Paradise Lost Book 2: Line 274-278 - Explanation

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Line. 274-278: Our torments also.....sensible of pain.

      Mammon tendering his advice in the council of the rebel angels in Pandemonium advocates neither war nor peace. He desires to have nothing to do with the Almighty. What is lost has been lost irretrievably. Let them rather think of building another empire likest to Heaven’s in Hell. He realises of course that Hell is place of torment. But it cannot continue long to be so. There is amidst angels as with man the power of adaptability to environment, and this must act in their favour, if they will keep quiet, and not think further of enraging the Almighty.

      In explaining this idea Milton makes use of the mediaeval notion that the chief elements are fire, air, earth, water and ether. Our happiness consists in residing in the elements to which we belong; if we are transported from one element to another we are most unhappy. The rebel angels had so long resided in the element of ether in the Empyrean; now they have been obliged to reside in the element of fire in Hell. They feel this new element to be a torment, but long residence in it must acclimatise them to it. The element which now gives them the greatest pain must in course of time, by their becoming accustomed to it, lose all its poignancy, and they will take on the character of the element itself, and thus be made quite insensible to its effects.

      It may be worthy of remark here that Mammon uses the same arguments which Belial had used for a different purpose in his speech. Eager that the rebel angels should not go to war, because he was opposed to any kind of exertion, he had held out the hope that in course of time they might become inured to their present misery, that it might even cease to be a misery.

      To the discerning, Mammon's argument goes one step further. It explains how it was that these spirits who were made of divine substance became absolutely evil. Owing to their long residence in that evil place, Hell, their temper becoming changed into the temper of Hell, they had become hardened in evil and lost all the vestiges of that goodness, nobility or heroism, which they had brought with them into Hell. So it is that today they are spirits of pure evil only.

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