Paradise Regained Summaries

A. J. Drake’s Summaries for Paradise Regained (1671)


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001-017. The Narrator invokes the Spirit of God as his muse; the Spirit will help him tell us of “deeds / Above Heroic, though in secret done” (1.14-15), things known in outline but never yet revealed in full dramatic vein. This brief epic’s argument concerns nothing less, says the Narrator, than “Eden rais’d in the waste Wilderness” (1.17).

018-032. Jesus comes to John the Baptist, who recognizes him as the savior he has been heralding. Jesus is baptized and the Father proclaims him his “beloved Son.”  (For the basis of the account, see Matthew 3:13-17.

033-105. Satan hears God’s proclamation, and, angered by it, calls a council where he lays out the dreaded news: the one who is to do him and the other bad angels grievous, career-ending injury is now a young man, and John the Baptist has recognized him as the Messiah he has been calling for. Satan knows Jesus’ mother is mortal but also that his father is divine. He does not yet know the young man’s full identity as the “Son of God” who drove him and his legions from Heaven, so they must find out who this “new” Son is, and Satan, ever full of fraud, is just the devil for the job.

106-129. The devils gladly sign off on the proposal of their “great Dictator” (1.113). He has, after all, won them their present empire of Earth and Air. Approval gained, Satan makes his way to Jordan to look for Jesus in the wilderness. Of course, says the Narrator, all Satan ever does is carry out God’s orders, in spite of himself, so he hardly possesses the heroic (if rather low-key this time around, as compared with Paradise Lost) agency he attributes to himself.

130-167. God explains to Gabriel, with the other good angels in council, why he will soon be allowing Satan to tempt Jesus. The point is “to show him worthy of his birth divine” (1.141). The Son will thereby get to try out the skills he will need to destroy Sin and Death once and for all: “Humiliation and strong Sufferance” (1.160). The temptation will also, he says, provide a fine opportunity to show Satan the rock-solid perfection he is up against, which will prove deservedly embarrassing for him.

168-181. The good angels sing a triumphal hymn to the Son, who will defeat all the “stratagems of Hell” (1.180).

182-293. Jesus ponders how to initiate his career as Savior, and the Spirit leads him out into the desert to meditate, which he does, upon his remarkable learnedness in childhood, filled as he was with the wisdom of the Hebrew Scriptures; upon his desire to become the heroic rescuer of an Israel captive to the Roman Empire; and finally, upon his realization that persuasion is a much finer thing than force when it comes to changing the conscience of erring human beings. His mother Mary, says Jesus, informed him of his divine parentage and of the portents that attended his birth, along with his high destiny and the difficulties it would entail. (For an account of Jesus’ birth and early life, see Luke 1-2.)  His meditations have brought him to the most recent events in his life: baptism by John, a public blessing by God, and the inescapable realization that he can no longer be a private man. So here he is, in the wilderness where the Spirit of God has conducted him.

294-320. Jesus walks farther into the wilderness, seeking solitude. Forty days pass before he feels hunger, and all the while the predatory animals in the desert don’t trouble him. At this point, a rather Spenserian, Archimago-like “aged man in Rural weeds” (1.314) makes his appearance.

321-334. This aged fellow – Satan, of course – feigns admiration for the man he has heard proclaimed “Son of God,” and asks by what bad luck he has ended up here in the desert.

335-336. Jesus answers his visitor abruptly, saying that it wasn’t “ill chance” (1.324) that brought him to the desert, but guidance: “who brought me hither / Will bring me hence” (1.335-36).

337-345. The Adversary plies his first of three temptations, just as he does in Luke 3-4. Why, suggests the Tempter, doesn’t this so-called Son of God transform the very stones to bread? Such a miracle would not only allow him to allay his hunger but also to prove his identity.

346-356. Jesus points out that he knows who his visitor really is, and rejects the “distrust” (1.355) in God’s plan implied by the suggestion that has just been made to him. Why should Jesus perform a miracle when Moses and Elijah, in similar situations, did no such thing?

