the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Paradise Lost, Book 2

There are many pivotal moments in Paradise Lost. In fact, each demon that gives a speech uses a very eloquent form of appeal to logic or to emotions that the actual substance of the speech is almost lost in the flowing verse. One reason for this could be that Satan is also known as the Deceiver, so his demons, like his own speeches, are infused with charm and allure which camoflauges their true agendas.

The council of the demons in Book 2 showcase the beautiful arguments of the possible actions they could undertake. For instance, Moloch uses a sense of logos to appeal to open war, "that in our proper motion we ascend/ Up to our native seat: descent and fall/ To us is adverse (ln 75, page 1853)." All the demons were made of the empyreal stuff angels were made of, so of course they belong in Heaven, and would try until their destruction from God. His acknowledgement of the difficult journey ahead gives a challenge that encourages their efforts, rather than painting a bleak picture. But for all his encouraging sentiments, the basic gist of his speech is a suicide attempt. Since they are immortal and still banned from Heaven, open war may prove to anger God enough that He might end their existence in His wrath and end their misery. The language and the diction of the demons depict their corruption, but it also shows that they were angels to start with. They do not talk with typical slang or illiteracy, or with overt hatred at the world and God. Instead, the monologues show that these were great beings with intelligence and rhetoric that used to lead armies before falling into disgrace.

Milton balances a very fine line between the content of the speeches and the delivery of the content. As readers, we can see that "God = good. Demons = lose," but within the narration, the distinction is hard to tell because of this very fact. Moloch wants to go out in the blaze of glory. Belial knows that things could be worse. Mammon goes for the "better to be free in misery than a servant for someone we hate" outlook. Each of their ideals is something that we honor in our society. In a hopeless situation, the final blaze of glory is something heroic, fighting until the last breath for what we believe in only drives home the point that we were actually serious. Being content with a situation is a mature outlook, knowing that in the grand scheme of things there is always something worse (though that's quite hard to say when you've fallen from Heaven into Hell, the two absolute extremes of happy-sad). Milton pushes these 'noble' sentiments, wrapped in eloquent speeches, each delivered by dignified and graceful beings that used to be angels. Yet knowing that the end is already determined and that they are fighting a losing battle, makes their motives short-sighted and childish, in spite of all the impressive coverings.


Blogger Daniel Lupton said...

Christina, this is an interesting post but you don't really give a sense of what is beautiful or compelling about the demons' rhetoric. This is exactly the type argument that needs to be proven with close analysis of the text, which you don't really provide here.

3:01 PM  

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