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Typology in Paradise Regained
(John Milton).

John Rottenburg

What do we mean by “typology” and by “parody”, and how does Milton use parody in Paradise Regained to make Satan try desperately to imitate Christ as the epic defender of universal truth?

John Milton's Paradise Regained is a brief epic that was loosely based on chapter four of Luke's gospel in the Christian New Testament. In addition, it is a work that is full of typological elements and various examples of parody that Milton utilizes to reveal how Satan tries to imitate Christ as the epic defender of universal truth.

John MiltonTypology has been interpreted in various ways. First, in a general view, Abrams says that it was “developed by the early Church Fathers as a way of reconciling the history, prophecy, and laws of the Hebrew Scriptures with the narratives and teachings of the New Testament.”[1] Already, we begin to understand that this definition attempts to explain a dichotomy that exists between the Old and New Testaments. Another critic, Lampe, furthers our understanding of typology by professing that a distinction should be made between typology and allegory. He says allegory “differs radically from the kind of typology which rests upon the perception of actual historical fulfillment. The reason for this great difference is simply that allegory takes no account of history.”[2] Lampe recognizes that there is a literary tradition that utilizes typology, but “unlike the typology, which depends upon the Biblical view of history, the methods of this form of typology are wholly unhistorical.”[3] So the theories of Biblical typology should only apply to literature that incorporates people and events of an historical nature, which Milton's Paradise Regained does do.

In addition to the historical nature of typology there is its lexical nature. The Greek word for typology is formed from the noun τπμσζ, which means, “to strike.” It was “particularly suitable to signify the ‘impression' made on wax by a seal which is by far the commonest meaning, and that from which most of the others originate.”[4] It can also mean, “die”, “mould”, “archetype”, “pattern”, “model to be imitated,” and even “image”.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the New Testament writer interprets typology as “shadow,” or “copy” and derives its meaning from the notion of “pattern.” The writer says:

The notions of “shadow” and “copy” in the above text imply a link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Furthermore, in Chapter 10 of Hebrews the writer states, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.” In this passage, the New Testament writer makes an allusion to the sacrificial lamb mentioned in Chapter 16 of the Old Testament book, Leviticus, and to the Day of Atonement. In the New Testament, or the “good things to come,” Christ is the “pattern” for that “copy,” since Christ is the one and only Sacrificial Lamb. And therefore, the festival of Yom Kippur could be considered as foreshadow for Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the atonement our sins.

In Paradise Regained there are many examples of typology. A first example is Milton's allusion to Job. Furthermore, Milton's allusion to Job reinforces the ironic structure in Book I of Paradise Regained. In the book of Job, the first chapter recounts the story of Satan debating before God the question of Job's righteousness. After receiving the right to test Job's righteousness, Satan returns to Earth to inflict suffering upon Job without him ever aware of this cosmic play between God and Satan. The fact that only God and Satan know about Job's “test” but not Job until the end of his tribulations is ironic, and that same type of irony is noticeable in Milton's brief epic. Satan, after disguising himself as a shepherd, approaches Christ, in the desert, to “test” the righteousness of Christ. Furthermore, the central themes explored in Job's story are examined in Paradise Regained. Both Job and Christ suffer physical infliction in an ironic context for the sake of righteousness.

Other Old Testament characters are used for typological purposes in Milton's story, and they are Moses and David. Moses was a priest-prophet of Israel, and David, a prophet-king. Both characters were historical figures in Israel's history, and anyone could research Israel's secular history to verify this. Furthermore, Milton uses these historical figures to reinforce his typology in Paradise Regained in this way. First, Moses is a shadow of the “good things to come,” because he is an “image” of the ideal pattern, i.e. Christ. Second, Moses delivered Israel out of bondage and in the New Testament Christ also takes on the role of a deliver. Third, Moses is the only Old Testament prophet who establishes the law for the Jews, and this law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. On the other hand, Christ gave his Sermon on a “Mount”, and it does bare some resemblance to the Ten Commandments. Lastly, Moses organized Israel into twelve tribes, as Christ did with the twelve apostles.

