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John Milton: Excerpts from Areopagitica, Paradise Lost

Vocabulary: Cavalier, roundhead, epic, Puritan interregnum, periodic sentence, in medias res, invocation of the muse

Introduction: What was the Licensing Act of 1643 and why did John Milton oppose it? What problem did John Milton have with his education while he was at Cambridge? In 1654, what physical affliction affected John Milton but did not stop him from making poetry?

Lecture or Handouts: During the time John Milton lived, what two religious groups were trying to kill each other in warfare? What is the name of the general who established temporarily the commonwealth and drove the monarch and his supporters into exile? The Licensing Act of 1643 is in some ways similar to what famous list of banned books from the medieval period? What did John Milton mean by claiming, "One tongue is enough for any woman"? What political body is the intended audience of Areopagitica?

How many books are there in the original Paradise Lost? List and explain the features of the classical epic that Milton employs in Paradise Lost. What happens to the bodies of Satan and his followers as the story of Paradise Lost progresses and the longer they struggle against God? How is that change symbolic? Rather than being a common Hebrew name, what does the word Adam mean in Hebrew?

Identify the Following Primary Characters from Paradise Lost
Milton's Muse (who is his muse in Paradise Lost?) Beelzebub, Satan, Azazel, Mammon, Mulciber, Adam, Eve, Michael

(Be aware more generally of minor characters such as Moloch, Chemos, Baalim, Ashtaroth, Astoreth, Astarte, Thammuz, Adonis, Dagon, Osiris, Isis, Orus, Belial)

Explain the Significance of the Following Items in Milton's Poetry and/or Prose:

The legend of Osiris's dismemberment in Areopagitica. Pandemonium. The Licensing Act of 1643.

Reading Questions:

  • Areopagitica
  • Why is censoring a book worse than killing a man, according to Milton? Explain his logic.
  • According to Milton, what part of reason is killed when a book is destroyed?
  • What myth is Donne alluding to when he mentions "those fabulous dragon's teeth . . . [that] may chance to spring up armed men?
  • What is Milton's counter-argument to those who quote King Solomon's statement that "much reading is a weariness to the flesh," and hence people shouldn't read too much?
  • What is Milton's counter-argument to those people who point approvingly to the story of St. Paul's converts who burnt their books of Ephesian witchcraft after converting to Christianity as an argument in favor of censorship?
  • What Biblical parable of Jesus does Milton allude to when he refers to good and evil "growing up together" in the "field of this world"? What conclusion does he draw about those people who want to uproot the evil [books]?
  • What is Milton's argument about freedom and knowing good or evil? How does he make a connection between freedom and Adam's first sin and the need for freedom of the press?
  • What is the significance or meaning of Milton's comparison between truth and a streaming fountain (as opposed to a motionless pool)?
  • According to Milton, why or how does truth become a "heresy" if a person only believes things because his pastor or his government tells him so? Why does Milton find that dangerous?
  • What is the legend about Osiris's death in Egyptian mythology? How does Milton connect this myth to the idea of recovering truth?
  • According to Milton, what three things always accompany the desire to learn?

Passages for Identification in Areopagitica

A. He who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.

B. Good and evil we know the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned.

C. Truth is compared in scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in perpetual progression, they sicken into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition.

D. The sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them. We have not found them all.

E. Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.

