Hell Depicted in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      Milton’s depiction of Hell gives life to the view that Hell is a state of mind as well as a place by his accurate juxtaposition of the mind to the place. The freedom with which the poetry moves from the exterior to the inner landscape obliges us to give each word in it a continuous extension of the significance. Other poets have elaborated conventionally on the torments of Hell but not everyone has been able to give their description an inner as well as architectural meaning.

      Hell as described in Book I was a place of torture. Though a flaming inferno there was in it just as much light as to make the darkness visible. The light also served to show the other regions of Hell, the regions of sorrow where a flood of fire raged fed by the ever burning sulfur that was never exhausted. This was the Hell created by God after the revolt of the angels in preparation for their inevitable defeat.

      In Book II of Paradise Lost Milton strengthens his description because Hell is an inseparable part of the format of the epic poem.

Double Dimension

      By indicating that Hell is both a state of mind and a place Milton gives his conception a double dimension in accordance with prevailing religious beliefs. He meets the religious requirements of those who believe that Hell is an abode of damned souls along with the fallen angels. For those who accept that Hell is a state of mind Milton gives the place a symbolic or allegorical significance. Hell for this school of thought exists in this very life and not the next life. When a sinner commits sin and has the remorse of guilt on his conscience, he is already in Hell. The mental torture that the sinner goes through is symbolized by the everlasting flames of Hell. The fallen angels themselves symbolically represent the sinners of this earth with one difference that while the sinners can repent for their sins, the fallen angels are unrepentant.

      When Milton conceived the story of Paradise Lost from the Bible, Hell had to remain an integral part of his scheme. For his description of Hell Milton had to rely upon two sources, the Bible itself and classical mythology. In both he found the description adequate. In Book II of Paradise Lost he has enriched this with the strength of his imagination. The outcome is that Hell becomes the fit dwelling place for all those monstrous and abhorrent sinners who are considered more monstrous than the Hydras and the Chimeras of classical mythology. By placing in it all conceivable instruments of torture Milton has fallen in line with religious thinking on the idea of Hell because it fitted in admirably with his concept of the situation. That is why both sin and death have been placed in this abode because Milton thought it proper that these figures with their horrific and frightening shapes had to find their proper place in the configuration of Hell. Both of them have a role to play in sending people to Hell and this accords well with Milton’s views on the subject.

Geography of Hell

      In drawing the geography of Hell Milton has departed from previous allusions on the subject. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hell is situated in the center of the earth but Milton has located it in the lowest regions of Chaos. Milton tells us as much when he brings out in Satan’s talks with the Anarch that Hell was originally a part of Chaos and was carved out by God after the revolt of the angels to be their dwelling place fitted with all the instruments of torture. In Milton’s concept Hell is situated below Heaven, a fact which is confirmed with many references to the rebellious angels who descended from Heaven after their revolt.

      In keeping with his own environment, Milton depicts Hell in the grimmest of colors. It is the universe of death because those angels who rejected God must experience a living death even as God is a source of life for those angels who were loyal to him. When the fallen angels enter Hell and discuss it as a place of evil for the first time they come face to face with the plight of their position in Hell. This realization becomes worse with the knowledge that this state of suffering will last forever.

      In describing the horrors of Hell, Milton puts apt descriptions in the mouths of the various speakers. Moloch refers to Hell as ‘this dark opprobrious den of shame’ and ‘the prison of God’s tyranny’. Belial speaks of the eternal woe which the fallen angels have to experience. In another place, he speaks of the ‘rim fires’ which are burning in Hell. There is another graphic description of the cataracts of fire which the firmament of Hell can spout forth. Mammon is shown as wondering what he can get out of Hell especially from the diamonds and gold which he believes lie buried in the soil of Hell. Like other speakers both Beelzebub and Satan are obsessed by the flames of Hell. Beelzebub describes them as corrosive fires and Satan refers to Hell as a ‘huge convex of fire’.

Four Rivers

      Milton has introduced four rivers flowing through Hell and discharging their waters into the burning lake. There is a river called Styx which is the river of bitter hatred. There is Acheron, the river of woe the waters of which are black and deep. There is Cocytus, a river for wailing and lamentation and there is Phlegethon, the waves of which are made of flames of fire.

      There is also a river called Lethe, a river of forgetfulness, and beyond it is a frozen continent tom by storms of whirlwind and hailstone. The continent contains a gulf and a marsh and sermons which has swallowed up whole armies who tried to cross it. In the continent, the damned souls feel at once the intense cold and the scorning heat. Milton gives a purpose in placing the river Lethe in the contours of Hell. The damned souls have to cross the river by a boat. Though drinking the waters cause one to forget all pain and suffering, the damned souls cannot drink the water because it moves away from them when they try to drink it. A monster called Medusa is another deterrent to the damned souls if they try to drink the waters.

University Questions

Give a brief description of Hell as outlined by Milton in Book II of Paradise Lost,
Hell is a state of mind as well as a place as seen in Book II of Paradise Lost. Discuss.
Describe the geography of Hell as depicted by Milton in Book II of Paradise Lost.

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