What is Abdiel's defintion of servitude in Book VI of John Milton's poem Paradise Lost?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Book VI of John Milton's Paradise Lost, Abdiel gives a double-sided defintion of servitude in response to Satan's definition in which he says servitude is the fit occupation for individuals who are lazy, indolent, unproductive and disinclined to exert; they prefer rather to eat and drink and sing in feasts.

Abdiel's response divides his definition between servitude and ministering. Servitude isn't used by Milton's Abdiel in this context in accord with the standard New Testament usage of an expression of love as in "serve one another" (Galatians 5:13). Rather, Abdiel defines servitude as the lack of freedom; enthrallment (captivity, subjugation); serving an unwise individual; and serving a rebel who has gone against the one who is worthiest. Further, Abdiel applies this servitude to both Satan, "Thyself not free," and to his legions, "thine now serve thee...to thyself enthralled."

Abdiel next defines the second element of serving, which is ministering, "darest our ministring upbraid." Abdiel describes ministering as obeying God's divine behests (commands or directives) because God is the worthiest and the one who excels over the ruled. Ministering service is ordained by God and Nature as God and Nature both agree and ordain the same. This is a reference to the laws of human nature that lead us to look up to those more worthy, rather than to terrestrial nature, e.g., flora and fauna.

In summation, Abdiel defines servitude as subjugation to an arrogant and inferior rebel against the higher good, which he contrasts to ministration to one recognized by virtue of fact to be worthiest and excellent. Abdiel entirely refutes with these statements Satan's claim that serving is for weak ne'r-do-wells who live for selfindulgence and the dissipation of feasting and song.