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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 561-656. RAPHAEL'S STORY.

You have now come to the point in the narrative where the story turns back to the events which came before those of the first book. Raphael is about to tell Adam and Eve how the War in Heaven happened and what were its consequences. The story will take up the rest of Book V and the whole of Books VI, VII, and VIII. (We return to the present in Book IX.)

This story-within-a-story technique is easy enough for us to follow because we're familiar with it from movies and TV drama. But you should note that it's another device Milton uses to put himself in the great epic tradition. In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas the hero relates the fall of Troy; in The Odyssey, Odysseus tells King Alcinous his adventures during the ten years since he left Troy.



Raphael takes his listeners, Adam and Eve, back to a time when "this world was not, and Chaos wild / Reigned where these Heavens now roll." (Remember that in Book II King Chaos complained he had lost part of his territory when God scooped up a piece of Chaos to make the World.) At this time the Heavens are about to celebrate the Great Year, which, according to the Greek philosopher Plato, comes every 36,000 years. (It takes that number of years for all the heavenly spheres to complete all their revolutions.) God is going to mark this Great Year with a special proclamation: his Son is equal with himself. He calls his Son "anointed," which is the meaning of the Hebrew word "Messiah."

The announcement causes great rejoicing in Heaven, with music, dancing, and feasting "with Angels' food." Finally all the hosts of angels retire to sleep in their tents, while some remain awake singing hymns of praise all night long.

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