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Paradise Lost Essay, Research Paper
The first book (1) introduces the theme of the entire poem, (2) introduces us to Satan and the fallen angels, and (3) tells us that we are reading an epic poem. In order to put himself in the epic tradition of The Odyssey and The Aeneid, Milton uses devices like the invocation, epic similes, and catalogs. They’ll be explained as we come to them. They are used heavily in the first two books to establish the credentials of Paradise Lost as an epic, then they occur less often in the later books.
This book begins, as they all do, with Milton’s prose summary, “The Argument.” He is using the word in the sense of “subject matter,” not as we do meaning a verbal clash. You will see “argument” used again with this meaning in line 24. The prose summary tells you the story, so you can use it as reference.
In Book I we meet one of the story’s main characters, Satan. Whether he is the hero or the villain is one of the questions you’ll face continually in Paradise Lost. It is obvious from this first book that Satan has qualities we all admire. He is a fearless leader, eloquent, inspiring, resourceful, even sympathetic to his followers’ sufferings. Is he portrayed with these virtues because Milton wants to show us how we can be deceived by heroism? Have you found yourself attracted to “friends” who weren’t good for you?
It is (unfortunately!) easy to identify with Satan when we first meet him in the imaginary landscape of Hell. We have all felt angry, bitter, and vengeful after a brush with authority. Perhaps you’ve received an F in a class where you thought you would pass, or gotten a speeding ticket when you were sure you weren’t observed. These are small-scale personal grievances, but your feelings are intense. Satan’s grievances result from conflict with God and have universal consequences. He wants to strike back at God for throwing him into a stinking pit of darkness, and he’s going to do it by dragging us all down there with him.
LINES 1-25. THE INVOCATION
Epics traditionally begin with a call for divine help in the task the poet has set for himself. Classical epic poets usually asked for the help of the Muses, the daughters of Zeus who watched over the arts. But Milton’s muse is “Heavenly,” Urania, who inspired Moses, the author of the Biblical Book of Genesis.
Milton wants to remind us that Paradise Lost is not only an epic, it is a Christian epic, and therefore- in his eyes- superior to its heathen predecessors. Milton wants to “soar above the Aonian Mount,” that is, to exceed the accomplishment of the classical Muses. He will do this because of his “great Argument,” his subject, which is nothing less ambitious than explaining the ways of God to men. Keep asking yourself whether Milton manages to do so. If he doesn’t succeed, what has he explained?
LINES 25-83. THE SCENE IN HELL
The Holy Spirit is asked to begin the story by naming the cause of mankind’s fall. That of course is Satan, the first character we meet. Milton has told us in the Argument that the poem “hastes into the midst of things,” because this too is a classical storytelling device. We begin with Satan in Hell nine days after he lost the War in Heaven, which would be just about the midpoint of the story if it were told chronologically. We shall go forward and backward to hear how and why he rebelled and fought against God.
This kind of storytelling is quite familiar to us from flashbacks in movies, plays, and TV drama. In fact, the first book of Paradise Lost is the dramatic hook which gets you interested, so that you will want to find out what happened and why. In the flickering flames of a burning lake (a contradiction which symbolizes the chaos of Hell) we barely see Satan as he slowly becomes conscious of what has happened to him and how far he is now from Heaven, where he had hoped to reign.
He is accompanied by a vast number of followers, one-third of all the angels in Heaven. Next to him is Beelzebub, his trusted second-in-command. Beelzebub hasn’t got the same fire for revenge as Satan. He expresses the despair which you might expect from a defeated angel who has been banished forever from Heaven. Nevertheless he is always loyal to Satan and accepts his leadership without question.
LINES 84-191. SATAN AND BEELZEBUB
Satan’s defiance and his desire for revenge overcome his pain. At first he seems dismayed as he addresses Beelzebub, once like him among the brightest angels and now “O how fallen!” But as soon as he speaks of God, “He with his thunder,” Satan’s rage overtakes his sympathy. He will not repent or change. “All is not lost” while he has his “unconquerable will / And courage never to submit or yield.” He will continue the war, either by force or by guile. Because we know the story of Adam and Eve and how Satan will corrupt them, “guile” is like a wink at a knowing audience.
