Book 1 Summary

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The poet calls upon the Muse to aid him in telling the story of Creation and in justifying “the ways of God to men.” He asks what first moved Adam and Eve to disobey the commands of God and then answers that Eve was tempted by Satan, the fallen angel who took the form of a serpent. Satan dared to oppose God in open war, challenging his supremacy in heaven, whereupon God threw him onto the burning lake.

Satan looks round the fiery waste of hell, where he and his fellow rebels have been thrown and discerns his chief accomplice, Beelzebub. Although he is “racked with deep despair,” Satan speaks eloquently of waging further war against heaven. Beelzebub asks what they can do against the almighty power of God, which has defeated them so entirely, and Satan replies that they will find some means of doing evil and perverting or destroying God’s plans.

Satan and Beelzebub lift themselves from the surface of the burning lake and fly to the land. Satan calls all the fallen angels to him from the burning lake and they fly to him, filling the plain of hell with their vast numbers. The chief among them are worshiped on earth as idols and false gods. These include Moloch, smeared with the blood of children who have been sacrificed to him, Chemos, whose rites are celebrated with lustful orgies, Astoreth, Thammuz, Dagon, Rimmon, Isis, Osiris, and a host of other pagan deities. Last comes Belial, lewdest and grossest of the spirits who fell from heaven.

Having rallied his troops, Satan addresses them, saying that the war against heaven will continue but must be waged “by fraud or guile” rather than open force, perhaps in a new world which he has heard God intends to create. The fallen angels salute him with their flaming swords, and Mammon, the most avaricious of them, leads a brigade to a nearby hill to dig for gold. With this, under the command of the great architect Mulciber, they build the city of Pandemonium. The fallen angels are summoned to a council there and pour in through the city gates like bees returning to the hive.

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Book 2 Summary