Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2326
Sin: Satan’s daughter, born out of his head in Heaven
Death: born as the son of Satan and Sin’s incestuous relationship
Chaos: rules the region of confusion between Hell and Earth
Night: the consort of Chaos
As he is ready to begin the consultation, Satan sits on his exalted throne in Pandemonium, the capitol of Hell. Addressing his angels as “Powers, Dominions, and Deities,” Satan, in his vanity, is comparable to the monarchs of the Orient. He assures them that Heaven is not lost, and with a spirit of unity, they can return again to claim their “just inheritance.” He offers the alternatives of “open war” or “covert guile” as he opens the debate with an invitation to anyone who wishes to speak.
Moloch, the strongest and fiercest demon, begins the debate with a proposal for “open war.” His hopes for equality with God have been dashed, and his despair has fuelled his desire for revenge. He argues that it would be better to be reduced to nonexistence than to bear the pain of their present state in Hell with no hope of an end to their suffering. Since nothing could be worse, they have nothing to lose by defying God openly. He insists that if the fallen angels are “indeed divine” and cannot be annihilated, God can do no more to them than he has already done. In his desperation for revenge, Moloch advocates that they alarm and disturb God though they will never be victorious since Heaven is inaccessible to them.
Belial, though false, is a much more humane and dignified demon who opposes Moloch’s plan and proposes peace at all costs. He too is aware that God could destroy them completely, but, unlike Moloch, he feels it would be better to exist in Hell than “to be no more.” In skillful debate, he exposes the folly of Moloch’s argument and reminds the fallen angels that Heaven is closely guarded and “impregnable.” He insists that Hell could get worse if they would arouse God to even greater condemnation and reasons that God might “remit his anger” and soften their punishment if they do not provoke him. Belial also suggests that familiarity with the horror and darkness of Hell will eventually lessen the pain.
Mammon speaks next, advocating that they stay in Hell rather than risk spending eternity in forced subjection to Heaven’s supreme Lord whom they hate. He reminds them that in Hell they will be free of God, choosing “hard liberty” rather than the “easy yoke” of servility. Pointing out that Hell can equal Heaven in gems and gold, he questions Heaven’s appeal. He concludes his speech, advising a dismissal of all ideas about war against Heaven. Mammon’s proposal is well received by the legions of angels who applaud loudly in approval. With the threatening sword of the heavenly angel Michael still vivid in their memory, many of them dread going to war against Heaven.
The last to speak, Beelzebub, second only to Satan in power, captivates his audience with his broad Atlas shoulders and majestic appearance. Since they have voted to stay in Hell, Beelzebub addresses the fallen angels by their new titles as Princes of Hell. He warns them to make no mistake about God’s intentions. He has doomed them to this place as their “dungeon” not their “safe retreat,” as some might think, and he rules them with an iron sceptor. Beelzebub exposes the folly of discussing peace or war since war against Heaven has already determined their irreversible fate. He proposes another plan, involving the new world God has created which is the happy seat of the race called Man. Beelzebub reasons that this place, possibly within their reach, may hold opportunities for revenge against God by destroying his new world or claiming it as their own and driving out God’s new inhabitants. It was Satan, the poet says, who first devised the devious scheme against mankind, and Beelzebub simply acts as his mouthpiece in the devilish council.
After the fallen angels vote to approve Beelzebub’s proposal, he calls for a volunteer to search for this newly created world. The journey entails innumerable hazards involved in traveling through the vast, bottomless Abyss that is heavily guarded by sentries of angels. All hope rests on the responsible one who will volunteer to go. After a long silence, Satan proudly volunteers, conscious of the honor he will receive. Announcing quickly that he will go alone, he avoids the threat of a possible rival who might offer to go and, thereby, thwart his plan for his own personal ambition. Seeing it as an act of self-sacrifice, however, his followers deify him, rising and bowing to him with “awful reverence.”
The council is dissolved as they bid farewell to Satan, their brave chief, with thunderous shouts and the blasts of trumpets. Though their hopes have been temporarily raised, they become sad and perplexed as soon as Satan leaves. To overcome their “restless thoughts,” they form small groups, entertaining themselves with athletic games, the singing of songs, and irrelevant philosophical debates concerning good and evil. Some explore the geographic regions of Hell to see whether they can discover an “easier habitation” but find only a perverted and monstrous nature where “life dies” and “death lives.”
In the meantime, Satan approaches the gates of Hell where he meets a woman, whose name is Sin, holding the key. She is fair to the waist but otherwise resembles a foul, scaly serpent surrounded with barking Hell-hounds that freely pass in and out of her womb. She was born full-grown out of the head of Satan when he first planned his rebellion against God in Heaven. Guarding the other side of the gate is a shapeless creature who approaches Satan, threatening to drive him back to Hell. Satan confronts him, but just as they are ready to fight, Sin rushes between them, telling Satan that it is his own son, Death. Born out of the incestuous union of Satan and Sin, Death, in turn, has raped Sin, and the barking monsters are the fruits of the second incestuous act.
After Sin’s forewarning, Satan softens his approach and finally convinces her to open the gates of Hell and let him pass. She opens them but is unable to close them again. Passing through the vast Abyss, Satan comes upon the throne of Chaos and his consort, Night. He informs them of his plan and asks them to direct his course to Earth. Chaos encourages him, telling him it is not far. Continuing his upward flight, Satan encounters many difficulties. Meanwhile, Sin and Death have been following his track, paving a broad and well-worn highway and bridge over the Abyss for easy access from Hell to Earth. Satan finally comes within view of Earth, which hangs by a golden chain from Heaven, and his mind fills with “mischievous revenge.”