You may think that Beelzebub takes a more realistic view of the fallen angels’ terrible situation because he thinks further rebellion is futile. He regrets what has happened. The fallen angels may feel their strength undiminished, but perhaps God has left them that strength only so that they can work as slaves in Hell and has allowed them their immortality so that they can feel acutely their eternal punishment.
Satan is a good leader who knows when his subordinates need to be jerked out of what looks like self- pity. “To be weak is miserable” he declares, as he sets out a program of action: everything that God does must be opposed, even if God tries to bring good out of evil:
To do aught good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight.
Then he draws Beelzebub’s attention to the fact that God has recalled his forces and left the fallen angels to suffer in Hell. Things now seem calm enough for them to leave the lake and hold a meeting of their troops on a “dreary plain,” to plot their revenge strategy.
LINES 192-375. THE EPIC SIMILES.
As Satan prepares to rise, Milton gives us the first physical description we have of the Archenemy. To do this, he makes use of another classical device, the epic simile.
NOTE: EPIC SIMILES
A simile is a comparison of one thing or idea to another; an epic simile is an extended comparison, often taking up several lines, in which the epic poet elaborates so much that additional ideas are brought in. Epic similes often occur in clusters, as they do here. Satan is so big that his trunk covers “many a rood,” a rood being about a quarter acre. He is as big as the Titans and Giants who rebelled against Jove (Zeus), the supreme god of classical mythology. But it isn’t a simple comparison of size- like Satan, the Titans and Giants were rebels against authority.
Giants and Titans aren’t enough to emphasize Satan’s size; he’s also like a whale. Again this isn’t a simple statement. This whale, like Satan, is a deceiver, because he seems to be an island and attracts a lost sailor to anchor in his hide. We can imagine what happens when the whale goes down. This story would have been well known to Milton’s first readers, who had been brought up on “bestiaries,” descriptions of animals in terms of the moral lessons they provide for mankind.
As Satan raises his huge head, Milton explains that he can move because God grants him free will: “Left him at large to his own dark designs.” This is an important theme throughout Paradise Lost. (In Book III, God explains the doctrine of free will in his first speech.) God created all beings capable of action- angels and men- with free will, so that they can choose what to do. However- and this is the difficult part for us to accept- God knows their choices in advance, as he knows everything. You will have to make up your mind as you read the poem whether you find this a plausible explanation.
What Milton explains here is that God could have made it impossible for Satan ever to lift his head from the burning lake’s surface, but instead he allowed Satan to follow his own course of action. Because Satan chooses to continue the battle through deceit, God has a chance to shower “infinite goodness, grace, and mercy” on man when Satan has ruined him.
Satan raises himself from the lake and with Beelzebub begins a flight to solid ground. The landscape of Hell looks like the devastation caused by an earthquake or volcanic eruption. More important than its physical appearance is Satan’s reaction to the scene. He doesn’t waste much time bemoaning the horrors of his kingdom. Hell may be miserable, but it is Satan’s realm, where he is second to no one, not even God.
In any case, Hell and Heaven are mental states: “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” This is a familiar psychological truth. We all know someone who retains self-confidence and serenity in spite of failure and bad luck, while others are never happy despite all kinds of advantages.
Satan is beginning to emerge as a complex character. He has a rational understanding of his situation, for he certainly brought about his own Hell. He is apparently quite determined to think of it as his own personal Heaven. It’s interesting to think about Satan as a reverse God, especially when you see him acting responsibly, as he does now, leading his unhappy followers to the shore. His physical stature is impressive: how do you feel about his moral qualities? Can evil have aspects of good?
LINES 376-520. THE CATALOG OF FALLEN ANGELS
For the listing of the fallen angels, Milton needs further help from his muse, the Holy Spirit. The listing is like a panoramic shot of the huge forces moving from lake to shore, with faces in the crowd picked out as Milton comments on them.