King David and the royal throne are mentioned many times in Paradise Regained, in fact twelve times, and nine of these twelve references are to David's throne. Of these nine, Satan mentions the throne six times.[6] In addition, the allusions to David and his throne are mentioned only in Book III and Book IV, which examine the last two temptations of Christ. These two temptations explore the themes of political and religious power. And Milton's choice to incorporate the historical figure of David is of no coincidence, when we consider also the themes of political and religious power developed in Luke chapter four. Furthermore, David, as already mentioned, was a prophet-king. The allusion to David's throne is typological in nature because David's throne was to be a “shadow” of the eternal throne of Christ's, as explained in the New Testament.

In Paradise Regained, Satan's six allusions to David's throne reveal his desire for temporal power. While at the same instance, Milton juxtaposes Satan's desire with that of Christ's desire for an eternal kingdom. For example, Satan says to Christ in Book IV:

But Christ will not accept Satan's offer because it is a limited “temporal” offer, or more specifically, a political offer. Satan somewhat recognizes this too when he admits that the throne is a goal of “no less than all the world.” However, his offer is limited to only the temporal realm, and leaves out any indication of the eternal kingdom. This idea of the eternal kingdom is evident when Christ replies to Satan's offer, “Know therefore when my season comes to sit/ On David's throne, it shall be like a tree/ Spreading and overshadowing all the earth” (146-8). This tree of course is the “cross,” and on it Jesus will be crucified, and the final victory over Satan will happen when Christ “rises” from it. It is also interesting to note here that in Paradise Lost sin was plucked from a tree, in contrast to the above citation where sin is “crushed” on a tree. Satan therefore is a counterfeit of Christ, since Satan attempts to obtain temporal power by way of deception, unlike Christ who is obedient to his father's plan to “crush” Satan and establish an eternal kingdom.

Parody also implies an imitation, but contrary to typology does not necessarily include historical allusions. However, in the case of Paradise Regained, Milton weaves parody and typology together. Abrams states that parody, “imitates the serious manner and characteristic features of a particular literary work.”[7] In Milton's Paradise Regained, we could say, according to Abrams's definition, that Milton's brief epic imitates the New Testament to a certain extent, since Milton's Paradise Regained is an imitation of Luke's exposition of Satan's temptation of Christ in the wilderness.

The plot of Paradise Regained imitates Luke's structure in chapter four of his gospel. In both works, Satan begins the temptation of Jesus while Jesus is wondering in the wilderness. In addition, Satan tempts Jesus in three different ways. First, Satan tempts Jesus to feed himself by way of a miracle. Second, Satan offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world if Christ will submit to Satan's authority. Lastly, Satan brings Christ to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, where after Satan's final temptation of Christ, Jesus remains faithful and obedient to his father, and as a result is victorious over Satan.

But what is Milton attempting to achieve by his parody of Luke's chapter four? Or more specifically, what is Milton trying to reveal by his parody of Satan's temptations of Christ? If we examine Milton's text, and more specifically his three temptations, then examine the text in Luke's chapter four, we will arrive at a better understanding to why Milton desired to juxtapose “a want to be temporal king” to that of a universal “eternal” king. Chapter four of Luke's Gospel is divided into five sections, with the three temptations being the main part of the exposition. The introduction and first temptation follow as:

In contrast to this biblical text, in Milton's text a double parody is noticeable as Satan takes on the form of a shepherd who is apparently on a “quest of some stray ewe.” This does not happen in Luke's exposition above. And, as in Milton's other work, Comus, we have another juxtaposition between a real and false shepherd. Furthermore, Milton's Satan is not only a parody of Christ, but of Satan in the Gospel of Luke, since Milton's Satan tempts Christ in a similar manner, “But if thou be the Son of God, command/ That out of these hard stones be made thee bread; / So shalt thou save thyself and us relieve” (I, 343-45). In contrast to Luke's exposition, Milton's text adds the notion “So shalt thou save theyself and us relieve,” as to emphasize that it is to the temporal level that Satan principally gives meaning. In Luke's gospel the first temptation seems to be a “physical” temptation i.e. bread, and bread is to meet an immediate physical need. However, a closer examination of Satan's motives in Paradise Regained will reveal that a power struggle also exists.

