The world of Milton’s Paradise Lost is a world of discourse, full of divine as well as human speech. When God creates Christ, he calls him “thou my Word, begotten son, by thee/ This I perform” (VII. 165-6). Indeed, the concept of the “Word” (Greek logos) figures centrally in the world of the poem Ã¢Â” not only in the traditional figuration of Christ as “the word made flesh”, but also in more general revelatory speech. In Book VIII of Paradise Lost, a dialogue between Adam and God about loneliness reveals the various natures and uses of such words. While God’s speech is performative (in the sense of semantic use theory) and Adam’s only descriptive, both work toward the ends of expression and request. In fact, Adam’s use of speech mirrors that of the divine, setting up a figurative counterpart for the literal enactment God performs. Through speaking, Adam proves that he has learned to think, as he was made, in Ã¢ÂÂthe image of GodÃ¢Â? (VII. 527) Ã¢Â” to exercise free will in judging his own situation and in imaginatively constructing what he desires.In Book VIII, Adam recounts to the angel Raphael his reply to GodÃ¢ÂÂs question: Ã¢ÂÂSeem I to thee sufficiently possessed/ Of happiness, or not?Ã¢Â? (VIII. 404-5). Though Adam had wished to gain some companion to be happier and less alone, God argues that he himself is Ã¢ÂÂalone/ From all eternityÃ¢Â? and thus, under AdamÃ¢ÂÂs definition of happiness, imperfect. Adam, on the other hand, desires to gain a companion without angering or deprecating God. In speaking about this desire, he must describe for God something God has not yet created for him. Such description involves imagination and figurative construction Ã¢Â” it is necessary that Adam, in an important sense, depart from God. While this departure is not strictly rebellious, it is certainly a show of independence, an assertion of the human will separate from the divine. Speaking of man as man-in-himself, and not as an agency of GodÃ¢ÂÂs will, necessitates a knowledge of the self and the situation which simple obedience does not require. Indeed, God speaks of his dialogue as Ã¢ÂÂtry[ing]Ã¢Â? Adam, telling Adam heÃ¢ÂÂfinds thee knowing not of beasts alone,Which thou hast rightly named, but of thyself,Expressing well the spirit within thee free,Whose fellowship therefore unmeet for theeGood reason was thou freely shouldst dislikeÃ¢Â?(VIII. 438-42).Here God repeats the word Ã¢ÂÂfreeÃ¢Â?, each time adding new significance to the word. Adam Ã¢ÂÂexpress[es] wellÃ¢Â? his inner spirit Ã¢ÂÂfreeÃ¢Â? Ã¢Â” meaning perhaps both his Ã¢ÂÂfreeÃ¢Â? spirit and his ability freely to express what he desires. Additionally, Milton suggests, because Adam is able to express freely, he Ã¢ÂÂthereforeÃ¢ÂÂ¦freely shouldst dislikeÃ¢Â? the companionship of animals. The causal relationship implied here is unusual: it appears that AdamÃ¢ÂÂs assertions allow him the gift of discernment, the ability to make judgments on what he values most. Though AdamÃ¢ÂÂs speech is not a creative faculty in itself, it does seem to give rise to abilities other than spoken words usually do.It seems that AdamÃ¢ÂÂs speech works through a certain kind of enactment, in an allegorically rather than literally hermeneutic sense. Here his discourse can be interpreted as having a level of reference beyond that which is stated in the text. Though, at the time, Adam had believed his discourse to be merely a description of his needs, God significantly tells him that it was a test “To see how [he] could judge of fit and meet” (L 448). In Paradise Lost, the word Ã¢ÂÂjudgeÃ¢Â? is extremely loaded: Milton speaks of Christ as a Ã¢ÂÂVicegerent Son, to thee I have transferred/ All judgment, whether in heavÃ¢ÂÂn, or earth, or hellÃ¢Â? (X. 56-7) as well as later in Ã¢ÂÂSo judged he Man, both judge and savior sentÃ¢Â? (X.209). At least partially, AdamÃ¢ÂÂs figurative evaluation of his loneliness and desire prefigures ChristÃ¢ÂÂs literal evaluation of the human race. AdamÃ¢ÂÂs ability to judge Ã¢ÂÂof fit and meetÃ¢Â? can be said to mirror ChristÃ¢ÂÂs judging of Ã¢ÂÂboth quick and deadÃ¢Â? (XII. 460): both processes involve a setting of priorities, a separating of worthy from unworthy things. When Adam Ã¢ÂÂjudgesÃ¢Â? his situation, he decides which of his desires would be Ã¢ÂÂmeetÃ¢Â? to express to God, in a sense carrying out GodÃ¢ÂÂs orders through the use of his own free will. Though this is a more internal process than ChristÃ¢ÂÂs judging of the world, it does have similar qualities of selection and choice.To see that Adam has judged well appears to please God, perhaps because God can see in this earthly judging a typological foreshadowing of the redemptive one. It is not Adam’s lack, but rather his ability to delineate and judge that lack in a Ã¢ÂÂChrist-likeÃ¢Â? way, that makes God decide finally to create Eve. Adam is able to carry out within himself the process that will be carried out against humankind; in expressing this process, he proves that he is worthy of receiving what he desires.Language is, for Adam, the proof of his discernment, but also the expression of his imagined lack. After he is given all the animals and plants to tend, he says that Ã¢ÂÂin these [beasts], I found not what methought I wanted stillÃ¢Â? (VIII. 354-5). Significantly, Adam only Ã¢ÂÂthinksÃ¢Â? that he wants something Ã¢Â” he is not sure of the object of desire, nor of the desire itself. Most likely, it is because he is a creature of Eden, who Ã¢ÂÂhad of [God]/ all he could haveÃ¢Â? (III. 97-8). The very utopian nature of Eden suggests that lack should be absent here Ã¢Â” its lushness and excesses are all that Adam knows of the created world.However, for some reason, Adam begins to consider his world less than perfect. Though such consideration may appear natural to a modern-day reader, it is in fact shocking when taken in the context of AdamÃ¢ÂÂs world. At the time of his Book VIII speech, Adam has never had to consider scarcity even in a theoretical way. The concept of lack cannot inhere in the lush vegetation or various animals Ã¢Â” as created things-in-themselves, they could not inspire thoughts of the uncreated but desired. The only possible cause for this inspiration appears to be AdamÃ¢ÂÂs realization of the hierarchical nature of the world, and his consequent insight of his position as sole occupant of the earthly, Ã¢ÂÂreasoningÃ¢Â? sphere. While God reigns above him, with speech as performance, and the animals (with no speech) below, Adam is the only being alive who can speak without physical enactment, whose words can lead to deeds only through his own work or through the medium of the divine.Adam shows this limitation here by figurative enactment, inventing through imagination what he desires. In noting that man’s need consists of “By conversation with his like to help,/ Or solace his defects” (VIII. 418-9), Adam expresses his desire for a greater perfection than his current solitude could offer him. Although GodÃ¢ÂÂs speech is powerful, it certainly offers little human comfort, at least until it changes form into the Son. Adam needs a companion who is Ã¢ÂÂlikeÃ¢Â? him, who can Ã¢ÂÂsolace his defectsÃ¢Â? without changing them, as GodÃ¢ÂÂs speech could. The birds and beasts which have already been given to him do not satiate this need. In fact, by speaking to God in this humanlike, discursive way, Adam enacts the same situation he describes. None of the animals understand him when he speaks: he is literally the only speaker in the earthly realm, attempting to describe just such a phenomenon.In speaking of his problem and the possible solution of a companion, Adam for the first time learns to speak creatively, to construct people and events which he has never experienced and to offer them for consideration to God. This change is more than simply one of degree Ã¢Â” through the use of speech as creation, Adam begins to speak Ã¢ÂÂin the image of GodÃ¢Â? (VII. 527), to create theoretically a vision of what God later will enact. He adapts the idea of divinely performative speech to his own earthly realm, concretizing his desires into actual spoken form. Although he cannot create Eve through his speaking, he can go through the motions of doing so, imitating the literal work of the Creator with figurative work through words.The concept of AdamÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂlearningÃ¢Â? figurative speech seems strangely modern, with the ideas of individualism and personality development at its base. It suggests the Ã¢ÂÂfortzugehenÃ¢Â? of later Rilke, in which a venturing-out of through speech and the journey allows one to find oneself, to enter Ã¢ÂÂein neues LebenÃ¢Â? (cf. Ã¢ÂÂDer Auszug des verlorenen SohnesÃ¢Â?). Results of such development are evident even in MiltonÃ¢ÂÂs language: he speaks of Adam first as Ã¢ÂÂpresumptuousÃ¢Â? (VIII. 367) and Ã¢ÂÂhumbleÃ¢Â? (VIII. 378), then finally Ã¢ÂÂemboldenedÃ¢Â? (VIII. 434), Ã¢ÂÂpermissiveÃ¢Â? and gaining Ã¢ÂÂacceptanceÃ¢Â? (VIII. 435). Such a progression, even without the narrative structure for support, strongly suggests AdamÃ¢ÂÂs growth from a servant into a more independent, creative individual. The fact that this growth is accomplished through the speech act itself makes the possibilities for speech all the more potent, even when not accompanied by the physical enactment of God.Milton reinforces these new insights of freedom and creativity with formal poetic technique, varying his mostly regular iambic pentameter greatly in these few lines. Interestingly, the first two lines in the quoted passage continue the regular structure of the poem, with the possible exception of a reversed foot (Ã¢ÂÂfinds theeÃ¢Â?) in the first line. These lines speak of Ã¢ÂÂknowingÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂrightly nam[ing]Ã¢Â? things. The next few lines, however, discussing Ã¢ÂÂthe spirit within thee freeÃ¢Â?, are consequently much Ã¢ÂÂfreerÃ¢Â? with the accentual-syllabic structure. Line 440 actually consists of eleven syllables, unlike nearly all of MiltonÃ¢ÂÂs lines, and contains an obviously reversed foot (Ã¢ÂÂspirit withinÃ¢Â?) and a syntactically necessary spondee (Ã¢ÂÂthee freeÃ¢Â?). The following lines reinforce this pattern, with two dactyls (Ã¢ÂÂfellowshipÃ¢Â?, Ã¢ÂÂtherefore un-Ã¢ÂÂ) in line 441, and an either dactyllic (Ã¢ÂÂreason was thouÃ¢Â?) or spondaic (Ã¢ÂÂwas thou freelyÃ¢Â?) structure in the proceeding line.After the regular, logical sequence of Ã¢ÂÂnamingÃ¢Â?, it seems, the structure of expression comes: less formally bound, more prone both to invention and error. These lines are certainly not regular; however, the fact that their irregularity can be read in several ways gives additional support to the concept of freedom Ã¢Â” freedom of interpretation, as well as that of speech. GodÃ¢ÂÂs speech here is a metrical enactment of freedom, reinforcing the physical enactment he usually employs.In these lines, God Ã¢ÂÂfiguresÃ¢Â? freedom for Adam, showing him that the concept usually applied to physical or political enslavement can also be applied to words. Adam has already proven himself capable of metaphoric speech; here God mirrors that capability back at him, using the added implications of metrics to support his actual words. Such mirroring seems paradoxical: God could of course simply speak and cause events to occur. However, it appears that God chooses a less literally performative type of discourse, perhaps in order to descend to AdamÃ¢ÂÂs level of speech.In Paradise Lost, Milton offers a radically different interpretation of the creation of Eve, suggesting that it is AdamÃ¢ÂÂs ability to describe his loneliness, rather than the loneliness itself, that allows creation to be possible. Certainly God had the capability of creating both Adam and Eve at the same time; instead, he chose to create Adam before Eve. It becomes clear that this decision allows AdamÃ¢ÂÂs speech to be developed from simple description to logos, to progress from mere description to a type of performative speech. Once AdamÃ¢ÂÂs speech is revealed to have similar performative powers as the divine, that speech is taken seriously and its requests granted. Only when Adam learns to speak the part, it seems, can he truly be considered Ã¢ÂÂthe image of God.”