While dramatic, the list is also another device of classical epic. In The Iliad there is a famous catalog of ships, and in The Aeneid there are catalogs of the armies and their leaders who help Aeneas. These catalogs make the scale of the epic enormous: by naming everyone, the poet gives the impression that anybody who was anybody was there.
Don’t try to follow every name in the catalog of fallen angels. To do so will only get you lost in a maze of Old Testament history. Instead, read parts of the catalog aloud to appreciate how impressive the names sound.
But you should know why the fist is there. It shows that Milton had none of our multicultural appreciation for other religions or other mythologies beside the Christian one. In the later history of mankind, recorded in the Old Testament, the fallen angels become the false gods who turned the Israelites from the true God. The list includes the Egyptian gods and the gods of Greek and Roman mythology, “the Ionian gods” (line 508), who were also worshipped by people who Milton thinks ought to have known better. For him, all other deities except the Christian God are companions of Satan.
LINES 522-669. SATAN REVIEWS THE FALLEN ANGELS
Satan shows us again just how inspiring a leader he can be. He first “gently raised / Their fainting courage and dispelled their fears.” Then he orders a military review with a brass band (”Sonorous metal blowing marital sounds”) and a parade of all the divisions with their banners flying.
He proudly surveys the numberless army, by the side of which any other army would look like the pygmies fighting the cranes (line 575). A group of epic similes stresses the army’s size: it is greater than the forces on both sides in the Trojan War, greater than any forces King Arthur or Charlemagne could command.
As he looks at the army (the similes have made it seem a cause for pride), Satan chokes with tears. His first few words express his affection and sympathy for his followers. How could such a “united force of gods” be defeated?
He soon talks himself out of weakness as he inspires his followers with hopes of regaining Heaven. They can’t do it directly, since they obviously underestimated God’s forces before. Instead he hints that a new world with beings equal to the angels is about to be created. There may be the chance to continue the fight through guerilla warfare.
The speech is so successful that the fallen angels flourish their swords and bang them against their shields as they hurl defiance at Heaven.
LINES 670-798. THE BUILDING OF PANDEMONIUM
NOTE: We use the word “pandemonium” to mean any kind of confused, noisy gathering. Here we see where the word comes from and what it really means. It is a house for all devils, “pan” being the Greek word for “all” and “demon” the Greek for devil.
Summoned by heralds and trumpets, the enormous army surges toward Pandemonium, which has been designed by Mulciber with materials mined by Mammon, the god of gold. Milton reminds us that angels are creatures with wings by using an epic simile that compares them to bees assembling outside their hive. At a signal, they all shrink so that they can fit into Pandemonium. They now look like pygmies or the fairies that appear to drunken peasants on their way home at night. The association suggests the deceitful nature of the fallen angels.
But the leaders of the fallen angels do not shrink. They are meeting privately in another part of Pandemonium to decide their strategy.
LINES 1-298. THE DEBATE IN PANDEMONIUM
As suits his position, Satan presides over the debate from a high throne, “that bad eminence.” But the debate is really a setup. Three fallen angels (later, the gods who deceive the Israelites into worshipping them instead of the true God) offer what you might think are reasonable alternative strategies; but Beelzebub, like a well-trained staff officer, brings out the plan which we know will be agreed on, and then Satan takes on the job of carrying it out.
Moloch blusters that open war is preferable to remaining in Hell. We can’t be worse off than we are, he says. If God wins again, we will be put out of our misery: God will “reduce / To nothing this essential, happier far / Than miserable to have eternal being.” But it may be impossible even for God to annihilate them because they may be divine and therefore immortal (lines 99-100). In that case, they already know the worst.
Belial is also unsure whether as fallen angels they are immortal, but he makes a different argument. If we can be annihilated, why take the chance? We might not be because God might not even give us that relief. And it is certainly better to have some “intellectual being / Those thoughts that wander through eternity” than nothing. War against God will not only risk annihilation, it will also hurt their chances of getting back into God’s grace through good behavior (lines 208-213).