Satan in MiltonSatan tries to usurp Christ's authority by deceiving Him into submitting to his command, “That out of these hard stones be made thee bread.” However, Jesus will not submit to any sort of authority, but the father's. Jesus recognizes Satan's attempt when he retorts with “Think”st thou such force in bread? is it not written /...Man lives not by bread only, but each word / Preceding from the mouth of God.” Jesus invokes another authority over Satan, and that is the spiritual authority of the “word” of God. Furthermore, the “force” that Christ mentions should not be confused with the force of God, but it is that force which Satan believes to gain from this temptation, so it is a temporal force. Northrop Fyre recognizes the dichotomy between the two types of “force” when he says, “Both Satan and Christ divide the world into the material and the spiritual, but for Satan the material is real and the spiritual is imaginary.”[9]

Milton develops his parody even further by adding a luxurious banquet of foods in comparison to the simple “bread” mentioned in Luke's gospel. In Book II, we are told:

With this luxurious offer, Milton's Satan appeals to Christ's immediate need for food in a grandiose way, but even more that Milton makes it also apparent that Satan desires to make an alliance with Christ. This “first supper” would symbolically identify the alliance between Satan and Christ. Furthermore, the banquet could also be a parody of the New Testament Last Supper, where Christ also made a symbolic alliance with his apostles. At that Last Supper the breaking of “bread” and sharing of “wine” happened among them, but at that same supper Judas betrayed Christ. Though Satan's banquet is very luxurious, Christ declines Satan's public feast, “In vain, where no acceptance it can find, / And with my hunger what hast thou to do?/ Thy pompous delicacies I contemn, / And count thy specious gifts no gifts but guiles” (ll388-391). In Christ's refusal, there is another important issue at hand than eating, and that is Christ's denial to be a part of Satan's community.

Satan's second temptation of Christ is also a parody on the second temptation mentioned in Luke's gospel, and Milton's choice to do so, again, reveals Satan's desire to replace Christ's authority with that of his own authority. In Luke's gospel, we read:

In these lines, we have moved from the physical or immediate needs of Man, that is, from the first temptation, to another level that is typical of Man's desire for something beyond the physical, and in this second temptation, the principal idea is Man's desire for power. In doing so, Satan has abandoned his appeal to the physical sense of Man, and now attempts to appeal to the intellect of Man.

In Milton's parody, Satan's appeal to the intellect of Man is developed even further than Luke's exposition, but at the same time Milton holds to the dichotomy he has developed earlier, and that is between the material illusions of Satan and the spiritual reality of Christ. In Book II Satan prepares for his second temptation of Christ by appealing to Man's desire for status. We are told:

Satan sets up Christ by trying to convince Christ that he can not be the “King of Kings,” since Satan stipulates that Christ was born into little wealth, and that his father was virtually unknown man. We notice how Satan remains focused still on the material level. The irony is that Christ's real father is the ultimate father of the universe, and holds the greatest status of all fathers. In Satan's attempt to turn Christ into a temporal king, Satan knows that “man naturally turns to the demonic pseudo-hero as the pattern of herioc action.”[10] But what he will not accept is that the “genuine heroic act is found only in the imitation of Christ, in endurance and obedience”[11] to God the father and not to Satan.

For the second temptation Satan offers the ultimate temporal kingdom to Christ, Rome. “Thou on the throne of David in full glory, / From Egypt to Euphrates and beyond/ Shalt rign, and Rome or Ceasar not need fear” (III, ll383-385). It is partly ironic that Satan would offer Christ authority over Rome, since Rome was the nation that persecuted the Christian probably the most in the history of the early Christian era. But this could make the temptation even more desirable if we accept the idea that Christ was able to foresee that persecution.

Unlike the first temptation, Satan reveals more of his motive for power in the second temptation. He says to Christ in Book IV:

In this offer, Satan seems to be willing to share some temporal power, but it is still nonetheless a shared power, “with my help thou mayst; to me the power.” And even later, he will relent all “The kingdoms of the world to thee I give; / For given to me, I give to whom I please” (163-4). In this second offer, Satan has offered more power to Christ, but his offer is still conditional, as was the first offer, since Christ must first worship him as lord.

Satan's “temporal” offer to Christ divulges that Satan only considers a temporal existence as the sole reality for mankind, so that Christ refuses this because Satan's offer does not take into account the spiritual implications. Christ says, “I never liked thy talk, thy offers less.” It is true that Satan does offer less, since Satan's offer is a limited offer of the kingdoms of the world, and it is a temporal offer because it does not take into account the spiritual realm. Furthermore, Christ recognizes Satan's intent to replace the spiritual for the temporal when Christ says, “Other donation none thou canst produce./ Is given, by whom but the King of Kings, / God over all supreme”( 184-86). We can see by now that Satan is persistent in his quest for authority over the spiritual, but his goal can only be achieved if Christ submits to him, and if Christ does, he is submitting to Satan's authority over an illusory world. His offer is an illusion, because Satan can not give away what he does not possess.