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, angels and men are arranged in a divinely established hierarchy based on their relative proximity to God. Through the course of the epic, characters develop different and often conflicting conceptions of the spiritual hierarchy, based on differing interpretations of the underlying principles that govern action within the hierarchy. Such principles include the relationship between merit and rank, how freedom is defined within the hierarchy, and the reasons that one is promoted or demoted. Milton takes great care to illustrate the basis of each character’s understanding of the spiritual hierarchy, and demonstrates for the reader the implications of each character’s individual interpretation. The reader is thus able to struggle along with the main characters in making conclusions that will shape their personal approach to spirituality. In addition, the reader is able to draw comparisons between the spiritual hierarchy that exists in Paradise Lost and hierarchies that exist in the human world. In this way, Milton uses the spiritual hierarchy as an avenue towards an intellectual foundation for theology, asking the reader to struggle along with the main characters in understanding principles central to Christian thought.Milton illustrates that a one’s conception of the relationship between divinely established rank and spiritual accomplishment is central to their intellectual understanding of spiritual hierarchy. Early in Paradise Lost, Milton makes it very clear that it is spiritual merit as assessed by God that authorizes rank, rather than rank indicating spiritual merit. In Book III, God tells the Son directly, “thou…hast been found / By merit more than birthright Son of God, / Found worthiest to be so by being so good” (III. 305-10). Though the exaltation of the Son appears to be an event separate from God’s original establishment of angelical hierarchy, we must recall that time does not exist in heaven in the way it does on Earth. As Ide explains, “…this moment in heaven is not the actual begetting of the Son, but the revelation of a prior begetting” (Ide 147). This contextual distinction is significant because it changes the meaning of the word “birthright”, suggesting that “birthright” refers to God’s original hierarchical establishment, which applies to all angels. Thus, Milton through God is making clear that spiritual merit was the factor that dictated the original establishment for all, as opposed to a more arbitrary factor such as those we might find in human hierarchies. This definition of the relationship between merit and rank provides a solid intellectual foundation from which the reader can begin to analyze the convergence of spiritual hierarchy and meritocracy in Paradise Lost.Milton uses Satan as a counterexample for how the reader should understand the relationship between spiritual merit and rank. Throughout the epic, Satan illustrates the folly in believing that established rank indicates spiritual merit. From the outset, Satan demonstrates the belief that his rank is what gives him spiritual authority over his minions. As Durham observes, “…throughout the poem [Satan] addresses his charges by title…as if titles were indicative of value (and as a subtle reminder of his own superior rank)” (Durham 16). Failing to understand that his rank does not define his value, Satan cannot recognize that one rises in the spiritual hierarchy by increasing spiritual worth in God’s eyes. Instead, Satan attempts to rise by subverting the hierarchy entirely, a tactic that seems rational when compared to human hierarchical operation but results in complete failure in Heaven. The failure of Satan’s coup demonstrates how a basic misconception of the nature of spiritual hierarchy holds vast implications when contrasted to human hierarchies, thus guiding the reader’s formation of an intellectual foundation for approaching spirituality.Instead of using the Son to counteract the Satan’s incorrect understanding of rank and value in the spiritual hierarchy, Milton uses a lesser angel, Abdiel. The fact that Abdiel is congratulated for his meritorious desertion from Satan, despite his relatively low angelic rank, is significant in terms of building the reader’s conception of hierarchical principles. Durham writes that “… Abdiel demonstrates …being ‘equally free’ permits an angel of a lower rank to contend with one of a higher rank…so long as the lesser being is in accord with the commands of God” (Durham 16). Abdiel draws strength for his fight against Satan, the higher angel, by repeating the correct conception of hierarchical rank that God presented in his exaltation of the Son. Referring to the Son, Abdiel tells Satan directly that “God and nature bid the same, / When he who rules is worthiest, and excels / Them whom he governs.” Abdiel here asserts that the Son through his great spiritual worth is truly deserving of heavenly authority. Abdiel himself, in fact, ultimately rises in hierarchical stature perhaps not in an overt change in title, but at least in being recognized and distinguished by God because he has raised his worth through both obedience and spreading God’s word to Satan. Abdiel’s intellectual triumph over Satan provides the reader a sharp contrast between spiritual hierarchy and human hierarchy, indicating that in the former individuals rise and fall irrespective of their established rank.The idea that within the spiritual hierarchy rank is merely an expression of merit holds large implications for newly created man. Among men, however, there are only two hierarchical tiers, man and woman, filled by Adam and Eve respectively. If one is to hold that this hierarchical rule among angels is also true for man, one will ultimately see that this is a bold statement by Milton that works both for and against the ideals of gender equality. The mere fact that Adam and Eve, at least spiritually, hold ranks equivalent to their spiritual worth supports the idea that Adam is closer to God than Eve. This can be alternately interpreted, however, that Eve has the capability of rising above Adam in terms of spiritual hierarchical rank, despite Adam’s established superiority at creation. Thus, implicit in Milton’s engineered structure is an ambiguity behind the spiritual potential of men and women, and in effect an ambiguity behind who would be more likely to fall when tempted.While every character in Paradise Lost has the ability to analyze the spiritual hierarchy objectively, we find that often one’s conception is twisted by their rank and consequent perspective of hierarchical workings. In Book IV, Satan despairs, thinking that he has made the wrong decision in rebelling. In his personal debates, he suggests temporarily that part of his folly was a result of the perspective from his high rank. “O had his powerful destiny ordained / Me some inferior angel, I had stood / Then happy; no unbounded hope had raised / Ambition” (IV. 58-61), Satan laments, conceiving that his established position caused the fall because it fueled his growing ambition. However, Satan quickly and rightly dismisses this idea, considering that he as a lower angel may have fought God in much the same way, and that angels as high as he had been were still able to remain loyal. Through this illustrated internal confusion about the effect rank has on perception of hierarchy, Milton demonstrates Satan’s continued inability to sort understand the nature of spiritual hierarchy. This intellectual difficulty becomes the primary barrier that is placed between Satan and a possible spiritual redemption, and mirrors the intellectual difficulty that the reader is having with principles of spiritual hierarchy. Allowing the reader to identify with Satan, then, ensures that the reader will struggle with theological concepts from both correct and incorrect perspectives.Milton later gives us specific insight as to the source of Satan’s difficulty with the spiritual hierarchy. In Book V, Satan gives a speech rallying his minions to rebel and asks how any angel could accept the Son as ruler when the angels are equals with Son.[The Son] can…without lawErr not, much less for this to be our Lord,And look for adoration to th’ abuseOf those imperial titles which assertOur being ordained to govern, not to serve? (V. 798-802)Satan maintains that because the angels and the Son were both created by God, they should share an equal freedom. The obvious problem with Satan’s assertion is its hypocrisy. Satan has no problem being the primary and arguably only influential ruler of his minions, as evidenced by his meticulously staged conference in Hell, but he refuses to see merit in having God appoint a ruler who would be a source of authority. Any impediment to Satan, even the appointment of a Son who would help guide angels to higher spiritual levels, he sees as a threat to his freedom. Milton uses this argument about the nature of freedom to frame an ongoing debate in Paradise Lost concerning the difficult-to-grasp concept that one is always free if one always chooses good. Satan’s apparent hypocrisy also serves to remind the reader that it his intellectual conception of spiritual hierarchy, as opposed to solely base motives, that leads to his fall.Part of what Milton wants the reader to understand about the nature of spiritual hierarchy is that one’s freedom is not impaired simply because they are content with their divinely established rank. Satan makes the mistake of viewing the established hierarchical structure as a confining prison from which he desires to break free. In one of his most revealing lines, Satan tells Michael that he would “turn this heav’n itself into the hell / Thou fablest, here however to dwell free, / If not to reign” (VI. 291-93). By remarking that he would be content to be merely free of the Son’s authority, Satan shows that he is not rebelling simply because he is power-hungry. However, Satan’s falsely idealistic motive of attaining freedom is based on his misconception that one can subvert the spiritual hierarchy to attain freedom. Abdiel, however, again provides the alternative to Satan’s conception of hierarchy. He tells Satan during the battle in heaven that true servitude, or lack of freedom, is “To serve th’ unwise, or him who hath rebelled / Against his worthier, as thine [minions] now serve thee” (VI. 178-80). Abdiel here illustrates a central principle inherent in Milton’s spiritual hierarchy: that trying to jump past a worthier individual in the hierarchy through subversion is futile. He also reinforces the idea that one is always free to choose good by explaining that servitude or loss of freedom is about making the wrong spiritual choices, for example, choosing to serve Satan.Milton also introduces the idea that an individual’s conception of the nature of spiritual hierarchy is affected by the perspective they have from their particular rank. Adam, for example, is very aware of his established superiority over Eve, and this affects the way he interprets the nature of the spiritual hierarchy. Because of this taste of authority, Adam’s conception of spiritual hierarchy tends to waver between that of the two heavenly characters that hold similar positions: the Son and Satan. Benet writes that Adam tries to emulate the Son in the separation scene, asking Eve to remain with him so that he could have the opportunity to deny Satan for both of them much as the Son volunteers to sacrifice himself for all of man’s sins. However, Adam after the fall reveals that like Satan he puts great faith into rank over merit, or rather, potential merit. “But from me what can proceed, / But all corrupt, both mind and will depraved” (X. 824-25), Adam cries out, convinced that his lowered status after the fall will destroy the chance for his children to rise in rank. The reader, by understanding that Adam’s conceptions of spiritual hierarchy are due in part to his perceived rank, can conceptualize how these theological ideas apply to the real world.Because Eve is on the lowest rung of the spiritual hierarchy, her perspective and hence conception of the spiritual hierarchy is quite different than Adam’s. Benet writes that Eve desires alternately to emulate Abdiel “…because his status vis–vis the tempter and other high-ranking angels corresponds to her own in relation to Adam’s” (Benet 132). She goes on to propose that Eve’s wanting to separate was