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Jeremy Rosen
Professor Ian Newhem
English 102 Honors
16 April 2014
First Draft of The Relevance of Paradise Lost to the Contemporary World
Throughout human history, human nature has remained relatively unchanged. Whether in
the Roman Empire of the first century, the English and French kingdoms of the Middle Ages, or
the contemporary United States, people have loved, lusted, and killed for territorial, idealistic,
and other beliefs. Unfortunately, twentieth century literary critic Sir Walter Raleigh fails to
consider this aspect of humanity when he claims John Miltons Paradise Lost is a monument to
dead ideas (88). In his criticism, Raleigh bases his claim on the idea that Miltons hand is too
readily visible throughout the epic. For instance, Church officials and other religious leaders
limit their portrayals of the supernatural to vague general propositions, (86) but Milton paints
detailed pictures of his own design, such as the gateway Sin and Death guard that separates Hell
from Chaos. As a result, the epic form, which is supposed to represent the ideas of an entire
culture, ends up representing the inner workings of Miltons mind (88). Until Raleigh makes his
dead ideas quote, his arguments are well justified. But critic David Hawkes explains in his
introduction to the Barnes and Noble Classics Series of Paradise Lost why Raleighs critique
ultimately falls short. According to Hawkes, Miltons Satan engages in many of the same sins as
mankind. Satan is unwilling to let go of false beliefs, refuses to admit there is a power in the
universe beyond his comprehension, convinces his demonic servants to worship signs, and
encourages Adam and Eve to convert to his materialistic worldview (XIV). Hawkes posits,
There is a good case to be made that Satan has, in the twenty-first century, finally

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conquered the world (XIV-V). Although Hawkess claim that Miltons Satan has in our time
conquered the world is a gross mischaracterization of human history, Hawkes is correct in
claiming that Paradise Lost is a monument to ideas very much alive because of the propensity of
modern people to partake in such sins as idolatry, spite, and deception.
In addition to his claim that Satan has conquered the contemporary world, Hawkes
writes that Paradise Lost is the prophetic story (XV) of Satans triumph. The definition of a
prophecy is a prediction of the future, in this case a prediction of demonic triumph over
humanity taking place specifically in the twenty-first century. An examination of the thirteenplus years of the twenty-first century reveals many horrible events. A sampling includes the 9/11
terrorist attacks, the Iraq War, the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill (U.S. History Timeline). Leila, an author for Bahai Perspectives, notes that some believe
we live in one of the most materialistic, consumer-driven ages of humankind, in which the
ultra-rich spend vast sums of money despite their struggling neighbors. Materialism is in fact
one of the major sins in Paradise Lost. In Book I, the speaker notes that the devil Mammon
eventually teaches mankind to Rifle the bowels of their mother earth / For treasures better hid,
(687-8) and in Hell, he leads the devils in their construction of the gilded temple Pandemonium.
However, it is unclear why Hawkes believes Satan has achieved his triumph in the twenty-first
century specifically. A cursory look at the twentieth century reveals World War I, the Great
Depression, World War II, the invention of nuclear weapons, and the conflict in Vietnam (U.S.
History Timeline). Materialism and other sins were also quite prominent in the twentieth
century, as the excesses of the 1920s portrayed in such literary works as The Great Gatsby make
so evident. Globally, the twentieth century was a period of genocides, including the Armenian
Genocide, Ukrainian Famine, Rape of Nanking, Holocaust, Cambodian Genocide, Rwandan

