I’m reading through Paradise Lost (1674) again, and I’ve decided to take some notes, which I’ll post here.
Milton starts each book with a prose “Argument.” Here are some interesting elements from the Argument of Book 1: Satan and his angels have been expelled from heaven, fallen into hell, not the centre but Chaos, utter darkness, a burning lake. The chief leaders of these angels are named “according to the idols known afterwards in Canaan and the countries adjoining” (prologue, lines 16–17). All this happens before the creation of heaven and earth (before Genesis 1:1), the plans for which are announced by Satan (prologue 8–9, 19–20). There is “an ancient prophecy or report in heaven” about this creation (see lines 650–54 of the poem). “For that angels were long before this visible creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers” (prologue 20–22).
Now to the poem:
The book begins after the war in heaven, with the rebel angels already cast into hell. The story picks up with Satan trying to figure out what to do now. He looks over and sees Beelzebub, and they decide to gather their forces and make a plan. Satan does not at all want to apologize, or repent; he wants to continue war. The fallen angels construct a palace or fortress, Pandemonium, and hold their meeting. Milton spends a long time (about 300 lines) naming certain prominent members of Satan’s army, known later on as deities of the pagan nations.
Here are some further notes.
Milton repeats the tradition that an angel was with Moses on Mt. Sinai (lines 6–10; cf. Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2.2).
Why did Satan tempt Adam and Eve? He was “Stirred up with envy and revenge” (line 35).
Why was Satan expelled from heaven? It was “his pride” (line 36), his “high disdain, from sense of injured merit” (line 98). Milton says that Satan, with the help of his rebel angels, was …
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the most high
If he opposed; and with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God
Raised impious war in heaven and battle proud
With vain attempt.
Of course, Satan lost, and was cast out. This is the source of his wrath, his rage against God’s new creature, his “envy and revenge.” All these angels rebelled because they did not like God’s reign (as Satan says, lines 100–2).
What was their punishment like, “the fiery gulf” (line 52), the “adamantine chains and penal fire” (line 49)?
A dungeon horrible, on all sides roundlines 61–63
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible…
Beelzebub is described as second in power to Satan (line 78–81). Before his fall, he had been (in the words of Satan) “Clothed with transcendent brightness [and thus] didst outshine / Myriads though bright” (lines 86–87).
Satan is known by that name in heaven from this point (line 82). The names of his angels have now been blotted out of the Book of Life (lines 361–63), but they got new names among humans (lines 364–65).
Then were they known to men by various names,lines 374–75.
And various idols through the heathen world.
Satan refuses to “repent or change” (line 96). He will not bow the knee, which would be worse than his downfall (lines 111–16). He pledges to “wage by force or guile eternal war / Irreconcilable” (lines 121–22). Satan says all this in a speech to Beelzebub (lines 84–124)
To which Beelzebub basically said: what’s the point, we know God is more powerful than we are (lines 128–55).
Satan replies (lines 157–91).
To do aught good never will be our task,lines 159–62
But ever to do ill our sole delight,
As being the contrary to his high will
Whom we resist.
They decide to reassemble their forces on “yon dreary plain, forlorn and wild” (line 180).
Does Satan do these things outside the will of God? In one sense, no. God allows Satan to oppose him.
all-ruling heavenlines 212–20
Left him at large to his own dark designs,
That with reiterated crimes he might
Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
Evil to others, and enraged might see
How all his malice served but to bring forth
Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shown
On man by him seduced, but on himself
Treble confusion, wrath and vengeance poured.
Satan gets out of the fiery lake and onto fiery land (lines 221–29).
Satan speaks to Beelzebub (lines 242–70), a speech containing the famous line: “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven” (line 263). Ge then asks why they don’t assemble all their friends.
Beelzebub agrees (lines 272–82).
Satan calls them all together (lines 283–315) and then addresses them (lines 315–30), telling them they better start moving or heaven will do worse things to them.
The angels get up and assemble (lines 331–621). Milton names them one-by-one and describes each one: Moloch (line 392), Chemos (line 406), Baalim and Ashtaroth (line 422), Astoreth = Astarte (lines 438–39), Thammuz (line 446), Dagon (line 462), Rimmon (line 467), Osiris, Isis, Orus (line 478), Belial (line 490).
These were the prime in order and in might;lines 506–7
The rest were long to tell …
Milton then tells some of them, starting with the Greek gods, and Azazel (line 534).
Finally, they are assembled, and Satan addresses them (lines 622–62). He asks: How could we have known that such a mighty host as we are could suffer defeat? God was always on his throne, but since he concealed his power we didn’t really know how strong he was.
Henceforth his might we know, and know our ownlines 643–49
So as not either to provoke, or dread
New war, provoked; our better part remains
To work in close design, by fraud or guile
What force effected not: that he no less
At length from us may find, who overcomes
By force, hath overcome but half his foe.
In other words, we can’t meet God with force, but we can use deception.
Satan now tells his angels about a new world rumored to be created by God, inhabited by some sort of creature dear to God. Satan suggests traveling there to “pry” (line 655), but he wants full counsel.
The fallen angels raise their swords in defiance of heaven (lines 663–69).
Book 1 ends with a description of the creation of “Pandaemonium, the high capital of Satan and his peers” (lines 756–7) and a meeting of the evil angels to decide what to do now (lines 670–798).
A couple more fallen angels are mentioned here: Mammon (line 678), who is good at getting the gold to make the hellish fortress, and Mulciber (= Vulcan, line 740), a renowned architect.