Spanish Inquisition prohibited texts that were not even necessarily heretical, but only unfavorable to the friars.
The Use of Books and Reading
Milton precedes his argument by discussing the purpose of reading. He mentions that Moses, David, and Paul, were all learned, which reminds his Protestant audience that being learned involves reading “books of all sorts.” He argues that this includes even the “bad” or heretical books, because we can learn from their wrongs and discover what is true by considering what is not. Milton’s point is that God endowed every person with the reason, free will, and conscience to judge ideas for themselves, so the ideas in a text should be rejected by the reader’s own choice, not by a licensing authority. Also, the mind is not corrupted simply by encountering falsehood. Milton points out that encountering falsehood can actually lead to virtuous action, such as how St. Paul’s converts had privately and voluntarily burned Ephesian books considered to be “magic.”
The Usefulness of the Licensing Order
Milton then argues that Parliament’s licensing order will fail in its purpose to suppress scandalous, seditious, and libellous books: “This order of licensing conduces nothing to the end for which it was framed.” The order was meant to rectify manners by preventing the spread of an “infection” caused by bad books. Milton objects, arguing that the licensing order is too sweeping, because even the Bible itself had been historically limited to readers for containing offensive descriptions of blasphemy and wicked men. Milton also points out that Parliament will not protect the ignorant from bad books by this Order, because the books would more likely have been read by the learned anyhow. Further, whatever bad ideas were written can still be taught through word of mouth or otherwise, so “infection” or corruption is not prevented. Milton’s point is that licensing books cannot possibly prevent societal corruption (it is “far insufficient to the end which it intends”), so there is no viable stopping point: “If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must [also] regulate all recreations and pastimes…” Finally, Milton also points out that if there are even licensers fit for making these judgments, then the possibility of error in licensing books is still great, and the amount of time the job would take is impractical.
The Harmfulness of the Licensing Order
Milton argues that licensing is “a dishonour and derogation to the author, to the book, to the priviledge and dignity of Learning.” This is because many authors will produce a written work with genuinely good intentions only to have it censored by what amounts to a subjective, arbitrary judgment of the licenser. Milton also thinks that England needs to be open to truth and understanding, which should not be monopolized by the government’s standards. Faith and knowledge need exercise, but this Order will lead to conformity and laziness. Licensing will hinder discovery of truth by the government’s prejudice and custom, because there will always be more truth to be found that we do not yet know of. Milton thinks that licensing could potentially hinder God’s plans, since it gives the licenser the power to silence others.
Although Milton recognizes individual right, he is not completely libertarian in Areopagitica as he argues that the status quo ante worked best. According to the previous English law, all books had to have at least a printer’s name (and preferably an author’s name) inscribed in them. Under that system, Milton argues, if any blasphemous or libellous material is published, those books can still be destroyed after the fact. In addition, he admits his tolerance is limited: ‘I mean not tolerated Popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpats all religions and civill supremacies, so it self should be extirpat.’
Note: The characters of More, Giles, and Morton all correspond in biographical background to actual historical people, Sir Thomas More (author of Utopia), the Humanist thinker Peter Giles, and former Chancellor of England Cardinal John Morton. The fictional characters of the book, however, should not be considered to be direct translations of these historic personalities to the page. In particular, the character of More should not be taken to hold the same views as Sir Thomas More himself. For the purpose of the following Summaries and Commentaries, the name More will refer to the fictional character while Sir Thomas More refers to the author.
More travels to Antwerp as an ambassador for England and King Henry VIII. While not engaged in his official duties, More spends time conversing about intellectual matters with his friend, Peter Giles. One day, More sees Giles speaking to a bearded man whom More assumes to be a ship’s captain. Giles soon introduces More to this new man, Raphael Hythloday, who turns out to be a philosopher and world traveler. The three men retire to Giles’s house for supper and conversation, and Hythloday begins to speak about his travels.
Hythloday has been on many voyages with the noted explorer Amerigo Vespucci, traveling to the New World, south of the Equator, through Asia, and eventually landing on the island of Utopia. He describes the societies through which he travels with such insight that Giles and More become convinced that Hythloday would make a terrific counselor to a king. Hythloday refuses even to consider such a notion. A disagreement follows, in which the three discuss Hythloday’s reasons for his position. To make his point, Hythloday describes a dinner he once shared in England with Cardinal Morton and a number of others. During this dinner, Hythloday proposed alternatives to the many evil civil practices of England, such as the policy of capital punishment for the crime of theft. His proposals meet with derision, until they are given legitimate thought by the Cardinal, at which point they meet with great general approval. Hythloday uses this story to show how pointless it is to counsel a king when the king can always expect his other counselors to agree with his own beliefs or policies. Hythloday then goes on to make his point through a number of other examples, finally noting that no matter how good a proposed policy is, it will always look insane to a person used to a different way of seeing the world. Hythloday points out that the policies of the Utopians are clearly superior to those of Europeans, yet adds that Europeans would see as ludicrous the all-important Utopian policy of common property. More and Giles do disagree with the notion that common property is superior to private property, and the three agree that Hythloday should describe the Utopian society in more detail. First, however, they break for lunch.