Mammon’s position is much less subtle than Belial’s and more directly opposed to Moloch’s. Instead of continuing to fight against God, let us make our kingdom here. There are plenty of resources, as Mammon knows because in Book I he mined the materials to build Pandemonium. Hell could eventually become a place rivaling the magnificence of Heaven; the torments they now feel will diminish with time.
Do you find any of these arguments convincing? It’s obvious that Milton despises Belial, who “Counselled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth.” This comment, addressed directly to us, may help us to understand one of the reasons why Satan seems attractive whether Milton intended him to or not. Satan is active. He doesn’t just accept his fate, he thinks of ways to change it.
The other fallen angels like Moloch’s idea best, fearing another defeat. But it isn’t what the leadership wants.
LINES 299-505. SATAN’S MISSION
Beelzebub, not approving of Mammon’s speech or the applause it receives, quickly dismisses its arguments. God is not going to let the fallen angels make a home for themselves in Hell- he designed it as a punishment, and it will never be otherwise. On the other hand, open war is hopeless because God will win again.
What about something easier? Beelzebub elaborates the rumor of the creation of man, mentioned briefly by Satan in Book I. These creatures are equal to angels- perhaps they were intended to fill the gap caused by the expulsion of the rebellious one-third- but they will receive God’s special favors. At least the place should be investigated, in hopes of finding a weak spot in God’s armor, where he can be annoyed if not defeated. Some trick may deliver the new creation into their hands, so that the inhabitants of earth may join the fallen angels in Hell.
Satan puts the finishing touch on this managed debate by praising their judgment in adopting the plan he had in mind already. And then he raises the essential question: who is going to be the spy?
Their cowardly silence gives Satan his chance. He alone will take on the task of spying on God’s new creation. Such an assignment best fits a leader, who should be prepared to take on any danger. A leader can’t accept the honors due his position without also accepting the hazards.
He stands up and ends the debate right there, knowing very well that some other fallen angel would try to claim the difficult job, thus detracting from Satan’s glory. They all bow to him and praise him for his heroism, prompting an epic simile in which their harmony is compared to a beam of sun lighting up the evening sky after a storm.
Milton now adds his own comment: how shameful it is that devils can agree among themselves but men cannot (lines 496-505). Milton had lived through a civil war and all the horrors of revenge when Charles II reestablished the monarchy. There were wars in Germany and France almost continually during his lifetime. If only mankind would unite against its common enemy, “hellish foes,” and stop destroying each other! We can heartily agree, for things are no better three hundred years after Paradise Lost.
LINES 506-628. LIFE IN HELL
The debate has broken up and its results have been proclaimed throughout Hell. The fallen angels are now free to go about their normal pursuits, while Satan prepares for his journey to the World.
The angels practice sports, race horses and chariots, and conduct military exercises, even tearing up the soil in their more strenuous efforts. Some are musicians, and they manage to produce songs so beautiful that they “Suspended Hell and took with ravishment / The thronged audience.” Milton was a musician and his father a composer; music could never be evil to him.
One group of fallen angels acts like classical philosophers (lines 555-569), arguing and disputing with eloquence about Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate- the subjects of Paradise Lost itself. But they are false philosophers who do not know the truth of the Christian religion. They can offer only solace and patience with their “pleasing sorcery.”
Another group explores the rest of Hell. We are in classical territory here, and Milton exploits it fully. Both The Odyssey and The Aeneid include a visit to the underworld, where we find the same features- the four rivers of Hell, fire, ice, the torments of the damned, who suffer for their sins in life.
LINES 629-725. SIN AND DEATH
Meanwhile Satan is off to the gates of Hell, through which he must pass before he can break through- literally erupt- into Chaos and then the World. An epic simile tells us that as he travels, he looks like a sailing ship so far away that it seems to be hanging in the clouds.
