Maps: The Universe of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)

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“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

– (bk 1, lns 250-255)

John Milton’s Paradise Lost is in ten ‘books’ or sections, and contains over ten thousand lines of verse, and it tells the story of the war for heaven and of man’s expulsion from Eden.

Doctoral student at University of Victoria, Canada, Randa El Khatib expounds: “Paradise Lost…captures the cartographical leap of the sixteenth and seventeenth century that owes to advancements in navigation techniques and rapid colonial expansion. The world image was rapidly changing and gaining a more distinct contour as newly colonized lands were becoming better described and known. Maps in this time could often be considered prototypes since cartographers were still experimenting to find a more accurate mimesis of the world. At the same time, the strong foundation of Paradise Lost and many other retellings of the Genesis captures the saturation of the seventeenth century in religious tradition and references to sacred places.”


Renowned writer and journalist Benjamin Ramm of the BBC explains, “By 1654, Milton was completely blind. For the final 20 years of his life, he would dictate his poetry, letters and polemical tracts to a series of amanuenses – his daughters, friends and fellow poets.”

Milton is shown dictating “Paradise Lost” to his daughters. Painting by Michael Munkacsy. Image title: “Milton Dictant Le Paradis Perdu A Ses Filles.” Image courtesy of Digital Commonwealth

Ramm continues, “He invokes Homer, author of the first great epics in Western literature, and Tiresias, the oracle of Thebes who sees in his mind’s eye what the physical eye cannot. As the philosopher Descartes wrote during Milton’s lifetime, ‘it is the soul which sees, and not the eye’. William Blake, the most brilliant interpreter of Milton, later wrote of how ‘the Eye of Imagination’ saw beyond the narrow confines of ‘Single vision’, creating works that outlasted ‘mortal vegetated Eyes’.”

Bonus Material:

Check out John Milton’s publishing contract for Paradise Lost from 354 years ago, with his publisher Samuel Simmons held in the British Library.

John Milton’s contract for the publication of Paradise Lost, 27 April 1667. British Library shelfmark: Add MS 18861.

The contract between John Milton and Samuel Simmons reveals that Milton was to receive £5 from Simmons immediately for Paradise Lost, and a further £5 once 1,300 copies of the poem had been sold. There was potential for Milton to earn an additional £10 if two further editions, also of 1,300 copies each, were sold. Unfortunately Milton died shortly after the second edition was produced in 1674, and so received only £10 for his masterpiece.


Ng, Morgan. (2013).Milton’s maps, Word & Image, 29:4, 428-442, DOI: 10.1080/02666286.2013.798092

Gilbert, Allan H. (1919). A Geographical Dictionary of Milton. New Haven: Yale University Press, .Google Scholar

Milton, John. (2007). The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, Kerrigan W., Rumrich, J. and Fallon S. (eds). The Modern Library.

Featured image is the Title page of the first edition (1667)

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