357-405. Satan admits that he has been found out, but still, he says, it was he who got the job of assaying Job of Uz, and of drawing Ahab on to his destruction by false prophets. For the latter, see I Kings 22:19-22. Why, even if he is barred from Heaven, asks Satan, may he not retain his love of contemplating virtue and excellence of all kinds? Besides, he insists, he may once have been motivated by envy, but by now he is no enemy to man; he even lends them aid by means of “oracles, portents and dreams” (1.395). A desire for fellowship drives him now, he suggests. Satan’s one self-pitying complaint is that man will find salvation, while he won’t.

406-464. Jesus rebukes the Adversary, pointing out that fear and malice are the only things that ever motivate him, not admiration, beneficence, or a desire to be obedient to God. Satan only does what God allows him to do, and now the oracles that fed the delusions of idolaters, says Jesus, will cease: from now on, the “Spirit of Truth” (1.464) will reside in good people’s hearts.

465-492. Satan admits that he must bear such rebukes, but again feigns admiration for virtue, insisting that since God sees fit to allow “the Hypocrite or Atheous Priest” (1.487) entrance to the Church, he should be allowed to address the Son of God.

493-502. Jesus tells Satan to do what he wants: in any case, he can do no more than God allows him to do, for reasons Satan may not comprehend. With that, Satan vanishes for the time being.


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001-029. Jesus’ first disciples, the fishermen Andrew and Simon begin to worry when he does not return right away after his baptism, and they search everywhere they can, finally returning to a cottage by the Jordan River’s banks, where they begin to hash out their fears about the master’s status.

030-057. Andrew and Simon say that they believe Jesus, the Messiah, has been heralding the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. It seems they cast his mission as at least partly a political one: liberation from the chains of imperial Rome. Soon, they profess certainty, “we shall see our hope, our joy return” (2.57).

058-104. Jesus’ mother Mary, says the Narrator, is also quite worried about what Jesus’ prolonged absence may mean. She recalls the difficult period of her son’s birth, when they could hardly find a place to shelter the family and Herod the Great sought the child’s life so intensely that Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt. Then came a return to Nazareth in Galilee, where they lived privately enough to avoid attention. Mary has heard about Jesus’ baptism by John and God the Father’s voice blessing him as his Son. What she is expecting, though, is trouble; she recalls Simeon’s warning in Luke 2:34-35 that “a sword shall pierce through thy soul.”  Mary’s memorable phrase to describe her sense of what she is in for as the second Mother to mankind is “Exaltation to Afflictions high” (2.92). Mary recalls, too, how once before she lost sight of Jesus, only to find him schooling the Pharisees in Scripture, much to their amazement. She believes that “some great intent” (2.95) underlies his current absence, and resolves to await his return patiently.

105-120. The Narrator gives us a split picture of Jesus retiring into himself to meditate in the desert, pondering “How to begin, how to accomplish best / His end of being on Earth, and mission high” (2.113-14) and Satan returning to his airy council of bad angels, making ready to address them in a steady manner, neither despairing nor cocky after his “first round” of temptation.

121-146. Satan begins addressing his followers by reminding them of the stakes in this contest: the enemy threatens to cast them all down to Hell once and for all. But this enemy has shown himself a much more difficult mark than Adam and Eve. Satan admits to his council that he may well require their help and advice, and for once he sounds like he just might be telling at least the partial truth. If the initial round of temptation is any guide, his success is by no means assured, and he has been shown to be wrong about his own powers before.

147-171. Belial steps up in council now, offering the idea that perhaps the thing to do with this new enemy is to “Set women in his eye and in his walk” (2.153). That strategy worked quite well against Solomon, says Belial, making him venerate his many wives’ pagan idols (Ashtoroth the Sidonian or Phoenician goddess and Milcom of the Ammonites), as told in I Kings 11:4.