He soon reaches the nine gates of Hell- three brass, three iron, and three of the hardest known rock, adamant. All three gates burn continually but are never destroyed. They are guarded by two horrible creatures, one on each side of the gates: one is a woman, Sin, who is a serpent below the waist; the other is a man, Death, with no shape but blackness. He carries a dagger and seems to be wearing a crown.
NOTE: ALLEGORY AND ALLEGORICAL FIGURES
These figures have a different function in the poem than the characters we already know. Sin and Death are figures of allegory, which means that they represent in their appearance the parts they play in our lives. Sin is foul and misshapen, only half human, filthy with hybrid offspring who crawl in and out of her womb as they wish. She represents the unnatural confusion of sin, which distorts the proper order of things. Death is a black shadow, with a dagger to pierce his victims and a crown which symbolizes his rule over everyone. As we follow the interactions between Sin, Death, and Satan, you will be able to translate what they do into its meaning.
Death strides toward Satan, who stands his ground: he fears nothing in the universe except God and his Son. (When Satan looks Death in the eye, we are seeing allegory at work: Satan is immortal, and therefore he can defy Death.) He declares his intention to pass through the nine gates, but Death won’t let him. As they stand ready to fight, Satan looks like a comet in the sky, and the threatening combatants look like the thunderclouds just before a storm. The fight never happens because Sin rushes between the two of them.
LINES 724-870. THE BIRTH OF SIN AND DEATH
Sin prevents the fight by calling Satan “father”- as surprising to him as it is to us. She was born from Satan’s head, just as in Greek mythology the goddess of wisdom, Athena, emerged from Zeus’s head. But Sin came out of the left side of Satan’s head. The left is connected with evil, and that’s why we have the word “sinister,” which simply means “left.”
She emerged precisely at the time Satan initiated the war against God. The meaning of the allegory is that Sin was born at the same moment as rebellion against God’s authority.
Once born, Sin became Satan’s concubine in a vile incestuous relationship. As Satan fell, she too was expelled from Heaven, but she was given the key to the Hell gates. While watching the gates, she gave birth to Death, a labor so difficult that it distorted her body into the shape of a serpent. Death immediately turned on his mother and raped her, causing the birth of monsters who continually torment her with their gnawing inside her body. She knows that Death would like to consume her but cannot do it.
So both Sin and Death are the offspring of Satan, an allegorical way of saying that Satan is responsible for the introduction of sin and death into the world, just as Milton said in the third line of Book I.
Wanting to be let out of the gates, Satan promises Sin and Death that he will take them back with him to earth after he has spied on it. Death smiles a ghastly smile as he thinks of more victims. Sin shows her nature by persuading herself that it is perfectly all right to disobey God, because her own father has asked her to unlock the gates. Sin can always find justification- as we know from our own experience.
LINES 871-1009. CHAOS AND OLD NIGHT
Sin opens the gates, which can never again be shut (lines 883-884). The gates are wide enough to let an army, chariots and all, pass easily. They open on the realm of Chaos. Think of it as the first few moments after the Big Bang, when there is nothing but a soup of uncombined electrons and neutrons. Here “hot, cold, moist, and dry,” the four elements in medieval science, contend in confusion. The prospect is so terrifying that even Satan pauses before launching himself out of the gates.
When he finally jumps into Chaos, he is swept first down and then up because the region is so chaotic that it is land, sea, and air, by turns and all at once. In three and a half lines composed almost entirely of monosyllables we get a vivid impression of confused and constant change:
So eagerly the fiend
Over bog, or steep, through the strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet pursues his way,
And swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies
After a prolonged struggle, he follows a “universal hubbub wild” to the place where King Chaos and his companion, Old Night, sit with their followers, who are all allegorical figures like Sin and Death. Note that Chance is one of these figures. Chance has no place in the ordered universe ruled by God- chance is chaotic by nature.
