Paradise Lost Book 2: Line by Line Summary & Analysis

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Satan’s opening speech. [Lines 1—42]

      At the end of the first book Satan had reminded the devils of a creation about to take place, and announced his intention to investigate it.

But these thoughts
Full counsel must mature. Peace is despaired,
For who can think submission?
Hence the council is called..

      Satan sits exalted on a throne of royal dignity, like any Eastern potentate. He has been raised to that bad eminence by his unconquerable will, superior courage and imposing stature. Nevertheless he does not realize that it is through the sufferance of great Providence that he has been lifted to such a height from despair. Hence he aspires to get higher and wage war with heaven, and untaught by previous experience he seeks counsel for a fresh conquest of Heaven. Then in tones of supreme self-complacency, he addresses his hosts.

      His first word is encouragement. Though fallen, they need not despair. They have such immortal vigor in them that no deep can hold them. Far from being worse for the fall they can use their very adversity to rise "more glorious and more dread," and "trust themselves to fear no second fate." Let them have confidence in him, their leader.

      His next words are a consciousness of his worth, a supreme self-satisfaction that he is their natural leader. Just right and the fixed laws of Heaven have created him their chief. Next their own free choice, supplemented by his own intrinsic merits in both counsel and fight, have contributed to his greatness and security. Nevertheless by none of these qualifications has he been so firmly established in his secure throne, as by the fall they have all shared in common. A more exalted state, or loftier position, in Heaven, would have brought with it the envy of others, who halve not been so fortunate to get such a status; but in Hell the most exalted position, because of its nearness to danger is the least envied by others. None will covet a loftier place for himself in Hell, since the higher he climbs, the nearer he is to the Thunderer’s aim, and thus he would expose himself to greater danger. Thus there is no room in Hell for any jealousy or envy, and his position therefore is undisputed.

      Satan flatters them on the concord they have thus easily attained, which would never have been possible in Heaven. Let them design therefore with one mind how best to regain their lost positions. Whether the best way should be open war, or secret deceit, let them determine, and he affords the opportunity now for others to speak.

      The brief introduction to the debate reveals Satan as more proud in his assumed humility than his loudest boasting, and Milton's object is to deepen our sense of his pride and his isolation. Satan makes revenge the keynote of the council.

Moloch’s speech. [Lines 43—105]

      Moloch, the personification of Hatred, declares for war, pointing out that they have nothing to fear from worse punishment, and that ascent from Hell is natural to them. His speech is the image of brute force in its despair, in its blind anger, in its hatred of pain and it weakness to endure it.

Belial’s speech. [Lines 106—225]

      Belial, at the other pole of temperament and thought, personifying Lust and Slothful Ease, replies that a reason for war, grounded on despair, such as Moloch’s is of itself a reason against war. There is no room for revenge: God is unconquerable: and to be annihilated (Moloch's hope in case of a second defeat), is not to be desired.

Sad cure, for who would-lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being;
These thoughts that wander through eternity.

      "And is God likely to give annihilation? He is far too wise"—for Belial has sympathy with intellect, even in God. Nor is the rest of his speech less full of the contempt of the highly cultivated intelligence for the brute bluster of Moloch. "What worse, they say, than this Hell. Is this quiet council of ours worse than being chained on the burning lake? We might be tenfold more wretched did God choose it. Therefore I give my voice for peace. Who will say it is vile to live in peace? It is not vile to suffer. We risked all and the law is just which says, suffer now. I laugh at those-who are bold with the sword, and not brave to bear the doom they risked. And if we suffer quietly, our foe may remit. His anger, our pain lessen, or we become inured to it, or time bring better chance.”—This is die image of intellectual culture without goodness, made soft by sin, in a nation decayed by luxury, and enslaved. [S.A. Brooke.]