172-234. Satan hastily points out that Belial’s suggestion is hardly rock-solid. Milton looks back to Genesis 6:4-6, which Michael glossed for Adam back in Paradise Lost Book 11.573ff, and has Satan reference by way of concession how the Sons of God were corrupted by Cain’s lovely, sinful daughters. And yes, the Greek gods (those “devils to adore for deities,” as the Narrator calls them in Paradise Lost 1.373) have done plenty of harm by promoting sexual licentiousness. But Belial is overconfident in his strategy, says Satan: it doesn’t always work, even with mortal men, who have shown themselves quite capable of resisting the allurements of temptresses: Alexander the Great, Scipio Africanus, and King Solomon, for example. The present adversary may be a “man,” but he is much wiser and stronger than any of those men, says Satan, who can scarcely conceal his contempt for a devil who thinks base sensualism will conquer such a powerful enemy as they now confront. No, what’s needed, says the chief of devils, is something more attuned to the desire of virtuous men for “honour, glory, and popular praise” (2.227); besides, there’s the fact that Jesus is now experiencing perfectly natural hunger in the desert. Why not try him on that score?

235-244. The bad angels approve of Satan’s plan, and he chooses a band of them (rather like Homer’s Odysseus choosing certain members of his crew to carry out a mission) upon whom he may need to call as actors in the next phase of the temptation. They make their way to the desert where Jesus is starting to experience hunger after forty days of fasting.

245-259. Jesus considers his physical hunger, realizing that it’s only natural, one of ordinary mankind’s needs and limitations, but he dismisses it since he has more important things in mind: namely, actions that fulfill his Father’s Will.

260-301. Jesus lies down to sleep, and is beset with dreams about food: the ravens bringing meat to Elijah (I Kings 17-19), and eating lentils with Daniel in Daniel 1. But it’s all just a dream, and when Jesus wakes up, he ascends a hill and sees nothing but a nice grove filled with singing birds, so he makes his way there intending to rest towards noon. Suddenly, a courtly fellow is standing right in front of him: Satan, no longer disguised as a rustic elder but clothed as a wealthy urbanite or even a prince.

302-316. Satan hits Jesus with the obvious: surely he must be hungry. Why, here in the Sinai Desert, other scriptural figures have found nourishment: Hagar and her son Ishmael, when they were cast out by Abraham for mocking his son Isaac by Sarah (see Genesis 21). Satan mentions also the Israelites being given manna here to survive (Exodus 16) and Elijah as Jesus himself previously mentioned. Satan obviously knows the Scriptures and the history underlying them. His final statement in the passage is cutting: “Of thee these forty days none hath regard” (2.315). If Jesus is so important to God, Satan is asking, why hasn’t he received the same help that earlier special wanderers in this arid land have received?

317-318. Jesus reply to all the above is essentially “So what?”  The other scriptural VIP’s “had need” (2.18), while he isn’t in the same predicament of being overwhelmed by natural hunger.

319-336. Satan’s counter is to suggest that there’s no shame in accepting food when you’re hungry, and besides, since the Son of God has the right to anything he wants on Earth, why should he refuse the sumptuous but entirely lawful banquet that will even now be made to appear before him? This “banquet scene” is a lead-in to the second phase of the temptation: “only deign to sit and eat” (2.336), says Satan the master chef.

337-367. All sorts of meat and seafood are heaped up at the banquet table Satan has caused to appear, with fine-looking servants milling about just as they do in Homer. Or if we prefer, says the Narrator, we might compare this scene to some in the lore of Arthur and his Round Table. In any case, the apple that corrupted Eve, he says, was nothing compared to this delightful feast.

368-377. Satan again repeats his invitation to Jesus to partake of the feast he has set before him. There’s nothing interdicted here, nothing not lawful to eat, and it’s all a sign of Earth’s homage to her great Lord. Why not enjoy it?

378-391. Jesus’ answer couldn’t be more biting: “ Shall I receive by gift what of my own, / When and where likes me best, I can command?”  He is contemptuous of the pointless luxury Satan has conjured up: it’s nothing he couldn’t order up in his own right; he has simply chosen not to do it because it isn’t necessary.

