Places: Paradise Lost

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1667

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Epic

Time of work: Creation of the world

Places DiscussedHeaven

Heaven. Paradise LostUnlike the other places described by Milton in Paradise Lost, the scenes in heaven are not memorable for their physical description. When God the Father and his Son Jesus speak in book 3, they do so from the heights of Heaven. All the speaker asserts about the scene of this dialogue is that it is high above both Earth and Hell, and that it is bathed in celestial light. God’s throne is mentioned, along with the choirs of angels surrounding it, but traditional images of clouds and stars are absent. The book opens with Milton’s famous hymn to light, and the overall effect is the repeated emphasis on the brilliance of the empyrean, the highest heaven which, in the medieval cosmology surviving in Milton’s day, was the home of God and the angels.


Hell. The underworld into which the rebel angels fall in book 1 of Milton’s epic is the first fully visualized scene. After describing the precipitous fall of Satan and his cohorts amid the chaos of floods and whirlwinds, Milton has the demons remark on how different this place appears in comparison with the Heaven from which they have come. Just as Heaven is characterized mostly by light in book 3, Hell is known by its dimness. Even flames give forth no light, and there is no land, though Milton teases the reader’s visual imagination by speaking of lakes of liquid fire and lands of solid fire. Specific locations within Hell include its capital, Pandemonium; the large gates through which Satan flies; and the Paradise of Fools, a borderland where foolish monks believe, in their vanity, that they are in Heaven.


Pandemonium. Word coined by Milton to describe the capital of Hell in this epic that now has a broader meaning. Milton invented the word by analogy with the Pantheon, the temple of all gods in ancient Rome. The Pandemonium is thus an infernal temple honoring all demons. Milton describes it near the end of book 1, and the first half of book 2 takes place there as well. As in Milton’s other place descriptions in Paradise Lost, the emphasis is on the spaciousness of this capital of Hell, the throngs of demons filling the hall, the wide gates and porches. Yet, since Milton is using this spaciousness as an emblem of greatness, he effects a sudden change in point of view at the end of book 1, making the demons, who seemed gigantic, become minuscule. The change is due to their fall, which has just taken place. In Pandemonium, as elsewhere in Milton’s cosmology, place has moral significance.

Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden. Biblical site in which the bulk of Paradise Lost after book 3 takes place. For Adam and Eve, the physical beauty of paradise represents the unfallen world. They are in harmony with all creatures, and they receive all the food they need without effort. To Satan, however, the place represents a painful reminder of all the joys he and the other fallen angels have lost forever. His first reflection on the sight of Eden, near the beginning of book 4, is a curse hurled at the Sun for showing him its beauties. There, it becomes clear that place is a function of one’s moral state. For example, Satan, though in paradise, brings his Hell with him because of his unrepentant, fallen nature. Conversely, at the end of the epic, Adam and Eve, though banished from paradise, carry a small reflection of it with them in their love for each other.

Sources for Further StudyBroadbent, John Barclay. Some Graver Subject: An Essay on “Paradise Lost.” New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1960. Serves as an excellent introduction to Paradise Lost. Acknowledging the difficulties of reading the poem, Broadbent systematically analyzes and explains Milton’s meanings.Danielson, Dennis, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. 1989. 2d ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Essays by scholars and critics, with a useful bibliography.Gardner, Helen. A Reading of “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. Focuses on reading the poem with a twentieth century sensibility, including discussion of twentieth century Milton criticism.Kelley, Maurice. This Great Argument: A Study of Milton’s “De Doctrina Christiana” as a Gloss upon “Paradise Lost.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941. According to reviewer A. S. P. Woodhouse, “For the student of the history of thought the volume is a clear and useful compendium of Milton’s opinions on a large range of theological topics. . . . Kelley demonstrates in detail . . . that many of [Christian Doctrine’s] doctrines are reflected in Paradise Lost.”Kranidas, Thomas, ed. New Essays on “Paradise Lost.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Essays by American scholars examine such topics as form, style, genre, and theme. Links the poem with its biblical sources.Lewalski, Barbara. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography. Rev. ed. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2002. Focuses on Milton’s religious, political, and literary development.Lewis, C. S. A Preface to “Paradise Lost.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Considers epic form in general and continues with a discussion of Milton’s epic, based on a specifically Christian interpretation. Rather dogmatic, this is nevertheless a lucid, enormously helpful analysis of form and doctrinal issues.Miller, Timothy C. The Critical Response to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997. A documentary history of reviews and articles, with an introductory account.Lieb, Michael and John T. Shawcross, eds. Paradise Lost: A Poem Written in Ten Books. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2007. Volume one of this two-volume set contains the original 1667 edition of Paradise Lost, which was broken into ten books. The second volume is comprised of ten scholarly essays that explore the differences between the original edition and the better-known 1674 edition, which consists of twelve books. The essayists look at the poem in its literary and historical context, and some make arguments that the 10 book format was a better venue for Milton to convey his thoughts.Patrides, C. A., ed. Approaches to “Paradise Lost.” London: Edward Arnold, 1968. Contains a series of lectures offering a wide variety of approaches, such as literary, doctrinal, musical, and iconographical. Illustrations. The broad range of this book is an aid to appreciating the complexity of the poem and the vast array of Milton criticism that is available.
Categories: Places