Methods Employed by the Spirits of Hell in Paradise Lost Book 2

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      The fallen angels in Hell after the departure of Satan on his heroic adventure of the discovery of the new world and the seduction of its sole inhabitant, amused themselves in a variety of ways. In describing their diversions, Milton draws freely from the epic recreations of classical heroes as they are described both by Homer and Virgil. The lower sort of angels indulged in physical sports, the higher in song and poetry, the noblest of all in philosophical discourse. The adventurous were bent on exploration and discovery. As always, their doings are patterns and types of the varied activities of men.

      The physical sports they engaged in, whether on the plain or in the air, were like the Olympian or Pythian games of the Greeks. Some rode their fiery steeds, or engaged in chariot races, being very careful to narrow their circuit closer and closer so that they might traverse the least distance, and at the same time very cautious not to touch the stone barriers lest they should be dashed against them to pieces. A few occupied themselves in military drills and feats of war. In this they resembled the aery champions whom superstition imagined to appear in the clouds in the van of their armies, and with feats of arms cause the entire welkin to bum from either end of heaven. Another band, wild with hellish rage at their acute sufferings, tore up rocks and hills, and hurled them down in great fury, or rode the air in a whirlwind. In this they resembled the great Hercules, who returning victorious from Aechalia, was roused to the bitterest rage by his torments from wearing the poisonous garment sent to him by his wife, and in his agony tore up the Thessalian pines, and hurled Lichas himself into the Euboic Sea.

Songs of Complaints

      The milder and the more cultured among the angels disported themselves differently. Some among them gathered in a silent valley and turned troubadours. They sang of their heroic deeds in “notes angelical to many a harp.” Their songs were not unmixed with their complaints, that destiny should have subjected them to become the slaves of Force or Chance. The subject matter of those songs was no doubt biased, but their harmony was divine. It suspended Hell, and ravished all the listening multitude.

      Another group sat on a retired hill, and discussed sweetly on subjects of great import and dignity, such as Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, Fixed Fate, Free Will, and absolute Foreknowledge. They initiated the chief subjects of speculation and anticipated the main trends of all secular philosophy. But in their attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable, they lost themselves in strange mazes of reasoning and discourse. They argued at length on the abstract doctrines of good and evil, of happiness and misery, of passion and apathy, and of glory and shame. It was all vain wisdom and false philosophy; still it had power to charm them all out of their pain, and distract them from their misery.

      Another set of rebellious angels interested themselves in exploration. In bold and adventurous march they tried to discover whether any part of that dismal habitation was more endurable than the burning lake, or the plain of solid fire. They discovered the sources of the Styx, Acheron, Phlegethon and Cocytus, the four rivers of Hell, which poured waters into the lake of fire. They also discovered the river Lethe, which flowed far away from them, and the region it bounded, the frozen continent, to which the damned were brought periodically to undergo its icy torment. Thus, all the endeavors of the fallen angels to find some easier habitation than their present abode proved abortive. In despair, mingled with great fear, they traversed through many a dark valley and fiery mountain, ‘caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens and shades of death’. The places they passed through seemed veritable places of death. Nothing flourished in them, everything died, and nature lived there only in monstrous and uncouth and ugly shapes which were more abominable, inexpressible, and worse than the gorgons, the hydras and the chimeras about which fables have spoken in the most terrible terms and figures.

      Thus did the fallen angels disport themselves; each as his nature and inclination led him. But their amusements were on a much more colossal scale than human words can express. Milton leaves it all to be filled in by our imagination.

University Questions

Describe the methods employed by the Spirits in Hell to pass the time during the absence of Satan on his flight to the world.

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