Back from lunch, Hythloday describes the geography and history of Utopia. He explains how the founder of Utopia, General Utopus, conquered the isthmus on which Utopia now stands and through a great public works effort cut away the land to make an island. Next, Hythloday moves to a discussion of Utopian society, portraying a nation based on rational thought, with communal property, great productivity, no rapacious love of gold, no real class distinctions, no poverty, little crime or immoral behavior, religious tolerance, and little inclination to war. It is a society that Hythloday believes is superior to any in Europe.
Hythloday finishes his description and More explains that after so much talking, Giles, Hythloday, and he were too tired to discuss the particular points of Utopian society. More concludes that many of the Utopian customs described by Hythloday, such as their methods of making war and their belief in communal property, seem absurd. He does admit, however, that he would like to see some aspects of Utopian society put into practice in England, though he does not believe any such thing will happen.
Communism – Marxist reading
Ion’s Skill: Is It Genuine? (530a-533c)
Ion has just come from a festival of Asclepius at the city of Epidaurus, after having won first prize in the competition. Socrates engages Ion in a philosophical discussion. Ion admits when Socrates asks, that his skill in performance recitation is limited to Homer, and that all other poets bore him. Socrates finds this puzzling, and sets out to solve the “riddle” of Ion’s limited expertise. He points out to Ion that art critics and judges of sculpture normally do not limit themselves to judging the work of only a single artist, but can criticize the art no matter who the particular artist.
The Nature of Poetic Inspiration (533d-536d)
Socrates deduces from this observation that Ion has no real skill, but is like a soothsayer or prophet in being divinely possessed:
“For a poet is a light and winged and sacred thing, and is unable ever to indite until he has been inspired and put out of his senses, and his mind is no longer in him: every man, whilst he retains possession of that, is powerless to indite a verse or chant an oracle. Seeing then that it is not by art that they compose and utter so many fine things about the deeds of men— as you do about Homer—but by a divine dispensation, each is able only to compose that to which the Muse has stirred him, this man dithyrambs, another laudatory odes, another dance-songs, another epic or else iambic verse; but each is at fault in any other kind. For not by art do they utter these things, but by divine influence; since, if they had fully learnt by art to speak on one kind of theme, they would know how to speak on all. And for this reason God takes away the mind of these men and uses them as his ministers, just as he does soothsayers and godly seers, in order that we who hear them may know that it is not they who utter these words of great price, when they are out of their wits, but that it is God himself who speaks and addresses us through them.”[534b-d]
Socrates offers the metaphor of a magnet to explain how the rhapsode transmits the poet’s original inspiration from the muse to the audience. He says that the god speaks first to the poet, then gives the rhapsode his skill, and thus, gods communicate to the people. Socrates posits that Ion must be out of his mind when he acts, because he can weep even though he has lost nothing, and recoil in fear when in front of an admiring audience. Ion says that the explanation for this is very simple: it is the promise of payment that inspires his deliberate disconnection from reality. Ion says that when he looks at the audience and sees them weeping, he knows he will laugh because it has made him richer, and that when they laugh, he will be weeping at losing the money (535e).
Ion’s Choice: To be Skilled or Inspired (536e-542a)
Ion tells Socrates that he cannot be convinced that he is possessed or mad when he performs (536d,e). Socrates then recites passages from Homer which concern various arts such as medicine, divining, fishing, and making war. He asks Ion if these skills are distinct from his art of recitation. Ion admits that while Homer discusses many different skills in his poetry, he never refers specifically to the rhapsode’s craft, which is acting. Socrates presses him about the exact nature of his skill. Ion maintains that his knowledge makes him a capable military general but states that when he recites passages concerning military matters, he cannot tell whether he does it with a general’s skill, or with a rhapsode’s. Socrates notices that Ion changes his occupation. He was first a rhapsode and then has become a general. He gently berates the rhapsode for being Protean, which after all, is exactly what an rhapsode is: a man who is convincingly capable of being different people on stage.
Through his character Socrates, Plato argues that “Ion’s talent as an interpreter cannot be an art, a definable body of knowledge or an ordered system of skills,” but instead must come from the divine inspiration of the Muses.