392-431. Annoyed at this rebuke, Satan makes the banquet disappear, and casts himself as an insulted host. But he goes right back to tempting Jesus by other means: if you want to accomplish great and worthy things, he suggests, what you really need to do first is “Get Riches” (2.427). Satan is just the man for that sort of thing since, he says, he is in charge of earthly wealth and the good fortune consequent upon it. What good are “ Virtue, Valor, Wisdom” (2.431) without money to put such qualities into practice?

432-486. Jesus replies that without the above-named qualities, a person can accomplish nothing worthwhile anyway. Many great biblical heroes started out as poor lads, among them King David. (See Psalm 78:65-72) And as for classical worthies, what about Quintius Cincinnatus, Marcus Regulus, and others of similar virtue and no great initial status? Riches are more likely, Jesus points out, to get in a virtuous person’s way than to help him disseminate goodness to others. And as for the kingly crowns that riches help a person obtain, what of them? Rightly understood, each earthly diadem is no more than “a wreath of thorns” (2.459), full of cares and dangers. Many commentators have pointed out that Jesus’ words sound very like the meditations of Shakespeare’s monarchs Henry V (4.1.930ff) and Richard II (3.2.160ff), both of whom saw through the regal glitter of their world and down to the burdens it really imposed upon them. It would be far better, says Jesus, “to guide Nations in the way of truth / By saving Doctrine (i.e. doctrine that leads to salvation)” (2.473-74) than to rule by direct political means. So much, then, for riches and crowns: Satan’s second gambit is already failing as miserably as his first.


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001-042. In spite of his poor showing just before, Satan returns volley on the issue of earthly power, modulating his argument somewhat: he admits that Jesus is of another stamp than mortal heroes: his knowledge is perfect, and if it came to open war, he could whip the entire world in single combat. Still, Satan insinuates, a being with that kind of power is wrong to hide it from the world: what good is being powerful if you don’t use the power and get yourself some recognition for it? Great men such as Alexander of Macedon, Scipio Africanus who defeated the Carthaginians, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus accomplished awe-inspiring things in their youth, and Julius Caesar had the good sense to regret his late-blooming life arc compared to them. Why is Jesus out here meditating and fasting in the desert, then?

043-107. Jesus calmly dismisses Satan’s appeal to earthly power, whether for its own sake or for the adulation that attends it. As for the multitudes who would do the adoring, says Jesus (sounding just a little like Oscar Wilde, who quipped, “public opinion exists only where there are no ideas”), well, they never have any idea what’s what anyhow. Better to be a righteous man, unknown to the vulgar, and receive the applause of angels and the approval of God. Job, and not Alexander the Great or any of the haughty Caesars who left so much misery and destruction in their wake, is Jesus’ preferred model. Or if you want a classical reference, he barbs Satan, how about wise Socrates, who didn’t flinch from Truth even in the presence of a cup of distilled hemlock? Maintaining temperance and desiring only God’s glory, not one’s own: those are the things Jesus values.

108-120. The Adversary is audibly annoyed by Jesus’ response, and mutters, “Think not so slight of glory” (3.109). Isn’t God the biggest glory-hound of all? asks Satan. He requires sufficient and more than sufficient glorification from the civilized man and the barbarian alike, and even from the fallen angels who hate him.

121-144. Certainly, God demands the glory he deserves, says Jesus: but not for its own sake; rather, he uses it to “show forth his goodness” (3.124) and spread that goodness to his creatures. Why shouldn’t those creatures thank him, since they have nothing else to offer? And why should they seek glory among one another, since they have nothing and can accomplish nothing without God’s generosity?

145-180. Satan is momentarily stricken with guilt since he recognizes most highly in himself the pattern of ingratitude that Jesus has just set forth: it’s what led to his fall in the first place. He recovers himself and shifts his case a little, suggesting that surely Jesus must take stock of the present political situation of his people: Israel has been reduced to a Roman province called Judaea, and Emperor Tiberius rules it without respect or any sense of justice. How humiliating!  If you are entitled to the throne of David, act like it, Satan needles Jesus: ready yourself for battle against the Roman occupiers. just as a century-and-a-half ago Judas Maccabeus came to the desert only to gather the arms he would go on to use against Antiochus. If not liberation now, when? The appeal here is to quick action, immediate fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.

