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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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Raphael is the archangel who spends the most time with Adam and Eve and therefore with us. He comes down in Book V and doesn't return to Heaven until the end of Book VII. He is a magnificent figure with six pairs of wings which drape around him like a many-colored robe. He walks in great dignity to meet Adam and then acts as a gracious guest, obviously enjoying the food and complimenting Eve on it.

Raphael is a great teacher and storyteller. He explains everything that Adam wants to know-sometimes a little more than we want to know. Through his eyes we see the War in Heaven and the creation.


Michael is the warrior archangel. He leads the heavenly forces in the War in Heaven, with Gabriel as his second-in-command. It is Michael who engages in single combat with Satan, challenging him first in a speech where he threatens to send him to Hell. In their battle, which is like a conflict between two planets in its enormous scope, Michael wounds Satan with his great two-handed sword. It brings the fight to an end, but Satan soon recovers.

God chooses Michael to carry out the judgment that Adam and Eve must leave the Garden of Paradise. Adam understands the significance of the choice as soon as he sees him: Michael is armed, dressed in military splendor. He has come to carry out a sentence, although with grace and mercy.


Gabriel has the somewhat thankless job of guarding Paradise. It is thankless because Satan slips by Gabriel and the guards twice. After the first occasion, when Gabriel, Ithuriel, and Zephon confront Satan, Gabriel is willing to fight him, but God forbids with a sign in the sky.


Uriel is the angel who guards the sun. Satan deceives him in the form of a little cherub asking his way to the new creation, earth. Despite the fact that Uriel is one of the seven angels closest to the throne of God and is known to have sharper sight than any other angel, he cannot perceive the deception. This is not a defect of character but a theological condition. Only God can see through hypocrisy-neither men nor angels have that power. Uriel speaks with warm encouragement to the young apprentice angel.


This is the character Milton identified with. Abdiel is a rebel against rebels, the one angel who realizes before it is too late that Satan's cause is wrong. His name means "servant of God," and that he proves himself to be.

He stands in the middle of the rebel angels and tells Satan he is wrong. Satan does not understand true freedom-the service of God who made him- but calls it tyranny. Abdiel will not hear God blasphemed (a religious term meaning "insulted"). His impassioned speech shows a clear understanding of a correct relationship to God. It makes us wonder why he came to be among the one-third of the angels who followed Satan to his headquarters in the North.

He receives the praise he deserves from God:

Well done, thou hast fought The better fight, who single has maintained Against revolted multitudes the cause Of truth, in word mightier than they in arms

(VI, 29-32)

The praise from God and his own conviction of right make Abdiel bold enough to challenge Satan on the first day of the war. He steps out from the army and addresses Satan as a "fool." Satan attempts to mock him and the others by calling them lazy: they'd rather take the easier path of serving God with "feast and song" instead of seeking their freedom.

Abdiel's last speech is the best exposition of "true freedom" in the poem: it is freedom to serve the highest, as God and nature both command. It is not freedom to seek to exercise your own will, but servitude to yourself. Satan is welcome to reign in Hell; Abdiel will serve "in Heaven God ever blest." And with that he strikes the first blow of the War in Heaven. It is his privilege as the champion of truth.

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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes

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