More Paradise Lost in one month. I’ve reached Book 2, Line 569
Mammon’s argument is similar to Belial’s in that he counsels against war. Unless God is defeated, he says, any liberation from hell will mean only a freedom to worship God, their enemy. Mammon wants to build a kingdom in hell. The fallen angels should raise (L 273-281):
Magnificence; and what can Heav'n show more?
Our torments also may in length of time
Become our elements, these piercing fires
As soft as now severe, our temper changed
Into their temper; which must needs remove
The sensible of pain. All things invite
To peaceful counsels, and the settled state
Of order, how in safety best we may
Compose our present evils
The fallen angels look as if they are about to agree to this, so Beelzebub has to think fast. He has immediate impact from the moment he stands to speak – “princely counsel in his face yet shone.” (L 304) Beelzebub doesn’t want to build a kingdom in hell, a place where they are still in bondage to the whim of God. He overturns the fantasies of Belial and Mammon. But war seems equally a hopeless cause.
So Beelzebub turns his attention to a recent creation – Man. Let’s exploit this, he says. Let’s “seduce them to our party” (L 368), let’s turn humans against their creator. He demolishes Mammon’s argument with:
Advise if this be worth
Attempting, or to sit in darkness here
Hatching vain empires.
The fallen angels vote unanimously with him. Beelzebub has cleverly made the task sound a bit easier than it’s going to be, to get their assent. But he now has to make the task sound difficult, so that only the most able will step forward in the attempt to make it happen.
There is silence. All sit mute and each “in other’s countenance read his own dismay” (L 422). Until Satan readies himself to speak, “with monarchical pride/ Conscious of highest worth.” (L 429) Satan says he’s prepared to sacrifice himself for the cause and he amplifies how hazardous the voyage ahead of him will be, but his sacrifice is deliberately made to contrast with that of Jesus’ humble walk to the cross. At the end of his speech Satan stands up to bring the debate to an end, but even more to stop others from then volunteering (to make themselves look brave) now that his decision to go alone had been made. Otherwise, those volunteers (L 471f.):
might in opinion stand
His rivals, winning cheap the high repute
Which he through hazard huge must earn. But they
Dreaded not more the adventure then his voice
Forbidding; and at once with him they rose;
Their rising all at once was as the sound
Of Thunder heard remote. Towards him they bend
With awful reverence prone; and as a God
Extol him equal to the highest in heaven
Again, it’s really well done. The relationship between Satan and his followers is one of fear – his fear of rivalry and their fear of his anger. And when their rising produces a sound of thunder, one can’t help but remember that God’s thunder is what they most fear, as if even in their own movements in this place most remote from him, God is routinely present. Then the fallen angels proclaim Satan equal to the highest in heaven. He is a typical despot standing before his grovelling (‘prone’), fearful populace, and then proclaimed as divine.
But it all a great show of unity and Milton makes the point that while devil with devil “firm concord holds, men only disagree/
Of creatures rational” (L 497-98). The fallen angels leave the consultation, some to work off their adrenaline in random acts of violence, others to sing, presumably in ironic allusion to the Psalms (L 548-50)
With notes angelical to many a harp
Their own heroic deeds and hapless fall
By doom of battle.
Others go off on their own to think quietly to themselves:
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fixt fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
!8th century critics noted that the fallen angels, by resorting to such rational enquiry, have in fact “lost the power of intuitive reasoning which differentiates [angles] from men,” (Rajan) and have ended up trapped within arguments that have no end.