“In Paradise Lost Milton produced poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties – blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution – Paradise Lost’s apparent ambivalence towards authority has led to intense debate about whether it manages to ‘justify the ways of God to men’, or exposes the cruelty of Christianity.”
I don’t think there’s any debate. Exquisite poetry defending the indefensible. This poem exposes not only the cruelty of Christianity, but its absurdity, its sanctification of misogyny, its glorification of servility, and its exaltation of ignorance. God the Father is malicious and cares only for his own ego. The Son is a bit of a cardboard cut out (which is okay I guess because he’s just a puppet of the Father). Adam is, well, as misogynist as his maker set him out to be. And Eve is a submissive, simpering slave (the one time she shows some independent thought, she brings God’s curses down on them all). Life before the “Fall” is pointless and stupid. Knowledge—its own intrinsic value and the value of seeking it are both denigrated by God, by the angels, and by Adam (of course the one who is desired to be most ignorant is Eve who is sent away or put to sleep whenever anything of import is discussed or related). The only character with any redeeming value whatsoever is Satan, a real tragic hero. We know from the start that his cause is futile and he’s bound to pay a dreadful price for his rebellion, but we can’t help but cheer him on as he fights tooth and claw for liberty and justice and against ignorance and subjugation. Not that I think Milton really intended that to be the case, but Satan is brilliant. Oh, and did I mention that the poetry is exquisite?