More Paradise Lost in one month. I missed out Day 7. Today, I reached Book 3, Line 653.
God has said that humanity can be saved only through grace, but so as to satisfy divine justice, another must step forward to pay the price of the coming sin. There is silence in heaven (interesting!), until the Son offers himself (L 236-241):
Behold me then, me for him, life for life
I offer, on me let thine anger fall;
Account me man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly die
Well pleased, on me let Death wreck all his rage
Jesus is confident that he’ll rise from death, but he’s prepared to go through hell first, so “admiration seized all heaven” (L 271-2). God the Father replies, very pleased with the Son’s decision. The best bit comes in lines 305-312, a meditation on how power and prestige should be exercised:
Because thou hast, though throned in highest bliss
Equal to God, and equally enjoying
God-like fruition, quitted all to save
A world from utter loss, and hast been found
By merit more then birthright Son of God,
Found worthiest to be so by being good,
Far more then great or high; because in thee
Love hath abounded more then glory abounds
The angels appreciate God’s speech and raise a song of their own, lasting 72 lines (L 344-415), corresponding to the 72 people Jesus sent out with his message in the synoptic Gospels. Also, by tradition, there were 72 angelic names. In Milton, it seems, no word is there simply by chance. The angels’ song is one of praise to God an account of the previous victory over the rebel angels, and praise to the Son for the love shown in offering to die for humanity.
That’s the scene in heaven. The action then switches to “the firm opacous globe/ Of this round world, whose first convex divides/ The luminous inferior orbs” (L 418-20) where Satan walks, the sphere of the fixed stars and planets, outside both heaven and chaos. The place is lifeless, although later all vain and transitory things will fill it like aerial vapours. It’s probable that Milton based this idea on various satires and comedies depicting a limbo of fools and didn’t really take it seriously himself. The builders of the tower of Babel would be likely to end up there, as would those who seek Christ on pilgrimage to Golgotha (when he is risen) and (rather mischievously) those clad in Franciscan and Dominican robes. They would come near heaven and see Peter at the gates with his keys (an unbiblical concept Milton is satirizing), but a sudden wind would blow them “ten thousand leagues away” (L 498).
But at this time, the whole region is “unpeopled and untrod.” Suddenly a ladder appears from heaven, a clear reference to the vision Jacob had of a ladder stretching to heaven, soon after he had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright. Just afterwards, an opening emerges, stretching down to earth. Satan looks out on all this with wonder. After all the nothingness, this panoramic vision must have been astonishing. He’s not in the best of moods, after being taunted by the ladder to the very place where entry is impossible for him, but he’s definitely interested in the universe laid out before him. He flies in the general direction of the sun and soon he’s in a place of almost indescribable light (L 613-16):
Here matter new to gaze the devil met
Undazzled, far and wide his eye commands,
For sight no obstacle found here, nor shade,
But all sunshine
In the sun, Satan sees an angel (Revelation 19:17 – “I saw an angel standing in the sun”). He’s glad to find someone who might know the way to the earth, but realises that the archangel Uriel might not be too willing to help. So Satan metamorphoses into a cherub.