• Milton aims to justify the ways of God to men with his poem. His subject is Man’s disobedience, which resulted in the loss of Paradise. The primary cause of Man’s Fall is Satan in the form of a serpent.
• Satan was an Angel who rebelled against God with many legions of Angels. Satan and his army were cast down from Heaven into Hell.
• The action begins in media res, when Satan and his army are lying vanquished on lake of liquid fire in Hell. Satan calls to his companion Beelzebub. They confer with each other and decide to fly to the shore of the lake. There, Satan calls the rest of his legions to him.
• Satan comforts the army, asserting that there is still hope of regaining Heaven. He also tells them of a report he has heard about a new world and a new creature that God will create. To determine the truth of this report, and decide on further actions, he calls for a full council in Pandemonium, Satan’s palace constructed by Mulciber/Vulcan/Hephaestus.
“OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, Sing Heav’nly Muse.”
“What in me is dark Illumin, what is low raise and support; That to the highth of this great Argument I may assert Eternal Providence, And justifie the wayes of God to men.”
“At once as far as Angels kenn he views The dismal Situation waste and wilde, A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe, Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell, hope never comes That comes to all; but torture without end Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d”
“What though the field be lost? All is not lost; the unconquerable Will, And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield: And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might Extort from me. To bow and sue for grace With suppliant knee, and deifie his power, Who from the terrour of this Arm so late Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed, That were an ignominy and shame beneath This downfall”
“To be weak is miserable, Doing or Suffering.”
“Farewel happy Fields Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time. The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same, And what I should be, all but less then he Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.”
“Awake, arise, or be for ever fall’n.”
“Who overcomes By force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
“Let none admire That riches grow in Hell; that soyle may best Deserve the precious bane.”
The plight of Satan is that of a conquered general who remains defiant in the face of defeat. His resolve and determination never to submit or yield is admirable, and even endearing to some extent. Many analysts have written that Satan is the hero of this poem, and that Milton is actually of Satan’s party, not God’s. If one interprets Satan as a rebellious subject, then I believe that this interpretation is accurate. Indeed, Satan is in much the same predicament as Prometheus, a very sympathetic character in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. However, if we regard Satan not as a rebellious subject, but as a creation rebelling against its creator, then the interpretation seems inaccurate; for Satan, as a creation, is rebelling against the source of his life. It is paradoxical and wrong. On the other hand, when does a creation become something independent of the creator? Is a creation ever justified in rebelling against a creator? Sure. There doesn’t seem to be an objective morality in these cases.
• The council of the fallen Angels begins. Satan addresses the assembly and asks whether they ought to endeavor in open war or covert guile to exact their revenge upon Heaven.
• Moloch advises open war. Belial advises inaction, lest they provoke God to greater anger. Mammon advises the establishment of an empire in Hell, rather than war in Heaven. Beelzebub advises an enterprise against Man and the new world that God created, which is more vulnerable to attack than Heaven. The fallen angels approve this plan, and Satan volunteers to ascend out of Hell across the dangerous abyss to investigate the new world and Man.
• The fallen angels undertake various activities to entertain the time until Satan returns.
• Satan arrives at the gates of Hell, guarded by Sin and Death. Sin informs Satan that she is his daughter, born form the left side of his head. While still in Heaven, Satan had sex with Sin. She gave birth to death while in Hell. Death raped her, and she gave birth to hell hounds that hourly return to her womb and gorge on her innards. Sin agrees to open the gates of Hell, since only she can do so, being given the keys by God. Though God commanded her never to open the gates, she decides to obey Satan because he is her father, and because God hates her and has confined her to utter torment in Hell.
• Satan passes through the perilous realm of Chaos to the new world.
“Let us rather choose Arm’d with Hell flames and fury all at once O’re Heav’ns high Towrs to force resistless way, Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms Against the Torturer; when to meet the noise Of his Almighty Engin he shall hear Infernal Thunder, and for Lightning see Black fire and horror shot with equal rage Among his Angels; and his Throne it self Mixt with Tartarean Sulphur, and strange fire, His own invented Torments.”
“Who would loose, Though full of pain, this intellectual being, Those thoughts that wander through Eternity, To perish rather, swallowd up and lost In the wide womb of uncreated night, Devoid of sense and motion?”