because of a desire to thwart Satan in the way that Abdiel had, an active display of obedience to God. While perhaps Eve did not act solely because she could relate to Abdiel in his lowered position, it is still useful to note that their similar hierarchical statuses resulted in similar conceptions of success within the spiritual hierarchy. Of course, Eve fails at thwarting Satan, but because she is not torn between conceptions of the spiritual hierarchy, as Adam is, she is able to take almost immediate responsibility for her actions and help Adam to begin repentance.God’s originally established spiritual hierarchy is, as mentioned earlier, not a permanent one. In fact, Milton shows that there are different ways that one can raise one’s spiritual status. The most visible strategy for spiritual promotion that Milton presents is the idea of assuming a lower hierarchical position in order to become closer to God. Nowhere is this more overt than in the Son’s volunteering to take the form of man to redeem mankind for its sins. God affirms that this action would ultimately be a positive spiritual step when he tells him that “thy humiliation shall exalt / With thee thy manhood also to this throne” (III. 313-14). Milton also takes great care to clarify that lowering oneself is not equivalent to removing oneself from God. After the Son volunteers to assume human form, God tells the Son directly that he will not “by descending to assume / Man’s nature, lessen or degrade [his] own” (III. 303-4). Milton here reinforces the idea that a lower rank does not translate into lower value in God’s eyes.We see some evidence of lowering oneself in hierarchical stature to bring oneself closer to God in Adam and Eve. For example, Eve after the fall prostrates herself before Adam, offering to take the punishment for both of them if God would allow it. In this we have a physical and symbolic lowering that, though unanswered by God, gives the reader a sense of possibility for spiritual renewal. Later, the pair lower themselves to the ground and weep in repentance, in a passage that stands out as being the only set of closely repeated lines in the text. Again, God does not answer these cries, but because of the hierarchical implications that were set up earlier the reader recognizes a greater significance to the scene and thus Adam and Eve effectively rise in spiritual status.When the Son is exalted above all other angels, however, Satan reacts exactly as if his own position, and hence value, has been lowered. Abdiel, who serves throughout Paradise Lost as an example of one who possesses correct conceptions of the spiritual hierarchy, explains to Satan during their battle the flaw in his logic. Angels of all positions in heaven, Abdiel tells Satan, are not “by his reign obscured, / But more illustrious made, since he the head / One of our number thus reduced becomes, / His laws our laws, all honor to him done / Returns our own” (V. 841-45). Abdiel sees the Son not as an authority figure whose presence diminishes the worth of all below, but as a spiritual bridge between angels and God. As Ide notes, the exaltation “…is a loving act of condescension on God’s part…God now gives the opportunity for closer participation with him [to the angels]” (Ide 148). Satan fails to realize that, much in the same way that Eve relates to God through Adam, the Son provides him and all angels an opportunity to develop a fuller spiritual bond with God. When he refuses to accept the Son as a link between angels and God, Satan once again cuts himself off from the possibility of redemption because of intellectual misconceptions of hierarchy.Another interesting aspect of the spiritual hierarchy in Paradise Lost is the way Milton presents the role of ambition. Satan clearly recognizes at least temporarily that his rebellion was motivated by ambition when he cries that “pride and worse ambition threw me down” (IV. 40). What Satan does not recognize is how his conception of the spiritual hierarchy makes him suspicious of the values of all other angels, and this suspicion to the point of cynicism blocks his path to any possible redemption. When Abdiel angrily defects from Satan’s authority, we understand his motives are pure because God himself congratulates him.Servant of God, well done, well hast thou foughtThe better fight, who single hast maintainedAgainst revolted multitudes the causeOf truth, in word mightier than they in arms (VI. 29-32)God clearly ascribes Abdiel’s righteous act as a fight to preserve truth. Satan, however, wrongly interprets the motives behind Abdiel’s obedience as merely an ambitious attempt to raise himself in the established hierarchy. “But well thy com’st / Before thy fellows, ambitious to win / From me some plume” (VI. 159-61), Satan tells Abdiel. Not only does Satan accuse Abdiel of detestable ambition, Satan immediately assumes that Abdiel’s ambition was to rise above himself specifically. This suspicion illustrates the depth to which Satan’s misconception of the spiritual hierarchy is effecting his actions and perspective.Satan accuses the Son of ascribing to similar base motives. In Book V he tells his minions, “The great Messiah… / …speedily though all the hierarchies / Intends to pass triumphant, and give laws” (V. 691-93). Here Satan implies a twofold accusation: first, that the Son is not worthy of the right to rule, and second, that the Son is rising “speedily,” and thus has not paid his dues. The insinuation here is that every righteous act, whether preformed by the lowest cherub or the Son himself, is done selfishly so that God will award status or power in return. Satan has here revealed his belief that the rationale behind serving and performing righteous acts is to only gain status within the spiritual hierarchy.The way Satan views his relationship with God as being dependent on mutually beneficial transactions of service and reward can be identified directly in the text. Michals highlights the way in Book IV Satan analyzes his decision to rebel against God primarily in economic terms. “His language,” she writes, “reflects a mixed conception of value, a feudal hierarchy that is not so much imagined in terms of reciprocal duties as it is rationalized in terms of debt and payment” (Michals 505). Satan, in other words, cannot understand why one would serve God without receiving an equal return on their investment. This contrasts directly with the advice of Milton’s narrator, who earlier commented that service without expectation is God’s most appreciated type of service. This contrast further demonstrates the depth of Satan’s misconception, and the economic quality of the misconception helps the reader relate the concepts of spiritual hierarchy to knowledge of how hierarchies function in the human world.By reducing service to God to the level of mutually beneficial transactions, Satan eliminates the true spiritual nature of God’s established hierarchy. He is, however, not the only character to diminish the merit aspect of the hierarchy. Adam, whom we have already seen to have an inclination towards Satan’s conception of spiritual structure, makes a similar mistake. He suggests that those who are merely faced with temptation are degraded in God’s eyes. Such thought has considerable moral implications, and, as Benet proposes, “…disparages the positive achievement of loyalty…” (Benet 133). Eve, too, reduces the spiritual nature of the hierarchy when she mixes ambition and service by seeking to thwart Satan for, apparently, expected appreciation from God and/or Adam. These examples of hierarchical conceptions that reduce the significance of spirituality and merit without becoming critical elements of the epic’s action demonstrate how Paradise Lost helps guide the reader away from incorrect theological assumptions.Another significant concept that helps clarify the nature of spiritual hierarchy in Paradise Lost is that of relative perfection, the idea that two characters can exist on different hierarchical tiers and still maintain a level of perfection. Part of this perfection is established in the concept that all creations of God are infused with elements of Godliness, for example, man is created in God’s image. What makes relative perfection critical to understanding the nature of spiritual hierarchy, however, is that it provides a way in which a level of equality can be identified among occupants of different positions. Relative perfection allows all individuals the ability to seek God’s approval without actually competing or feeling competitive about such approval. Durham writes that in the beginning of the war in Heaven, “…all the angels perform admirably…in the heat of battle, hierarchical rank becomes insignificant to the warriors” (Durham 18). Satan, as we well know, appears to have a level of envy for the Son’s exalted position, and this envy stems from the fact that Satan sees himself not as relatively perfect yet lower than the Son, but as an equal who has been unfairly diminished.Finally, one must analyze the effects of spiritual hierarchy on Adam and Eve in the context of their worldly knowledge. There is a case to be made that the idea of spiritual hierarchy is somewhat extraneous to the fall of man because man has incomplete knowledge of its operation. This position, however, seems to negate the spiritual implications that the concepts detailed in Paradise Lost have on the reader, because man’s understanding of God and heaven are universally accepted in the real world as incomplete at best. A more justifiable argument is that man’s partial understanding of the spiritual hierarchy is an essential component of man’s hierarchical position, and gives meaning to the fall. Benet writes that concrete knowledge of the nature of God’s hierarchy would make choosing not to eat the apple easy, “…and meaningless as an affirmation of faith, love, and obedience” (Benet 142).Having a level of uncertainty about death and the other aspects of the trail, Benet suggests, puts emphasis on the idea that Adam and Eve’s trial has nothing to do with intellectual understanding. Instead, knowing only what God’s wishes were specifically makes man’s fall to a degree equivalent to that of Satan and his minions, who were similarly unsure of the consequences of their actions. This continuity strengthens the idea of the spiritual hierarchy as a model whose close analysis could have reduced Adam and Eve’s decision to a level of childish simplicity. Benet goes on to point out that Michael himself had explained to Adam in Book XII that “Not intellect but faith and love are the vital weapons…” in resisting Satan’s temptation.One of Milton’s great successes in Paradise Lost is the way that he has arranged familiar biblical characters into a spiritual hierarchy whose structure can be readily examined. In-depth examination of the structure reveals a complex system of rules and concepts that serve both to perpetuate the actual events of the epic and give meaning to the theological debates that occur between characters. Furthermore, in assessing each character’s perception of the spiritual hierarchy, one can begin to understand the motivations governing their actions and their specific approach to spirituality. Satan, for example, upon examination of his perception seems bound to his duty more by intellectual misconception than evil or stupidity. In addition, Adam and Eve appear to have chosen models in heaven to emulate in their dealings with God and trial the Son and Abdiel, respectively. Perhaps with more detailed examination of Milton’s engineered hierarchical structure, coupled with comparative analysis using Milton’s theological essays and sources, we will further be able to explore and decipher the detailed subtext and rich theological undertones of Paradise Lost.Works CitedBenet, Diana. “Abdiel and the Son in the Separation Scene”. Milton Studies. Vol. 18. 1983.Durham, Charles W. “‘To stand approv’d in sight of God’: Abdiel, Obedience, and Hierarchy in Paradise Lost”. Milton Quarterly. 26.1 (Mar. 1992). 15-20.Fiore, Peter Amadeus. “Freedom, Liability, and the State of Perfection in Paradise Lost”. Milton Quarterly. 5.3 (Oct. 1971). 47-51.Ide, Richard S. “On the Begetting of the Son in Paradise Lost”. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 24.1 (1984). 141-55.Michals, Teresa. “‘Sweet Gardening Labour’: Merit and Hierarchy in Paradise Lost.” Exemplaria. 7.2 (1995).
