John Milton
Paradise Lost
London: printed by M. Flesher for J. Tonson
Folger Shelf Mark: M2147
 
Milton composed his epic poem in "English Heroic Verse without Rhyme," as he informed the readers of Paradise Lost in a note added in 1668.  This was part of his campaign to reclaim an ancient liberty for poetry.  The campaign extended to eschewing the Virgilian epic model of twelve books in favor of ten, though by the time the second edition of Paradise Lost reached print in 1674, the epic poem did conform to the Virgilian model.  This full-page engraving by John Baptist Medina is from the first folio-or large format-edition of Paradise Lost, the publication of which coincided with the Glorious Revolution and which represents the complete Virgilization of Milton.  In many ways, the book pays homage to John Ogilby's luxurious 1654 edition of the Aeneid.  In fact, nine years after he published the folio edition of Milton's Paradise Lost, Jacob Tonson purchased Ogilby's copper plates and republished them with John Dryden's new translation of the Aeneid.  It is not at all clear that this is the sort of royalist company Milton would want to keep.  But Milton would likely approve of Christ's monarchical representation, believing as he did that heaven was the only proper setting for a monarchy. 

The twelve intrepretive illustrations reflect Medina's sensitive reading of the poem, particularly in regard to their treatment of Satan.  The image here accompanies book three, in which Milton describes the conference in heaven on how best to subvert the threat that Satan poses to the new creation.  As Helen Gardner points out, the illustration features a haloed Christ seated on a throne of clouds and surrounded by a host of angels.  Those on his right bear a large cross as a reminder of Christ's unparalleled offer "to die for mans offence."  Just below the heavenly gathering, a small vignette shows Satan encountering Uriel, who is backlit by the sun.  Satan appears again in the left middle ground, on top of a cliff looking down on Adam and Eve in their bower.  In the foreground, a beam of light from the heavens shines down on a third figure of Satan, seen here standing on the edge of Paradise.  It is a fittingly dynamic portrayal of a dramatic moment of contrast between an ascendant Christ and an already diminished Satan.

For information on the illustrations, consult Ernest W. Sullivan, Jr., "Illustration as Interpretation: Paradise Lost from 1688 to 1807" in Milton's Legacy in the Arts, edited Albert C. Labriola and Edward Sichi (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988), and Helen Gardner, "Milton's First Illustrator" in A Reading of Paradise Lost (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965).