Sin in the “Paradise Lost”

“Paradise Lost”

Poets and writers have repeatedly appealed to the list of mortal sins expressing the assumption of their nature, offering different versions of their origin in accordance with the Christian doctrine, and following the established typology. The peculiarity of English literature can be found in the transfer of human traits ethical-aesthetic category of sin. The cultural traditions represent sins as the personified images while maintaining a didactic allegory. Symbolic imagery and capacity are based on the analogy of negative and/or on the processing of the famous scenes. The works of art confirmed the identification of some sins with representatives of certain social strata of society; the sins of some men acquire the specific features that appear as women (Loewenstein 376). The English-language literature is characterized by not only the personification of virtue and sin but also by the use of their names as proper names.

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The myth of the Fall is a widely known as the biblical legend of the temptation of Eve by Satan, a violation of God’s prohibition and curse of the whole human race as a punishment for disobedience, which, in fact, was the realization of freedom of choice given to man by God. It is known that John Milton was a religious person and he was familiar with the Bible and its interpretation. However, the poet definitely was a supporter of his own interpretation of the biblical texts: interpretation through the prism of ideology, outlook, and the concept of faith and life experiences. The aim of this paper is to analyze the connection between the representation of the Sin in the Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Satan. “Paradise Lost”, in this sense, is a poetic reflection of Milton’s interpretation of the biblical myth, which is not contrary to many traditional Christian interpretations as it clarifies and supplements.

Understanding the Sin

The Biblical motives are a kind of iconic characters that in a particular era acquired a different interpretation filled with a different content. The whole history of literature, in fact, in any given case, appeals to these motives. It was Milton who first broke the traditional interpretation of the biblical sites allowing its interpretation and its attitude in, thereby departing from the church circuit. It is possible to claim that Milton’s outlook originates from the transformation of the subject of biblical themes in the literature as a way of expressing new attitudes and values arising in society.

The era in which Milton lived was the era of revolutions, unrest, executions, it began changing the socio-economic system from feudal to capitalist and, accordingly, many traditional ideas, attitudes, and values (Longfellow and Dutton 213). This epoch demanded revision of many ideals. It demonstrated the relativity of the seemingly immutable concepts, including the concepts of good and evil, embodied in the image of God and the Devil respectively. This may explain the interest to rethinking the biblical ontology and its meanings. Prior to that, the biblical texts, given their exclusive authority, were perceived only as a religious text. Milton was one of the first who approached the Bible as a literary phenomenon. The most successful attempt to revise the Old Testament stories was made by Milton. Milton’s poem is built on the contrasts: the antinomies between light and darkness, good and evil, God and Satan. The bright and passionate scenes in Eden are interspersed with the detailed descriptions of the battles between the angels and Satan’s army, which Adam on behalf of God recounts to the angel Raphael. These scenes are replaced with the psychological episodes in which Milton draws Eve’s experiences of being persuaded by Satan, Adam’s feelings of love for Eve when he decides to commit a mortal sin, to taste the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Unsurprisingly, “Paradise Lost” became a contentious issue immediately after the release and still causes a lot of controversy, doubt, and debate.

Milton’s Sin Portrayal

The expulsion from Paradise is a traditional story for the culture imbued with the spirit of Christianity, which many great masters turned to and their art drew inspiration from for centuries. In those days, the evolution of the religious and legal views modified the idea of the illegality of actions. Sin (1600s) was officially demarcated and acquired independent significance then. The Church did not apply the definition of “secular crimes”, but it defined the conditions under which the secular crimes were committed by members of the clergy. They were perceived as sins.

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To comprehend the sin portrayal in Milton’s poem, it is necessary to recall Michelangelo’s fresco of the Sistine Chapel, where the story is given in the diachronic development: first, haughty Adam and Eve, like ancient gods, take an apple from the hands of Lilith, who embraced the tree of knowledge, then they are transformed by sin, and banished by the angel. Before the expulsion from Paradise the archangel Michael shows Adam and Eve at the behest of God the future of mankind. First, it is the peaceful labor of farmers and shepherds. Then this happy picture is replaced by a terrible spectacle the First Death when Cain kills Abel. Afterwards, the world is succumbing to Death, Famine, and Disease. The archangel shows the Flood that God would send to punish the first people. Adam and Eve learn that Christ will try to redeem the humankind by taking their sins upon himself.

At the same time, life itself, as shown by the archangel, is not without joy. It possesses good qualities, such as love and friendship. This broad picture of the human life in which work plays an important role ensures that the poem takes on an optimistic philosophical sounding. At the end of the poem, Michael explains to Adam and Eve that the human race will atone for the sins of their ancestors who had dared to disobey God. This redemption will lead to the spread of the Christian doctrine. The archangel shows the way for people to moral perfection. The author claims,

Yet not of will in him, but grace in me

Freely vouchsafed; once more I will renew

His lapsed powers, though forfeit; and enthralled

By sin to foul exorbitant desires… (Milton1074-1079).

The poem ends with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and they go out of Eden holding hands. There is no serene heavenly existence ahead, and the meaningful human life is filled with work, joy, and sorrow. The man is depicted in this work as the highest of earthly creatures, the Vicar of God on earth.