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Genocide, and Bosnian Genocide (Genocide in the Twentieth Century). And the modern era,
through which Hawkes has lived, is not unique in its death, destruction, and sin. Historians
recognize the Roman Empire for its war machine, debauchery, and brutal gladiator battles. In the
Middle Ages, kings and nobles warred over land, and Church authorities employed torture to
punish heretics and sexual deviants (Newman). In light of the all horrors taking place in the
twentieth century and throughout human history, it makes little sense that in the twenty-first
century, Satan has finally conquered the world.
Having said all that, the themes Milton puts forth in Paradise Lost are not dead at all.
One major theme in this epic is difference between the human conception of a thing and the
actual nature of the thing. Having read Hawkess introduction, critic Rick Searle claims
contemporary readers may think of the epic as a prophecy of our own age of secular idolatry.
As an aside, a prophecy of idolatry in the modern world is not the same as a prophecy of Satans
triumph over the modern world. Anyhow, according to Searle and Hawkes, only God, creator of
the world, can truly understand the world (Searle). Everyone else, including Miltons angels, can
only perceive the world through the senses although many feel that their image of the world
provides them with the power to control the world (Searle). Hawkes says that Satans main sin is
his desire to connect the world of experience with the world beyond experience as a result of
mistakenly believing the difference between himself and God is qualitative rather than
quantitative (XXXVI). Examples of such idolatry in Paradise Lost include Satans rebellion
against God and the construction of Pandemonium. In Book II, Mammon temporarily convinces
the devils To found this nether empire, which might rise In emulation opposite to heaven
(296-8). In this instance, the devils fail to comprehend that they will never be able to rival
Heaven, for it is only through Gods will that they are able to have their meeting in

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Pandemonium in the first place. Searle connects idolatry to the financial crisis of 2007-2008,
before which fiat currency emerged in the 1970s, and Wall Street quants built a system of
computer-based finance. In other words, in the pursuit of money and mortal riches, these people
were blind to the potential consequences of their actions.
Another prominent sin featured in Paradise Lost is spite, the petty desire to engage in
malicious activity. After Mammon delivers his speech about making the best of Hell, Satans
second-in-command Beelzebub rises up to contradict Mammon. Beelzebub argues that God will
never allow the devils to have free reign in Hell; rather, He will over hell extend / His empire,
and with iron scepter rule / Us here, as with his golden those in heaven (II.326-8). Therefore,
the devils should embark on an easier enterprise (345). They should travel to the new world
God has created, the world of mankind, and learn about its inhabitants. Then, they will burn the
world down, rule over its people, or convince the people to ally themselves with the devils (3648). When Beelzebub finishes speaking, the speaker reveals that this plan has been Satans all
along; having realized he cannot defeat the forces of Heaven, he wishes to spite God by ruining
His creation. In Book IV, the speaker makes explicit Satans motivation for causing the fall of
mankind: Satan, now first inflamd with rage, came down, / The tempter ere th accuser of
mankind, / To wreck on innocent frail man his loss/ Of that first battle, and his flight to hell (912). In an illustration of the destructive power of hate, Satans anger at losing to God manifests
itself physically, marring his disguise as a cherub (114-9) and exposing his identity as a devil to
the archangel Uriel (124-5). In the contemporary world, there are many examples of people
engaging in vengeful sabotage. Two such examples are black church burnings and the Kuwaiti
oil fires. According to Michele Simmsparris, black churches were community centers and
bastions of the civil rights movement. On multiple occasions, including the notorious 1963

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firebombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, disenchanted
whites burned these churches down to physically harm and threaten future harm to disfavored
persons in communities. And in 1991, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein realized he would
not be able to keep hold over Kuwait, he set fire to Kuwaits oil wells to deny others the oil
(Cruz). The fires burned for seven months (Cruz) and caused a horrific environmental disaster.
Like Satan, the arsonists and Hussein engaged in wanton destruction to express their anger.
In addition to idolatry and spite, a third sin in Paradise Lost is the use of language to
deceive innocent individuals. Critic Alexandra Kapelos-Peters believes Milton defines evil as
persuasive, deceptive, and seductive. In the beginning of Paradise Lost, Satan is gigantic, so
large a sailor might confuse him for an island (I.288-92), and in Book II, he plays the part of a
noble leader, willing to brave the dangers of Chaos for the sake of his people (445-56). By
portraying Satan in this way rather than as a stereotypical, red, horned Devil, (KapelosPeters) Milton demonstrates how evil is seductive and hard to resist. In fact, critic Stanley Fish
argues that the epic tempts the reader into believing Satan is a hero in the same way Satan tempts
Adam and Eve, but the reader must see past Satans nobility and characterize him as the villain
(Hoyt). Other examples of Satans deceptive powers in Paradise Lost include his persuasion of
the devils through Beelzebub to abandon Mammons plan in favor of his own (though Satans
plan eventually results in the devils ruin), his speech in Heaven that the archangel Raphael
relays to Adam in Book V, and the poisonous words he whispers to Eve squat like a toad (800).
Ultimately, Satan emerges victorious in his deception when he convinces Eve to eat the
forbidden fruit, but God intervenes and transforms the devils into snakes, which according to
Kapelos-Peters, represent the essence of evil, temptation. In the twentieth century, the Nazi Party
of Germany utilized the power of propaganda to deceive its people into supporting Hitlers