Satan asks Chaos and Old Night for directions to the World. He points out that if he reaches the earth and is successful in ruining it, Chaos will gain because he will have more territory. It is an argument Chaos is glad to hear; he grumbles that too much has been taken from him recently. He lost territory when God created Hell out of a corner of Chaos and then lost more when God created the World. It can be seen hanging on a golden chain from Heaven down into Chaos (see illustration). But the World isn’t far away now, so Chaos wishes Satan luck. They have the same aims.
LINES 1010-1055. FIRST SIGHT OF THE WORLD
Satan plunges back into Chaos, again fighting his way through the confused elements. Milton tells us that later there will be a smooth road from Hell to earth, built by Sin and Death. It will follow Satan to the World and make a direct pathway for the devils to reach and corrupt man. You can easily see the allegorical meaning here.
As Satan comes to the edge of Chaos, day begins to dawn, causing Old Night to retreat so that his journey becomes easier. As he floats on the calmer air, Satan looks upward: there is Heaven, where he formerly lived, and hanging just below, the globe of the World.
NOTE: MILTON’S COSMOLOGY
The World is not the earth, but the universe. in this imaginary cosmos of Milton’s, we should forget our Copernican model of the universe. This is a schematic universe, where the component parts are placed in symbolic relationship to each other. Heaven is at the top, with unlimited extension upward. Hell, at the bottom, is Heaven’s counterpart- it is unlimited downward. The space between is filled with Chaos. The World hangs suspended from Heaven, with a stairway leading down to an opening in the top of the sphere. inside the sphere are ten concentric circles, with the earth in the middle. The sun and the planets revolve around the earth. The outside of the World is like a hard rind, which protects the World from the buffeting winds of Chaos.
Don’t be too impatient with what may seem to you a ridiculous model of the cosmos. Milton knew about the Copernican universe (the archangel Raphael refers to it in Book VIII). Ask yourself why Milton might have wanted to retain the classical and medieval cosmology, with the earth at the center, for the purposes of his poem.
Reflect that science fiction also does not represent the universe as twentieth-century physicists and astronomers describe it. Think of those imaginary worlds where starships land to find robots. Like Milton, science fiction writers invent a background to fit what they want to say. They freely give planets atmospheres with or without important ingredients and put them in space at distances and in places where they need them for their plots. The important question for them and for Milton is whether the interactions which take place in these settings are believable and interesting to us.
The scene now shifts to Heaven, where for the first time we see God, his Son, and the angels. Book III is almost a point-for-point contrast with the two preceding books. All is light here, as all was darkness in Hell. In Heaven there is a council, as there was in Hell, but it is characterized by harmony and expressions of love. Just as Satan undertook the task of spying on man, so the Son takes on the burden of dying to redeem mankind.
Contrast this introduction to Heaven with Book I’s description of Satan in Hell. You may find that God and his Son lack the characteristics- human failings- which make the fallen angels interesting. In Satan, God has a hard act to follow, and Milton hasn’t given him much help. It’s quite difficult to think of ways in which absolute authority could be given a human face, especially when by definition God’s choices cannot be understood by man.
The poetry of the scenes in Heaven has a different texture. There aren’t many epic similes or classical allusions in this book (which is one-third shorter than Book II). Most of the classical references are found in the first part, where Milton speaks of himself, and the last, where Satan continues his journey and lands on the sun. God and his Son converse in quite straight-forward statements; whether you agree with God or not, you can follow his argument quite easily.
NOTE: THE CHRISTIAN TRINITY
In Christian theology, God has a mystic three-in-one, one- in-three unity. The Godhead has three aspects: God the Father is the original authority, while God the Son has a special affinity for mankind, since he himself became man to redeem Adam’s sin. God the Holy Spirit is not mentioned until Book XII, when his coming is foretold. But you will remember that Milton prayed to the Holy Spirit after the first invocation.
The threefold nature of the Christian God separates him from the Hebrew deity, who has only one aspect. The Holy Trinity is a difficult concept to grasp, not least because, although the Son and the Holy Spirit are revealed later in time, they have existed as part of God from the beginning. They are therefore present at the creation of everything, including the angels.
