Paradise Lost By John Milton Summary and Analysis Book VII

Summary

Book VII opens with another prologue to Urania, who in classical mythology was the Muse of Astronomy but whom Milton has transformed into a heavenly or Christian inspiration. In this prologue, Milton asks Urania to bring his thoughts down from Heaven and back to Earth and to inspire him once more to rise above his physical limitations.

Returning to the scene in Eden, Adam asks Raphael to relate the story of the creation of the world. Raphael replies that after the rebellious angels were defeated, God wished to add a new creation so that no place in the universe would seem unpopulated by the absence of the fallen angels. He decided to create Mankind to live on Earth. Through obedience to God's will, Man would finally unite Earth with Heaven. God sent the Son forth to create Earth and the heavens that surround it. The Son accomplished this creation and hung Earth on a chain suspended from Heaven. Then God began the creation that would lead to Man. Raphael's account here closely follows the story of creation in Genesis, in which over a period of seven days, God creates the foundations of life (light, firmament, the seasons of the year, and so on) and then life itself, beginning with fish and other creatures and culminating in the creation of Man (Adam). Raphael concludes his description of the creation with an account of the rejoicing in Heaven over God's handiwork.

Analysis

The prologue to Book VII is especially interesting on two counts. First, the Muse Milton invokes is again Urania, the classical Muse of Astronomy, who is appropriate since the focus of this book is on the creation of Earth and the heavens, and Book VIII will deal with planetary motions. But, once again, just as he did in Book I, Milton disassociates Urania from the classical tradition and equates her with Christian inspiration, literally (in Book I) with the Holy Spirit. This treatment of Urania epitomizes one of Milton's goals in Paradise Lost — to compose a Christian epic. He brings together the pagan classical tradition with Christian doctrine; the invocation and transmutation of Urania provides an emblematic image of this goal.

The second point of interest in this prologue is Milton's personal references. He once again alludes to his blindness with the word "darkness" in line 27, but he goes on to mention "dangers" (28) and earlier referred to "evil days." These references appear to be to the political situation in England at the time Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Milton had been an official in Cromwell's government and had been imprisoned briefly after the Restoration. The supporters of Charles II, as well as Charles himself, were not an especially bloodthirsty lot, but Puritans and former supporters of Cromwell had good reasons to be concerned. Milton, because of his notoriety, outspokenness, and blindness, was especially vulnerable. Moreover, his composition, a Christian epic, was not likely to be popular among the Cavaliers, who had more worldly matters on their minds. Consequently, the personal aspects of this prologue reveal Milton's sense of isolation, vulnerability, and perhaps fear at a time when, had circumstances not changed so dramatically, he might have been one of the most celebrated figures in the kingdom.

The rest of Book VII, following the prologue, needs less comment than most books since it follows the account of creation in Genesis quite closely. Some important differences, distinctions, and additions do exist, however. Perhaps the most apparent difference between Milton's account of creation and that in Genesis is that the Son, rather than God the Father, goes forth to create Earth and the heavens. Milton seems to be developing a Christian version of creation here to contrast with the Old Testament / Judaic one in Genesis. The Son sets forth in his chariot followed by "Cherub and Seraph, Potentates and Thrones, / And Virtues" (197-98). As he creates, the Son uses golden compasses to make Earth and the heavens surrounding it — an image that was made famous a century or so later in William Blake's illustrations for Paradise Lost. Following the Son's initial, triumphant creation of Earth, Milton returns to the creation account in Genesis in both context and cadence. As the day-by-day events are described, the actions are credited to God, although it is unclear in this section whether Milton means God the Father or God the Son.

As the events of each day of creation occur, Milton incorporates his own knowledge and interpretations. For example, in describing the creation of dry land on Day 3, Milton attributes the formation of mountains to God and also suggests that the highest mountains correspond to the lowest depths in the oceans. Neither of these ideas is in Genesis, and both were matters of theological debate in the seventeenth century. Milton simply adds his own ideas about geology and creation to the account. Similarly, in his account of Day 4, Milton adds scientific description and information about the stars. On Day 5, the description of certain fish is detailed and precise, reflecting Milton's study of natural history. So, on the one hand, Milton simply repeats the biblical account of creation, but, on the other, he is adding, from his own vast store of knowledge, much detailed insight and information not found in Genesis. In a sense, Book VII is Milton's improved scientific and Christian account of the story of creation. Of course, all of these changes are presented by Raphael, so it is more precise to call this version of creation Raphael's.

One last feature of Book VII, as well as of Books VI and VIII, is worth consideration. In each of these books, Adam questions Raphael concerning God, nature, and the universe. In many ways, Adam's questions seem to be simple and understandable curiosity on his part. But on a deeper level, Adam's curiosity points toward the Tree of Knowledge. Adam constantly wants more information, and this desire on his part clearly suggests that in the decisive moment, Adam's own personality may fail him. Further, Raphael, as a character, may abet Adam's eventual fall. The "affable angel" was sent by God to warn Adam of Satan's plans. Raphael has delivered and will deliver this warning piecemeal and vaguely. Raphael can explain the war in Heaven with precision. He can explain creation clearly. But he warns Adam in generalities. Raphael's vague warnings may be necessitated by God's instructions, but, even so, they lack the specificity that might truly help Adam and Eve be prepared for Satan.

Glossary

Archangel (41) a chief angel; angel of high rank.

Hierarchies (191) the leaders or chiefs of religious groups; high priests. Milton uses the term to represent all the angels who make up the Heavenly Host.

sapience (195) knowledge, wisdom.

omnific (217) creating all things.

firmament (261) the sky, viewed poetically as a solid arch or vault.

tumid (288) swollen; bulging.

jocund (372) cheerful; genial.

ounce (466) lynx or panther.

behemoth (467) a large beast mentioned in the Bible; in Milton's time the term probably referred to the elephant.

hyaline (619) transparent as glass; glassy.

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