Moloch, Belial, Mammon & Beelzebub: Paradise Lost Book 2

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      The Council in Hell has correctly been described as a superhuman parliamentary debate, as majestic in eloquence as it is momentous in the consequences involved. Milton brings to bear upon the account a lifelong study of statesmanship and oratory in the leaders of the Revolution. His council is a magnified image of those human deliberations on which the fates of nations hang. Besides, Milton brought to his task his own mastery in the art of dialectic which dates from his Cambridge days, when his degree depended on his ability to argue both sides of a question.

      Satan has called his council to consider how best they may revenge themselves on the Almighty, whether by open war or covert guile. But Satan does not only propound the question; it is his will that dominates secretly the assembly. ‘Individuals may voice their convictions and display their passions, each with a type of eloquence appropriate to his personal character and temper, but the ultimate policy is predetermined.’ Four of the chefs express their views, each in his own characteristic manner, but it is the last, Beelzebub, who unfolds the master’s mind.

Moloch, a Hard Core Type

      Moloch, the belligerent type, the personification of pure and unalloyed hatred of the Almighty, is of the die-hard cast. Deeming himself equal in strength with the Almighty, and indifferent even to his existence if he should be regarded less, he advises open war, with all the bluntness and outspokenness of a Colonel. Unskilled in tricks himself, he is impatient with those who would sit and contrive in Hell’s dungeon, suffering all the pangs which God’s tyranny can inflict on them. Theirs is the courage to do, he tells them, and therefore let them arm themselves, even with hell flames and tortures, the weapons of destruction invented by their enemy, and point them against himself. Let the noise of his thunder be met by the noise of infernal thunder; His lightning be opposed with black fire from Hell, and His very throne be surrounded by hell-fire and sulfurous flames. Thus in the hectic fury of his vindictive hate, he draws a picture of the destruction upon which he is bent.

      His next argument is that of a military strategist. As a debater, he forestalls the objection that ascent to the Empyrean on their ruinous expedition, may be difficult. But no! if they bethink them how their descent had been difficult when they fell, they can naturally infer that ascent is their proper motion. Let them not doubt, therefore, their ability to soar back to Heaven.

Call for Revenge

      His final argument shows that contempt of danger which would enable a commander to lead his forces to victory. He does not allow the fear of worse consequences to daunt him from his war path. What can be worse than their present anguish? he asks. The worst can only be annihilation, and that were “happier far than miserable to have eternal being.” But can they ever cease to be? He has heard it said in some quarters that their substance is eternal, and, if thus there is no fear of annihilation, there can be no fear too of a worse state than the present, since “we are at worst on this side nothing.” Their present strength then is equal to wage war with Heaven; let them rise, therefore, and if they do not gain a victory, they shall have the satisfaction at least of revenge.

      Moloch’s speech is impetuous and fiery, and well may it have been the utterance of an Ironside commander in the councils of Oliver Cromwell. “It may be worthwhile to observe,” wrote Addison, “that Milton has represented this violent impetuous spirit, who is hurried on by such precipitate passions, as the first that rises in the assembly to give his opinion upon their present posture of affairs. Accordingly, he declares himself abrupt for war, and appears incensed at his companions for losing so much time as to deliberate upon it. All his sentiments are rash, audacious, and desperate such as that of arming themselves with tortures and turning their punishments upon Him who inflicted them. His preferring annihilation to shame or misery is also highly suitable to his character, as the comfort he draws from their disturbing the peace of Heaven, that if it is not victory is revenge, is a sentiment truly diabolical, and becoming the bitterness of this implacable spirit.”

      Belial, the next to rise after Moloch, is in every respect his antithesis. While Moloch is essentially a spirit of action, Belial is chiefly a spirit of inactivity. While Moloch has a contempt of travail and danger, Belial can hardly think of them without a tremor passing through his frame, for he is essentially slothful and sensual. While Moloch’s mind is wholly refractory and bellicose, Belial’s is sometimes speculative full of those “thoughts that wander through eternity.” Finally, while Moloch is curt and plain-spoken, Belial is specious and artful. Moloch is the aggressive militarist, Belial the meek pacifist.

      Belial’s arguments partake of his nature. Gifted with a smooth tongue that “could make the worse appear the better reason,” he delivers a backhanded blow at Moloch. He tells the assembly that he would himself be much for open war, if what has been urged the main reason for it, itself does not dissuade him most. They have been told that even if they cannot be victorious, their vindictiveness yet can be satisfied. But he asks, what vengeance can that possibly be? The towers of Heaven are impregnable, being constantly guarded by armed angels. There is no hope of intimidating them either, for quite dauntlessly they scout far into the regions of Chaos. Or, were it possible for them to approach Heaven, batter its strong walls, and force their resistless way in, and with Hell-flames and black fire attempt to obscure the glory of “Heaven’s purest light,” still God’s mold being of ethereal substance, it can never be stained, and by its own special virtues, it will expel all baser fire and contamination. Thus, what can be left for the rebellious angels except blank despair? Revenge, therefore, is out of the question.

