From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The poem concerns the Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton's purpose, stated in Book I, is "to justify the ways of God to men" (l. 26) and elucidate the conflict between God's eternal foresight and free will.
Milton incorporates Paganism, classical Greek references and Christianity within the story. He greatly admired the classics but intended this work to surpass them. The poem grapples with many difficult theological issues, including fate, predestination, and the Trinity.
It was originally published in 1667 in ten books; a second edition followed in 1674, redivided into twelve books (in the manner of the division of Virgil's Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification.
The protagonist of this epic is the fallen angel, Satan. Milton presents Satan as an ambitious and proud being who defies his creator, omnipotent God, and wages war on Heaven, only to be defeated and cast down. Indeed, William Blake, a great admirer of Milton and illustrator of the epic poem, said of Milton that "he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it."
Milton worked for Oliver Cromwell and the Parliament of England and thus wrote first-hand for the Commonwealth of England. Arguably, the failed rebellion and reinstallation of the monarchy left him to explore his losses within Paradise Lost. Some critics say that he sympathized with the Satan in this work, in that both he and Satan had experienced a failed cause.
The first illustrations were to the fourth edition of 1688, with one engraving prefacing each book, of which up to eight of the twelve were by Sir John Baptist Medina, one by Bernard Lens, and perhaps up to four (including Books I and XII, perhaps the most memorable) by another hand. The most notable and popular illustrators of Paradise Lost are William Blake, Gustave Doré and Henry Fuseli; however, the epic's illustrators also include, among others, John Martin, Edward Burney, Richard Westall, Francis Hayman. Salvador Dalí executed a set of ten colour lithographs in 1974. Strangely, two capriccios by Gian Battista Tiepolo were used to illustrate an Italian 18th century edition. Surreal-visionary artist Terrance Lindall's rendition was published in 1982.
- John Milton's poetic style
- Paradise Regained, a shorter, later poem by Milton about the Temptation of Christ by Satan