Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Pandemonium I (First of Four Essays)
Bill Long 2/22/08
From Milton's Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 650-799
These four essays will primarily consist of a word tour of the last 150 or so lines of Book I of Paradise Lost ("PL"). The reason for entering on this "tour," however, was my coming by chance upon the word pandemonium and not knowing (or having forgotten) its origin. Rather than originally being a place or situation of utter confusion or uproar, which usage only comes form 1827, the word originated with Milton himself in describing the abode of Satan and his minions in Book I of PL. Specifically, the sentence runs:
"At Pandemonium, the high Capitol
Of Satan and his Peers," I.756-57.
The word is suggestive, consisting of the Greek words for "all" (pas, pan) and "demons" (daimones). The building of Pandemonium is described in the last 150 lines of Book I. Let's follow the "flow" of these lines, stopping along the way to quote some useful or interesting words or thoughts.
Preparing for War with God
Satan and his troops have been defeated in their pre-creation war against God. As a punishment for their effort, they are confined to Chaos or Hell, a dark nether region far away from Heaven. After collecting his senses, Satan realizes that he has quite an army of rebels with him. A listing of the leaders of the army, with ample display of Milton's biblical knowledge, takes more than 100 lines (lines 392-521). Then there follows a description of some of the troops (lines 522-621). After this Satan speaks to them all in order to encourage them to rise up against God to possess their "native seat" (634). But it would be foolish for the spirits to try a frontal assault on heaven; they would just be ignominiously defeated. What will they do? Ah...they have heard about a "fame" (i.e., report or rumor) in heaven that God, before too much longer,
"Intended to create, and therein plant
A generation, whom his choice regard
Should favor equal to the sons of Heav'n:
Thither, if but to pry, shall be perhaps
Our first eruption, thither or elsewhere," (652-656).
That is, the evil spirits have heard talk of the creation of humanity, which will then be the "target" of their indirect assault against God. "Eruption" in l. 656 means a sudden and violent breaking forth, especially of armed forces from a stronghold (OED s.v, def. 3). But you can't just go to war; you have to discuss it. "Peace is despair'd" (660). "War then, War,/ Open or understood, must be resolved" (661-62). Though the verb "resolve" originally meant "to melt, dissolve or reduce to a liquid or fluid state," it is used here in the sense of "to decide, determine, or settle" (OED, s.v. def. 13). Eventually, then, there will be a conclave of the demonic beings to discuss what to do. Milton will be moving toward that meeting as Book I races to its conclusion, though the actual conclave won't take place until Book II.
The Response of the Demons
No sooner had Satan given his stirring exhortation but action happened. "Millions of flaming swords" were drawn by the infernal creatures. So bright was the resultant scene that "the sudden blaze/ Far round illumined Hell" (665-66). Milton's brilliant art is highly dependent on the opening two Books of Homer's Iliad, though the Christian touch here is unmistakeable. The "flaming sword" is reminiscent of the flaming sword held by the Cherubim in paradise, which prevents humankind from re-entering the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). What are these swords? Are they simply swords with "flamboyant" (i.e., curved to look like flames) edges or are they meant to be swords that actually have flames leaping out of them? Probably the latter, though the deliciousness of the imagery is enjoyable whichever alternative one selects. These lesser demons, too, raged against God.
"Highly they raged
Against the Highest (666-67).
The adverb "highly" means "greatly, intensely, extremely, very, much" (OED s.v. def. 3). A usage of "highly" in this way appeared in the previous century in Coverdale's Bible: "Greate is ye Lorde & hyelie to be praysed" (Ps. 48:1).
The Hill Not Far Off
Before, however, we get to the battle or even a discussion of plans, Milton takes us on a tour of the infernal regions, focusing specifically on the building of Pandemonium. Not far from the scene he had been describing was a Hill, whose "grisly top" (grisly means "horrible, terrible") belched fire and rolling smoke. The rest of the hill, however, "shone with a glossy scurf" (672). "Scurf" was originally a sort of scaly covering on the skin, but could mean "any incrustation upon the surface of the body; a deposit, mold, or the like." So, the hill belched smoke and had a scaly surface, an "undoubted sign/ That in his womb was hid metallic Ore,/ The work of sulphur" (672-74). I would have to know more about 17th century understanding of mining to comment further..
Since Milton focuses on the building of Pandemonium, he has to move now to the workers. A "numerous Brigad" of workers hastened to the hill. Then, showing his "Homeric colors," he gives a simile:
"As when bands
Of Pioners with Spade and Pickax arm'd
Forerun the Royal Camp, to trench a Field,
Or cast a Rampart," (675-78).
I didn't know until this moment that the original meaning of "pioneer" (here Pioner) was a member of an infantry group going with or ahead of an army to dig trenches, repair roads and clear terrain in readiness for the main body of troops. Thus, we have from 1548: "Withal diligence the pyoners cast trenches." Thus, if we haven't noticed already, we now see that almost every line of Milton repays close analysis. His words are, like Shakespeare's, worthy of memorization.
But, before we memorize, we need to keep the flow going, in the next essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long