“Our purer essence then will overcome Thir noxious vapour, or enur’d not feel, Or chang’d at length, and to the place conformd In temper and in nature, will receive Familiar the fierce heat, and void of pain; This horror will grow milde, this darkness light, Besides what hope the never-ending flight Of future dayes may bring, what chance, what change Worth waiting.”
“Suppose he should relent And publish Grace to all, on promise made Of new Subjection; with what eyes could we Stand in his presence humble, and receive Strict Laws impos’d, to celebrate his Throne With warbl’d Hymns, and to his Godhead sing Forc’t Halleluiah’s; while he Lordly sits Our envied Sovran, and his Altar breathes Ambrosial Odours and Ambrosial Flowers, Our servile offerings. This must be our task In Heav’n, this our delight; how wearisome Eternity so spent in worship paid To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue By force impossible, by leave obtain’d Unacceptable, though in Heav’n, our state Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek Our own good from our selves, and from our own Live to our selves, though in this vast recess, Free, and to none accountable, preferring Hard liberty before the easie yoke Of servile Pomp.”
“Though Heav’n be shut, And Heav’ns high Arbitrator sit secure In his own strength, this place may lye expos’d The utmost border of his Kingdom, left To their defence who hold it: here perhaps Som advantagious act may be achiev’d By sudden onset, either with Hell fire To waste his whole Creation, or possess All as our own, and drive as we were driven, The punie habitants, or if not drive, Seduce them to our Party, that thir God May prove thir foe, and with repenting hand Abolish his own works.”
“Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light.”
“Thir Song was partial, but the harmony (What could it less when Spirits immortal sing?) Suspended Hell, and took with ravishment The thronging audience. In discourse more sweet (For Eloquence the Soul, Song charms the Sense,) Others apart sat on a Hill retir’d, In thoughts more elevate, and reason’d high Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will and Fate, Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledg absolute, And found no end, in wandring mazes lost. Of good and evil much they argu’d then, Of happiness and final misery, Passion and Apathie, and glory and shame, Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie: Yet with a pleasing sorcerie could charm Pain for a while or anguish, and excite Fallacious hope, or arm th’ obdured brest With stubborn patience as with triple steel.”
“Back to thy punishment, False fugitive, and to thy speed add wings, Least with a whip of Scorpions I pursue Thy lingring, or with one stroke of this Dart Strange horror seise thee, and pangs unfelt before.”
“Before thir eyes in sudden view appear The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark Illimitable Ocean without bound, Without dimension, where length, breadth, & highth, And time and place are lost; where eldest Night And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise Of endless Warrs, and by confusion stand.”
“Into this wilde Abyss, The Womb of nature and perhaps her Grave, Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire, But all these in thir pregnant causes mixt Confus’dly, and which thus must ever fight, Unless th’ Almighty Maker them ordain His dark materials to create more Worlds, Into this wild Abyss the warie fiend Stood on the brink of Hell and look’d a while.”
Satan’s sacrifices himself for the good of the fallen Angels when he volunteers to brave the perilous journey out of Hell. His sacrifice resembles Christ’s sacrifice for mankind. Another parallel between the party of Hell and the party of Heaven is the infernal trinity of Satan, Sin, and Death. By asserting these affinities, I believe that Milton is alluding to the difficulty one experiences in distinguishing between good and evil. Moral questions are notoriously difficult to answer with certainty. Two contrary actions may both contain qualities of justice. The hierarchy of Hell is the same hierarchy found in Heaven. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ parallels the sacrifice of Satan. In order to distinguish between good and evil, one must consider more than the mere superficial values of a given subject of observation.
I also believe that Milton likens life on earth to life in Hell. While Satan is on his journey to Earth, the fallen angels that remain in Hell engage in different activities to entertain the time until Satan returns. Their activities are striking because they are the same activities of us. The fallen angels play sports, sing songs, philosophize, and explore their world. The last activity struck me the most because the motivation of the fallen angels to explore their world is so that they may find some place of ease. They are hopeful that somewhere in this new environment is a place where they can find peace and happiness. I believe that all explorers are desirous of the same goal. To search for new land, or for gold, or for new life, etc. is always grounded upon the hope that there is something greater yet undiscovered, which can make one’s current condition better.
