Book 9 Summary and Analysis
The poet must now dispense with all the talk about God or angel as the guests of Man in Paradise, he says. He can no longer indulge them in food and conversation but must now change the epic to a tragic tone. Man will disobey God, and Heaven will rebuke Man, judging him for bringing Sin, Death, and Misery into the World. Though it is a “sad task,” it has a more heroic theme than those of prior epics dealing with the wrath of Achilles (the Iliad), the anger of Neptune against Odysseus (the Odyssey), and Juno’s hostility toward Aeneas, Cytherea’s son (the Aeneid), along with the anger of Turnus for the loss of Lavinia in the same epic. He hopes to obtain a style equal to the dignity of his theme from the inspiration of his heavenly muse who visits him nightly. The subject for his epic, Milton says, was chosen long ago, but he began composing it much later. It is not his nature to write about wars, the only theme that has been regarded as worthy for the heroic epic. He feels the same way about detailed accounts of “gorgeous knights” in jousting tournaments that are “long and tedious” while their true “heroic martyrdom” is left unsung. He is confident that his higher theme will be sufficient to raise his epic poem to the heroic level unless people in his historical period do not accept his poem. The cold climate, thought to be unfavorable to the mind, or his old age might keep him from finishing his intended work, but he looks to his muse to continue her nightly visits and prevent these things from happening.
Satan, who had been driven from Eden by Gabriel, returns eight days later and enters Paradise through an underground channel of the Tigris River. Rising up through a fountain, Satan finds himself next to the Tree of Life. Afraid of being caught under the watchful eye of Uriel, angel of the sun, he has fled for seven continual nights, always careful to keep himself within the shadow of the Earth. He has searched the Earth for a creature that would be a “fit vessel” for his fraudulent temptation of Adam and Eve and finally decides that he will enter the body of a serpent who would subtly hide his “diabolic power.”
Before he disguises himself as the serpent, Satan, overcome with “inward grief,” speaks to the Earth with “bursting passion,” mourning his lost state in Heaven. The Earth is like Heaven, if not better, Satan says, for God built it second, “reforming what was old!” Satan sees the Earth at the center of the universe with all the “officious lamps” shining for its benefit. The light of the sun and stars produces plants and animals all the way up the scale of nature to Man. It would be delightful to walk the Earth, he says. He regrets that he cannot find refuge in the pleasures of Paradise and is tormented by its contrast to his own existence. He suddenly remembers, however, that he does not wish to dwell in Heaven nor on Earth unless he can reign over the supreme God. He can, in fact, only find peace by destroying, and it is Man he intends to destroy.
For marring in one day what it took God six days to create, Satan will be given the sole glory among his “infernal Powers” in Hell. He feels it was out of God’s spite to the fallen angels that he later created Man to replace them. The greatest indignity is that the angels have been subjected to Man’s service by guarding him in Paradise. It is these guards that he now dreads as he looks under every bush to find the sleeping serpent so that he can hide in his “mazy folds.” He feels completely humiliated that he, who once sat with the highest God, is now incarnated in the shape of a beast. He admits that he is paying the price for his past ambition to aspire to the height of deity. Revenge, though sweet at first, will eventually become bitter. Since God made Man out of the dust to spite Satan and his angels, however, he must repay spite with spite. He finds the serpent sleeping on the “grassy herb” and enters at his...
(The entire section is 4,755 words.)