Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 533-538 - Explanation

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Line. 533-538: As when.....welkin burns.

      When the great consultation had ended in Pandemonium, and Satan had set out on his expedition to Earth, the rebel angels diverted themselves in various ways. Some of them ranging themselves in battalions fought mock battles. This is described by Milton in this beautiful simile.

      The show the devils made when they fought their mock battles was very much similar to those battles in the air waged by aery knights - a phenomenon which popular supersition believed to occur on the eve of some great disaster to proud cities. Milton says that the devils formed themselves into such brigades as may be found in the sky, when to warn proud cities, embattled soldiers appear in the clouds, and in the midst of the lightning and the cloud, rush forward before their armies to meet in single combat champions of the opposing horde, and clash with one another till the whole sky bums with their several feats of arms. There is appositeness in the simile, for in either case the objects compared are shadowy, the devils being as immaterial as the shadows that appear in the sky.

      Milton is here making use of a popular belief that before the destruction of cities which had become inflated with selfish glory, these shadowy phenomena would occur in the sky, as it were to warn them. Josephus, the jurist historian, for example, relates that when Jerusalem was about to be besieged by Titus, 'before sunsetting', chariots and troops of soldiers were seen running about among the clouds’ Shakespeare also makes a similar allusion in Julius Cesar on the night preceding Caesar’s assassination.

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