Satan begins the infernal consultation as he opens the debate by feigning a choice between “open war” and “covert guile” for the recovery of Heaven. It is learned later, when Beelzebub addresses the council, however, that the debate has been skillfully manipulated by Satan. Beelzebub is the last to speak, and he echoes Satan’s own plan of avenging God by harming his new creation, Man. Beelzebub’s proposal, the poet says, was “first devised by Satan.” In Book I, Satan had already suggested the strategy of guile rather than force to accomplish the purpose of revenge.
Henceforth his might we know, and know our own,
So as not either to provoke, or dread
New war provoked; our better part remains
To work in close design, by fraud or guile
What force effected not.
P. L., I, 643–47
Rumor has it that God intends to create a new world and a new race. Since God is now inaccessible to them, their alternate plan of revenge, Satan says, should be to corrupt the work of the “great Creator.”
Many Renaissance poets held the belief that the creation of Man preceded Satan’s rebellion in Heaven. They believed it was Satan’s jealousy of the newly created Adam that prompted the archangel’s revolt against God in Heaven which led to his subsequent fall. Milton took the view less prevalent in his time. His Satan rebels against the Son’s recent advancement in Heaven which threatens to usurp the archangel’s power. Though Satan’s rebellion against God is not merely a sudden unexplainable act of pride, his motives are selfish and his actions are ludicrous in light of the fact that he is asked to obey and show reverence to an inherently superior being, the Son of God. Stella Purce Revard justifies Milton’s choice on the grounds that his “Satan evokes less sympathy from the reader with his refusal to bow the knee to the Son” than does the Satan of other Renaissance poets who depict his refusal to bow to Adam, an inferior being.
In Paradise Lost, Satan realizes that Man will be “favored more/ Of him who rules above,” but his jealousy of Adam and Eve does not come to the foreground until after the archangel has left Hell and sees them in their blissful state in Paradise. “What do mine eyes with grief behold” (P. L., IV, l. 358).
Some critics believe that the demons who speak in the devilish council parallel the people Milton observed when he attended sessions at the Council of State. One can readily see that they frequently demonstrate human characteristics as they rationalize their points of view. Moloch is a typical die-hard who stubbornly refuses to abandon the idea of his former position in Heaven. Ready to fight, he resists any other alternative and is willing to be annihilated rather than accept his present fate in Hell. Belial, though “false and hollow,” is a skillful debater, turning Moloch’s argument against him point by point. In contrast to Moloch, Belial is a peacemaker and makes “the worse appear/ The better reason.” Mammon does not want to go back to Heaven if it will entail the singing of “forced halleluiahs” to God. He prefers “hard liberty” to the “easy yoke” of servility. In the case of Mammon, Milton expresses his own views through the words of a demon. This is reminiscent of his reference to governmental corruption in Samson Agonistes.
But what more oft in nations grown corrupt,
And by their vices brought to servitude,
Than to love bondage more than liberty,
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.
Samson Agonistes, 268–71
Milton seems to identify more closely with Mammon, who advocates action, than with Belial, who simply yields to “peaceful sloth.” The debate of the devilish council steadily improves as each speaker becomes more rational, slowly relinquishing the idea of the recovery of Heaven as they realize its futility. Beelzebub speaks last, drawing the group together with his proposal of a counter plan that involves spying on God’s newly created world and contriving a guileful act of revenge.
Biblical allusions abound in Paradise Lost. Ironically, Beelze¬bub’s argument to the demons in the council is shot through with references to the Scriptures.
For he, be sure,
In height or depth, still first and last will reign
Sole king, and of his kingdom lose no part
By our revolt, but over Hell extend
His empire, and with iron scepter rule
Us here, as with his golden those in Heaven.
P. L., II, 323–28
Beelzebub’s words allude to the risen Christ in the book of Revelation. “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (Rev. 1:11). God, Beelzebub says, will rule as “Sole King” which alludes to the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” in I Timothy 6:15. The Bible makes several references to the “iron scepter” with which the Son of God will rule after Satan has been defeated. The prophecy concerning the heathen is given in the Psalms. “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps. 2:9). Another prophecy from Psalms 45:6 reads: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.” In view of the Scriptures, Beelzebub is, unknowingly, prophesying his own doom in these lines.
Besides his heavy reliance on the Bible, Milton’s classical allusions are also woven throughout his epic poem. The character of Sin, who was “woman to the waist, and fair,/ But ended foul in many a scaly fold,” is patterned after Scylla in Virgil’s Aeneid.
. . . to the waist
A maiden she, with comely-fashioned breast,
Her after-part a sea-thing monster-sized
With dolphin tails on wolfish belly fixed.
Aeneid, iii, 428–31
Sin’s origins also reflect those of classical myth. She was born out of the head of Satan (“a goddess armed/ Out of thy head I sprung”) just as Athena, in Greek myth, sprang fully armed from the head of Zeus.
As the group of fallen angels explore the geographic regions of Hell, they find an area described as “Burns frore (frozen), and cold performs the effect of fire” (P. L. II, 595). With his frequent use of oxymoron, Milton emphasizes certain passages by bringing the contradictory terms together. Other examples of this rhetorical antithesis are “darkness visible” (I, 63) and “for evil only good” (II, 623).
After his exhaustive journey through Chaos, Satan nears the “pendant world.” He sees the world (Earth) as a star of “smallest magnitude.” His view of the entire universe gives an impression of distance that is contradictory to that of Book I where Hell is “as far removed from God . . . / As from the center thrice to the utmost pole” (P. L., I, 74). When we consider that Sin and Death are building a bridge from the gates of Hell to Earth, our former impression of the vast distance that the angels have fallen from Heaven to Hell shrinks in our imagination.
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