LINES 1-55. THE INVOCATION TO LIGHT
Milton went blind in his forties. He married his second and third wives without seeing them. The whole of Paradise Lost- like Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, the great works of Milton’s maturity- was dictated to secretaries and to his daughters, who did not like the chore. Most of the poem was composed in the early hours of the morning, for Milton was an early riser. He waited impatiently for his secretary to arrive- like a cow waiting to be milked, he would say.
His anguish about his blindness is clearly expressed in the invocation to light. Book III is full of light, so he invokes its aid as God’s first creation. But light cannot enter his eyes. Being blind does not prevent his enjoying classical poetry or the Hebrew Old Testament. Homer and other Greek poets were also blind. But the sense of regret is poignant:
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the Book of Knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature’s works to me expunged and razed,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
So light must shine inside his mind, communicating what is after all invisible to all men.
LINES 56-134. GOD’S EXPLANATION OF FREE
God the Father is seated on his throne in Heaven, with his Son by his side, looking down through the gate of Heaven, past the stairs, on Adam and Eve in Paradise and on Satan flying toward the suspended World. As he points out Satan to his Son, God describes what is going to happen: Satan will deceive Adam and Eve, who will listen to him and disobey God.
It is difficult to like what God says. He calls man an ungrateful- “ingrate”- for his good fortune: “he had of me / All he could have.” The contradiction between man’s free will and God’s omnipotence is easy to understand but hard to accept. God knows everything that is to happen and controls it all, but man is free, If he were not, then he could not choose and earn praise or blame.
NOTE: THE DOCTRINE OF FREE WILL
Free will isn’t a dead issue. It’s hotly debated in political science and philosophy classes. How free are you to do what you want? Are your actions under the control of your free will or is that your perception only? Milton thinks that man experiences his choices as free, even though God knows what the results will be. Because man does not know what God knows, man has the sense of complete freedom. Is it possible that this is a metaphorical way of describing our dependence on our context and heritage? We may not believe that God determines our actions, but a large part of them are controlled by genes, family history, economic circumstances, and environment- matters which, like God, are beyond our individual control.
God continues his explanation to the Son by saying: “Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault.” Man is therefore responsible for his fall, but not as responsible as Satan and his followers. Because they fell “self-tempted, self-depraved,” they will receive no mercy, but man will find grace and mercy, to God’s glory.
LINES 135-415. THE HEAVENLY COUNCIL
In contrast to the stench and darkness of Hell, Heaven is full of “ambrosial fragrance” and love shines on the face of the Son. He asks what God intends to do with man: will Satan take the new creation down to Hell with him, or will God abolish it entirely?
God answers that he will offer mankind grace in the form of prayer, which he will hear gladly: “Mine ear shall not be slow, mine eye not shut.” He will also give mankind a conscience to guide them.
But man will die eternally unless his mortal crime is atoned for by a heavenly being willing to die for him. Who in the heavenly host will become man and die a mortal death to redeem mankind?
There is the same silence in Heaven as there was in Hell when a parallel question was raised. Finally the Son offers himself as sacrifice. His faith in his Father is so strong that he knows God will not abandon him, but will allow him to kill Death himself: “Death his death’s wound shall then receive.” He predicts the glorious moment when he will return from deaning out Hell to the “Joy entire” of God’s presence.
The parallel between the Son and Satan will be drawn again, especially when we find out later what caused Satan’s rebellion. Satan and the Son are two brothers- one good, one evil- fighting for their Father’s attention.
God greets the Son’s courageous offer with an outpouring of praise. The Son will become man in a virgin birth, mystically combining his nature as man (Adam’s son) with his nature as God. Because the Son humbles himself to join mankind as one of them, he will unite in himself the qualities of man and God and become worthy to judge all creation. His sacrifice is so glorious that it will bring about “New heaven and earth, wherein the just shall dwell.” God turns to the angels and commands them to worship the Son as his equal.