181-202. Jesus replies to Satan’s appeal succinctly: “who best / Can suffer, best can do; best reign, who first / Well hath obey’d” (3.194-96). At base, Satan’s call to arms and glory have amounted to impatience with Providence, to a timetable for exaltation that would transform it into mere pageantry and celebration, without any need for anguish or messy suffering. Jesus himself understands that his mission cannot be understood or executed that way. Besides, says Jesus, what could possibly be Satan’s motive in urging as he does, aside from the fact that the Son of God’s rise is the Devil’s fall?

203-250. Satan now responds with what turns out to be a very clever gambit: he says that since he knows he can’t escape his dreadful fate, he would just as well get on with it: “worst is my Port” (3.209), he declares, implying that waiting to arrive there has long since become tedious to him. Therefore, Jesus would do well to construe Satan’s interaction with him not as a temptation but rather as an offer to help him accomplish his mission as quickly and thoroughly as possible. (There’s also a sly, and perfectly ridiculous, insinuation that Satan would like to work his way into the Son’s good graces if possible, and use him as a shield from the Father’s anger.)  Jesus is a young man, says Satan, one scarcely schooled in the harsh ways of the world or experienced in what goes on in the halls of earthly power. He could use some help: perhaps a vision of those halls and kingdoms would be of service.

251-309. Satan transports Jesus up to a lofty mountain overlooking a spacious plain, with two rivers flowing through (one straight, the other winding) and open land between them. Satan has taken Jesus to a spot that looks down upon the vast sweep of the Parthian empire, which was a great power at that time, along with the Romans. Satan retails the impressive history of the region, with the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian glories of its past receiving a mention. What’s more, they have come right on time to behold the amassed military might (much of it cavalry; the Parthians were great horsemen) of the current Parthian ruler (perhaps Phraates V, along with his mother Queen Musa) since he is going off to fight the invading Scythians who have sacked the region of Sogdiana.

310-346. What Jesus sees is something to rival and even transcend the martial descriptions found in Europe’s chivalric romance tradition, and it’s all set before him in the form of a characteristic Miltonic catalog. The vision Jesus sees is apparently not a “still shot” but rather a panoramic view of all the troops in skilled action, trouncing their foes.

347-385. Satan plays political adviser to Jesus now, telling him that if his plan is to take up the throne of Israel’s old-time King David, from whose line he comes, he will need to gain one of the two great empires, Rome or Parthia. Satan counsels taking control of the Parthian empire or at least allying himself with it. This is basic power politics: play off your enemies against one another to keep them from annoying you. The main thing is to neutralize the menace of Rome: how can a ruler be secure or independent so long as the grasping Caesars go unchecked?

386-443. Jesus responds with a cutting phrase, calling all he sees “ostentation vain of fleshly arm” (3.387). He is also scornful of the “zeal” that Satan feigns for the full restoration of all the tribes of Israel since, as he points out, that evil presence has hardly shown such love in the past. What about the time when Satan drove King David to make a census of his kingdom’s people, and earned them a terrible plague? (See I Chronicles 21, which begins: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”  Joab saw that as impiety, but David would not listen.)  Jesus also reminds Satan that the children of Israel have often fallen away from obedience to God, thereby bringing upon themselves their own captivity and misery. In essence, Milton’s Jesus has no interest in construing his mission as consisting in the reunification of contemporary Israel; he leaves them to the Father’s “due time and providence” (3.440). The Narrator ends with a statement that renders the temptation struggle so far paradigmatic: “So fares it when with truth falsehood contends.”


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001-024. The Narrator offers a synopsis of Satan’s predicament and attitude at this point: he is aware that he is losing his battle to seduce Jesus, but stubbornly, spitefully persists in returning to the attempt. The successful tempter of Eve can’t accept that he has met his match.

025-043. Satan brings Jesus to the western side of the mountain, this time overlooking not the Parthian Empire but instead Imperial Rome.