Mammon’s speech. [Lines 226-283]

      Mammon, personifying Love of Wealth, falls in with Belial’s suggestion of peace, but advises action, not sloth, the settlement of a prosperous empire in Hell. "War means", says he, "either to disenthrone God, or to regain our place. The first is impossible, the second unacceptable. Suppose, He gave us back our place, could we serve Him, spend an eternity in servile worship of one we hate? Let us seek our good form ourselves, build a free empire here, and win use out of ill fortune, and ease out of pain. Our world is dark, but we have skill to make it magnificent: and, by length of time, our torments may become our elements native to us, and be no longer pain. Dismiss all thought of war."—This is the image of the empire of godless utility and wealth, of that world which says, Man shall live by bread alone.—[S.A. Brooke.]

The two speeches of Beelzebub. [Lines 284-416]

      All Hell applauds the speech of Mammon. Then Beelzebub rises, and in him Milton draws the sublime picture of a great minister touched with a gleam of far-off beauty from another world than Hell, and the attention given to him is as still as night or summer’s noontide air. He upbraids them for their want of spirit, and reminds them that they are still God's prisoners. "Why speak of growing empires", he asks, "why of peace or war? God will rule Hell as Heaven. Hell is His empire not ours. Peace will not be given, nor can we return it. War has been tried, and we are foiled. But we can study a less dangerous enterprise which will surpass common revenge. There is a new world, and indwellers in it, in whom God takes pleasure. We may spoil His pleasure by ruining His creation." He thus points out die possibility of revenge in destroying the new creation, or at least in possessing it themselves and causing the fall of man.

      Beelzebub's speech unites those who wish for war and peace. He is loudly applauded. His counsel thus receiving favor, he next proceeds to remind them of the fearful difficulties of the journey across Chaos, and invites volunteers.

Satan’s offer. [Lines 417-505]

      None dares to take up the offer. Satan, there-upon, as becomes his position as leader, undertakes the quest. In this way he gratifies his desire to get glory for himself.

Description of Hell and the amusements of the fallen angels. [Lines 506-628]

      The Council ended, the fallen angels occupy themselves in diverse ways, while Satan hurries on his quest to the new world. 'Of a true Hell there is nothing here. The amusements described here are not natural to that dark dwelling. The Homeric games, the philosophical discourse on retired hills, the music and heroic song in the silent valley, the "bold adventure to discover wide that dismal world", take our thoughts away from Hell. Save in the first circle (beyond the river Lethe), we do not meet such pictures in Dante's actual Inferno. There is no true horror or pain in Milton's Hell. He never saw the damned.' [S.A. Brooke.]

Death and Sin at Hell-gate. [Lines 629-889]

      Satan finds two shapes at the gate of Hell, one of whom disputes his passage, shaking a dart. Both, undaunted, fall to words, and would have fought, but the other Shape intervenes. Addressing Satan as "father" and the other as "son," she adjures them to abstain from fighting. Satan betraying his surprise at this address, she reminds him of a time in Heaven, when she sprang from his head, was called Sin, and became by him the mother of Death, the other Shape, after the fall from heaven. Satan tells them the object of his journey, which will benefit them both. [G.C. Irwin.]

      He tells them that he has come there really on a quest to find out ways and means by which to set them as well as the other fallen angels free from Hell. For their sake he has undertaken to venture alone through the deeps of Hell, and Chaos afterward. He goes in quest of a place which has been foretold, should be created, and which by other signs and events that have happened since, may have been created by then. It is to be in the outskirts of Heaven, and a new race would have inhabited it probably to fill the void created by their fall from Heaven. But it would be outside Heaven lest those upstart creatures should again create trouble in it. Satan is anxious to find out these things for himself, and when his quest ends, he would return and take them back to this new abode, to move about freely and invisibly in the air, and they can satiate their unappeasable hunger there, for everyone in the new world shall be the victim.

      Sin and Death are appeased, and they open the gates of Hell, whence Satan emerges into Chaos.

Description of Chaos. [Lines 890-1033]

      Satan wings his way through the warring elements in Chaos. The elements of Nature in their embryonic form strive for mastery here. He reaches the throne of Chaos with great difficulty, and through guile and fair promise, learns from him about the creation of the new world. Since the way thither is not distant, Satan hurries onward.

Satan’s flight ends. [Lines 1034-1055]

      He has to struggle against the atoms which threaten to crush him, but at last he sees the light of Heaven by which he picks his way slowly to the outer hard crust of the new-created world.

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