• God sees Satan fly out of chaos, but is unperturbed. He tells his Son what will transpire in the future concerning Man’s Fall. God states that he created Man free; otherwise they would not have been able to give proof of their loyalty, being compelled to act through necessity, not voluntary love. Despite Man’s disobedience, God intends to be merciful toward him because he was deceived by Satan, and did not transgress of his own malice as the fallen angels did. However, God cannot extend his grace to man unless divine justice is satisfied.
• Jesus offers to sacrifice himself to Death for the sake of Man. God accepts his son’s sacrifice, and proclaims Jesus as universal king.
• Satan traverses the limbo of vanity, where people who pursued the vain pleasures of life are doomed to wander forever lost.
• Satan arrives at the stairs of Heaven, and views the world below.
• He travels to the sun, where he assumes the disguise of a young Cherubim, and asks the guardian angel Uriel where Man lives. Uriel directs the disguised Satan to the location.
• Satan lands on Mt. Niphates.
“Seest thou what rage Transports our adversarie, whom no bounds Prescrib’d, no barrs of Hell, nor all the chains Heapt on him there, nor yet the main Abyss Wide interrupt can hold; so bent he seems On desparate revenge.”
“I made him just and right, Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall. Such I created all th’ Ethereal Powers And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild; Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell. Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love, Where onely what they needs must do, appeard, Not what they would? what praise could they receive? What pleasure I from such obedience paid, When Will and Reason (Reason also is choice) Useless and vain, of freedom both despoild, Made passive both, had servd necessitie, Not mee?”
“Then all thy Saints assembl’d, thou shalt judge Bad men and Angels, they arraignd shall sink Beneath thy Sentence; Hell her numbers full, Thenceforth shall be for ever shut. Mean while The World shall burn, and from her ashes spring New Heav’n and Earth, wherein the just shall dwell And after all thir tribulations long See golden days, fruitful of golden deeds, With Joy and Love triumphing, and fair Truth. Then thou thy regal Scepter shalt lay by, For regal Scepter then no more shall need, God shall be All in All. But all ye Gods, Adore him, who to compass all this dies, Adore the Son, and honour him as mee.”
“Others came single; he who to be deem’d A God, leap’d fondly into Ætna flames Empedocles, and hee who to enjoy Plato’s Elysium, leap’d into the Sea, Cleombrotus.”
“Neither Man nor Angel can discern Hypocrisie, the onely evil that walks Invisible, except to God alone, By his permissive will, through Heav’n and Earth: And oft though wisdom wake, suspicion sleeps At wisdoms Gate, and to simplicitie Resigns her charge, while goodness thinks no ill Where no ill seems.”
I understand why many commentators have claimed that Milton was more sympathetic to Satan’s cause than Heaven’s. God is a dull, and even offensive character. Despite Milton’s praises of God, the personality conveyed through the speeches of God is one of arrogance. God seems to flatter himself with the idea that it is by Him alone that mankind is saved. He states “By me upheld, that he may know how frail His fall’n condition is, and to me owe All his deliv’rance, and to none but me.” If that’s not arrogance, then I don’t know what is. God also seems to be insecure about his worth in that statement. He seems to require the praise and adoration of his creation. He must make Man aware that He is the one who redeemed them. But Jesus is ultimately the salvation of Man, and Milton portrays Jesus in a much more favorable light than he does God. Jesus is a type of Promethean character, willing to sacrifice his own good for the salvation of Man. The motivation behind Jesus’ sacrifice is pure love. Aeschylus provided no clue as to the motivation behind Prometheus’ sacrifice, but I suppose that Prometheus merely delighted in frustrating Zeus.
Milton’s depiction of Conscience as a guide to moral behavior is an interesting notion. This theory implies that every person intuitively knows what is good. One does not need to analyze hypothetical cases, or study moral philosophers, or develop a complicated moral system like Kant to determine how to behave. In other words, the moral law is written within everyone.
I also think that Milton’s justification of the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice to save Man from death is interesting. God states that Man must die because he sins against divine justice by aspiring to be God. Though God intends to be merciful toward Man, divine justice must be satisfied first. This can only be achieved through the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus. The fact that God cannot pardon Man for his transgression until divine justice is satisfied provokes a startling question: what is the ultimate judge – God or an objective moral code? This type of question is similar to the Euthyphro dilemma – i.e. “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
• Satan begins to have doubts about his enterprise. He grows envious of Man and the Angels as he remembers the joy that he has lost. Eventually he regains his resolve, and leaps over the walls of Eden.