In Paradise Lost, Milton plays with the preconceived notions of his readers by presenting perspectives perhaps never before imagined. God is not strictly the protagonist and Satan is not strictly the antagonist, on the contrary Satan is presented in a triumphant, glorious manner though ironically he has just fallen from heaven and been condemned to hell. In Satan’s eyes, God is oppressing him, and he is doing nothing more than Milton himself is doing in a literary context. Milton is a revolutionary, and writes that which is not commonly accepted. He has radical ideas on how society should and could be run better. Such parallels can be drawn with Satan, for he too is trying to make his own “heaven out of hell” and quite literally rise against the oppressive force in his life. Theologically, Satan’s thought process on being evil is highly irrational, and thus he is cast outside God’s good graces. What is inherent in this speech, however, is that true evil is done consciously only when good is knowingly turned away from. It is clear from the distinctions between Satan’s use of first and second person that he has the knowledge of what is good, and yet by the end of the speech he still expels any goodness from his evil being. This is irrational, and it is this irrationality that causes both theological and psychologically pain. It is as if God’s light and Paradise’s beauty is causing Satan physical pain. He is in pain both in hell and now here, and it is as if Satan is quite literally bringing Hell with him wherever he goes. It is through Milton’s brilliant portrayal of Satan’s continual state of tension and dismay as a subjective soul that the reader finds sympathy for him, for Satan is no longer strictly evil, as is clear with his speech on Niphates, Satan he is merely a confused being who represents a lesser evil from a psychological and theological standpoint.When Satan first catches sight of Paradise, he immediately switches into the second person. He is overwhelmed by its beauty, and unable to completely take in its purity and innocence he is forced to switch into, quite literally, another state of being. His speech starts with an appeal to “thou”, where it is unclear initially whether the “thou” is God or in fact himself. He continues to say “O thou… Look’st from thy sole dominion like the god/Of this new world…” (lines 32-33), which makes it clear that he is looking upon paradise as if he were god, but he is not God. It is clear now that the “thou” is he, which makes it more confusing for the reader, for this is the first scene in which Satan’s internal struggles have been put on display, literally for the entire “new” world to witness. He calls upon his other self, “thee” but “with no friendly voice”, for the sun has reminded him of the former good he displayed, his former self that originally presided in heaven. He cannot identify with this other facet of goodness in his character, and so while subconsciously he realizes that he is the same and has the same qualities as before, his conscious mind refuses to accept this simple fact. Satan must branch off into two distinct sides of his being, the separated, former good self and his modern evil self. “O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams” Satan says, for he is quite literally telling his former self how much his present self hates to be reminded that once he was different, once he was good and not prideful, but in God’s service. Satan is forced to switch into first person when he says that he hates the sun’s beams, for his former good self is too pure to express any kind of hatred. Satan in his fallen state is capable of hating, for he is resentful and now deceitful, but through the internal separation of Satan we can see now that Satan is only corrupt in his present state.As Satan continues his speech, he notes that God created him (first person), implying that God made Satan with the evil that he now displays. God too has choices, like Satan and Adam and Eve. What makes someone evil is the active decision to turn away from good and go down a darker path of known evil. But in these lines, Satan brings to our attention the fact that God knew what he was doing when he created evil in the first place. If God has created everything, and knows of all that will happen, why is it that Satan is condemned to hell at all? What God says to his “only begotten son” (Book III line 80) is that he has created man “just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.” (Book III lines. 97-98). God is the one who introduces sin by single handedly creating the possibility for evil to exist, and yet God justifies his actions by saying that without choices, man would not have been created free, and “free they must remain”. God comes across in this interaction as being quite pompous. He declares that the only reason salvation will come about is because he is merciful and just. Though what he says can be understood, the practical logic behind his argument is quite cyclical and incomprehensible at times. Theoretically, God had the ability to create a more ideal universe in which Satan is not necessarily evil and man does not fall, and yet consciously God chooses not to. Satan on the other hand seems almost more human in the sense that he is a sensitive more conscious being. Satan is only vengeful because he believes that God will not have mercy for him, and this logic has no faults from the reader’s perspective for in book III there is textual evidence that states that God will not help Satan and the other fallen angels because their sin has come from themselves, and from themselves alone. Thus Satan is condemned to Hell forever. When God is taken literally, evil undoubtedly arises, for Satan would cease to exist as an evil creature if it were not for God’s rash tongue. In the first person, Satan recognizes that he owes God “a debt immense of endless gratitude, so burthensome still paying, still to owe…” but it is destiny, a God created destiny that keeps him an “inferior angel”.”I fell” indicates that it is the evil side of Satan that fell, not the “thou” or “thee” that represents his good state of being. Satan separates himself from his good state, but his motivation for doing thus is vague. He does not necessarily identify with the evil state more so than the good as one is wont to think, for this could only occur when goodness is accepted and evil surfaces not when goodness itself is ignored. He splits himself up into two beings to protect the goodness of his former self, thus shielding the good from being corrupted again like it was once before, that which culminated in his expulsion from heaven. “Pride” and “worse ambition” is the cause of his fall, Satan says, and yet it is clear that pride is not what motivated this speech, uncertainty is. “By thee [Satan], and more then half [of the human race] perhaps will reign” (line 112), he says; for ambition here becomes a source of motivation when Satan is uncertain of himself, for he sees revenge through the corruption of Adam and Eve as the only way to possibly triumph over God. Satan has lost some of his previous glamour, but he has certainly gained some of the reader’s compassion. The irony is that it is God’s compassion that Satan fears not ever being able to have, and it is this belief that causes him to turn away from his former goodness forever, “For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep…” The truest of sins is not believing that God is capable of mercy, for how can he grant forgiveness if one doesn’t have enough belief in God to ask for it. As stated in the Bible, the one unforgivable sin is “despairing of forgiveness”, and in doing so Satan has returned to his evil state. He no longer feels the need to repent, for repenting in his eyes is futile to God. “O then at last relent: is there no place Left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdains forbids me…” (lines 79-82), for it is God that has made him so proud, and God that has made it impossible for Satan to yield. Thus Satan says, “Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good…” turning away from goodness forever, and lacking God’s guiding presence, he embraces evil as his guiding light. With remorse he also says farewell to hope and fear, for he now has not a single hope of ever being in God’s favor, and therefore cannot any more be fearful of what his fate may hold in store for him.Satan is unable to break free from the bondages of Hell. He has made his own heaven out of hell, and yet here it is clear that hell follows him even in heavenly paradise. God has provided everyone involved with the ability to choose. Choice is to blame for it is choice that traps not only Satan, but Eve as well, into either being right or wrong or good or bad. Satan is trapped by God, and the choices that he has provided him, and thus Satan dejectedly says “Which way I fly is hell; myself is hell” (line 75), concluding with the acceptance that “me [Satan is] miserable” (line 73). What makes Paradise Lost such a revolutionary body of work is the fact that Milton portrays Satan not as the embodiment of evil only, but as a subjective being who is not unlike us in the fact that he too is conflicted between good and evil, as can be seen in this passage. Milton plays with whatever preconceived notions we have of Satan, for as the reader we sympathize more with him after this speech than with God after any of God’s speeches. The interesting thought that Milton leaves us with is the consideration that perhaps Satan is not actually satanic, but more humanistic, and if this is the case then, then what makes God so ideal if he cannot have mercy on Satan, the most conflicted of souls.
Perhaps the most seductive method of interpreting existence is through the bifocal lenses of morality. Whether in a religious or non-religious sense, almost every civilization, institution, and human has had its own demarcation of Good and Evil. Ironically, these various entities have so infinitely many variations of the moral code that it is futile to attempt to find unifying characteristics among them other than the essential ideas that make them moral codes. Fortunately, there are other ways to look at the world. Were it not for these alternative perspectives, it would be impossible to sort through the infinite value judgements and restrictions put on the human race by its various moralities, and the occasional brilliant individual who manages to transcend the moral system would necessarily be a perversion of man. In Paradise Lost, Satan is Milton’s medium for depicting this brilliant, fiery independence from the restrictions placed on the human spirit by whatever religious or moral system may attempt define and constrain it. Satan is the aspect of humanity that strays from the path of God and ceases to see the universe in terms of Good and Evil. Similarly, while Satan may be responsible for humanity’s fall, it is this very fall that makes us human as we understand the word today. It is in this way that Milton not only explains the ways of God to man, but at the same time makes it clear that these ways of God make us incapable of following the path he has laid out for us. When issues of religion and morality are put aside and the conflict between God and Satan is seen solely as a conflict between two separate entities, Satan is nothing more than a rebel who would relate with Cromwell, Milton, and other revolutionaries of the day in England.Instead of malice, hatred, and evil many of the qualities exemplified by Satan are admired by humanity as some of the highest possible virtues. After his expulsion from heaven, Satan reflects upon his situation and demands of himself “unconquerable will,” (Book I, 106) “courage never to submit or yield,” (108) and his own personal “glory.” (110) It is important to remember that before Satan was the archfiend he was one of the most powerful angels in heaven. He is an exceptional character, with a will and an intellect capable of questioning and even fighting God, the highest power in the universe. While some may see Satan’s rebellion as a repugnant affront to everything good and holy, those who are not concerned with the good and holy would see Satan as an immense power to be feared with a will and courage worthy of true admiration. Furthermore, Satan is much more than a one-dimensional entity capable solely of pure evil. His introspection makes it clear that life as the lord of Hell involves more than just corrupting humanity and plotting revenge against God. In fact, while God is spared many human emotions such as doubt, loss, and the pain of defeat due to his omniscience and omnipotence, Satan does not have this convenience. While Satan possesses plenty of qualities that would are certainly evil, they are all undeniably human qualities. Because of this Satan embodies not only all the qualities that we, as humans admire and strive towards, but also all of the less pleasant human emotions that make him even more approachable and understandable as a character.Because Satan’s fall bears such remarkable parallel to the fall of man it is necessary to adopt a perspective that departs from the oppressive morality of God. The fate of the two are intertwined- to condemn Satan is to condemn man, and the harshest judgment would be brought down upon men who exhibit the highest level of independence, passion, and philosophical integrity. Satan is a mirror off of which the essence of man is reflects, and does so brilliantly at times. More importantly, he shows us that man’s essence is such that man is free to perpetually transcend his essence and reach for whatever infinite possibilities lay outside the boundaries laid down by even God himself. It is essential to accept Satan’s existence in order to accept the state of man. For example, Satan’s fall occurred at the first moment that he conceived of disobeying God’s will, at which point his daughter, Sin, “a goddess armed,” (Book 2, line 757) emerged from his head. This birth is identical to that of Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom. The significance is that Satan is not inherently evil. Instead evil was something that he created by exercising thought and free will. Furthermore, the fruit from the tree of knowledge is the cause of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. It is this parallel that provides an essential insight into the nature of the condition shared by all men. It is the ability to possess knowledge that provides man with a will that is free to depart from the path of God. “Reason also is choice.” (Book 3, line 108) Really, man’s fall occurred when God gave him free will. Regardless of any sin man may have committed, the moment man was free he no longer was merely another essence in the mind of God, but an individual capable of determining his own limitless essence. Paradise is the original state of painless oblivion in which man cannot make for himself a hell by thinking, and Satan is whatever force initially removes man from oblivion.Perhaps if man had the same omniscience as God he would understand the ways of the lord and keep from his renegade path. Nonetheless, there are some contradictions in the essential nature of an all-knowing, all-powerful, yet at the same time judgement-casting being. If God is free, he is making decisions with no precedent and no laws to determine his decision. He would be paralyzed in Nirvana and existence would be, essentially, empty. On the other hand, God, in his total-knowledge of the universe, may be ruling over the fate of man with what he knows to be the immutable, universal laws of existence. Not only would this put God in the position of a mere errand jockey for some other arbitrary force, but God’s role as creator of the universe would put the universe in a strange, flickering limbo state. All of these possibilities may be perfectly feasible when you think about some of the crazy things in this existence, for example gravity and Catholicism. Nonetheless, it is probably more reasonable to believe that the nature of God’s existence is beyond the realm of human comprehension. Thus, by explaining the fashion in which man was expelled from Paradise, Milton makes it clear that man’s salvation, soul, essence, and fate is up to him. We have lost the paradise of intimacy with God and the convenience of living within the scope of his omnipotence. We are alone and ignorant in a chaotic universe, where man’s free will rules over God’s intended essence. While the desire to seek comfort and guidance towards salvation from God may be strong, the most we can know in terms of understanding the ways of God is that we have been cast from Paradise and in the end, we will have to choose if salvation is even what we want. And maybe salvation is what we need after all. Without God’s guidance or promise, maybe the real answer is to accept this reality, now, with the knowledge that it is impossible to condemn something as brilliant as the human spirit, and it is better to be free in any Hell than a slave in Heaven.
