Study Guide

Paradise Lost Pride

By John Milton

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Book 1

"For who can yet believe, though after loss,
That all these puissant legions whose exile
Hath emptied Heav'n shall fail to re-ascend,
Self-raised, and repossess their native seat?" (1.631-4)

Satan thinks so highly of his army that he has no doubts about their ability to "repossess their native seat." The pride he takes in his rebellion is evident as well in the fact that he grossly exaggerates ("emptied Heav'n") the number of angels who joined his rebellion (we learn later that only a third of the angels fell with Satan).

"How such united force of gods, how such
As stood like these, could ever know repulse?" (1.629-30)

Satan is proud of his army, so proud that he's absolutely baffled that it was defeated. He thinks that a force as strong as his should never have known "repulse." His pride was so blinding that he didn't realize that God would easily "repulse" such a band, even though they "stood" like "gods."

Book 5

"fair angelic Eve,
Partake thou also! Happy though thou art,
Happier thou may'st be, worthier canst not be.
Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods
Thyself a goddess, not to Earth confined" (5.74-8).

Satan's first encounter with Eve (the evil dream he whispers in her ear) closely resembles his second (the Forbidden Fruit); in both, he appeals to Eve's pride, offering her the possibility of divinity ("thyself a goddess") and greater happiness while also boosting her self-esteem ("fair angelic Eve"). Here, as in Book 9, Satan attempts to get Eve to share in his misery by making her more like him (he fell because he wanted to be the god).

Book 6

"for they weened
That selfsame day by fight, or by surprise
To win the Mount of God, and on His throne
To set the envier of His State, the proud
Aspirer" (6.686-90)

Part of the problem with Satan's pride is that it makes him an "aspirer" to God's throne; he's not just dissatisfied with God's Son, but, it seems, with God as well. Otherwise, his legions wouldn't attempt to place him on God's "throne." As in many other passages, pride is associated with an inappropriate movement upwards or an attempt to gain control of something that is supposed to be out of reach (God's throne, knowledge, etc.).

Book 8

"Joy thou
In what He gives to thee, this Paradise
And thy fair Eve; Heav'n is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowly wise:
Think only what concerns thee and thy being" (8.170-4)

Raphael essentially tells Adam not to get too proud. He tells him that Heaven is "too high" for him to 'know what passes there." In other words, Adam shouldn't try to learn more than he already knows. The dichotomy of high and low ("too high," "lowly wise") underlines the difference between pride and humility (recall that pride is often associated with superiority, trying to reach too high, etc.).

Book 9

"look on me!
Me who have touched and tasted yet both live
And life more perfect have attained than fate
Meant me, by vent'ring higher than my Lot" (9.687-90).

Pride is associated with a sense of superiority, and Satan – here disguised as the serpent – deceives Eve with the ridiculous idea that one can have a "more perfect" life. How can there be something beyond perfection? The very fact that "more perfect" occurs alongside the idea of attaining more than "fate/ Meant" suggests quite clearly both Satan's illogic and the dangers of pride.

"ye shall be as Gods
Knowing both good and evil as they know.
That ye should be as Gods, since I as Man,
Internal Man, is but proportion meet" (9.708-11)

Satan here appeals to Eve's pride, suggesting that she deserves to know good and evil; it's only natural ("proportion meet"). One should note the irony of using a phrase like "proportion meet." The world is already perfect, yet somehow Satan's rhetoric – maybe because of its own neat "proportions" – convinces Eve that things aren't fair, right, or in "proportion."

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