044-108. Satan begins his final segment of the second or “kingdoms of this world” phase of the temptation, sounding much like an enthusiastic tour guide. The view is spectacular, and Satan refers to the “Aerie Microscope” (4.57) that allows his audience of one to see not only the outsides of the many magnificent buildings but their interiors as well. The self-important bustle of Rome is on full display below, with many from foreign lands coming to pay the great City homage. Satan says that Jesus was right to hold out for this sight over the Parthians. Just now, he points out, an aging Emperor Tiberius has retired to Capreæ (called Capri today) in Campania, there to pursue his perverted sexual inclinations while his chief administrator Sejanus (who had served as Prefect of the powerful Praetorian Guard that protected the Emperor and even became Consul before his downfall and death when Tiberius began to suspect him of treason in 31 CE) managed affairs of state. Why not overthrow this corrupt old ruler and free the once virtuous Romans from a vicious tyranny? Satan claims that the power is his to make this happen, and that without Rome, it’s pointless to talk about occupying the ancient throne of King David in Israel.

109-153. Jesus responds that he rejects outright the  “magnificence” of the City that Satan has so skillfully displayed. (See Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics 1122a-1123a for the definition of this virtue as “suitable expenditure on a great scale”); thanks to The Milton Reading Room for the reminder). Jesus even goes on to mock Satan by bringing up still more minute details about the opulence of the beautiful City: its culinary delicacies and its aesthetic delights. As for the political argument, Jesus says that he was not sent to free a people who have already enslaved themselves and that old Tiberius is best left to his own conscience. After all, it’s Satan who has helped to corrupt Tiberius, so why not get rid of the fiendish corrupter instead of the doddering corruptee? No, the Roman people have grown cruel and “effeminate” (4.142), says Jesus, thanks to their indulgence in the gladiatorial and animal spectacles and other shameful practices of that sort. With regard to the throne of David, Jesus declares bluntly, “of my Kingdom there shall be no end,” and the means whereby that will come to pass, Satan has no business asking. The Kingdom Jesus will take up is not, that is, simply an earthly power or merely temporal in its significance.

154-169. Stung, Satan moves in for what he must think is the kill: he has been toying around, showing now one kingdom and then another, but now, he says, they’re all for the taking, but only “On this condition, if thou wilt fall down, / And worship me as thy superior Lord” (4.166-167).

170-194. Jesus scoffs at the offer Satan has just made, and finds the conditions of acceptance ridiculous. He is, he declares, simply putting up with the tempter because he realizes that he is pursuing his vain shifts with limited permission. Jesus says that what’s offered is nothing more than what is already his, though “usurp’t” (4.183) for the time being, and that the offerer is now fully revealed to be none other than “That Evil one, Satan for ever damn’d” (4.194).

195-284. Satan admits that the Son of God has suffered no hint of damage throughout this trial, and now abandons any direct appeal to power in order to pursue another line of the “Kingdoms” temptation that will soon become clear. Verbally rifling through Jesus’ past history, Satan says he realizes that even as a youth, Jesus showed a clear inclination towards a life of “contemplation and profound dispute” (4.214), as when he stunned the learned Rabbis with his own erudition. Not all knowledge is in the Hebrew Scriptures, says Satan: the gentiles are imbued with wisdom, too, and Jesus can’t afford to ignore them because their “Idolisms, Traditions, Paradoxes” (4.234) are powerful and must be confronted. Why not, then, cast a glance at storied Athens, with its great traditions of music, mathematics, philosophy and oratory? Such arts can make a person master of his inner self, an accomplishment of great value to one who would rule others.

285-364. Jesus responds to Satan’s enthusiastic promotion of the Greeks, “Think not but that I know these things, or think / I know them not” (4.285-286), and proceeds to deal with several of the most noteworthy schools of Greek thought (Socratic/Platonist, Skepticism, Aristotle’s works, and the Stoics). None of them understand, says Jesus, anything about the doctrine of Grace, and look for virtue nowhere but in themselves, and therefore lack wisdom. As for music and poetry, Jesus prefers Hebrew Scripture over anything produced by the Greeks. Even their renowned orators, he says, fall short of the mark when compared to the prophets with their knowledge of law and whatever leads to civic harmony.