“…[F]rom what stateI fell, how glorious once above [the Sun’s] sphere;Till pride and worse ambition threw me downWarring in Heav’n against Heav’n’s matchless King:Ah wherefore! He deserved no such returnFrom me, whom he created what I wasIn that bright eminence, and with his goodUpbraided none; nor was his service hard.What could be less than to afford him praise,The easiest recompense, and pay him thanks,How due! Yet all his good proved ill in me,And wrought but malice; lifted up so highI sdained subjection, and thought one step higherWould set me highest, and in a moment quitThe debt immense of endless gratitude,So burdensome, still paying, still to owe…”(Paradise Lost, IV. 38-53)In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is presented in an innovative manner; he is seen from an entirely new perspective. He is not the thoroughly evil embodiment of depravity, which he had previously been depicted as, but rather a character with whom readers can sympathize and relate. Satan is clearly the principal character in the opening books of this epic poem, but in Book IV, Milton begins to delve even more deeply into Satan’s psyche, and Satan becomes a character with whom the reader is increasingly apt to identify. In this book, from which the above passage is selected, Satan arrives before the Garden of Eden and is seized by intense doubt and guilt, regret and pain. The beauty and perfection of this place stand in stark contrast to Hell and bitterly remind him of his pasta past, which in many ways, is his Hell, forever reminding him of what he was, but will never be again.Gazing “towards Heav’n and the full-blazing sun” (IV. 29), Satan says, “…[F]rom what state / I fell how glorious once about thy sphere…” (IV. 38-39). In this passage, it as though he is watching the past itself. The sun in all its splendid radiance beats down on Satan, each ray burning through him to the core of his being, setting his heart aflame with the agony of all that he has lost. Through Milton’s language, it is simple for one to picture a resplendent midday sun, blazing in all its power and strength, reveling in its intensity. As things once were, it was Satan himself who shone more brightly than all else, who was elevated above all else. Yet now, he has fallen and, thus, forfeited everything. From the brightest angel in Heaven, he has been reduced to just another thing creature under the sun. The torturous anguish that wracks his being is obvious to the reader and makes the character of Satan more human and, therefore, more sympathetic. In his despair, he exclaims, “Ah wherefore!” (IV. 42). This detracts from his supernal aura, and makes him more relatable on a human level. One can almost hear the hopelessness and desperation in his voice. As all people do, he then goes on to lament a mistaken choice, despite knowing that nothing can be done to reverse the situation and dwelling on it will not help in any way. It is almost as if he wishes that he could go back in time and act differentlya feeling many people are familiar with. He continues to torture himself by questioning and regretting the extremely difficult choice that he has already made, and which he cannot change. Only after the fact, has he begun to consider the possibility that he should have acted differently. He knows that praising God would have been “the easiest recompense… [and] how due!” (IV. 47-48). His own ingratitude becomes painfully apparent and he says, “Yet all his good proved ill in me, / And wrought but malice; lifted up so high / I s’dained subjection, and thought one stop higher would set me highest…” (IV. 48-50). In being God’s highest angel, he was used to being the center of attention, the best, the greatest. When his position was threatened, it was a natural reaction for him to react the way in which he did and rebel against God. This was his wounded pride reacting. Part of his decision to rebel, however, was also driven by the very fact that he owed so much to God. He is aware of the fact that “pride and worse ambition threw [him] down” (IV. 40), and yet, at the end of this passage, it also becomes apparent why he acted as he did, when he describes “[t]he debt immense of endless gratitude, / So burdensome, still paying, still to owe” (IV. 52-53). This is a very powerful and insightful description because it relates so convincingly the sense of overwhelming servitude that such a debt signifies. It was a debt that Satan would never be able to repay or slough offit was as if he owed God his life. Satan’s only choice in this situation then, was to rebel and liberate himself.
In Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, God’s only two commandments to his newest creations, the humans Adam and Eve, contradict each other. This is because God incorporates the contradictory notions of both faith and reason into the law by which he says Adam and Eve must abide. God first commands Adam to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge; this commandment is governed by a required faith on Adam’s part in God’s righteousness alone. Secondly, God (through implication) commands Adam to live according to his capacity to reason rationally. It is made clear to Adam that the first commandment, having to do with faith, is the primary commandment, since it is the only one God articulates. But, when Adam passes the information on to Eve, he does not make this distinction as clear. He also further convolutes the distinction with other things he says. Thus the order of importance of the two contradictory commandments is lost when told to Eve. Then, In book 9, Satan takes advantage of Eve’s lack of information by presenting Eve with a situation wherein the conclusion that rational reasoning would produce is at odds with the conclusion that a blind trust in faith would produce. Eve cannot abide simultaneously by both of God’s commandments in this situation. By eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (as Satan tells her to), Eve is guilty of losing faith, which initiates the “original, mortal sin” (9,1003-4). However, acting reasonably is what Adam tells her is otherwise valued by God and is generally the human connection to the divine. Therefore, while Eve is guilty of losing faith (which she understands as one of God’s commandments), she is entirely following God’s (and Adam’s) commandment to be reasonable.God’s commandments are inherently self-contradicting. From Eve’s perspective, the contradiction (of the commandments) is even more apparent, and confusing, since the law she is given is through Adam’s words, which somewhat simplify God’s single spoken commandment by vocalizing the second, implied commandment. Within the hierarchical system that God creates, Eve understands that “God is [Adam’s] law” and Adam is her law (4,637). She must act according to what Adam says is the law in order to obey God. Adam says to Eve, theoretically passing on God’s law to her, that “we [Adam and Eve] may not taste nor touch” the Tree of Knowledge, but otherwise “our Reason is our Law” (9,652-4). From Eve’s perspective, this statement places the contradictory notions of faith and reason up against one another. The command not to touch the Tree only barely takes precedence in this context because the two are spoken so close together. Similarly, Adam tells Eve that “Reason [God] made right” (9,352), and that “lesser faculties serve Reason as chief” (5,102). These statements further indicate that Adam is communicating to Eve the importance of reason, while he does not celebrate faith in the same way. In fact, the first time that he vehemently talks of the importance of faith is after the Fall, saying “let none henceforth seek needless cause to approve the faith they [own]” (9,1141). Naturally, Eve is going to internalize the virtue of reason above the virtue of faith, although technically Adam initially, verbally established that the opposite was the case. Adam does not make it clear to Eve that she should obey a blind faith in God’s command not to eat the fruit from the Tree above his command to obey her ability to reason. Adam’s lack of clarity (in distinguishing the hierarchical order of the two commandments) is compounded by his final words to Eve before her Fall. When Adam and Eve are about to part each others’ company to do their morning’s work separately, Adam incoherently warns Eve . His warning is incoherent because its core meaning is simply to promote the value of reason, not of faith. He says “Reason / may meet / the foe [Satan] / and fall into deception” (9,360-2). The last words she hears from her beloved Adam, her “head” (8,574) is that she should not allow her reason to be deceived. It is possible that Adam was attempting to tell her to not follow her reason at all and stick to her faith, but the way that he says it makes it seem that he is telling her to follow her reason, and not allow deception to intercept its proper functioning. She does just that. She abandons the command to be blindly faithful and chooses to be completely reasonable and rational. Satan’s argument when he is in serpent-form to convince Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree is totally reasonable. She knows that only humans are given the capacity to speak, seeing a beast with that capacity requires an explanation. The serpent’s explanation makes sense, especially in light of the name of the Tree which is “Knowledge.” The serpent increased its knowledge of the world by becoming a rational creature, for then it could evaluate the world. Eve would have had to question the reality of her sense-perception for the rationality of her eating the fruit to be undermined. Even Satan, when speaking truthfully to himself, mentions that he perceives God’s commandment forbidding Adam and Eve to attain Knowledge as “reasonless” (4,516).Both reason and faith are spoken of as positive, good attributes throughout the poem, but reason is praised more often by higher (in the divine hierarchy) characters. This perpetual praise of reason reinforces its position as one of God’s commandments (although it is technically the lesser). Two angels, Raphael, and Satan (a fallen angel) praise reason as a divine virtue. Raphael advises Adam to “love / [the] attractive, human, rational,” he also personifies and localizes good, “true Love” saying “Love / hath his seat in Reason” (8,587-91). Likewise, Satan (the fallen Angel Lucifer), in marveling over the goodness of God’s latest creation, humanity, says to himself “Growth, Sense, Reason, all summ’d up in Man / what delight” (9,113). Adam too praises reason, in addition to the praise he gives it which is cited in the previous paragraph, he also attributes the experience of human happiness to reason. He tells Eve that “smiles from Reason flow” (9,239). He is saying that the happiness which humans are capable of feeling is a result of their ability to be reasonable, and derive reasonable enjoyment from that which is around them. Again, Adam’s verbal valuing of reason is quite dangerous to Eve’s correct understanding of how she should conduct herself if presented with a situation where reason and faith stand in contradiction. Moreover, speech, which is positive because it is the communication line between humans and God, and allows humans to worship God, is assumed to be the byproduct of rational, reasonable thought in the interaction between Satan in serpent form and Eve during the temptation (9,550-60). The narrator and author of Paradise Lost, Milton, who uses God as his muse, and in that way implicitly puts himself in a high position in the divine hierarchy, places “Reason” in the same category as the “Loyal, Just and Pure” (4,755). Milton also consistently capitalizes the word “Reason,” which indicates that it is good, he doesn’t capitalize words that represent bad things such as “envy” or “jealousy” (example: 4,503). He also capitalizes the word “Faith,” but that word does not come up as often which indicates that he is not emphasizing it as much. Ironically, faith is verbally valued most by Eve prior to the Fall. She is its main defender. She says that her “firm Faith” cannot be “shak’n or seduc’t” (9,286-7), and then she categorizes “Faith” with the good “Love” and “Virtue” (9,335). Eve reaffirms the commandment to be faithful in spite of the external reaffirmation of the other commandment: reason. In the end however, she chooses reason.Like Eve, Beelzebub, one of Satan’s comrades, another fallen angel, also must undergo a rational process in order to realize God’s power. He is convinced that God is “Almighty” when he, as a part of Satan’s army, loses his fight against God, since Beelzebub believes that “no less than such could have o’erpow’r’d such force” as Satan’s army (1,144-5). He needed God’s almighty power to be proven to him through questioning it reasonably with force. The ‘guilt’ of Beelzebub (and the others) though, is not dwelt on. They are simply turned out of God’s realm (heaven) for trying to overthrow his power. Being in Hell is not so much about punishment as it is just the natural consequence of their actions. Eve succumbs to the same desire to be reasonable as Beelzebub and yet her ‘guilt’ is the focal point of the Fall. In blaming Eve for the Fall by calling her ‘guilty,’ one is falling into the trap that Adam and Eve fall into in the end of book 9 where in “mutual accusation they spent fruitless hours” (9,1186-7). Attributing blame for no reason other than self-justification is fruitless. In this way, Beelzebub and Satan are better than Adam and Eve for they don’t spend time blaming each other for being expelled from heaven. Guilt is not an issue.The irony of the results of eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is that it ends up animalizing Adam and Eve rather than raising them up to the level of Gods. Eve’s rational, reasonable choice to eat results in her losing part of her ability to be reasonable. After the Fall, a “sensual Appetite [“lust”] / usurp[ed] over sovran Reason” within Adam and Eve (9,1129-30). Eve is ‘guilty’ of losing her ‘faith’ in God by not following his seemingly irrational command to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and thus she is guilty of initiating the original, mortal sin, however, the word ‘guilt’ in this context is a label which endows her act with negative implications. Without the label of ‘guilt,’ Eve’s act could be understood as her attempt to best serve her God through serving Adam. In addition, on our part, as modern humans, we are wasting “fruitless hours” by marking her with the label of ‘guilt’.