Utopian paradise on earth is connected with this immanent script motif of the sin. The absolute desacralisation in the “Paradise Lost” takes place at the time of imposition of the values, which is opposite to world axis: when ‘Paradise’ becomes ‘Hell.’ The script for “Paradise Lost” takes place in space, form an unidentified topos; the length (up to the limits of the country) and remoteness (otherness, division) of the two opposites: the earthly and the heavenly Paradise, their vertical relationship being between the coexisting upper and lower worlds and horizontal, between the paradigms of the past, the present, and the future. Chronotope in this scenario moves vertically or downwards or upwards.

Another sin peculiarity in Milton’s masterpiece is the reason behind the Fall. In Christian tradition, the Fall is due, above all, to the pride and vanity. Milton, whose Fall was from grace, represented it as both historical fact and mystery or metaphor, completed a comprehensive explanation behind the Fall that included the subtle psychological motives and primarily unrestrained passion of Adam to Eve. Adam and Eve transgress the mandate of God for various reasons. Satan tempts Eve, born to mistrust God, and awakened curiosity, the spiritual hunger. Eve’s mind is equal to Adam’s, or even surpasses his wisdom, and because of this he will love it even more (Leonard 421). Adam is faithful to God and more inclined to listen to reason, but he is at the mercy of emotions when learns about Eve’s act. He realizes what she has done and decides to stay with her, to die together because it is there is no life without her.

The history of the first two people on Earth has a deep philosophical meaning. Milton presents a completely different state of humanity: originally heavenly existence in the ideal conditions. That is a life devoid of worries or anxieties. At this stage of life, people were innocent, they did not know evil. It was a life before the Fall. Another state is life after the Fall. They were expelled by God from Heaven and lived a difficult and dangerous life. Milton, following the Bible, believed that after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, mankind began to deteriorate. However, within the meaning of the Bible, Adam and Eve sinned. Milton did not recognize sin as good, like the human desire for knowledge. He seeks to show that the Fall was inevitable. According to him, Adam and Eve rose to a new level of human relations and, therefore, did the right thing.

Milton’s Adam is an image of a harmonious person endowed with wisdom, courage, charm, and a rich inner world, in which there is a place for reason and free will, feelings and passions. In this sense, the soul of Adam is controversial: it controls the actions of the mind, but the passion and feelings will eventually prevail and primarily due to the physical and spiritual beauty of Eve because of love for her, which is Adam’s joy. The most important factor in the internal world of Adam for Milton is freedom, the freedom of choice. It is the possession of this freedom that allows Adam to cross the line separating him from Eve and share her punishment for disobedience.

On the other hand, being tempted by Satan, Eve experiences the desire to taste the forbidden fruit. It means that the patriarch outlook allows regarding Eve as one of the sources of the sin: Eve, not Adam, was proposed to try the apple by Satan. It shows that Milton might have suggested that men are stronger and can resist the temptation regardless of its nature. This allows us to consider the understanding of the sin as a concept which carries a purely female meaning or nature.

In Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, Adam sins out of the nobility in order not to leave Eve alone but to share with her all the hardships of the punishment. If Eve committed the sin because of curiosity, carelessness, or lack of knowledge, the sin of Adam was out of love (Leonard 421). Milton simultaneously raises the significance of his act and the severity of God who knows everything, but nevertheless, does not consider, as it is now said, extenuating circumstances.

Similarly, the Milton’s understanding of God is different from the traditional one. Milton’s God cannot be called positive. Satan with his hosts had to embody the negative and the general idea of ​​being wrong, and God with the archangels, the positive ideals and the universal idea of ​​justice. But the emotional superiority was on the side of Satan with his hosts. Was the author aware of it? God, the Father, the Almighty, Jehovah was somewhere beyond imagination. He is incorporeal, and sometimes only his voice is heard in the ethereal world, but nothing more. In the poem, He and His army are abstractions. God has no face. He does not inspire sympathy. Milton found no convincing explanation for all His cruelties and, above all, the meaning of the original Sin, which caused the loss of Paradise and mortality. The sense of the Sin, according to Milton, is in the acquisition of intelligence, deprived of human peace, and happiness.

Milton considers that the bliss of Paradise is purely an illusion, a mismatch of human true nature and believes that, in man, the corporeal and the spiritual must be in harmony. Paradise life of Adam and Eve was incorporeal, incomplete. Most vividly it is seen in their love. Before the Fall, they did not notice their nakedness, did not experience physical attraction to each other, but after they discovered sensuality and love. However, it did not kill them spirituality. They began to connect spiritually, and physical intimacy is a natural way of communication for two people who love each other. Moreover, they are very self-sacrificing in his love. Having learned about Eve’s wrongdoing, Adam decided to share her wine and eat an apple doing it for his love of her. It exalts Adam as a person possessing courage and determination. Thus, Milton states,

“Strange alteration! Sin and Death amain,

Following his track (such was the will of Heaven)

Paved after him a broad and beaten way

Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf

Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length,

From Hell continued, reaching the utmost orb

Of this frail world…” (Milton 1024-1030).

