Highlights of this book include especially the descriptions of Sin and Death, but also the war council with which the book begins, with different evil angels giving their different advice on what to do.
This book is about 250 lines longer than the first book (1055 lines compared to 798 lines). Milton’s “Argument” at the front of the book tells us that we’re about to read about the conference of demons to determine what to do, that the decision is made for Satan to explore that new world they’ve heard about, and that Satan exists hell.
The first half of the book is the council of hell (lines 1–506), and the second half describes Satan’s exit from hell (lines 507–1055).
Satan speaks (lines 11–42), talking about the advantages they have in hell, and asking whether they should renew their war against heaven or try “covert guile” (line 41). This speech from Satan I find rather difficult syntactically.
Moloch is described (lines 43–50) and then he speaks (lines 51–105), advising for “open war.” What have we got to lose? We’re already as destroyed as we can be.
Belial is described (lines 108–18) and speaks (lines 119–225), a long speech, counsels against war. He says that they are not in the worst possible state now, that they themselves have experienced worse things, and that God is unlikely to annihilate them, “whom his anger saves / To punish endless” (line 158–59). Belial thinks it’s useless, really only harmful, to try to match God either in arms or wits.
War therefore, open or concealed, alikelines 187–90
My voice dissuades; for what can force or guile
With him, or who deceive his mind, whose eye
Views all things at one view?
Maybe if we just lie low, God will get less angry with us and these fires will slacken somewhat.
Mammon speaks (lines 229–83), advising against war. We cannot beat God by arms. If we ask for our place back, and if he should happen to consent, we’d again be in a position where we have to worship him.
This must be our tasklines 246–49
In heaven, this our delight; how wearisome
Eternity so spent in worship paid
To whom we hate.
Mammon advises that the company abandon any thought of war, and strive to make the best o hell.
Mammon won the crowd (lines 284–98), until Beelzebub speaks (lines 310–78), advising . He says that hell is not our kingdom but our prison, and there’s no point to debating peace vs. war because war has already been chosen. There’s no need to try to conquer heaven; there’s something easier we can do. Beelzebub is the one who first names Man in this epic.
There is a placelines 345–51
(If ancient and prophetic fame in heaven
Err not), another world, the happy seat
Of some new race called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of him who rules above.
We should go check it out, see what it’s like, see if we can get something done there.
here perhapslines 362–70
Some advantageous act may be achieved
By sudden onset, either with hellfire
To waste his whole creation, or possess
All as our own, and drive as we were driven,
The puny habitants, or if not drive,
Seduce them to our party, that their God
May prove their foe, and with repenting hand
Abolish his own works.
So it is Beelzebub who first publishes the idea of enticing humans to rebel against God. Why? He immediately continues:
This would surpasslines 370–76
Common revenge, and interrupt his joy
In our confusion, and our joy upraise
In his disturbance; when his darling sons
Hurled headlong to partake with us, shall curse
Their frail original and faded bliss,
Faded so soon.
Milton immediately says, though, that the idea was actually Satan’s (lines 378–86). I’m not sure if Milton means to refer us back to book 1—where Satan first mentions using guile against God rather than force, and where Satan first mentions this new world—or whether we’re supposed to understand this comment as new information. (The context here in book 2 makes me prefer the latter.)
Beelzebub’s proposal wins the day (lines 386–89), and he speaks again (lines 390–416), asking whom they should send.
Satan speaks (lines 430–66), describing first the dangers that awaits anyone trying to escape hell, and then volunteers to go alone with the others stay behind and spruce up hell a bit so that it can be a comfortable home.
The fiends rejoice in their leader (lines 466–506).
While Satan goes off on his mission, the evil angels engage in various activities (lines 507–628): singing, giving speeches, exploration, etc. Here we get a little more description of hell, including its four rivers—the Styx, Acheron, Cocytus, and Phlegethon (lines 577–80)—and the stream Lethe (line 583). There is the “frozen continent” (line 587) where wicked people go.
Thither by harpy-footed Furies haled,lines 596–603
At certain revolutions all the damned
Are brought: and feel by turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire to starve in ice
Their soft ethereal warmth, and there to pine
Immovable, infixed, and frozen round,
Periods of time, thence hurried back to fire.