John Milton uses epic similes in Paradise Lost to accomplish many objectives. The most basic of these is to connect the past and the present, as the epic similes are often in present tense and involve a human figure that will not exist until after the time of Adam and Eve. There are several significant images in an epic simile found at the end of Book IV. A group of angels find Satan in the Garden of Eden, after he has escaped from Hell and located Adam and Eve, whom he is intent on destroying. As the angels surround Satan and create a crescent-shaped military formation, they are described as being ìas thick as when a field of Ceres ripe for harvest waving bends,î (IV.981). This would conclude an ordinary simile, but Milton goes on to describe the movement of the grain, and inserts the image of a ìcareful ploughman doubting stands lest on the threshing-floor his hopeful sheaves prove chaff.î This figure does not have a direct correlate in the tenor of the simile, but does serve several purposes. As an image of God, the simile explores the relationship between a creator and what is created, and the responsibility that each owes to the other. As a figure for human labor, the ploughman represents the potential for human production. Both interpretations highlight the role of choice in determining future events, outside of any original creative force. By examining the relationship between God and mankind, the potential for human creation, and the way that choice plays a role independent of the creator, the simile that includes the figure of the ploughman introduces the tenuous relationship between the creator and the creation. The connection between the creator and the created is central to Paradise Lost. From early on God has stated that he made man ìsufficient to have stood, though free to fall,î (III.99). This introduces the matter of human choice because although humans were created by God, they are also distinct from him and responsible for their own actions. God recognizes this break between his role as the maker of mankind, and their role as humans with free will. Adam, on the other hand, believes that Eve was created from one of his ribs, and therefore feels that her creation resulted from a depletion of himself. He needs to have her near to complete him, and does not seem to recognize her own free will as a separate human. Rather than seeing Eve as separate from himself, Adam exerts his possession of her, as when he says he ìlentî a rib to her, and that he can ìclaim my other half,î (IV.4486-487). Adam does not recognize Eve as a separate creation but as an extension of himself, which leads him to feel a loss when they are apart. There are also examples of mistaking the creation for the creator, as when Eve begins worshipping the Tree of Knowledge, rather than God who has produced it. After eating the fruit she says, ìO sovran, virtuous, precious of all trees in Paradise,î (IX. 795-796). Rather than worshipping the creator through his works, Adam and Eve are both guilty of seeing the maker entirely separated from the creation. This becomes a crucial distinction when they are removed from the Garden of Eden and must learn to honor God through his works alone.The ploughman in the simile represents different images of creators, including God as the ìdoubtingî creator of mankind. The ploughman has produced grain from the ground, just as God made man from clay, and both are now in the position of doubting the success of their creations. God and the ploughman are both separate from their creations, and neither can will that what they created fulfills its potential or grows to completion. While establishing a freedom of the created to partake in the fashioning of their own futures, this simile does not altogether disregard the dependency of the created on the creators. Just as Adam and Eve could not have made themselves, the field of grain is somewhat connected to the labor of the ploughman, creating a rather complicated attachment between the two. The ploughman worries that the grain will ìprove chaff.î The chaff refers to the outside of the grain, which must be discarded to release the fruitful core. God could also be said to doubt the harvest of the fruit of humanity. While he was able to create humans in his image and shape their physical selves, by endowing them with free will he has made it impossible to determine that their reason and morality come to fruition from within. There seems to come a point where the created must determine for themselves the future of their own development, and it is here that choice plays such a critical role. The figure of the ploughman can also be seen as a human figure of creation, which has been placed in the middle of a supernatural battle. He is a figure of labor, an act that man is made to do after his fall. Again, this image of the future does not mean the fall was inevitable, but offers an image of what man might be like should they survive their transgression. This human figure is still at risk during this book because the fall has not yet occurred and God has not yet proven he will be merciful in his punishment; therefore, not only is the ploughman’s harvest in doubt, but his existence is as well. The figure of human labor does serve as a suggestion that humans will be able to recuperate some of their grace even after they have sinned. God sentences mankind to labor as punishment for eating the fruit he had forbidden, but labor is also an opportunity to be a creative force. Unlike Satan, who seems focused only on destruction, the human ploughman remains a creator. Creation and creativity are important to Milton in the writing of this poem, and the human capacity to create is highlighted in this image. The statement that the ìploughman doubting standsî relates back to the idea that humans are ìsufficient to have stood, though free to fall.î Despite having fallen, the ploughman seems to represent the human capacity to find a new way of standing, gained perhaps through their new role as laborers and creators. The placement of this simile is also essential to its understanding. In terms of the physical text, the image of the human ploughman is placed between the images of the angels and Satan. This serves as a reminder that the future of humans is what the battle really concerns. This also refers to the idea of choice and how free will automatically calls future events into doubt. Because the future is not pre-ordained by God, this battle, as well as the rest, are significant. The future of humans is as much in doubt as is the harvest of the grain, and it is the image of the doubting ploughman placed between the warring figures that connect the tenuous fates of these two harvests.Finally, the ploughman as representative of Milton himself completes the image of both a creator and a postlapsarian human figure. Milton has created Paradise Lost, just as the ploughman planted and tended to his field of grain. Like other creators, Milton cannot ensure that the poem will be properly harvested. Milton uses epic similes like this one in part because he does not believe in being able to ìperfectlyî represent the acts of God, but must rely on comparisons and other images. By doing so, Milton cannot offer the readers the essence of what he is trying to convey, but only a comparative image of it. Therefore, Milton cannot ensure that the reader will be able to grasp the intended meaning behind his epic similes and Biblical expansions. This is not to say that the poem in itself is not incredible meaningful; only that the poem was not meant to stand alone, but to serve as some sort of creative elaboration on the Bible.God, who may be the ultimate Creator, is described both as ìAuthor of all beingî (III.374) and as a ìSovran planterî (IV.691). These descriptions combine the images of creation, writing, and planting, as they pertain much to the same ideas of fertility, maturation, and the relationship between the source of creation and the end product of the creative force. Milton uses the simile of the doubting ploughman to address these questions of the relationship between the creator and the created. Satan has chosen to turn away from his creator and seeks to provide all things for himself. In Hell he says the fallen angels should ìseek our own good from ourselves, and from our own live to ourselves Ö free, and to none accountable,î (II.252-255). The image of the ploughman is placed in the middle of a battle between Satan, who has abandoned his creator, and the angels, who continue to follow and defend him. The battle is between two of God’s creations, and the harvest in doubt is the existence of another. This image represents the role of free will, as the choices made by any of the parties involved, including the ploughman as a figure for man, can change future events. This suggests that as long as a creation has been endowed with free will, its continued survival is independent of its maker, and becomes the product of its own creative or destructive efforts.
“After judgement done, mercy shown and redemption promised, the depiction of the hellish trinity- Satan, Sin and Death- appears grotesque.” Discuss.In opposition to the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost), Paradise Lost explores the eerie relationship of Satan, Sin and Death.Milton’s revisiting of the “hellish trinity” in Book X casts a dark shadow over the recently established sense of hope for mankind. The grim representation of Death, in particular, indicates how grave a mistake Adam and Eve have made. But in contrast to the explicitly “grotesque” depiction of Sin and Death in Book II, Milton here seeks to create a far more disturbing atmosphere through the adulations which Sin heaps upon Satan. Furthermore, Satan’s setting himself up as a ‘heroic’ figure for inducing the Fall of Man, gives the poem a distinctly ominous edge. The punishments which Adam and Eve receive for their disobedience of God are certainly not trivial. Eve is forced to always submit to her husband and bear the pains of childbirth, while Adam is told he must “eat the herb of the field” and tirelessly work the land. But in a characteristically Christian way, the Son then shows some compassion for the wretched couple. He takes on the role of their “servant” and clothes both their “outward” and “inward nakedness” using animal skins and his metaphorical “robe of righteousness.” Milton draws a clear parallel here with Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in the Bible; the Son is portrayed as never too proud to serve those below him. Evans notes how this act of kindness is reinforced when Adam and Eve are described as the Son’s “enemies” because they in fact ‘made his suffering necessary.’ A momentary impression of calm therefore prevails with the Son having “appeased/ All” through his “intercession sweet.” It seems difficult to deny, however, that Milton’s juxtaposition of this scene with a return to “the gates of hell” leaves the reader uneasy. Evans reflects on Sin and Death sitting “In counterview” as representative of the ‘conflict’ imagery which will now dominate the poem. The depiction of a “belching outrageous flame” from hell’s mouth is almost unnecessarily fierce. Yet, in her proceeding speech to Death, Sin’s tone becomes subtly disconcerting rather than overtly ferocious. Her description of Satan as a “great author” heralds him as their parent and creator. This inverts the traditional understanding of God as the one great “Maker” (X.line43) of the entire universe. Moreover, her use of the phrase “offspring dear” in relation to herself and Death not only highlights how twisted they are as a ‘family’ (Sin is also Death’s mother), but the extent to which their perception of themselves is distorted. Sin is convinced that Satan’s absence can only be due to his ongoing “success” in Eden, thus she feels “strength within [her] rise” and “Wings growing.” Evans reflects that ‘throughout the poem flight is a symbol of aspiration’, but in a post-lapsarian world Sin’s awareness of her “dominion” is not merely a desire, rather it is a reality. This is accentuated when she refers to the “hellish trinity” as a “connatural force/ Powerful”; their strength is seemingly innate and deep-rooted. She therefore believes she shares a kind of telepathy with Satan and feels with him. Her bond with Death is of a different nature but similarly “Inseparable.” This contrasts with their tenuous relationship in Book II where Death wants to eat Sin, but she warns him she would “prove a bitter morsel, and his bane .” Nothing in this passage verges on quite the same “grotesque” behaviour. Nonetheless, the building sense of triumph within Sin’s speech arguably has more serious implications for Adam and Eve. She insists they attempt “Adventurous work” and build a bridge to link hell with Earth. As Eden became a monument to the Original Sin, this bridge will later become “a monument/ Of merit” to their success- the use of the word “merit” here is deliberately perverted. She envisages a constant procession of traffic across this pathway; an image which is undoubtedly chilling. Satan is portrayed as a magnet which is attracting and directing her “instínct”, leaving her with no choice but to submit. In light of this proposition, the way in which Milton represents Death becomes inevitably gruesome and he is reduced to a barbaric monster. Satan has completed the task of inducing mankind’s fall and Sin will now undertake the building of a bridge between Hell and Earth. But Death is still left wholly unsatisfied and only now does his role within the “hellish trinity” truly start to come into play. His senses are alerted and he draws “scent” from the “carnage” and “prey innumerable,” even though Earth remains relatively unpopulated. He insists he could never “err/ The way” because he utterly relishes the opportunity to “taste/ The savour of death.” Milton emphasises Death’s immense anticipation with the oxymoron “living carcasses”; every creature is perceived as purely meat and bones. They are, in effect, destined to die and this is why Death’s appetite has been so aroused. His hungry excitement is almost an inversion of Eve’s longing to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge. Thus, he and Sin venture into “chaos,” while his wide nostrils are still “upturned” to the “murky air.” Armed with a “mace petrific” he assumes the role of a ruthless warrior striding into battle. But Milton’s earlier illustration of Death as a “meagre shadow” of Sin draws attention to his transparency and haunting presence. He is inextricably linked to Sin both metaphorically and theologically. Satan’s return to Hell and his subsequent dialogue with Sin does not embody the “grotesque” imagery which has hitherto been largely characteristic of the “hellish trinity.” As with Sin’s opening speech to Death in Book X, there emerges an unsettling notion of rejoice and triumph in Satan’s heroism. Moreover, the parallels which Sin decides to draw between the structures in Heaven and Hell give the impression of foreboding evil. Yet Milton is also keen to highlight Satan’s relief upon his homecoming; for ultimately he was scared of God’s wrath whilst still in the Garden of Eden. The enjambment in “The Son of God to judge them terrified/ He fled” makes it ambiguous as to whether Satan was as “terrified” as Adam and Eve. But one assumes that his “guilty” fear led him to make a quick exit. This re-asserts the idea that God will always have the last word in spite of Satan’s successful attacks on Creation. Through the eyes of Satan, Milton alerts us to the “stupendous bridge” which has now been built between Hell and Earth. As he turns to meet “his fair/ Enchanting daughter” there is a grave sense of irony in that we know Sin to be a severely deformed creature. She praises the “magnific deeds” he has orchestrated and the “trophies” he has won could even refer to Adam and Eve. She gives him all the credit for achieving their “liberty” and empowering them to build the “portentous bridge.” Evans stresses the skill with which Sin delivers her speech, including lots of ‘high-sounding diction’ which seems to disguise its inherently sinister content. The repetition of “thy virtue” and “thy wisdom” suggests there is no end to Satan’s talents. Sin therefore concludes with the resolution that “here thou shalt monarch reign” as a reward for his bravery. Satan has already waged “war/ Irreconcilable” on God’s kingdom, but Sin here firmly establishes an official war between kings. The implications of this are perhaps the most unnerving yet. Satan’s reply to Sin echoes that of God’s when he directed the Son to carry out His errands on Earth. But first he is sure to revel in the glory which Sin has amply bestowed upon him. His egotism grows as he declares himself to be the “Antagonist of heaven’s almighty King” and announces his children as worthy of his “race” because of their efforts to build an eternal bridge. The victorious tone of his speech again seeks to hide the evil they have inflicted, for the term “glorious work” generally refers to God’s Creation. But in his instructions to Sin and Death, Satan quickly re-assumes a cold and ruthless attitude towards mankind. The repetition of ll sounds in “Him first make sure your thrall, and lastly kill” has a sharp quality which underscores his utter contempt for God’s Creation. He echoes Sin’s sentiments of “Such fatal consequence unites us three” when he says that his reign over Hell “depends” upon their “joint vigour” on Earth. By stark contrast, any descriptions of unity in Book IX tended to relate to Adam and Eve in their matrimonial bliss. Ironically, Satan’s temporary breaking of their human bond has only served to make his relationships stronger. Thus, while Milton certainly depicts Death as dangerously “grotesque” in his behaviour, the re-emergence of the “hellish trinity” in Paradise Lost Book X appears to have more fundamentally perturbing connotations. Resolutely backed by his children, Sin and Death, Satan is intent on fighting God indefinitely and perceives himself as a fine match for the “Almighty.” But God’s speech to his “Assembled angels” (X.line34) reminds us how Satan’s scheming was foretold from the very beginning and that God hopes through “reiterated crimes he might/ Heap on himself damnation .” In theological terms, therefore, one cannot argue that the promise of redemption has been undermined because God knows justice will prevail. Milton’s poetry, however, does leave us questioning the extent to which God will be able to control such a powerfully “hellish trinity.”