• He assumes the guise of a cormorant, perches in the Tree of Life, and eavesdrops on Adam and Eve’s conversation. He learns that they are not permitted to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He schemes to seduce them to transgress this one restraint of God.
• Uriel, having seen the violent distortions of Satan when he contemplated his loss of joy, descends to Eden and warns Gabriel, the angel in charge of guarding the gates of Eden, that one of the fallen angels has escaped from Hell and is within Eden. Gabriel the angels under his charge to scour Eden for the trespasser.
• Ithuriel and Zephon find Satan whispering in the ear of Eve, seducing her to trespass against God in her dreams. Ithuriel and Zephon accost Satan, and bring him before Gabriel. Satan and Gabriel scorn one another and prepare to fight, but God reveals that Satan would lose the fight, so Satan departs.
“Now conscience wakes despair That slumberd, wakes the bitter memorie Of what he was, what is, and what must be Worse; of worse deeds worse sufferings must ensue.”
“O had his powerful Destiny ordaind Me some inferiour Angel, I had stood Then happie; no unbounded hope had rais’d Ambition.”
“Me miserable! which way shall I flie Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire? Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep Still threatning to devour me opens wide, To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n. O then at last relent: is there no place Left for Repentance, none for Pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word Disdain forbids me.”
“But say I could repent and could obtaine By Act of Grace my former state; how soon Would higth recall high thoughts, how soon unsay What feign’d submission swore: ease would recant Vows made in pain, as violent and void. For never can true reconcilement grow Where wounds of deadly hate have peirc’d so deep.”
“Farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear, Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost; Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least Divided Empire with Heav’ns King I hold By thee, and more then half perhaps will reigne; As Man ere long, and this new World shall know.”
“One Gate there only was, and that look’d East On th’ other side: which when th’ arch-fellon saw
Due entrance he disdaind, and in contempt, At one slight bound high over leap’d all bound Of Hill or highest Wall, and sheer within Lights on his feet. As when a prowling Wolfe, Whom hunger drives to seek new haunt for prey, Watching where Shepherds pen thir Flocks at eeve In hurdl’d Cotes amid the field secure, Leaps o’re the fence with ease into the Fould: Or as a Thief bent to unhoord the cash Of some rich Burgher, whose substantial dores, Cross-barrd and bolted fast, fear no assault, In at the window climbs, or o’re the tiles; So clomb this first grand Thief into Gods Fould.”
“Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh Your change approaches, when all these delights Will vanish and deliver ye to woe, More woe, the more your taste is now of joy.”
“One fatal Tree there stands of Knowledge call’d, Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidd’n? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should thir Lord Envie them that? can it be sin to know, Can it be death? and do they onely stand By Ignorance, is that thir happie state, The proof of thir obedience and thir faith? O fair foundation laid whereon to build Thir ruine! Hence I will excite thir minds With more desire to know, and to reject Envious commands, invented with designe To keep them low whom knowledge might exalt Equal with Gods.”
“God is thy Law, thou mine: to know no more Is womans happiest knowledge and her praise. With thee conversing I forget all time, All seasons and thir change, all please alike.”
“Gabriel, thou hadst in Heav’n th’ esteem of wise, And such I held thee; but this question askt Puts me in doubt.”
The story of Macbeth parallels Satan’s in many respects. Both men are ambitious, which is the cause of their ruin. Furthermore, both men grow discontent after their evil deed, and wish that they could repent in some way. However, Macbeth realizes that he is “in blood stepped so far that to return were as tedious as go over,” and Satan refuses to submit to God’s authority. In this way, Satan is also like Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Both men contemplate forgiveness for their past transgressions, but conclude that they are unable to receive mercy because they are not willing to do what mercy requires. In Claudius’ case, he refuses to renounce the spoils of his transgression. In Satan’s case, he recognizes that he will inevitably renounce the vows of fidelity to God that he makes in his current state of woe when he has resumed a state of ease.
Throughout the poem, there is an aversion to knowledge. God forbids Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and Satan becomes miserable when he becomes aware of the joy that he has lost. There are many other texts that also illustrate the dangers of knowledge – see Oedipus Rex and Prometheus Bound. Why do these authors consider knowledge to be dangerous? After all, knowledge is responsible for humanity’s greatest innovations. People have built upon the knowledge of their ancestors to achieve ever greater feats of intelligence.
