Book 6 Summary and Analysis
Michael: leads God’s angels in battle in the war in Heaven
Zophiel: one of Michael’s angels who warns them of the approaching foe, Satan and his legions of angels
Nisroch: one of Satan’s angels who becomes discouraged with the war
Raphael continues his account of Satan’s rebellion and the subsequent war in Heaven. Abdiel has flown all night long after leaving Satan and his legions of angels in the North. He arrives in the morning, expecting to warn God’s loyal angels of Satan’s impending uprising but, to his surprise, finds them in preparation for war. They welcome his return and lead him to the “sacred hill” where God speaks to him from a golden cloud. He commends Abdiel for overcoming Satan’s multitudes in the cause of truth, though they have accused him of being perverse. To bear their reproach was far worse than to endure their violence, God says.
God then commands Michael, prince of the celestial armies, and Gabriel, next in rank, to lead their “armed saints” in battle against Satan’s “Godless crew.” He instructs them to drive the enemy out of Heaven and into their place of punishment, the fiery gulf of Chaos. Among clouds, smoke, and flames, symbols of God’s wrath, the ethereal trumpet signals the troops who march forward with a unified purpose. They cross over hills, valleys, and streams and finally see the horizon of the “fiery region” of Satan and his legions in the North. Determined to take over the Mount of God by surprise attack, the powers of Satan are seen advancing toward Michael’s troops.
Though it seems incongruous for angel to war against angel, the poet says, the shout of battle is in the air. In the midst of the rush of combat, sits Satan, a parody of the true God on a “gorgeous throne.” From his high seat on a “sun-bright chariot,” he alights on the ground and advances toward his enemy with “haughty strides.” He comes face to face with Abdiel who cannot tolerate Satan’s arrogance. Abdiel is surprised to see that the imposter still resembles his former resplendent self. Abdiel calls him a fool for attempting to fight against the omnipotent God who could, with one sweep of the hand, destroy him and submerge his legions of angels into darkness.
Satan accuses Abdiel of arriving before the others so that he can be the first to fight him and, thereby, gain his own personal reward in battle. Denying the omnipotence of God, Satan reminds Abdiel that he and the rest of God’s angels prefer sluggish servility to freedom. Abdiel sternly replies that to serve God, who excels “them whom he governs,” follows the order of Nature and is, therefore, free. True servitude is to serve an unwise leader who has rebelled against a natural superior. This is true of those who now serve Satan. Abdiel tells Satan that he is not free because he has become a slave to his own image. Challenging Satan to reign in Hell where he will be in chains, Abdiel says that he prefers to serve in Heaven. Abdiel gives Satan a swift blow on his crest, knocking him back and bringing him to his knees. Satan’s legions are stunned. Michael calls for the sound of the trumpet, and the war in Heaven begins. Millions of angels fight as the clashing of spears on armors and the thunderous wheels of the chariots add to the din of battle. The angels, who have the strength to exercise their powers over the elements, fight with “indistinguishable rage.” To keep them from destroying Heaven altogether, God steps in to limit their powers.
Throughout the first day of battle, Satan has not met his equal until he encounters Michael who conquers whole squadrons with the sweep of his sword. In an effort to stop him, Satan hastily approaches Michael. Hoping for a truce, Michael stops fighting. He tells Satan that Heaven will not tolerate his rebellion that manifests itself in violence and war. He and his “wicked crew” will be driven out of Heaven “to the place of evil, Hell.” Satan challenges...
(The entire section is 2,780 words.)