Belial: Character Analysis in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      Belial is the very image of a subtle, eloquent and intelligent coward. He excels in debate as Moloch excels in fight. Being quick of brain and weak of heart, he is an adept in retorts and repartee, but has an inbred aversion for sword and spear. He can analyze an argument and expose an opponent with wonderful skill. Unlike Moloch, to live at any cost is the motto of his life. Pleasures of intellect and enjoyment of sensuous delights are, in his opinion, enough compensation for any loss of liberty or dignity. His speech is full of the conscious contempt of the cultivated intelligence for Moloch's aide and thoughtless bluster. With the help of his sophistical eloquence he goes on exposing ruthlessly the hollowness of every argument of Moloch.

      Like an expert counsel he nullifies all the contentions of, his boisterous opponent. He can fight with his tongue more dexterously than Moloch can fight with his sword. Accepting the premises of Moloch he arrives at an opposite conclusion. In the beginning of his speech he says:

"I should be much for open war, O Peers,
As not behind in hate, if what was urged
Main reasons to persuade immediate war
Did not dissuade me most."

      Conscious of his own superior intelligence Belial thinks that Moloch howls so madly for war because he is thick-brained and does not understand the situation clearly. He knows fully well that all Moloch’s talk of revenge is useless. There is no denying of the plain fact that God is mightier than they. Moloch with his keen sense of honor thinks that death is preferable to hateful slavery; but ease-loving Belial has no such foolish idealism in him. Taunting Moloch he says:-

"We must exasperate
The almighty victor to spend all his rage,
And that must end us, that must be our cure-
To be no more. Sad cure!"

      Like Moloch, he is not foolish enough to sacrifice life for liberty. He is a staunch realist and a subtle calculating fiend. What is the harm if a little loss of liberty and dignity can bring us ease and pleasures of life? He prizes the amenities of life more than anything else. Contradicting his predecessor he says:

"Who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion?."

      Moloch and Belial represent two distinct views of life. To Moloch, life without honor is not worth living, but to the subtler fiend Belial something is better than nothing. The latter is a far cleverer reasoner and a true realistic philosopher. Referring to their life in Hell he bluntly asks,

"Is this then worst?
Thus sitting, thus consulting, thus in arms?"

      In his opinion, it will be nothing short of sheer madness to provoke God by attempting any ill-advised foolish rebellion against him. He is the very incarnation of prudence and so advises his audience to accept calmly the punishment that God has given them.

      His clever and eloquent defense of the cause of cowardice and comfort so successfully deludes his hearers that they readily accept that he says. If Moloch's courage is the courage of despair, Belial's cowardice is the cowardice of ignoble ease and lewd luxury.

      Belial, in spite of his eloquence and intelligence, is at heart an ease loving coward, and has not die courage to admit his cowardice. Under a wealth of words and a cloak of wisdom he tries to conceal his cowardice. He is for the council chamber and not for the battle-field. We wonder wat made this soft and sensuous slave rebel against God! Such intelligent and ease-loving cowards always help their tyrants to perpetuate their tyranny. They think it a triumph of their policy and intellect if by submission and slavery they can win some favor from their masters. His sophistry reaches its climax when he finds, fault with Moloch because he has not the heroism to suffer. Attacking his predecessor he says:

"I laugh, when those who at the spear are bold
And ven'rous, if that fail them, shrink, and fear
What yet they know must follow-to endure
Exile or ignominy, or bonds, or pain,
The sentence of their conqueror"

      Belial finds fault with Moloch because he has not the heroism to suffer. That suffering and cowardice are also a sort of heroism, is really a revelation to us and we owe his edification to the infernal logic of Belial. He is not a made gambler like Moloch, and so is not ready to risk another war with God, but he is a subtle and calculating coward who will wait and see, and thus somehow put off for die present the arduous and unpleasant task of an open war.

      His love of ignoble ease is so great that he is ready to accept any condition, however mean. In reply to the argument of Moloch he plainly says:

"Shall we then live thus vile, the race of Heaven
Thus trampled, thus expelled to suffer here
Chains and these torments? Better these than worse,
By my advice"

      Such is the argument of slavish cowards in all ages.

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