Paradise Lost was published in 1647 and written by John Milton. Milton was born in London in 1608. At age 16, he entered Cambridge University, and graduated at 24, having originally intended to become a clergyman. He abandoned that intention because of his perception of widespread corruption within the Church of England. Instead he devoted his energies to literature.

Paradise Lost is Milton's great work, the one which has stood the test of time. It is not known exactly when John Milton actually wrote this epic poem, though many scholars guess that it was written in London around 1650-1660. In it he recounts the story of Adam and Eve, the same story in the first book of the Bible. Milton also chronicles the origin of Satan, creating one of the most vibrant and memorable literary interpretations of this crucial figure. The poem closes with Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden of Eden.

This course will utilize the Norton Critical Edition of Paradise Lost. It includes additional Milton excerpts, contemporary criticism and commentary, and modern critical analysis.

For information on enrolling in the Scholars at Wright presentation of Paradise Lost, as well as the schedule of classes, please click here.

On Oct. 22, Professor Peter Kaye from Northwestern University delivered an introductory lecture covering Milton's life and times, as well as the history of his period. Kaye compared Milton to a wrestler, in that Milton set out at an early age to top the men he viewed as the greatest epic poets in history: Homer, Virgil, Dante and Edmund Spenser. Milton started out with a chip on his shoulder, telling his classmates at age 19 his intention to write an epic to surpass those of Homer.

Also discussed were Milton's participation in the political struggles of 17th century England. Milton was a propagandist for Church reform, as well as a staunch opponent of the reign of Charles I. Oddly, Milton also advocated the right to divorce, owing to his initially unhappy marriage to Mary Powell. Milton supported the English dictator Oliver Cromwell, but then avoided execution upon the restoration of the royal authority, probably due to his reputation as a scholar. Between the Restoration in 1660 and 1665, a time of virtual exile for Milton, Paradise Lost is composed, and published in 1667. This work largely succeeds in vaulting Milton into the pantheon of great epic poets. He followed this masterwork with Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, before succumbing to gout in 1674, at the age of 66.

On Oct. 29, Professor Perry Buckley of Wright College delivered a lecture arguing for the inclusion of Paradise Lost in the canon of great books. Buckley argued that Paradise Lost meets the five principal criteria of great books: passing the test of time; being open to many interpretations; addressing 'persistent and unanswerable questions of mankind'; fostering the Liberal Arts; and being a masterpiece of fine art.

Buckley also exhorted students to not be daunted by the poem's demanding verse structure and complex verbiage. Buckley quotes James Joyce for inspiration: "It took me ten years to write Ulysses, and it should take you ten years to read it."

Professors from Shimer College teamed up to create discussion groups among the students on Nov. 7. Shimer's signature style was emphasized, breaking a large audience into smaller groups in which discussion and questioning were emphasized. Shimer College is a respected liberal arts institution which emphasizes the great books canon in its teaching.

Professor Richard Strier of the University of Chicago presented the final lecture on Nov. 13. Strier, a published scholar on Milton, called students' attention to the author's presentation of his own character, in the beginnings of books 1, 3, 7 and 9 of the poem. From his invocation of biblical muses and grand pronouncement of intent to his meditations on blindness and inner sight, Milton's own thoughts, struggles and hopes are written subtly into the poem.

Strier also noted advanced his interpretation of Milton's Eden and the life of the characters in paradise. Far from a puritanical vision of a sexless, ignorant lifestyle, Milton presented Adam and Eve as fully sexual beings who inquired into the heavens and the Earth. Indeed, even the angels were sexually active in Milton's rendering.

Strier posited that the ending of the poem is in fact a sad one, a distancing end for Adam and Eve. Instead of communing with God and angels, they are left with only an abstract feeling of Providence, rather than the divine presence they once enjoyed.

This page is best viewed with Netscape Navigator or MS Internet Explorer versions 4.0 and higher, in 800x600 resolution. To report problems with the site, contact the site administrator.