Three hundred and fifty years to the month since Paradise Lost was published, John Milton’s epic poem continues to cause controversy. An academic who taught it in Egypt has been accused, by her own university, of spreading “destructive ideas” that have disturbed “public order … in an anarchic call disguised as a comparative literature textual analysis”. Most strikingly, she is accused of “glorifying Satan”.
The 10,000-line poem, one of the most influential in English literature, displays the vanquished Satan’s attempt at revenge as he journeys through the universe towards Eden to tempt Adam and Eve, before all three are punished by God. But Milton’s portrayal of his most striking character isn’t what the Egyptian authorities think it is. While we may certainly feel sympathy for him and even admire his ambition, we also see his obvious and fatal flaws, not least entering a face-off against God that even he admits is unwinnable.I spent six years writing a book about Milton in the Arab-Muslim World, which involved visiting students and tutors at universities across the region, and investigating the poem in light of the modern-day political, social and religious context