The Desire for Intellectualism

      His next argument exposes the fallacy in the hope of annihilation which Moloch had held out as a cure in their present distress. Quite pleasant-humouredly, Belial ridicules the notion, for no one, however great his then suffering may be, would ever like to be deprived of his intellectual state, with all those thoughts that wander through eternity, and wish to be swallowed up and lost in obscure extinction. Even if such an undesirable state is devout to be wished for, by any freak of imagination, it is doubtful whether God can give it to them, or even if He can, whether He would. For, in the first place, being immortal angels, whether God can extinguish them totally is uncertain, but, for his part, he is more than certain that he would never destroy them. When he first routed them and drove them into Hell, he consigned them to eternal suffering. Sure he will not deflect from His purpose and give them the annihilation which they so eagerly long for.

      The third argument of Belial is a further refutation of Moloch. He had said that their sufferings were already the worst and they had nothing more to fear, if annihilation were impossible. But is it true that what they are going through is the worst? Let them examine their present condition. They have been permitted to rise from the lake of burning fire; they have recovered from their stupor, they have built Pandemonium, and they are now sitting in deliberate council. This, surely, is not the worst that can happen to them. They may have been worse than what they are now, if they had lain, for instance, chained to the lake of liquid fire, or, if worse tortures had been inflicted on them. That would have been the worst, and they may reasonably dread them yet

      Having thus quashed his adversary’s arguments, Belial next proceeds to formulate his plan. His answers to Moloch show a true understanding of the current state of affairs, though they have all been inspired by his love of slothful ease, his passion for existence, and his cowardly fear of direct consequences. His plan, too, partakes of the same characteristics of his nature.

War Ruled Out

      War, then, open, or secret, is wholly out of the picture: for the Almighty is equally wise to frustrate their secret plans as He is strong to defeat their open designs. But neither does Belial insinuate that they shall acquiesce in their present slavish condition. He only wishes to suggest that this is much better than bringing disasters upon themselves by an open or secret war. Further there are a number of considerations which should weigh with them in agreeing with their lot. First, it is Fate (the argument of a weakling) that has ordained that they should live in Hell, they had been wise, they could have foreseen this before they broke out in open rebellion against the Almighty. It is ridiculous that those who had dared to defy Fate then, should now show fear in suffering the inevitable consequences. To abide in Hell is their doom. But their punishment may be reduced by their patient sufferance. This is the second consideration. In time their conduct “may much remit His anger”, and, perhaps, thus far removed, finding them to be inoffensive, and satisfied that He has punished enough, He may slacken the rage of His fury. A third consideration is that their own purer essence may either overcome their torments, or by long endurance and custom they may get used to them, and not feel their scourge. Finally, there is the hope of what the never-ending flight of future days may bring the chance of a better life than the present which though not happy, is far from being the worst that can be endured. His counsel, therefore, is for meek acquiescence in their present lot.

      Belial, the glib talker, the smooth-tongued trimmer, presents the type of conservative statesmanship, which is cultured, self-sufficient, and shows a love of all the good things of life. He is the type which Shakespeare has drawn in the courtier with his spermaceti, or some scented salve or other, who meets the fiery Hotspur on the battlefield. His is the religion of ‘cultivated inaction, making its believer refuse to lend a hand at uprooting the definite evils on all sides of us, and filling him with antipathy against the reforms and reformers which try to extirpate them.’ Perhaps Milton has drawn the character from the many cavaliers who thronged the court of Charles I or Charles II.

Rapacious Imperialist

      Mammon follows next, and true to his name he is acquisitive more than aggressive. He is the type of the rapacious Imperialist, in the days when Imperialism was yet in its infancy in England. He begins by answering both Moloch and Belial; he is inclined to agree more with the latter than the former, and finally builds his future plan on Belial’s suggestion.