The angels sing a song which praises God in terms of light so radiant that even the angels must shade their eyes with their wings when they see it (line 382). Then they sing praises to the Son, the warrior who defeated the rebel angels and now the redeemer who had “offered himself to die / For man’s offence.” The passage ends with the poet’s vow to praise the son endlessly as God’s equal.
LINES 416-497. SATAN IN LIMBO
Meanwhile, Satan lands on the outer rim of the World, suspended on its golden chain from Heaven (see illustration). He manages to find a spot where he is to some extent sheltered from the winds of Chaos, like a vulture who rests for a while on the windy plains of Mongolia, on his way to steal lambs for his prey. Notice how the epic simile makes a kind of double image: you see the ugly bird and Satan superimposed on one another, sharing the same characteristics.
There is nothing where Satan is walking up and down “alone bent on his prey.” Later in the history of the World, Milton tells us, this place on the perimeter of the World will become Limbo. Here will be found the souls of those who are more misguided than sinful, who can’t be sent to Hell but aren’t good enough to enter Heaven. They will include the builders of the Tower of Babel and the Greek Philosophers who wanted to become gods. Milton especially mentions those Roman Catholics who believed that putting on religious garments would get them into Heaven.
NOTE: MILTON’S CHRISTIAN INDIVIDUALISM
England had become a Protestant nation in 1539, not for purely religious reasons but because King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife and the Roman Catholic Church opposed divorce, as it still does. So Henry declared a Church of England, with himself as head.
The main difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism comes in the matter of access to God. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the need for intercession with God, through a priesthood specially trained to act as intermediary for the people. Protestants believe they can address God directly through prayer. Their clergy, who are permitted to marry, are counselors and advisors more than intercessors with God.
As Protestantism developed, groups arose believing that even the reduced priestly function of the Church of England was too much. The extreme is probably the Quakers, who have no priests at all. Milton was closest to being a Puritan, but his kind of Christianity is really unique to him. We can best describe him as a Christian individualist. He believed that he should obey only God and God’s law, which was immediately obvious to anyone who believed with a pure heart. Milton had no use at all for the external shows of religion- even symbols like the cross.
Thus you can see why he despises Roman Catholic “Indulgences, Dispenses, Pardons, Bulls.” All those who believed in them would be blown away from Heaven and whirled into Limbo, the Paradise of Fools.
LINES 498-629. SATAN ON THE SUN
Leaving Limbo, Satan comes to the opening in the top of the World where he can look down into the concentric circles and up the stairs to Heaven. He stands in amazement looking down into the World, like a soldier on military reconnaissance who finds himself suddenly looking down on a new land or a magnificent city.
He throws himself down into the World and passes through the circle of the stars to land on the sun. The place is “beyond expression bright,” brighter than jewels or the philosophers’ stone which was said to turn any metal into gold. There are of course no shadows on the sun, so Satan easily sees an angel standing there with his back to him.
LINES 630-742. THE DECEPTION OF THE ANGEL URIEL
Satan is always daring and always deceitful. It seems no problem for him to change himself into a young angel or cherub with curling hair, gold-sprinkled wings, and a wand in his hand. He approaches the angel, who proves to be Uriel, one of the seven around God’s throne, and addresses him.
Satan gives the flimsiest excuse for his presence: he has a great desire to see God’s new creation, man, so much talked of in Heaven. Will Uriel kindly point out on which of the circling spheres Man is to be found?
Uriel suspects nothing. In fact, Milton tells us that only God can know the truth hidden by hypocrisy; not even angels can penetrate a lying appearance, especially when they are so good that suspicion is not part of their nature. Uriel praises the little cherub for his desire to see God’s works and tells him with pride that he was present when the World was made. The globe down there at the center, the one half lit by the sun and half by the moon reflecting the sun’s light, is earth. Uriel even points his finger directly at Paradise and tells Satan that he can’t miss the way.
Satan bows respectfully, as a cherub would to a senior angel, and swoops down from the sun to the earth, landing on the top of Niphates, a mountain in the Armenian Taurus range.
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