Satan and Beelzebub I
Bill Long 4/26/08
In I.84-191 of Paradise Lost
A good "subtitle" for these three essays might be "of defiance, caution and hope," because these words capture well the dynamics of conversation between these demonic forces in hell in I.84-191. Satan and Beelzebub, along with an army of other seraphs and cherubs, have been cast "sheer o'er the crystal Battlement" in heaven until they landed deep down in hell, "in the fiery Surge." They lay stunned for a while after their nine-day fall, and soon the "camera" focuses on Satan, the ringleader of the revolt. His heavenly nose was put out of joint because of his sense of "injured merit," i.e., he was passed over for a promotion in heaven. So, he led the revolt that caused him and his minions to be cast out of heaven; they were "hurled headlong flaming" out of heaven (I.45).
So, Satan and his minions were laid out in the pit of hell, rolling about in pain, with Beelzebub weltering ("writhing" or "wriggling") next to him. Satan looks around ("round the throws his baleful eyes") to try to assess his situation and sees his second in command, Beelzebub, lying nearby. There then begins an amazing conversation in these lines between the two demonic leaders. In this and the next two essays I will examine the three speeches in these lines, with special emphasis on the arguments made by both as they try to assess their next step while lying uncomfortably on the roiling fiery ocean. Let's begin with Satan's first speech (I.84-124).
Satan's Opening Speech (I.84-124)--Defiance
After Satan first expresses his amazement at how Beelzebub has changed ("But O how fall'n! how chang'd/ From him, who in the happy Realms of Light/ Cloth'd with transcendent brightness didst outshine/ Myriads though bright"--84-87), he assesses their future prospects. Though clearly misguided in his apprehension of reality, as evidenced by his thought that God's throne was terribly shaken by their attack, he nevertheless presses on to interpret their condition. He asks the question--"What though the field be lost?" (l. 105). In other words, 'Even though we have lost the battle, what prospects do we truly have for the future?' Then follows his memorable lines:
"All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield," (106-08).
Is this one or four things? Perhaps he is so committed to the spirit of defiance that he finds many words to say what amounts to the same thing. 'I never will give up,' he intones. But rather than simply shake his fist at heaven and shout those rather unimaginative lines, he speaks of a will that cannot be conquered and courage which will never lead to submission. While he is in his defiant mood, he will make a study of revenge and hatred, perhaps focusing on the ways he can refine both characteristics to mount the perfect attack on the Supreme King. Has he "learned his lesson?" Of course not.
But then he goes on:
"And what is else not to be overcome?
That Glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me..." (I.109-111).
Let's go slowly on these lines. The first is a sort of shorthand or abbreviated way of saying, "and what other things in me, in addition to the will, revenge, hate an courage, have not yet been overcome?" In other words, the four things he listed above were just a sample of the variety of things that have not been taken away from him. He almost feels a little sorry for God, I would suppose, because there is so much left that hasn't yet been obliterated. Then, one reads the second line ("that Glory") correctly if one sees the subject as "his wrath or might." The meaning would be that God's wrath or might will never extort the "Glory" that Satan possesses in himself. God is, for Satan, a tyrant who has won a temporary victory but will never, no never, be able to extract Satan's "Glory" from him. Satan is saying something to the effect, "you may have taken away my body and my pleasures in heaven; you may have given me mental torment to boot; but you can't eradicate my basic Glory, my fundamental Exaltedness." We say things like this all the time--a person can take away my freedom but they can't take away the freedom of the mind, etc.
The reason Satan will not even consider bowing to the overwhelming power of God is that, in his judgment, God only narrowly emerged victorious in battle. Hear him:
"To bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee, and deify his power
Who from the terror of this Arm so late
Doubted his Empire, that were low indeed,
That were an ignominy and shame beneath
This downfall," (I.111-116).
Satan believes that he has injected some real fear into God through the frontal assault on the divine throne. God, even a little while ago, "Doubted his Empire." Thus, to give in after a battle where the victorious side just eked out a narrow win would be "low indeed." Satan, we see, has a hard time coming to grips with the reality before him (Beelzebub won't have as much trouble realizing his complete devastation). He thinks he has lost a narrow battle in the greater war, and that his task now is:
"To wage by force or guile eternal War
Irreconcilable to our grand Foe" (I.127-28).
He is gearing up for the long haul, and he lets the reader know that in order to do so he must have the most determined spirit of hate and revenge, an "unconquerable Will," as he puts it, to continue the struggle.
So, how do we see Satan so far? Is he "noble?" Completely deluded? Just a sore loser? I think he hasn't yet let reality "sink into him," even though his defiance is expressed in words that have entered deeply into the bloodstream of our literature. The next essay looks at how Beelzebub responds to his bold commander.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long