Satan is no longer to be feared: he is to be jeered, scorned, and mocked! At least this is the attitude shared by notable scholars like C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, and Thomas More. Lewis devoted a whole book, The Screwtape Letters, to the cause; Luther once said, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to the texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn”; and Thomas More said, “The devil… the prowde spirite… cannot endure to be mocked.” In Paradise Lost, John Milton seems to agree with these esteemed scholars, creating a Satan who is so unsure of his actions that he needs to use his own rhetorical tactics on himself to feel confident. Milton’s narrator in Paradise Lost, especially during the end of Book III and the beginning of Book IV, prepares the reader for seeing Satan with a clarity that can only be found by getting under his skin and taking a genuine look at the feelings of his heart. Satan’s speech atop Mt. Niphates affirms the narrator’s introduction of a sad, pathetic, and continually submissive Satan who reveals a sense of inner clarity through his soliloquy. This pathetic “Prince of Darkness” who realizes the truth about his actions, lack of any real Prince-like power, and the reality of God’s omnipotent nature still persists in using the tactics of questioning and rhetoric–– the very tactics he uses to distract others from the truth––to try to make himself feel better and justify his actions. Overall, it is clear that Milton uses the speech on Mt. Niphates to encourage the readers to realize that Satan is a weak character who has continual inner turmoil and confusion about his actions and any power he may seem to acquire in his dominion over Hell or Earth. Before Satan gives his infamous speech on Mt. Niphates, the narrator creates a sense of Satan’s submissiveness and sadness, as well as the inner clarity that he will acquire. Location is one important indicator of the clarity and personal truth that Satan is about to reveal to the reader in his speech. The reader is told that Satan “…Throws his steep flight in many an airy wheel,/Nor stayed till on Niphates’ top he lights” (3.741-42). First, it is significant that Satan is on a mountaintop. Physically, this place is associated with a view that can show clearly many things that one cannot see from land; metaphorically, mountaintops are places of revelations and extreme clarity (hence the popular Christian idea of a “mountaintop experience” at conversion or being born-again). The mountain’s location outside of Eden is another significant detail. The editor’s note informs the reader that the name suggests a snow-covered peak. The presence of snow is notable because there are no seasons is Eden (5.391-395), making it ever more clear that this locale is not to be associated with Paradise. Furthermore, snow and the season of winter is associated traditionally with the Fall. These geographical clues that force that reader to disassociate this place with Paradise seem to allow the reader to use postlapsarian associations because it is outside the realm of the ethically indifferent Eden. A perfect example of one such association is the aforementioned “mountaintop experience.” Adam and Even do not need to climb to the top of a mountain to find clarity in Eden before the Fall; however, as fallen creatures like Satan, humans now often need such physical structures to help us find truth about the world around them. The narrator also uses a pun on the world “light” to stress the issue of Satan’s self-revelation being close at hand. When the narrator says, “Nor stayed till on Niphates’ top he lights” (3.742) “light” is used in multiple ways. Initially, it means that Satan is physically landing on Mt. Niphates. However, upon further consideration, one realizes that the word is also used to remind the reader of God’s light. The light that is associated with God is one that reveals truth and goodness; likewise, Satan will reveal truth, but a different kind of truth, unlike the goodness that comes from God’s light. Furthermore, the narrator describes the state of Satan’s soul before his lengthy oration as such:“Now rolling boils in his tumultuous breastAnd like a dev’lish engine back recoilsUpon himself. Horror and doubt distractThe Hell within him, for within him Hell” (4.16-19)There are a few important descriptions in this excerpt that lend to the idea of Satan’s self revelation. First, the idea of boiling is associated with something rising from within. This is reinforced by “in his tumultuous breast” (4.16). Clearly, what is about to come to the surface is coming from within Satan, not the outward façade that he works so hard to keep. Also, the description of “a dev’lish engine” that “recoils upon himself” effectively creates a metaphor for an inevitable process of continual, automatic self-deprecation, foreshadowing some of Satan’s statements. This excerpt also says “The Hell within him, for within him Hell” (4.19), mirroring almost exactly what Satan will say later in his speech (4.75). The classic repetition of the phrase here and later in Satan’s speech focuses the reader’s attention on the state of Satan’s soul being connected forever to hell and that state of condemnation and defeat. This repetition also provides validity to the narrator’s statements by showing that the portrayal of Satan and the surroundings is accurate. Through examination these textual clues, it is quite clear that Satan is going to arrive at some inner clarity during the speech he gives on Mt. Niphates.It is now evident that Satan will achieve some sense of coherence about himself, but the narrator does not end there in preparing the reader for the speech. The narrator also reveals some themes that will arise in Satan’s speech––such as sadness and submissiveness. The narrator uses the repetition of ideas to emphasize Satan’s low status and his recognition of that place in the hierarchy. Ascribing such words as “bowing low” (3.735), “beneath” (3.740), and “down” (3.740) to Satan’s actions create an air of submission, which is affirmed by the statement “Where honor due and reverence none neglects” (3.737). Note that the narrator does not say “reverence not many neglect” or “reverence no one except Satan neglects;” he makes a point to use an absolute and say that “reverence none neglects.” Clearly, Satan is still in a state of submission to God and is lower than the “superior spirits… in Heaven” (3.736). This submissiveness is likely one cause of Satan’s sadness that the narrator also introduces before the speech on Mt. Niphates. The narrator again uses the repetition of ideas to give the scene of the speech an air of melancholy and disappointment, describing Satan with such depressing words as “not rejoicing” (4.13), “nor with cause to boast” (4.14), and “dire attempt” (4.15). The last example is especially condemning because “dire” has particularly dismal connotations such as desperate and hopeless. Moreover, “dire” can often be used as a warning or threat of destruction. This description of Satan’s future is not in any way positive; it is obviously preparing the reader for a Satan whose actions are doomed from the start. Apparently, Satan realizes this because he is said to begin his speech “in sighs” (4.31). Due to the rhetorical clues provided by the narrator thus far, it is safe for the reader to conclude that these are not the kind of sighs that result from admiration or joy but ones of dejection and depression. With these sighs, Satan finally begins his infamous oration. As the narrator has highlighted, Satan does arrive at some clarity about himself. In fact, his speech begins and ends with a sense truth, but Satan’s reasoning takes him around many turns between those points. Before examining the winding path of Satan’s logic, it is necessary to examine the obvious truths at the beginning that set the scene for his questions. Among his first statements, Satan acknowledges that he was wrong to be prideful and rebel while simultaneously recognizing God’s omnipotence. He says, “Till pride and worse ambition threw me down,/Warring in Heav’n against Heav’n’s matchless King” (4.40-41). From this the audience knows that they are getting the real Satan because in his previous speeches where he had an audience, Satan effectively keeps up a façade of confidence in his actions, never acknowledging the “pride and worse ambition” that brought his fall. Satan also reveals this new, candid attitude when he states without a doubt that God created him: “From me, whom he created what I was” (4.43). This is in direct opposition to his statements made when convincing other angels to follow him in rebelling: “We know no time when we were not as now,/Self-begot, self-raised/By our own quick’ning power…” (5.859-61). Clearly, Satan is finally exposing his true feelings.This establishment of truth is soon brought down by Satan’s rhetorical techniques. However, Satan is only fooling himself; it is easy to distinguish between Satan’s truth and lies due to his use of the classic technique of questioning. Throughout the oration, Satan questions himself rhetorically about nine times in only 83 lines. These questions are almost all accompanied by rhetoric and a new opinion being formed. The first example of many in this speech is when Satan is considering the service God required of him. He begins by stating, “Nor was His service hard” (4.45), but then asks himself a rhetorical question that immediately leads to the new conclusion of “The debt immense of endless gratitude/So burdensome––still paying!––still to owe!” (4.53-54). Satan continues in this way, fluctuating between his fall being his fault and God’s. The final conclusion, however, is that it is his own fault, repeating what the narrator expressed earlier in Book IV by saying, “Which way I fly is Hell, myself am Hell” (4.75). In this way, Satan’s rhetoric works against him by leading him to the truth of his pathetic, tormented soul.After Satan’s failed attempt to comfort himself, he finally reveals his immense grief and self-depricating nature. Satan acknowledges the false pretense that he presents to others, namely the other fallen angels, saying things like “The lower still I fall, only supreme/in misery” (4.91), and “Disdain forbids me and my dread of shame/Among the spirits beneath whom I seduced” (4.81-82). Satan’s confession that he is hiding his feelings due to a sense of shame shows that it is a continual, on-going process of lying to those closest to him. Those who should know him best know him least: “they little know…Under what torments inwardly I groan” (4.86, 88). This statement perfectly summarizes the real Satan: he separates those who are closest to him through lies, creating a pathetic, lonely life where he is constantly tormented “inwardly.” Through careful examination of the text, it is clear that Satan’s pathetic self is one truth established in the narration. As previously mentioned, Satan begins and ends his speech with truth; his self-realization is part of that, but he also comes to recognize the truth of God’s power. The simple assertion “This knows my punisher” (4.103) shows that Satan is openly acknowledging God’s omniscience. After apparently exhausting his emotional capabilities, Satan ends his oration on a fairly dramatic note, declaring his devotion to an unemotional future: “So farewell hope and with hope farewell fear!/Farewell remorse!” (4.108-9). Though he immediately contradicts himself once more saying, “… and more than half perhaps will reign” (4.111). The “perhaps” shows this notion of hope still seeping into Satan’s thoughts. Clearly, Satan still has some hope left… even if it’s for the fairly pathetic goal of only reigning over part of the world. However, contradictory this statement is to his previous vow against emotion, it shows Satan’s sense of clarity about not ever being able to succeed against God by only hoping for a part.Evidently, the audience is meant to achieve the same sense of clarity about the complex character of Satan as he eventually does himself. Milton uses the narrator to prepare the reader for what Satan reveals, effectively highlighting the submissiveness, sadness, and sense of clarity to come. Satan then uncovers his real emotional turmoil that takes him from truth to questioning and back to the truth about his pathetic self and the God whose grace does not apply to him. Altogether, Milton employs both the narrator and Satan’s speech on Mt. Niphates to allow the reader to get under Satan’s skin and really discover what motivates this pathetic “Prince of Darkness.”