      A war on Heaven can have only one of two objects - either to unseat God from His throne, or to regain their lost possessions. The first is a very remote possibility, and is never likely to happen, unless irrevocable Fate should give up its sway to fickle Chance, and Chaos to judge the strife. If Heaven’s king cannot be unseated, it is vain to hope for the reconquest of their possessions; for without subduing Heaven’s king what authority can the fallen angels exercise over Him? But here Mammon anticipates another alternative. If they submit (some may argue) and agree to be obedient and loyal, God may publish grace and pardon them all. But Mammon would not entertain the idea for a moment. How can they be ever so base as to stand humbly in His presence, render implicit obedience to His commandments, and sing under compulsion songs and hymns in His praise, who has recently been their enemy, and who has lorded it over them in the fashion they are now groaning under? This is all that they can expect in Heaven, and, by no amount of sophistry, can that irksome task be called delightful. Let them reflect on the magnitude of this irksomeness when they have to submit vilely to this laudation of One whom they hate all through eternity.

Making the Best of a Bad Bargain

      So Mammon would not advise them to continue their vassalage in Heaven, howsoever obtained. Rather, let them seek their good in Hell itself; let them make the best use of their advantages, free and accountable to none, preferring sturdy independence to slavish yoke in Heaven. And if therein they learn by patient laborand hard endurance to create great things out of small, to convert hurtful things into useful, and turn adverse circumstances into prosperous, then their greatness would be more conspicuous.

      Perils they fear the darkness of Hell: and here Mammon’s answer to the objection is specious. Very often, he says, Heaven’s king has been found to have obscured Himself in thick and dark clouds, from which He gathered His thunderbolts to scourge His enemies with. “As He our darkness, cannot we His light imitate when we please?” is his argument.

      That argument disposed of, Mammon turns to his constructive plan. In the First Book of Paradise Lost we have been told that even while in Heaven, instead of Mammon’s gaze being occupied with the vision Beatific, he had bent his looks downward admiring the golden floor. No wonder then that his thoughts now fly to the rich mineral wealth in Hell, proof of which had already been given, when Pandemonium was built. He now reminds them about the manifold riches of the place and their own mining and architectural skill. They can build an empire here, which shall be the envy of Heaven. Besides, as Belial has suggested, there is every likelihood of their being acclimatized in course of time to their surroundings. “Our temper may change into their temper.” So taking everything into consideration, it is much better to settle down in peace in Hell, and devise schemes and measures for the improvement of their lot than plot open or covert war in vain.

Creating an El Dorado of Hell

      Mammon’s speech reminds one of the pioneers and gold diggers who set out of England in the seventeenth century to distant lands and helped incidentally to fling wide the Empire of their country. His plea is the typical gold-digger’s plea; his dream is to make an El Dorado of Hell. Doubtless there must have been money-grabbers in the Long Parliament, who helped Charles I to raise his ship-money, and other obnoxious taxes. Mammon must have been drawn from one of them. There are financiers and stock-brokers today who could vie with Mammon in speculation. They are of his true descent.

In Defence of Satan

      Mammon’s speech, as may be expected, wins the approval of the assembly. ‘Public opinion seems to be dangerously drifting in a direction contrary to the intention of Satan, when Beelzebub, the type of subservient politicians, as responsive to the purpose of his master as badness could desire, rises clad in the aspect of impressive statesmanship to stem the tide.’

      His speech falls into four parts. In the first he ridicules Mammon’s suggestion; in the second he answers Belial and Moloch’s pleas: in the third he makes his own proposal, and finding it generally approved, in the final part, he plans its practical operation.

      First, to stem the tide of the murmur of approval which had greeted Mammon, Beelzebub makes capital out of it by turning it into pointed ridicule. He asks the angels whether they desire to be addressed as the “offspring of Heaven.” or merely as the “Princes of Hell”, for what should he infer from their applause of Mammon’s speech? It indicates their longing to continue in Hell, and build an Empire in emulation of Heaven. A likely thing indeed, he comments sarcastically, for, he wonders whether they are not dreaming, having completely forgotten that Hell has not been intended as a place of security for them to plot against Him. No! the Almighty has intended them to dwell in it in strictest bondage as His chosen victims. Of this there can be no doubt: for whatever they may do, God will reign supreme both in Heaven and in Hell, and never allow any diminution of His authority anywhere. But while He rules His own angels in Heaven mildly and benevolently, He will rule them in Hell with an iron hand. Therefore no good can ever come out of their schemes of war or peace. Their last revolt has settled their fate, that they should remain out of Heaven.

      Then turning to the proposition for peace, he reminds his audience that no terms of peace have either been offered or sought As far as he can see no peace would be given to them: instead severe custody, stripes and bitter punishment only. In the same way they cannot return any honorable terms of peace themselves to Heaven; instead, enmity and hatred as they lie in their power, and schemes which would not allow their Torturer to rejoice in what He has inflicted upon His enemies.

      As for the proposition of war, there would not be any need for them to invade Heaven’s walls and force their way in for those walls are in no fear of assault or siege. Then why should they not seek some easier means of wreaking their vengeance on God?