• Adam wakes Eve in the morning. She tells him of her troubling dream in which an angel eats from the forbidden tree and offers fruit to Eve. She eats the fruit and ascends through the air, but the dream abruptly ends, presumably at the moment when Ithuriel and Zephon accost Satan.
• God sends Raphael to warn Adam and Eve against obedience, so that Adam and Eve will not have recourse to ignorance when they fall.
• Adam and Eve entertain Raphael with a meal and conversation. Adam asks Raphael about the nature of Heaven and the Angels. Raphael relates to Adam the beginnings of the revolt in Heaven led by Satan.
• An Angel named Abdiel is the only one of Satan’s party to oppose the motion for rebellion and defect to God’s party.
“Heav’n wakes with all his eyes, Whom to behold but thee.”
“Taste this, and be henceforth among the Gods Thy self a Goddess, not to Earth confind, But somtimes in the Air, as wee, sometimes Ascend to Heav’n, by merit thine, and see What life the Gods live there, and such live thou.”
“Then had the Sons of God excuse to have bin Enamour’d at that sight; but in those hearts Love unlibidinous reign’d, nor jealousie Was understood, the injur’d Lovers Hell.”
“Your bodies may at last turn all to Spirit, Improv’d by tract of time, and wingd ascend Ethereal, as wee, or may at choice Here or in Heav’nly Paradises dwell; If ye be found obedient, and retain
Unalterably firm his love entire Whose progenie you are.”
“That Golden Scepter which thou didst reject Is now an Iron Rod to bruise and breake Thy disobedience.”
The sentiments of the warring factions in Heaven are similar to those of the Greeks and Persians, as explained by Herodotus in the Histories. The Greeks and Satan’s army are motivated by a desire for freedom from the authority of a monarchy, while the Persians and the army of God are motivated by a sense of duty to their beloved monarch. The Persians even believed that their king was a god. The outcomes of the two wars are entirely different. The war in heaven is won by the monarchical forces, while the war on earth is won by the anti-monarchical forces.
I also did not understand why God created a Son to share the leadership role with Him. It seems superfluous. God is omnipotent, and therefore does not need assistance in ruling the universe. God would not desire to shift the blame for anything to a co-ruler because he is omnibenevolent; there is nothing that happens which is reprehensible. I would be very appreciative if someone could explain this mysterious decision. Please do not use the trite and worthless reply: “God works in mysterious ways.”
• The army of God, led by Michael and Gabriel, win the first day’s battle. Satan and his forces experience pain for the first time in their lives.
• During the night after the first day of battle, Satan calls a council in which he informs his troops that he has discovered how to manufacture cannons. They use the cannons in the battle on the following day with success, but God’s Angles soon recover and hurl mountains at Satan’s army.
• God commands his Son to cast out Satan and his cohorts on the third day. Jesus uses the chariot of God to intimidate and compel the opposing army to flee to Hell. Jesus returns to God in triumph.
“At first I thought that Libertie and Heav’n To heav’nly Soules had bin all one; but now I see that most through sloth had rather serve, Ministring Spirits, traind up in Feast and Song; Such hast thou arm’d, the Minstrelsie of Heav’n, Servilitie with freedom to contend, As both thir deeds compar’d this day shall prove.”
“What availes Valour or strength, though matchless, quelld with pain Which all subdues, and makes remiss the hands Of Mightiest. Sense of pleasure we may well Spare out of life perhaps, and not repine, But live content, which is the calmest life: But pain is perfet miserie, the worst Of evils, and excessive, overturnes All patience.”
Milton expresses his dislike for armor and military arms. He states that armor hinders both armies, and that mankind will use the cannons created by Satan, causing much woe and misery among mankind. Furthermore, Jesus casts out the opposing army without the assistance of military arms. The image of Jesus in his chariot approaching them is sufficient to intimidate the rebel Angles, who choose to flee to hell rather than oppose Him. Milton emphasizes the power of the eyes of Jesus, and the eyes of the Cherubim that are a part of the chariot. Eyes are a recurring motif in literature. While I was reading Milton’s description, I remembered the intimidating force of eyes in T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men. In the poem, people fear to even look at the eyes of those who have passed into death’s kingdom. “Eyes I dare not meet in dreams In death’s dream kingdom.”