Satan flies up to the roof of hell (line 644), where he finds nine gates: three of bronze, three of iron, and three of adamantine rock. At the gates, on either side, sits and guardian: Sin and Death. Sin is named only at line 760, but she is described earlier.
The one seemed woman to the waist, and fair,lines 650–59
But ended foul in many a scaly fold
Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of hell hounds never ceasing barked
With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung
A hideous peal: yet there still barked and holwed
These hell hounds are described later (lines 794–802).
Death also is named later (line 787) and described at the point when Satan seems him.
The other shape,lines 666–73
If shape it might be called that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed,
For each seemed either; black it stood as night,
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as hell,
And shook a dreadful dart; what seemed his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
Satan admired but did not fear Death (lines 677–78) and spoke (lines 681–87), telling him to step aside.
Death (still unnamed, called here a goblin, line 688) speaks (lines 689–703), saying that he knows who Satan is, and that he—Death—reigns as king here, and so Satan is in no position to give orders.
Both undeterred, they get ready to fight each other, until Sin (still unnamed, here called “the snaky sorceress,” line 724) intervened (lines 704–26).
Sin speaks (lines 727–34), calling Satan “father” and proclaims Death the son of Satan, says they are both doing the bidding of the one “who sits above and laughs.”
Satan speaks to Sin (lines 737–45), asking for an explanation.
Sin (still unnamed, called here “the portress of hell gate”) replies (lines 747–814), telling of her own birth from Satan while still in heaven.
Hast thou forgot me then, and do I seemlines 747–67
Now in thine eye so foul, once deemed so fair
In heaven, when at the assembly, and in sight
Of all the seraphim with thee combined
In bold conspiracy against heaven’s king,
All on a sudden miserable pain
Surprised thee, dim thine eyes, and dizzy swum
In darkness, while thy head flames thick and fast
Threw forth, till on the left side opening wide,
Likest to thee in shape and countenance bright,
Then shining heavenly fair, a goddess armed
Out of thy head I sprung: amazement seized
All the host of heaven; back they recoiled afraid
At first, and called me Sin, and for a sign
Portentous held me; but familiar grown,
I pleased, and with attractive graces won
The most averse, thee chiefly, who full oft
Thyself in me thy perfect image viewing
Becam’st enamoured, and such joy thou took’st
With me in secret, that my womb conceived
A growing burden.
In other words, once Satan conceived the idea of rebelling in heaven, he also conceived Sin, who popped out of his head, like Athena popped out of Zeus’s head. Satan was really taken with her, and impregnated her. She next describes the battle in heaven, and that she along with others was cast down, but she was given the key to hell (lines 725, 774–75, 850–53, 871–72). She sat by the gate, and gave birth to Death, Satan’s son (lines 777–85). Death pursued his mother and raped her,
and of that rape begotlines 794–97
These yelling monsters that with ceaseless cry
Surround me, as thou sawest, hourly conceived
And hourly born…
Death is the son and enemy of Sin, and would devour Sin “For want of other prey, but that he knows / His end with mine involved” (lines 803–7). Finally she warns Satan to be careful of Death “for that mortal dint, / Save he who reigns above, none can resist” (lines 813–14).
Satan replies (lines 817–44), explaining his mission, that he wants to set free Sin and Death and all the fallen host. He explains the new world that he believes has by now been created, with a new kind of creature.
Sin speaks (lines 850–70), saying that she owes no obedience to God but to her own father.
Sin opened the gates of hell (lines 871–83), “but to shut / Excelled her power” (lines 883–84). After she opened the gate, they stared into the abyss a bit, and then Satan was off (lines 885–967). In this space, Satan meets Chaos, Night, Orcus, Ades, Demogorgon, Rumour, Chance, Tumult, Confusion, and Discord.
Satan speaks to these powers (lines 968–87), basically asking for directions to the new world, and promising that his task is to their advantage, to restore their realm over this new world.
Chaos responds (lines 990–1009), giving directions.
Satan speeds away (lines 1010–55).