Book VII of John Milton’s Paradise Lost starts with his character’s invocation of the muse Urania. As with his calling on the other muses, Milton’s character calls on Urania for insight into how things came to be the way they are in the universe, so he may find inspiration for his writings. In this particular invocation, Milton learns, through a dialogue between Adam and the angel, Raphael, how and why the world was created. Through Rafael’s account of creation, closely based on the book of Genesis, Milton establishes the importance of respecting the universe’s hierarchal organization. By having Raphael speak and doing so with “biblical” language, Milton establishes authority for his own views, which are at times divergent from those in Genesis. With the use of epic conventions, Milton not only clearly establishes his purpose and important figures, but also gives a fresh take on a well-known story. In essence, John Milton uses Book VII to justify and establish his religious beliefs on man’s relationship with God.
Before the Creation, as Raphael explains, there was only Heaven, “distant so high,” and the void “all space…chaos.” With Lucifer’s fall from Heaven as a result of his rebellion, there came “the deep,” or hell. At that point, there were three hierarchal planes: Heaven, the void, and hell. The living beings of the time ranked as follows: God at the top, his angels and cherubs below him, and Lucifer and his followers at the bottom. Then at the request of the Father, the Son created the night and day, the seas, and ultimately Earth from nothing. Then, he populated it with animals, both on land and in the sea. To preside over the Earth, as well as to replace the fallen angels, the Son also created man. By this time, the universal landscape hierarchy had expanded to include Earth between Heaven and hell. Room had also been made to include humans under angels and over animals.
Christians of various denominations and even Milton, a Puritan, adhere to this structure and take it as a given, so why is this important? To respect this hierarchy, according to Milton, is to remain obedient to God. Lucifer and his followers fell because of their disobedience. As most readers are already aware, Adam and Eve later disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and were expelled from Paradise, resulting in Milton’s present exploration into and justification of man’s fall from grace. To explore this hierarchal structure is to not just establish the basis of character relationships and to explain man’s fall. It is to create a sense of self awareness in that he invokes Urania to give him inspiration for the exploration at hand.
While this hierarchy is widely accepted by most Christians, it is interesting to note that Milton gives the Son, and not the Father, the role of the Creator and combatant of Satan. With this, it can be said that Milton views the two members of the Holy Trinity both as individuals — one active and one passive — and as a whole, God.
The Son’s role as the Creator is contrary to the story as told in Genesis, which relegates that duty to the Father. Also contrary to Genesis, or rather a clarification, is Milton’s decision to have man and woman made at the same time. According to the first book of Genesis, mankind was created simultaneously. The second book, however, suggests that Eve was created to alleviate his loneliness later on. By settling for one and having Raphael’s (Milton’s) account correspond with the first chapter of Genesis, Milton’s view comes through as the “correct” one. Many do not question him because Raphael’s account in Book VII is written in a “biblical” language. Having quoted Raphael’s dialogue nearly word for word from the Bible, a reader unfamiliar with the entire Genesis story may come to accept his version of Creation as accurate. Interjecting his fictitious details amidst a generally accepted account and in the language of Genesis — as he did in pointing out that Adam and Eve were created on the same day, and in calling the Son “Creator” before referring to him as “God” for the remainder of Raphael’s Bible — adherent digression makes his rendition of Creation that much more difficult to discern from the original.
Through the use of epic conventions, several things are also made clear. Book VII, as with the other books in Paradise Lost and most epic poems, starts with the invocation of a muse, in this case, Urania. Just as quickly, Milton clearly states his purpose for calling on the muse and the epic as a whole: to “find inspiration…” to find out “how this world…first began; when and whereof, created, for what cause what within Eden or without, was done before his memory…” In trying to find out what “befell in Paradise to Adam” and his race, Milton reiterates the importance of respecting the hierarchy and being obedient.
To emphasize the importance of God, as if his importance were somehow shadowed by Adam, Eve, and the Serpent in the book of Genesis, Milton employs the epic epithet convention, referring to God as the “Almighty Father,” “Creator,” Eternal Father,” “Maker,” “Deity,” “Most High,” “Omnipotent,” “King of Glory.”
With God’s role in the Creation of the universe, the presence of divine intervention in Paradise Lost is indisputable. The same is true for Milton’s use of vast regions, as his epic explores Heaven, hell, and everything in between. Raphael’s lengthy explanation to Adam on the events leading up to and including the Creation is characteristic of an epic digression. By establishing the importance of obedience to the universal hierarchy and by employing “biblical” language and epic conventions, John Milton, with Book VII, convincingly justifies his personal beliefs on man’s reason for existence and his relationship to God and the universe.