However, Eve displays no less dedication. She does not want him dooming himself to torment and bear his guilt (Leonard 421). The essence of the philosophy of life of Milton was embodied in the speech of Adam after their expulsion from Paradise. Eve thinks about suicide in despair. He calms her talking about the value of life, which is given to people by God himself. He recognizes that humans are doomed to suffering and trials. He realizes that now their lives with Eve will be quite different. However, in spite of everything, the life is beautiful in his eyes. Milton puts into the mouth of his hero his own thoughts arguing that the purpose of man is the active life and work. However, work hardens people.

Milton‘s “Paradise Lost”, similarly to the treatise “On the Christian Doctrine”, reflects on the cause of all human misery meaning why the human history is largely a history of war and bloodshed, because of which sometimes one cannot see the history of construction and creation (Leonard 421). Explanation of the troubles and sufferings of the mankind are given by Milton in accordance with his religious beliefs and is connected with the essence of the sin. In other words, the essence of sin is the source for all the human troubles. The poet expresses critical but, at the same time, humanistic view of humanity’s past talking about his faith in human reason, in their free will, which will be able to subdue the history of Loewenstein (376). He notes that Adam’s love for Eve is so strong that he cannot leave her alone in the face of the heavenly retribution, and Eve violated the law because she was not able to resist the skillful persuasion of Satan.

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Obviously, Satan is closely connected with the essence of the Sin, according to both the Bible and Milton’s poem. Contrasting in the pastoral scenes of Eden, these two literary works are close to the visionary Baroque poetry that is manifested in the stylistic complexity and system comparisons, with which the image of Satan is created: he is a frigate, rushing in full sail fiend and a giant vulture with huge wings, and tower, and pine, and the toad, and even gunpowder explosion. The image of Satan often turns into a symbol, an emblem in the metaphysical.

Satan decided to attack the most pure and holy thing, the earthly Paradise, where the first people on Earth live. He is the image of the serpent tempting Eve and managing to seduce her. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and gives it to Adam. According to Milton, if Satan had not appeared and had not proposed a forbidden fruit, there would have been no argument on the Sin. Thus, in other words, this is Satan who was the beginning of the Sin. Furthermore, Satan can be associated with both sin and temptation. As a consequence, it is important to raise the question of the femininity of the sin. As Satan proposed and gave the fruit to Eve, it means that women are more predisposed to commit sins. In case if Satan proposed the apple to Adam, he would have refused it, and it could have harmed Satan himself.

Satan fails to seduce people precisely because he understands them better. Sometimes he takes the form of an angel, resplendent beauty. God for him is a tyrant with obsequious angels worthy only of his contempt. He is proud, like Prometheus, but he does not possess the nobility of the latter. Satan is offended, and yet, his observations are accurate and intelligent. He skillfully uses the uncertainty of God’s plans making his rebellion look attractive.

Historization in “Paradise Lost” is carried out at the expense of content, in particular the history of the concept of the poem is a vision of a single, non-national, and regardless of the scientific periodization always current iconoclasm (the struggle between God and Satan, a progressive dynamic and static, life and death) implying an internal activity of the human personality and its ability of self-improvement. The presented concept is based on the synthesis of the spatio-temporal representations of different nations and epochs on the basis of the philosophical as well as historical triad underlying unified world-wide human mythology. This is the reality of multi property combining the traditional reception of the epic in time and serves as an indicator of stability and firmness of the epic world.

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Milton leaves the biblical story and the interpretation of the essence of punishment. God deprives Adam and Eve of the serene thoughtless existence driving them out of Eden into the world of hardship and labor, and making Eden unavailable to them. However, the death of people outside of Paradise is not an inherent consequence of the punishment, and He frees the angel of death from Hell to send him on earth world on the way with difficulty, courage, and extraordinary agility.


According to Milton, this earthly love was stronger than the love of God and was the cause of the Fall of Adam. It was after the violation of the prohibition that Adam shakes the Earth, and the world begins to change. Until the Fall, the world seems to be something eternal, immutable, but the world changes, and the harmony disappears. Now, the world is ruled by time and death. The sin as it is depicted in the Milton’s “Paradise Lost” bears purely feminine characteristics because Satan proposed the apple to Eve, and she agreed to taste it. The man no longer possesses immortality and pastoral innocence, his sinful life and body are now perishable. Thus, the Fall in the interpretation of John Milton is the result of the first people’s vanity: first of all, Eve’s wish to be equal to Adam and God and Adam’s passion, which was stronger than the love of God. At the same time, the poet makes it clear that the Fall is also the realization of freedom of choice, which is given by God to man. Man can return to Paradise, the spiritual one, by choosing a pious way of life, which will atone for the Fall of the human soul. The main idea that Milton wanted to render is that people are too imperfect to be strong and live in an ideal world. Here, the word ‘world’ can be substituted by the concept of ‘society’ or ‘community.’ It means that because of the human wrongdoings and bad actions, people suffer and are incapable of reaching Eden, or, to be closer to Milton’s, Paradise. Finally, it is possible to state that the contemporary society cannot possibly achieve perfection of the world and, as a consequence, is condemned to suffer and, once, probably, vanish.


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