Beelzebub’s Subtle Plan

      Having thus disposed of the arguments of Mammon, Belial and Moloch, Beelzebub introduces into the discussion a new fact, craftily held back till the progress of the debate demanded it. The assembly’s approval of Mammon’s plan clearly showed that they were for peace and no war. On this foundation of peace, and the hope of a different prosperity, Beelzebub builds his plan.

      With subtle craft he reminds them of a rumor current in Heaven, when they had been its denizens, of a new place about to be created - the happy seat of a new race called Man, who though less in splendor than the angels, would be more favored of God. That the rumor is not unfounded is certain, for they will recollect how God promised it as His will, and confirmed it by “an oath that shook Heaven’s whole circumference.” They should now turn their thoughts to this new world and to its inhabitant. They should discover his nature, his strength and his weakness, and consider how best he may be seduced and tempted to break from his allegiance to God. Though Heaven may be guarded well, and, therefore, in-accessible, that new world may have been left to the defense of its new race. Thither they shall go, and find out means of destroying him, and driving him from his habitation, as they themselves have been driven out of Heaven by God. But if these are unavailing, they can at least seduce him and make him break his faith with God. “This would surpass common revenge, and interrupt God’s joy in our confusion, and our joy upraises in His disturbance.”

      For God may repent what he has done, and abolish His own works. This is Beelzebub’s plan, and it is for them to accept or reject it. He tactfully pauses for their response.

      Milton is careful at this stage to point out that the plan was not of Beelzebub’s invention, for whence but from “the author of all ill”, could a plan so diabolic and so fraught with mischief for the human race issue.

      Beelzebub had been merely the willing tool to put forth the plan: he had been content to be his Master’s Voice.

      The assembly, whether they recognized it as the plan of the master or not, agree to it unanimously. Beelzebub mightily pleased congratulates them on the wisdom of their choice, and commends its virtue further. It would lift them up from Hell, he continues, and place them much nearer their ancient seat of happiness, perhaps in the very vicinity of Heaven and within the circle of its golden light. Thus much conciliation for Belial and Mammon! And being in such close vicinity to Heaven, with timely excursions, they may even get access into Heaven, without hazarding a war. So much palliation for Moloch! But they should decide first whom they shall send on this dangerous expedition, for full of dangers it certainly is. Beelzebub lays them thick and truly, as subsequent events show. Their leader must be sufficiently brave to ransack the infinite abyss, and explore his way through Chaos and dark night until he reaches the new world. Mere strength alone would not suffice, though it is highly essential, but he must have intrepidity and subtlety enough to get beyond the spies and sentries of Heaven. He would have need of all his resourcefulness. Let the assembly choose such a spirit. Needless to say that none was either proposed or volunteered. Satan alone came forward “whom now transcendent glory raised above his fellows,” and he undertook the heroic adventure.

Second in Command

      Addison’s note on this character in instructive. “Beelzebub,” he wrote, “who is reckoned the second in dignity that fell, and is, in the First Book, the second that awakens out of the trance, and confers with Satan upon the situation of their affairs, maintains his rank in the Second Book as well. There is a wonderful majesty described in his rising up to speak. He acts as a kind of moderator between the two opposing parties, and proposes a third undertaking which the whole assembly gives in to. The motion he makes of detaching one of their body in search of a new world is grounded upon a project devised by Satan, and curiously proposed by him in the First Book. The reader may observe how just it was not to omit in the First Book, the project upon which the whole poem turns; as also that the prince of the fallen angels was the only proper person to give it birth, and that the next to him in dignity was the fittest to second and support it.”

      Thus the great debate ends, and Milton carefully distinguishes between the types of statesmanship presented by Moloch, Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub. The first is militant and aggressive, the second suave and submissive, the third smug and acquisitive, while the last is resourceful and subtle. Milton must have had prototypes of them in actual life, both among the Royalists and the Puritans, and he has made admirable use of his first hand knowledge of parliamentary debates, as well as his study in classical oratory and his skill in his own University exercises in the speeches he has assigned to them.

University Questions

Differentiate between the types of statesmanship represented by Moloch, Belial, Mammon and Beelzebub.
Contrast the views of Moloch and Belial with regard to the continuance of war.
Give the substance of Beelzebub’s speech in your own words and say why the course he recommended was most likely to find favor. Show how the debate in Paradise Lost reveals the characters of the speakers.
Critically evaluate Milton’s portrayal of Moloch, Belial, Mammon, Beelzebub and Satan in Book II of Paradise Lost. How does he individualize the speakers?
In what light do you see the chiefs of the fallen angels who address the assembly in Paradise Lost Book II?

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