Gathering at Pandemonium II
Bill Long 12/20/09
Introducing Mulciber (730-51) I
An awestruck crowd of Fallen Angels elbows its way into the new structure. Some praise the work and some the architect. Ah, yes, the architect. We have already met the three groups of builders (those who mine, those who boil, those who pour the molds), but as of yet we don't know the one responsible for this huge and impressive structure. Milton now introduces him but, in true epic fashion, he introduces his life story and not just his work. It actually takes Milton ten lines to get to his famous name. It is as if the first several lines are something of a dramatic introduction: "Behind this door, with an impressive array of achievements under his belt, widely-recognized in the building trade, skillfully at work for years in heaven....I give you...."
We finally (740) meet him as Mulciber (aka Hephaistos; aka Vulcan), the builder of "many a towred structure high" (733) in Heaven, the residence (or palaces) of "scepter'd Angels." These angels sat "each in his hierarchy, the orders bright" (737) in Heaven. Those words "hierarchy" and "orders" conceal an entire universe of thought. As we have earlier seen, these are the two basic terms to describe the arrangement of the Angels in the angelology of the Church, developed by Pseudo-Dionysius in his Celestial Hierarchies (esp. ch. 6) and adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century (Question 108 of the First Part of the Summa). But Milton doesn't take the idea further here, because the focus is on Mulciber and not the fellow Angels.
Mulciber was the first to learn what the concept of "transferability of skills" meant: what he learned in Heaven would also be useful in Hell. But Milton chooses to focus on how he got from the former to latter locations. Or, rather, more specifically, he refers to a story from Greek mythology that relates how Mulciber fell from Heaven to earth. So, he tells us:
"how he (Mulciber) fell
From Heav'n, they fabled, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer o'er the crystal battlements; from morn
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
A summer's day, and with the setting sun
Dropt from the zenith like a falling star,
On Lemnos th' Aegean ile (740-46).
We learn his name, and immediately he begins falling. And falling. And f-a-l-l-i-n-g. It took Mulciber a long day to fall from Heaven to the Aegean island. But rather than just telling us that it "took all day," Milton drags it out in several lines so that we can, as it were, see him thrown sheer over the battlements and then watch him plummet from Heaven, through the zenith, onto Lemnos. In fact, I am thinking of designing a t-shirt based on this incident. The picture on it would be of a Heavenly wall at the top, with a small figure plummeting towards earth in the middle, and earth on the bottom. Underneath would be the caption: "'Imagine Mulciber Falling' Paradise Lost I.743." I think the shirt would sell big time, especially if I brought it to a conference of Milton scholars and set up a table with these shirts...
The Background for Mulciber's Fall
Milton doesn't invent this story. One of his literary heroes, Homer, narrates it in the Iliad. In fact, Hephaistos himself narrates that tumultuous experience:
"There was a time once before now I was minded to help you/ and he (Zeus) caught me by the foot and threw me from the magic threshold,/ and all day long I dropped helpless, and about sunset/ I landed in Lemnos, and there was not much life left in me," Iliad I.591-94.
We see both Milton's dependence on and his "improvement" of Homer's story. The principal improvement is Milton's stretching out of the time so as to leave us with an unforgettable picture.
But Milton wasn't the only one who picked up on Homer's story; in fact it became one of many stories which Plato identified in the Republic as unworthy of the gods and, therefore, as not permissible to be told in the kallipolis. Specifically, in Book II of the Republic, where Socrates is laying out the kinds of stories helpful for the education of the young, he presents his basic theory of education:
"Then we must first of all, it seems, supervise the storytellers. We'll select their stories whenever they are fine or beautiful and reject them when they aren't," Republic 377c.
More specifically, Plato then "names names." He wants to eliminate the "major" stories. Who tells these?
"Those that Homer, Hesiod, and the other poets tell us, for surely they composed false stories, told them to people, and are still telling them," 377d.
We can get even more specific. Which particular stories must we eliminate?
"We won't admit stories into our city--whether allegorical or not--about Hera being chained by her son, nor about Hephaestus being hurled from heaven,..." 378d.
Now we can begin to see how Plato will be the Christian thinker's friend.
I need one more essay to finish my treatment of Mulciber.