365-393. Satan, says the Narrator, is now almost at a loss for words, and vents his frustration by telling Jesus he’s fit for the Wilderness indeed and that what lies ahead is going to be painful: “scorns, reproaches, injuries, / Violence and stripes, and lastly cruel death” (4.387-388), and all for a kingdom that may be more allegorical than real, for all he knows, and the exact date of which is uncertain.

394-450. Satan brings Jesus back to the Wilderness, and pretends to disappear, but in fact lurks until Jesus falls asleep and afflicts him with nightmares, simultaneously stirring up a huge storm that nonetheless fails to frighten the mark. When the morning comes, the storm has broken, and the birds are singing joyfully as they do after a spell of rain. An angry Satan, finding Jesus strolling serenely along on a sunny hill, again engages him.

451-483. Satan casts the difficult, stormy night that Jesus has passed as a portent of the terrible road before him on his way to fulfilling his destiny, which Satan admits he can’t ultimately foil. The appeal is still to act prematurely and not wait for Providence to reveal the necessary hour: Jesus, he insinuates, should fulfill his assignment “Not when it must, / But when it may be best” (4.476).

484-498. Jesus calmly informs Satan that all the bad weather may have given him a good soaking, but he’s none the worse for it, and certainly not terrified. The Son condemns all Satan’s wiles and shifts, pointing out that they’re only designed to get him to “seem to hold all power of thee” (4.494) rather than by God’s permission.

499-559. Enraged, Satan replies that he still isn’t certain of his adversary’s true identity: “Son of God to me is yet in doubt” (4.501). He has been watching this young man, he says, from his infancy onward. The baptism by John the Baptist and God’s declaration of affiliation really got Satan’s attention, so now he is determined to know what exactly is meant by that phrase “Son of God.”  Isn’t even he, Satan, such a Son? Aren’t all men the Sons of God? he quibbles. What Jesus has thus far rejected, says Satan, any excellent and virtuous mortal might just as well have rejected. Some new method of knowing Jesus’ true identity must now be employed, and Satan instantiates it by transporting Jesus to the highest pinnacle of Jerusalem, the one atop the Temple built by Herod the Great, and tells him either to just stand there or throw himself down from it and yet remain safe. (Luke 4:9-11 and Psalm 91:11-12).

560-595. Jesus responds with a devastating reference to Deuteronomy 6:16: “Tempt not the Lord Thy God,” i.e., “Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God ….”  Satan immediately falls down, like Antaeus defeated by mighty Hercules (“Alcides”), or like the Sphinx after Oedipus solved her deadly riddle (“what walks on all fours in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three in the evening?”) with the answer “man.”  Satan brings not hope to his fallen legions, says the Narrator, but rather “Ruin, and desperation, and dismay” (4.579). Meanwhile, Jesus is borne through the air by a group of angels and set down softly in a beautiful valley, where he is served with a banquet consisting of fruit from the Tree of Life and “Ambrosial drink” (4.590) from the fountain of life.

596-635. The angels sing in choir to praise Jesus as the “True Image of the Father” (4.596), who has yet again cast Satan down (the first time was of course the aftermath of the War in Heaven in Paradise Lost Book 6), this time for the purpose of making good to Adam and Eve the archangel Michael’s permitted promise to them of “A Paradise within thee, happier far” (PL 12.587). In other words, the Son of God has shown the way to resist the snares of Satan, both by the exercise of his own mind and by trusting in God and His Providence. The angels further sing that Satan won’t have much time to rule the air; one last grievous loss to the Son of God awaits him, and after that his permission to trouble mankind will lapse forever. Meanwhile, the angels hymn, Jesus must now begin his ministry designed to “save mankind” (4.635).

636-639. The Narrator caps off the epic by telling us that after the temptation ends, Jesus quietly makes his way back to his mother Mary’s home.

Edition: Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. Hackett: 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0872206786.

Copyright © 2013 Alfred J. Drake. All rights reserved.