  • Paradise Lost Book I
  • What does the title of Paradise Lost refer to? (What event or biblical story?)
  • In the opening lines of Paradise Lost, what does Milton say the theme of his work is?
  • What muse does Milton invoke as his inspiration?
  • What, according to the end of the first paragraph stanza, is Milton's mission or purpose in writing this poem?
  • The opening of the poem takes place after what rebellion or war? What is the setting?
  • How long have the characters being lying vanquished in the fiery gulf since their participation in the war?
  • Describe some of the features of hell (either in terms of landscape or general imagery) EXCEPT FOR FIRE that are visible to the demons.
  • What demon is floating alongside Satan in the fiery lake at the beginning of the poem?
  • What change of battle plan does Satan propose to Beelzebub as part of their struggle against God? If they can't attack God directly, what should the demons do, according to Satan?
  • Why is Beelzebub reluctant to continue the fight? What does he fear might happen if they continue to war against God?
  • Where does Satan redirect Beelzebub to continue their discussion in greater comfort?
  • Describe Satan's size as he floats in the fiery water. What are some of the epic similes used to illustrate his bulk in lines 200-225? What images imply his huge size when his weaponry and armor is discussed in lines 282-300?
  • In the catalog of demons, several of the listed demons appear in the Old Testament as foreign gods. One is Dagon. What is the story of Dagon in 1 Samuel 5:2?
  • Which demon is assigned the task of standard bearer and carries Satan's imperial ensign into battle on top of a glittering staff? This ensign or battle-standard is emblazed with "gems and golden luster" and its image is like "a meteor streaming to the wind" in lines 336-39. Why is the symbol of a falling star an appropriate battle-standard for Satan's armies?
  • When Satan calls out to the army, they immediately form ranks "in perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood." What ancient culture are these demonic soldiers imitating in their martial display of helmets, shields, and spears? (I.e., in what earlier literature did we find fighters dressed like this for combat?) How does this connect to the genre of Paradise Lost, or how is it an homage to the original literary works that inspired Milton?
  • In lines 571-90, what is Satan's first emotional reaction to seeing this huge show of support and obedience?
  • Where does Satan have scars on his body? What was the source of these scars according to that line discussing them?
  • In lines 604-08, what is Satan's second emotional reaction to seeing his men's loyalty?
  • Satan tries three times to give a speech to his troops, but three times, he stops. What interrupts him or prevents him?
  • When Satan speaks to the fallen troops, in lines 640-43, who does he blame for "tempting" him and the other angels into rebellion? What did this being do (or perhaps--not do) that supposedly tricked or tempted "our attempt [at rebellion], and wrought our fall"?
  • When Satan ends his opening address to the army, what physical display do the soldiers make to show their support of Satan and their defiance of God?
  • What building material does Mammon suggest the demons should use to build a new city in hell? Where do they find or extract this material?
  • Who is the demonic architect that designs the walls, towers, battlements, and gates of hell?
  • At the end of book 1, what do the demons do to their bodies in order to fit inside the buildings and meeting places they have built?
  • Paradise Lost Book IX
  • At the opening of the Book IX excerpt, Satan is no longer in hell. What is the setting now?
  • Contrast Satan's initial question and Eve's response with the same versions in the Bible. In what way has Eve changed or added to God's original commandment?
  • What proof does Satan offer to Eve that she can defy God, touch the fruit, and still live? (i.e., who else does the serpent claim has touched and tasted the fruit before her?)
  • Why or how does Satan say knowledge of Good and Evil will help Eve (if Evil is real)?
  • What does Satan claim is God's motivation in withholding the fruit in lines 703-04?
  • In lines 710-14, Satan argues that if she dies, that death is limited only what "proportion" (i.e., part) of her? Once that part has died, what "part" will Eve put on?
  • In lines 781 onward, Eve bites into the fruit. How does the earth and nature react? How does this connect to the Renaissance idea of the Chain of Being?
  • In lines 825-33, Eve resolves to share the fruit with Adam. What is her stated motivation for this act?
  • What is Adam's emotional reaction to Eve's trespass (lines 889-95)?
  • In lines 904-16, Adam states he cannot live without Eve and he will not be parted either in bliss or woe. What is Milton implying about Adam's motivation in eating the fruit? How is this motivation "better" or "worse" than the motivation Milton gives Eve?
  • In lines 939-50, Adam tries to rationalize his way out of punishment. What does he find unthinkable about God?
  • In line 999, what trait of Eve overcomes Adam's better judgment?
  • Paradise Lost Book XII
  • At the opening of the Book XII, whom is Adam addressing?
  • What question does Adam want answered at the opening of Book XII?
  • In line 290, what is the primary limitation to law? (i.e., what can it do and what can't law do?)
  • What future events does Michael explain to Adam? (List one or two)
  • Though the Angel warns Adam he must leave "this Paradise" and enter the harsh world in lines 586-88, where will humanity find a "happier far" paradise?
  • Adam is informed of the future by speaking face-to-face with an angel. How is Eve informed of the future?
  • With what event does Book Book XII end? How is that ending a new beginning?

Quotations for Identification from Paradise Lost (Be able to identify what work these quotations come from, what the author is, what character (if any) is speaking, and briefly comment upon the quotations significance or importance in the work:

A: Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden, til one greater Man / Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, / Sing heavenly Muse. . . .What in me is dark / Illumine, what is low raise and support; / That to the height of this great argument / I may assert eternal providence, / And justify the ways of God to men.

B: "All is not lost; the unconquerable will, / And study of revenge, immortal hate, / And courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome? / That glory never shall his wrath or might / Extort form me."

C: "Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable. / Doing or suffering: but of this be sure, / To do aught good never will be our task, / But ever to do ill our sole delight, / As being contrary to his high will / Whom we resist."

D: "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. What [does it] matter where, if I be still the same?"

E: "Here we may reign secure, and in my choice / To reign is worth ambition, though in hell: / Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."

F. For spirits when they please / Can either sex assume, or both; so soft / And uncompounded is their essence pure, / Not tied or manacled with joint or limb, / Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones.

G. . . . But his face / Deep scars of thunder had entrenched, and care / Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows / Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride/ Waiting revenge. Cruel his eyes, but cast signs of remorse and passion to behold / The fellows of his crime, the followers rather / (Far other once beheld in bliss), condemned / For ever now to have their lot in pain.

H. "How can I live without thee, how forgo / Thy sweet converse and love so dearly joined, / To live again in these wild woods forlorn? / Should God create another Eve, and I / Another rib afford, yet loss of thee / Would never from my heart; no, no! I feel / The link of nature draw me: flesh of flesh, / Bone of my bone, thou art, and from they state / Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe."

I. "Nor can I think that God, Creator wise, /Through threatening, will in earnest so destroy / Us his prime creatures, dignified so high, / Set over all his works, which in our fall, / For us created, needs with us must fail, /, Dependent made; so God shall uncreate / Be frustrate, do, undo, and labor lose, / Not well conceived of God[!]"

J. "Then wilt thou not be loth / To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess / A Paradise within thee, happier far."

K. . . . whereat / In either hand, the hastening angel caught / Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate / Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast/ To the subjected plain; then disappeared. / They looking back, all the eastern side beheld / Of paradise, so late their happy seat, /Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate / With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms./ Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon; / The world was all before them, where to choose, /Their place of rest, and Providence their guide. / They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way.


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