»  An Extract from John Milton's "Paradise Regained"

 

An Extract from Book III of  Paradise Regained

by John Milton, 1608-1674

 

•  Background

Paradise Regained is an epic poem, 2,070 lines in four books. It is one of Milton's last two poems, the other being Samson Agonistes, both published in 1671 when the poet was 63. It was, of course, a sequel to Paradise Lost.

The poem deals with Christ's temptation by Satan in the wilderness. The overall idea is that just as Paradise was lost because Adam and Eve yielded to Satan's temptation, it was regained for mankind, at least in possibility, because Christ refused so to yield.

This extract (lines 267-309 of Book III) is taken from the best-known stretch of the poem, where Satan has taken Christ up to a high mountain to show him the kingdoms of the earth. The voice here is Satan's, and we are looking eastwards, over present-day Iraq, Iran, Arabia, and the near parts of Central Asia, as they were in Christ's time, when the two great powers of the region were Rome and the Parthian empire established by Mithridates I in the middle second century B.C.

Milton displays remarkable geographical-historical knowledge here, about a region prominent in the troubles of our own time, but known to very few in Milton's. The chief pleasure of the passage, which has made it a favorite of readers, is in the sound of all the strange, romantic names. Milton was particularly good at this — there are many examples in Paradise Lost. If the line:  "Artaxata, Teredon, Ctesiphon" does not stir your blood, you had better stay away from Milton.

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•  Text of the poem

Well have we speeded, and o'er hill and dale,
Forest, and field, and flood, temples and towers,
Cut shorter many a league. Here thou behold'st
Assyria, and her empire's ancient bounds,
Araxes and the Caspian lake; thence on
As far as Indus east, Euphrates west,
And oft beyond; to south the Persian bay,
And, inaccessible, the Arabian drouth:
Here, Nineveh, of length within her wall
Several days' journey, built by Ninus old,
Of that first golden monarchy the seat,
And seat of Salmanassar, whose success
Israel in long captivity still mourns;
There Babylon, the wonder of all tongues,
As ancient, but rebuilt by him who twice
Judah and all thy father David's house
Led captive, and Jerusalem laid waste,
Till Cyrus set them free; Persepolis,
His city, there thou seest, and Bactra there;
Ecbatana her structure vast there shews,
And Hecatompylos her hundred gates;
There Susa by Choaspes, amber stream,
The drink of none but kings; of later fame,
Built by Emathian or by Parthian hands,
The great Seleucia, Nisibis, and there
Artaxata, Teredon, Ctesiphon,
Turning with easy eye, thou may'st behold.
All these the Parthian (now some ages past
By great Arsaces led, who founded first
That empire) under his dominion holds,
From the luxurious kings of Antioch won.
And just in time thou com'st to have a view
Of his great power; for now the Parthian king
In Ctesiphon hath gathered all his host
Against the Scythian, whose incursions wild
Have wasted Sogdiana; to her aid
He marches now in haste. See, though from far,
His thousands, in what martial equipage
They issue forth, steel bows and shafts their arms,
Of equal dread in flight or in pursuit —
All horsemen, in which fight they most excel;
See how in warlike muster they appear,
In rhombs, and wedges, and half-moons, and wings.