The philosophy of Milton’s time focuses primarily on the idea of hierarchy. Hierarchy is necessary in thought because all the categories of being indicate how things are ordered and demonstrate degrees in all the dimensions (Kuntz 8). The ideas of Plato and Aristotle had a pervasive influence in Western thought, and both contributed greatly to the ever-evolving history of ideas. Plato’s Idea of the Good is more or less equated to the concept of God. The Good differs in its nature from everything else in that the being who possesses it always and in all respects has the most perfect sufficiency and is never wanting of any other thing. The fullness of the set properties – self-sufficiency, adequacy, and completeness – is what distinguishes the Absolute Being from all others. God eternally possesses the Good in the highest degree. Whenever anything reaches its own perfection, it cannot endure to remain in itself, but generates and produces some other thing (Lovejoy 62). We see this in Milton’s Paradise Lost as God, the summit of the hierarchy of being, creates another universe outside of Heaven. The not-so-good – not to say the bad, but not in any sense at the same level of good as God – must be perceived as derivative from the Idea of the Good. God is the ultimate and only completely satisfying object of contemplation and adoration. Therefore, he is the goal of all desire as well as the source of the creatures that desire Him (Lovejoy 42, 45). The Great Chain of Being rests upon three foundational principles. The first principle is that of plenitude. The extent and abundance of the creation must be as great as the perfect and inexhaustible source from whence it was created, and the world is better the more things it contains. Hence, the universe that God created must be a plenum formarum in which the range of conceivable diversity of kinds of living things is exemplified (Lovejoy 52). The principle of continuity is another feature of the Great Chain of Being. This principle states simply that all quantities must be continuous. That is to say, between any two given natural species there exists an intermediate type; otherwise, there would be gaps in the universe and the universe would not be as full as it might be. This, of course, could not be so, because it implies that the Author of such a universe is not perfect. The third principle is the principle of linear gradation. According to this principle, the infinite series of forms of which the universe is comprised range in hierarchical order from the barest type of existence to the ens perfectissimum, or God. Aristotle suggested to naturalists and philosophers of the time the idea of arranging all animals in a single graded natural scale according to their degree of perfection (Lovejoy 58). Through the Middle Ages and into the late eighteenth century many philosophers, men of science, and educated men in general accepted the structure of the universe as a Great Chain of Being. They believed that the universe was composed of an infinite number of links ranging in hierarchical order from the lowliest forms of existence (which barely escape non-existence) of every possible grade to the absolute highest kind of creature. Every creature differs from those immediately above and immediately below it by the least possible degree of difference (Lovejoy 59). The hierarchy of beings is a dominant theme in Paradise Lost. Milton implements his philosophical acceptance of the Great Chain of Being to establish a firm cosmology within his epic poem.The most obvious, yet exquisite, application of the Great Chain of Being in Paradise Lost is seen in the character of Satan. This character physically experiences a falling from the highest link in the chain to the absolute lowest. Satan begins as one of the highest angels in Heaven. He could even be considered God’s right-hand man before the Son is created. After his fall, he is still a massive figure compared to the “sea beast / Leviathan, which God of all his works / Created hugest that swim th’ ocean stream” (1.200). Although Satan maintains his size at this point, his luster has faded. When Satan is caught trespassing on the newly created Earth, he is shocked and appalled that his former fellow angels do not recognize him. The angel Zephon replies to him:Think not, revolted Spirit, the shape the same,Or undiminished brightness, to be knownAs when thou stood’st in Heav’n upright and pure;That glory then, when thou no more wast good,Departed from thee, and thou resemblest now Thy sin and place of doom obscure and foul (4.835-40)Satan is growing further and further away from God in a spiritual sense as well as in a literal sense. As this spiritual degradation occurs, Satan also begins to take the form of beings further and further down on the Great Chain of Being. Satan takes the form of a toad to whisper a dream into Eve’s ear. Milton emphasizes Satan’s change in form by describing him as “squat like a toad…” (4.800). “Squat” implies that Satan is very close to the ground. Toads are essentially creatures of the earth, thriving in the mud and dirt and grime. In addition, Satan takes the form of a serpent. This creature is one of the lowest of animals on the Earth because it does not stand, walk, or crawl; it grovels on its belly. Satan takes this form at his lowest moment, when he goes to the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However, there is another form, which is lower than all of these previous forms. After Satan has already been discovered by the angels guarding Paradise, he must conceal himself even better than before. Therefore, he chooses to wrap himself “in mist / Of midnight vapor…” (9.158-59) and glides undetected in the night air. In this case, Satan takes the form of something lower than all beasts: a mere vapor. At this point, Satan is so low in the hierarchy of beings that he is barely in existence. The relationship between God and Man is also a prominent point where the Great Chain of Being comes into play. Man is created in God’s image to rule over all the rest of God’s creations. On Earth, Man is the closest to God in reference to the hierarchical chain; therefore, he is closest to God’s image. When Satan first arrives on Earth he notes all kinds of living creatures that he has never seen before:Two of far nobler shape erect and tall,Godlike erect, with native honor cladIn naked majesty seemed lords of all,And worthy seemed, for in their looks divineThe image of their glorious Maker shone… (4.288-92)The most significant difference between God and Man is self-sufficiency. God is completely self-sufficient, and theoretically has no need for the service of others. He is not in need of affection or social life, since he is capable of living alone (Lovejoy 43). Adam tells God that he cannot be happy or find true contentment in solitude. He asks for a companion “fit to participate / All rational delight, wherein the brute / Cannot be human consort…” (8.390-92). God does not seem to understand this concept, despite his inherent omniscience. God claims that He is alone for all eternity because He knows none second to Him, or like Him in any way, yet He is happy. Adam then replies to God in this way:Thou in thyself art perfect, and in theeIs no deficiency found; not so is man,But in degree, the cause of his desireBy conversation with his like to help,Or solace his defects. No need that thou Shouldst propagate, already infinite,And through all numbers absolute, though one… (8.415-21)Here, Adam is explaining that Man is only perfect in his station, which is one that requires a partner. God has complete and infinite parts manifested as one. Man, on the other hand, is imperfect and his unity is defective. In consequence, Man requires another being to multiply his image. In this sense, Man does not achieve the essence of Good in ordinary human experience, because he is not self-contained but instead seeks dependence upon that which is external to his individual self (Mahoney 2). Upon hearing Adam’s request, God assents to create a partner for him. The creation of Eve provides another link in the chain. Although Adam and Eve are considered the same species, they are not made as equals. The way Eve is made from Adam’s rib resembles Adam’s creation from God. In this way, Adam acts as an intermediary between Eve and God:Whence true authority in men; though bothNot equal, as their sex not equal seemed;For contemplation he and valor formed,For softness she and sweet attractive grace,He for God only, she for God in him… (4.295-99)Adam’s role as a mediator between the heavens and Eve continues. When Raphael comes down from Heaven to answer Adam’s cosmological questions, Eve excuses herself from the discussion. She does not excuse herself because she is intellectually unfit to understand and participate in the discussion, but because “her husband the relater she preferred / Before the angel, and of him to ask / Chose rather…” (8.52-54). Milton strongly suggests that the Chain of Being is full; nothing can be altered because everything is linked to everything else. In Paradise Lost, when a character attempts to alter his position on the Great Chain of Being, terrible consequences befall him. The first example follows the actions of Eve. The serpent tells Eve that if she eats the fruit of the forbidden tree, then her degree of life will increase. This appeals to Eve, since she desires to be Adam’s equal. After eating the fruit, Eve inwardly debates whether she should tell Adam of the power of the fruit:Shall I to him make knownAs yet my change, and give him to partakeFull happiness with me, or rather not,But keep the odds of knowledge in my powerWithout copartner? So to add what wantsIn female sex, the more to draw his love,And render me more equal, and perhaps,A thing not undesirable, sometimeSuperior; for inferior who is free? (9.817-25)Because Eve chose to disobey God so that she could move up in the hierarchy of beings, she caused the entire race of Man to fall as well. She tried to alter God’s perfect creation, and consequently allowed Death and Sin to enter the world. Nimrod is another character who sought to climb the Great Chain of Being and claim a higher link. Nimrod was not content with fair equality and hence claimed “dominion undeserved / Over his brethren…” (12.27-28). He did not stop at tyranny over men, but proceeded to build a tower “whose top may reach to Heav’n…” (12.44). However, because Nimrod attempted to elevate himself to the level of God, God set “upon their tongues a various spirit to raze / Quite out their native language, and instead / To sow a jangling noise of words unknown” (12.53-55) so that Nimrod and his men could not complete the erection of the tower. Adam responds to this story of Nimrod with distaste:O execrable son so to aspireAbove his brethren, to himself assumingAuthority usurped, from God not giv’n:He gave us only over beast, fish, fowlDominion absolute; that right we holdBy his donation; but man over menHe made not lord… (12.64-70)God has authority over where each being falls in the Great Chain of Being. Therefore, if any being tries to alter the hierarchy of links and climb higher, God will only cause the being to fall back to his original placement, because God is perfect and every link is where it should be. God is incapable of creating an imperfect universe, since it is made in His image. Milton defines the Great Chain of Being in Paradise Lost as three-dimensional. The first dimension encompasses the hierarchy of beings in terms of self-sufficiency and completeness. In other words, the hierarchy is set up as the fittest at the top and the least fit at the bottom. The hierarchy ranks all beings: nothingness in the inanimate world, the realm of plants, animals, humans, angels or other immaterial and intellectual beings, and God (Mahoney 1). The second dimension is in respect to a being’s physical placement in the universe. God dwells high in the Heavens, Satan is confined to the depths of Hell, and Man finds himself below the sky and above the Earth (Kuntz 5). The last dimension of the Great Chain of Being focuses on a particular being’s level of spirituality. As a character grows closer to God spiritually, he will be higher on the chain. For example, if Man had not eaten the forbidden fruit, it is thought that he would eventually have reached a more God-like state. However, if an individual breaks away from God, such as Nimrod and Eve did, he will encounter a fallen state, where he will experience degradation. Works CitedKuntz, Marion L., and Paul G. Kuntz, eds. Jacobs Ladder and the Tree of Life. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961.Mahoney, Edward P. “Lovejoy and the Hierarchy of Being.” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (1987): 211-230.Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton. New York: The Modern Library, 2007. 292-630.