The Glory of Satan and The Troops I
Bill Long 12/17/09
PL I. 550-621
The action in Hell is moving inexorably towards a conclave of the Rebel Angel leaders to determine how they will respond to the terrible defeat they suffered at the hands of the Father and the Son. Before we get to that conclave, however, we read a rich description of the inspired Rebel Angels and the effect of this inspiration on their leader, Satan. In the next two essays I will discuss: (1) the march of the Rebel Angels according to the Doric or Dorian mode (550-567) and (2) Satan's profoundly contradictory feelings as he readies himself to address them (567-621).
The March of the Rebel Angels
We know from the preceding essays that the Angels are a committed force, rising at Satan's word in serried ranks with glittering swords and thronging helms. Now we see they are a disciplined force, not only as they move in a "perfect phalanx" (550) but also as they march in the "Dorian mood" (550). For all of Milton's eagerness, and for all the classical passages describing this mode, especially in Plato and Aristotle, we still don't know precisely how this mood/mode sounded.
Plato has occasion to discuss the musical modes accompanying poetic expression in Book III of the Republic. He believes that the words, harmonic mode and rhythm of songs are crucial in shaping the soul of the poet and the listener. Thus, he devotes considerable attention to modes in his long description of the type of poetry allowed (and disallowed) in the kallipolis, the beautiful city, he is creating. In a paragraph describing the Dorian and Phrygian modes, Plato writes that the former imitates the "tone and rhythm of a courageous person who is active in battle" while the latter is characteristic of "someone engaged in peaceful, unforced, voluntary action" (Republic 399a-b). More specifically, the Dorian mode is appropriate for one
"doing other violent deeds, or who is failing and facing wounds, death, or some other misfortune, and who, in all these circumstances, is fighting off his fate steadily and with self-control," Ibid.
Aristotle picked up on this passage and defined the Dorian mode in the context of his doctrine of the mean:
"And all agree that the Dorian mode is more sedate and of a specially manly character. Moreover since we praise and say that we ought to pursue the mean between the extremes, the Dorian mode has this nature in relation to the other harmonies," Politics, Book VIII, 1342b.
Such a mode differs considerably from the Sousa-esque trumpets and "Sonorous metal blowing Martial sounds" (540) which the Rebel Angels needed to rouse them from their "fiery couch." Now that they are in orderly arrangement they respond to a different rhythm, one more attunded to a disciplined, orderly march than to a display of unbridled emotion. We understand clearly now how Milton can write (553-55), describing their movement:
"instead of rage
Deliberate valor breath'd, firm and unmov'd
With dread of death to flight or foul retreat.."
In their movement, the Fallen Angels remain "unmov'd" because they, being immortal, can't die. But Milton is more profound than Plato in describing the effect of this mode not just on the Angels but on the human spirit. This mode is not:
"wanting pow'r to mitigate and swage (assuage)
With solemn touches troubled thoughts, and chase
Anguish and doubt and fear and sorror and pain
From mortal or immortal minds," (556-59).
How is it that a martial air, or an air that moves troops to war but without inciting them to rage, is able also with its "touches" to "swage...troubled thoughts"? He never explains, but he gives us the most unusual sentence in all of PL to describe it; we have four "ands" in the line. It chases away:
"Anguish and doubt and fear and sorrow and pain."
How much better are these five words than the more famous five words of Hobbes, a contemporary of Milton, in describing the brutal condition of the state of nature. "And the life of man:
"Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
More On Their Movements
Now that we know how they move, Milton actually paints a picture for us of their movement. Their great unity and party discipline is captured in the noble words (560),
"Breathing united force with fixed thought."
They are moving as one, the Church of Hell, as orthodox in their heterodoxy as the Athanasians were in their Christology. We almost are pained with their pain as they move to the music of the soft pipes, pipes that "charm'd/ Their painful steps o'er the burnt soil" (561-62). We see them standing, a "horrid" front as their shields bristle and their demeanor sends off the most horrifying look. As some editors mention, Milton is particularly fond of the word "horrid" in PL (18 times); five of these appearances are in Book I (lines 51, 83, 224, 392, 563). Sometimes the word reflects its Latinate (and original English) sense of "bristling" or "rough"; more frequently it means "fitted to excite horror; dreadful; shocking." They stand, ordered and ready for the word of their Commander-in-Chief Satan. They need not wait much longer, since he is next "up" in Milton's story. We turn now to the strength of the troops and, after that, the address of their leader.