Paradise of Fools

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The Paradise of Fools is a literary and historical topic and theme found in many Christian works. A traditional train of thought held that it is the place where fools or idiots were sent after death: intellectually incompetent to be held responsible for their deeds, they cannot be punished for them in hell, atone for them in purgatory, or be rewarded for them in heaven.[1] It is usually to be read allegorically, though what precisely is allegorized differs from author to author,[2] and often its location is in the lunar sphere.


One of the most notable examples of the Paradise of Fools is found in Book 3 of John Milton's Paradise Lost, where Milton, in the narrative of Satan's journey to Earth, reserves a space for future fools (Milton also calls it the "Limbo of Vanity"), specifically Catholic clergy and "fleeting wits".[2] Milton's satirical allegory in turn was inspired by Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516); Samuel Johnson, in Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, stated that the allegory "disgraced" Milton's epic.[3]

The ancestry of Milton's Paradise of Fools includes Canto XXXIV of Orlando and Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. As John Wooten argued, that canto in Orlando contains a summarizing critique of Dante's entire Comedy—a descent into Hell, followed by an ascent to a mountain top (Dante's Earthly Paradise) and a flight to the moon: "with the greatest ironic debunking, the moon ... is Ariosto's allegorical substitute for the complex theology and metaphysics of Dante's Paradiso".[4] In turn, Milton's Paradise of Fools builds on Ariosto's mock version of Dante's Comedy, but adds a specifically anti-Catholic aspect by making fun of hermits, friars, Dominicans, Franciscans—those equipped with "Reliques, Beads, / Indulgences, Dispenses, Pardons, Bulls". Central is the punishment of vanity; it is the place for "all things transitory and vain, when Sin / With vanity had fill'd the works of men: / Both all things vain, and all who in vain things / Built thir fond hopes of Glory or lasting fame" (III.446-49). Milton also "corrects" Ariosto; the Paradise of Fools is "Not in the neighboring Moon, as some have dream'd" (III.59)--a "mock correction", as Wooten calls it.[5]



  1. ^ Brewer 669.
  2. ^ a b Treip 134, 198.
  3. ^ Johnson 45.
  4. ^ Wooten 745.
  5. ^ Wooten 741.