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regime and hating Jews and other minority groups. Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda,
strove to ensure that no German would read something hostile to the Nazis and that the Germans
would view the Nazis favorably (Propaganda in Nazi Germany). The Nazis controlled the
media, encouraged Germans to purchase cheap radios on which Nazi messages played, and
produced such films as The Eternal Jew echoing the Nazi line (Propaganda). However,
dictatorships were not the only governments engaging in deception. The United States was guilty
as well; at the same time as the Nazi propaganda machine was in full force, the U.S. government
released a propaganda film called The Negro Soldier in order to recruit African Americans
(Hood). This movie lists the many accomplishments of African Americans and features a young
black soldier named Bronson who tells of his positive experiences in the Army (Hood). But the
movie does not mention the segregated nature of the military, nor does it include, in the words of
the Armys Research Branch, colored soldiers who are the most Negroid in appearance
(Hood). Clearly, deception in Satans style did not disappear after Miltons time.
In essence, despite the words of Sir Walter Raleigh, Paradise Lost is not a monument to
dead ideas. Rather, as David Hawkes argues, Miltons ideas are applicable to the modern world,
for sins like idolatry, spite, and deception are still present. Hawkess claim that Satan has finally
conquered the world in the twenty-first century does not make much sense, but Miltons epic is
prophetic of current events. The relevance of Satans behavior in Paradise Lost to contemporary
evil brings up the question of what exactly Satan is today. Whether the Christian version of the
afterlife is correct, and Satan is a real individual or not, there is a Satanic presence in the world
just as there has always been, and this presence lies in human nature, specifically in the area of
sin. As long as people are willing to engage in sinful activity to fulfill their physical desires, evil

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will persist in individuals, communities, and nations. Unfortunately, Miltons epic will remain
prophetic as ever.

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Works Cited
Cruz, Gilbert. Kuwaiti Oil Fires. Time. 3 May 2010. Web. 16 April 2014.
Genocide in the Twentieth Century. The History Place. 2000. Web. 16 April 2014.
Hood, Nathaniel. The Negro Soldier. Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. 29 January 2012. Web.
16 April 2014.
Hoyt, Randy. The Rebellion of Satan in Miltons Paradise Lost. Journey to the Sea. 1 August
2008. Web. 16 April 2014.
Leila. MaterialismA Renewed Debate for the Twenty-First Century. Bahai Perspectives. 12
June 2008. Web. 16 April 2014.
Kapelos-Peters, Alexandra. Seductive Evil in Miltons Paradise Lost. Musings. 10 December
2007. Web. 16 April 2014.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. David Hawkes. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2004.
Print.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Things Unattempted Yet in Prose or Rhyme. Ed. Ian Blake
Newhem. United States of America: University Readers, Inc., 2012. 158-260. Print.
Newman, Simon. Middle Ages Torture: Devices and Techniques. The Finer Times. Web. 16
April 2014.
Propaganda in Nazi Germany. History Learning Site. Web. 16 April 2014.
Raleigh, Sir Walter. Milton. London: Edward Arnold, 1915. Project Gutenberg. Web. 16 April
2014.
Searle, Rick. Pandemonium, Kingdom of the Quants 1. Utopia or Dystopia. 10 August 2012.
Web. 16 April 2014.

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Simmsparris, Michele M. Significance of Black Church Burnings. War on Terrorism and
Racism. 1998. Web. 16 April 2014.
U.S. History Timeline. Americas Best History. 2014. Web. 16 April 2014.