“Paradise Regained” by John Milton

Humanity On Trial

Milton recounts and reinterprets the Biblical story of Satan Tempting Christ in Paradise Regained, in which he lays open to criticism and derision the whole of human existence and history. There is a distinct undertone of defiance and bitterness. In the poem, Christ is represented, not so much as the only begotten Son of God, but a heroic moral figure, who triumphs over Satan, not by His Godliness, but by ethical and philosophical polemics, the very thing he criticizes.

In attempting to “justify the ways of God to men”, Milton fails to do justice to either.

The Three Temptations

I. Lust of the Flesh: Desire and Pleasure

Lust of the Flesh
Christ tempted by Satan to turn the stones into bread by William Blake @ Fitzwilliam Museum

Think’st thou such force in Bread? is it not written
(For I discern thee other then thou seem’st)
Man lives not by Bread only, but each Word
Proceeding from the mouth of God; who fed
Our Fathers here with Manna; in the Mount
Moses was forty days, nor eat nor drank,
And forty days Eliah without food
Wandred this barren waste; the same I now:

Four times ten days I have pass’d
Wandring this woody maze, and humane food
Nor tasted, nor had appetite; that Fast
To Vertue I impute not, or count part
Of what I suffer here; if Nature need not,
Or God support Nature without repast
Though needing, what praise is it to endure?
But now I feel I hunger, which declares,
Nature hath need of what she asks; yet God
Can satisfie that need some other way,
Though hunger still remain: so it remain
Without this bodies wasting, I content me,
And from the sting of Famine fear no harm,
Nor mind it, fed with better thoughts that feed
Mee hungring more to do my Fathers will.

Lust of the Eyes
Christ refusing the banquet by William Blake @ Fitzwilliam Museum

II. Lust of the Eyes: Philosophy and Vain Deceit

Where on the Ægean shore a City stands
Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil,
Athens, the eye of Greece, Mother of Arts
And Eloquence, native to famous wits
Or hospitable, in her sweet recess,
City or Suburban, studious walks and shades;
See there the Olive Grove of Academe,
Plato’s retirement, where the Attic Bird
Trills her thick-warbl’d notes the summer long,
There flowrie hill Hymettus with the sound
Of Bees industrious murmur oft invites
To studious musing; there Ilissus rouls
His whispering stream; within the walls then view
The schools of antient Sages; his who bred
Great Alexander to subdue the world,
Lyceum there, and painted Stoa next:
There thou shalt hear and learn the secret power
Of harmony in tones and numbers hit
By voice or hand, and various-measur’d verse,
Æolian charms and Dorian Lyric Odes,
And his who gave them breath, but higher sung,
Blind Melesigenes, thence Homer call’d,
Whose Poem Phœbus challeng’d for his own.
Thence what the lofty grave Tragœdians taught
In Chorus or Iambic, teachers best
Of moral prudence, with delight receiv’d
In brief sententious precepts, while they treat
Of fate, and chance, and change in human life;
High actions, and high passions best describing:
Thence to the famous Orators repair,
Those antient, whose resistless eloquence
Wielded at will that fierce Democratie,
Shook the Arsenal and fulmin’d over Greece,
To Macedon, and Artaxerxes Throne;
To sage Philosophy next lend thine ear,
From Heaven descended to the low-rooft house
Of Socrates, see there his Tenement,
Whom well inspir’d the Oracle pronounc’d
Wisest of men; from whose mouth issu’d forth
Mellifluous streams that water’d all the schools
Of Academics old and new, with those
Sirnam’d Peripatetics, and the Sect
Epicurean, and the Stoic severe;

III. The Pride of Life: Kingdoms and Glory

Pride of Life
Satan tempts Christ with the Kingdoms of the Earth by William Blake @ Fitzwilliam Museum

The City which thou seest no other deem
Then great and glorious Rome, Queen of the Earth
So far renown’d, and with the spoils enricht
Of Nations; there the Capitol thou seest,
Above the rest lifting his stately head
On the Tarpeian rock, her Cittadel
Impregnable, and there Mount Palatine
The Imperial Palace, compass huge, and high
The Structure, skill of noblest Architects,
With gilded battlements, conspicuous far,
Turrets and Terrases, and glittering Spires.
Many a fair Edifice besides, more like
Houses of Gods (so well I have dispos’d
My Aerie Microscope) thou may’st behold
Outside and inside both, pillars and roofs
Carv’d work, the hand of fam’d Artificers
In Cedar, Marble, Ivory, or Gold.
Thence to the gates cast round thine eye, and see
What conflux issuing forth or entring in,
Pretors, Proconsuls to thir Provinces
Hasting or on return, in robes of State;
Lictors and rods, the ensigns of thir power,
Legions and Cohorts, turmes of horse and wings:
Or Embassies from Regions far remote

All Nations now to Rome obedience pay,
To Rome’s great Emperour, whose wide domain
In ample Territory, wealth and power,
Civility of Manners, Arts, and Arms,
And long Renown thou justly may’st prefer

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