Paradise Lost is divided into twelve books. In Book I Milton explains the theme of his work, man’s disobedience to God, his expulsion from Heaven and the story of the rebel angels sent to Hell. In Book II the angels meet in council to decide what they will do. In Book III God makes a speech on man’s freedom to choose between good and evil. In Book IV Satan observes the happiness of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
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In Book V God sends Raphael to warn Adam. In Book VI the war in Heaven in described. Book VII and VIII tell the story of the creation of the Earth and the universe. In Book IX Satan persuades Adam and Eve to taste the forbidden fruit. In Book X God’s Son pronounces the sentence of expulsion. In the last two books Adam and Eve abandon paradise.
Paradise Lost is an epic poem. Milton chose the epic genre because of the greatness of the subject.
He follows the typical epic conventions in his masterpiece, such as the opening with the statement of the theme. This epic takes place in the universe, in Heaven, Hell and Eden. The main characters, God, Satan, Christ, Man and the fallen angels remind the warriors and heroes of the classical epic, even though they are more philosophical heroes.
Milton knew the Copernican cosmology but he based the universe of Paradise Lost on the traditional Ptolemaic system because he thought that this conception was fixed in the minds of the people and it had limits within which it was easier for him to work. In Milton’s Heaven God created the Earth, fixed in the centre of the Universe, and he put his life and thoughts in the natural world so that the external reality reflects the divine soul.
In Paradise Lost evil and good are opposed. However, Satan has many characteristics of the epic hero, courage, leadership, initiative. Milton has sympathy for his Satan because he himself was a rebel against the political and religious authority.
Both Milton and Dante said that their works had divine inspiration but they had contrasting ideas about Satan’s physical appearance and meaning. Dante’s Satan becomes a means of punishment and it resembles a mythic monster, with wings and three heads. Milton’s Satan is a symbol of God’s justice and it takes several forms, first it is a fallen angel, then it has an inhuman form and finally he becomes a snake.
The style of the poem is elevated, the poet used a new kind of magnificent blank-verse.