The third temptation does not principally deal with the physical, as the first did, nor does it principally deal with the intellectual, as did the second, but appeals ultimately to the imaginative level, or the religious mind of Jesus, and therefore to the mind of Mankind as a whole. Frye, however, seems to disagree with this because he says this temptation is only “equally a bodily and a mental assault.”[12] But if we examine the relationship between Luke's gospel and Milton's parody a little further, we will see that the focus of the third temptation is primarily religious. Luke's gospel is as follows:

In the above passage, which Milton was well aware of, Satan alludes to the Old Testament. The reference is to Psalm 91: 11-12. However, Satan does not refer to the entire context of the Old Testament prophecy, for he leaves out verse thirteen which states, “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”

Jesus & SatanMilton's Satan does take Christ to the pinnacle of the temple like Satan in Luke's exposition, and Milton's Satan, like Luke's, does refer to Psalm 91 verbatim. In addition, as in Luke's Gospel, Milton's Satan leaves out the completion of the prophecy too. And this is Satan's downfall, because he recognizes the authority of God, in that he, like Jesus, refers to the written authority or “word” of God. But, this written “word” of God also reveals Christ as Lord. However, Satan refuses to recognize his defeat mentioned in Psalm 91, that is “You [Christ] will tread upon...the serpent.” And so for the first time, Satan recognizes Christ's authority, for Christ is the “word” made flesh, but he denies its implications upon him. In the previous events Satan had tried to tempt Christ into recognizing Satan's illusory authority, but in this temptation he perhaps deceives himself into recognizing the authority of the “word,” and therefore its consequences on him are eminent. And this would explain why Christ retorts, “Tempt not the Lord thy God, he said and stood,” while “Satan smitten with amazement fell.”

Furthermore, an examination of Milton's choice to let Satan bring Christ to the pinnacle of the temple, and a further understanding as to why Satan referred to Psalm 91 will divulge Satan's desire for temporal rule over the religious realm. First, the setting is on top of a temple, which is a religious context and because of Milton's choice, this setting is a stark contrast to the two previous physical and intellectual settings. Previously, Satan had offered Christ rule over the political realms, but now Satan offers Christ rule over the “hearts of man,” in the sense that if Christ submits to Satan's current request, Christ would be subjected to destroying the hearts of Man. Also, we should consider that Satan tried to reinterpret the context of Psalm 91 for his own religious ends, and in doing so, one should be reminded of Jesus' scorn for the religious leaders of his day who had committed the same sin.

Perhaps Paradise Regained touches upon the personal level for Milton, if we consider the religious context in which he wrote Paradise Regained. He was a Puritan, and of course avante garde in his position to the established religion of England. If we accept these ideas, then his Satan would be an embodiment of the religious leaders of Milton's day. Furthermore, if we contemplate Milton's motives in constructing his own gospel in Paradise Regained, Milton would be situating himself in a group like that of Luke's, that is with the Lord and against those hypocritical religious leaders of their day.


[1] M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed., 95.

[2] G.W.H. Lampe, “The Reasonableness of Typology,” 31.

[3] Ibid, 33.

[4] K.J. Woollcombe, “The Biblical Origins and Patristic Development of Typology,” 60-61.

[5] Hebrews, 8:4-5.

[6] Book III: l. 153, l. 169, and l.357. Book IV: l. 108, l.379, and l.471.

[7] Abrams, 18.

[8] The New International Version is used here.

[9] Northrop Frye, “The Typology of ‘Paradise Regained',” 231.

[10] Northrop Frye, “The Typology of ‘Paradise Regained',” 231.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Northrope Frye, “The Typology of ‘Paradise Regained',” 236.


Abrams, M.H. Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed., New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1993.

Frye, Northrop “Typology of Paradise Regained,” Modern Philology, 53, 1956.

Lampe, GW.H. “Resonableness of Typology,” Essays on Typology, London: SCM Press Ltd., 1978.

Woollcombe, K.J. “The Biblical Origins and Patristic Development of Typology,” Essays on Typology, London: SCM Press Ltd., 1978.