Compare to Arnold: “The Study of Poetry” and Preface to Lyrical Ballads
Storm – sinks ship containing the wedding guests of Claribel (Alonso’s daughter) and the prince of Tunis – Prospero, with the help of Ariel, created the storm, as revenge – his brother Antonio usurped his title, Duke of Milan, with the help of Alonso – both are on the ship – Ariel reminds Prospero that he promised to free him early if he helped him with the storm – Prospero reminds Ariel about his imprisonment under Sycorax – Caliban, son of Sycorax is also a servant to Prospero – angry and better – Prospero and daughter Miranda think he’s ungrateful – Miranda meets Ferdinand (Alonso’s son) and they fall in love at first sight – Prospero is happy, but interferes, imprisoning Ferdinand – on another part of the island Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban plot to take over the island – Sebastian and Antonio plot to overthrow Gonzalo and Alonso – Ariel prevents this by pulling up a feast that disappears, then turns into a harpy – Ferdinand and Miranda get married and play chess – Prospero restores order and returns to being Duke of Milan – epilogue – asks audience to set him free by applauding
Setting – near Africa or colonies – unclear – colonialism a factor – masters and servants – Caliban as “the other”
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Read to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.” – Caliban, beautiful, articulate, in verse
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.” – Prospero – Shakespeare’s goodbye
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
Nothing can stop the passage of time. The subject will fall to “the wastes of time” just as the flowers and trees. The only thing that can fight against “Time’s scythe” (the grim reaper reference) is the having children.
– first time in which “I” dominates the poem
– two models of time – gradual decay and aggressive emblem-figure of Time with his scythe; two images of Death – sad and innocent, slowly wasting away vs. reaper cutting and taking away life, murder
– cycle, accepting death and breeding new life
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
Same theme as 12 – time passing, death decay – rather than children keeping a person alive, poetry keeps a person alive: “And all in war with Time for love of you,/As he takes from you, I engraft you new.” – beginning of seeing poetry as immortalizing
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Unlike 12, 15 – subject remains immortal, unlike other parts of nature – summer, buds, etc. – the reason this is so is because (like in 15) the poet has given the subject life for “so long as men can breathe or eyes can see,”
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
Sonnets have gone from showing the only possibility for immortality is through procreation (12) to poetry having the ability to give new life (15) to finally 55 where poems have the ability to live on while other art forms (marble statues, monuments, etc) are destroyed by time and war. Sonnets will survive until judgement day. All lovers will know the subject because of the poetry.
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Past writers who praised women were only prophesying the beauty of the subject of the poem. Unlike 15, 18, and 55, 106 claims that words cannot fully express beauty and love (For we, which now behold these present days,/Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.) However, even as Shakespeare makes this claim, he is also showing the opposite – past works were only prophecies – his works are able to do what past works could not.
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
130 points out and pokes fun at the false and flowery language of cliche poetry. He uses common images; however, rather than comparing the subjects features to the sun or roses, Shakespeare contrasts the subject. Unlike 18 and 55 which show the power of words to immortalize a person, 130 seems to state that these poetic cliches do the exact opposite – they paint the subject as an unrealistic ideal. The subject of this sonnet is flawed, yet “I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare.” It is insulting to the subject to compare her to this unrealistic standard and make ridiculous comparisons. She is more rare than these.
130 “shows” what his other sonnets “tell.” By explaining how words can be empty and meaningless, Shakespeare shows the reader how powerful one line can be.
Theme – good leader, but betrays friends – Falstaff, Bardolph – immoral threats – murder of children at Harfleur – war and violence – “nature of power is morally ambiguous” sparknotes
Themes – gender and gender roles – Antonio and Sebastion – Orsino still calling Viola Cesario – Olivia in love with Viola – taking on the male position of proposing
“If music be the food of love, play on”
“Make me a willow-cabin at your gate”
Othello – Moor of Venice – powerful and respected general – called to help in a war against the Turks – marries Desdemona – woos her with tales of war – fits of epilepsy – tricked by Iago into thinking Desdemona has been unfaithful – kills Desdemona in a jealous rage – then kills himself after realizing what he has done
Iago – no clear motive – hates Othello – passed over for promotion – uses the people around him to help bring down Othello – Cassio, Rodrigo, Emilia – villain – speaks to the audience
Desdemona – daughter of Venetian senator Brabanzio – secretly marries Othello – stands up for Cassio adding to Othello’s jealousy – maintains that she loves her husband
Emilia – Desdemona’s attendant – Iago’s wife – inadvertently helps Iago in his plots
Bianca – Prostitute – Cassio gives her Desdemona’s handkerchief to copy the embroidery
Cassio – lieutenant dedicated to Othello, also disliked by Iago because of his higher status – wrongly accused of having an affair with Desdemona
“speak of one that loved not wisely but too well”
Othello as the “other” as a moor