The Parade of Demons IV
Bill Long 12/13/09
This essay completes our introduction to the Infernal Twelve who rally to Satan's shaming call in I.315-30. Milton has to stretch a bit to come up with the remaining four (Reble Angels 9-12) because he has just about exhausted Palestinian/Syrian gods. Thus, numbers 9-11 are Egyptian gods (Isisis, Osiris, Orus) that never had any visibility in ancient Israel, even though they had long existed in Egyptian mythology. Then, number 12 (Belial) wasn't even a distinct deity or force in the time of ancient Israel but only became "individuated," so to speak, in the apocryphal literature of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Nevertheless, Milton's stories of each make these lines memorable. In addition, there is a short digression on Israel's worshipping the golden calf/ox, a digression provoked by the Egyptians giving the fleeing Israelites gifts of gold at the Exodus. Thus, in this essay I will examine three things: (a) Milton's reference to Egyptian deities; (2) the story of the Golden calf/ox in Israel; and (3) the story of Belial.
One other thing I noted about Milton's writing in these lines is the way that he is able to capture or open an entire story or tradition with just one or two words. For example, the notion of "borrowed" gold in 483 takes us to the Exodus story, "doubled" in 485 brings us to Jeroboam's putting two golden calves/oxen in Israel, "equall'd" in 488 helps us focus on the kind of punishment meted out by Yahweh against the Egyptians. Finally, Milton's change of words in two editions of PL, from "yielded" to "exposed" in 505, shows us how carefully he considered his words when expositing the biblical tradition. I will mention all of these in more detail below.
Egyptian Divinities (476-82)
The only thing Milton says about Osiris, Isisis and Orus is they:
"With monstrous shapes and sorceries abus'd
Fanatic Egypt and her Priests, to seek
Their wand'ring Gods disguis'd in brutish forms
Rather than human," 479-82.
There is nothing unusual here about foreign deities taking on the forms of "brutish" animals. Almost all of them did. What interests me here is his reference to the Egyptian Gods as "wand'ring Gods." In this one word Milton is referring to a tradition Ovid relates regarding the Olympian gods. In Book V of his Metamorphoses he describes a contest between the Muses and the Pierides. The latter sung about:
"Typhoeus, issued forth from his abode in the depths of the earth, filling heavenly gods with fear, and how they all turned their backs in flight, until Egypt received them, and the Nile with its several mouths. She told how earth-born Typhoeus came there as well, and the gods concealed themselves in disguised forms. Jupiter, she said, turned himself into a ram, the head of the flock, and even now Libyan Ammon is shown with curving horns. Delian Apollo hid as a crow, Baccus, Semele's child, as a goat, Diana, the sister of Phoebus, a cat, Saturnian Juno a white cow, Venus a fish, and Cyllenian Mercury the winged ibis," 320-331.
That is, here is a story of the Olympian gods "wandering" to Egypt for protection in animal forms in order to avoid the wrath of Typhoeus. Milton has picked up on a tradition, even though he leaves us with a bit of confusion. Are the Egyptian gods, known under the names of Isis, Osiris, Orus, formerly, then, Olympian gods that were themselves, originally, Rebel Angels? There is also a tradition of Isis wandering to collect the dismembered pieces of Osiris, but I don't see Milton referring to that story here. He doesn't answer us on this one, for he is simply interested in creating a connecting link to the people of Israel with the words "borrowed gold."
The People of Israel (482-89)
When the Israelites left Egypt, they were told:
"that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold," Ex. 11:2.
This gold, rather than giving the Israelites a sense of economic security and independence, proved a snare to them. When they asked Aaron to "make gods for us" (Ex. 32:1), while Moses was atop Horeb/Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments, Aaron had the people hand over their gold rings. Then, he melted them down and made them into a golden calf for the people to worship. Milton captures these episodes in a few words:
"when their borrowed gold compos'd
The Calf in Horeb," 483-84.
Then he fast forwards to another occasion of Israelite idolatry under King Jeroboam:
"the Rebel King
Doubl'd that sin in Bethel and in Dan,
Lik'ning his Maker to the grazed Ox," 484-86.
Note that in order to make Jeroboam seem similar to the Rebel Angels, he calls him the "Rebel King." Then, the other two lines refer to the story in I Kings 12:28-29,
"So also the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, 'You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan."
Then, the words "grazed Ox," or an ox who eats grass, is neatly plucked from Israel's worship tradition, the Psalms.
"They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass," Ps. 106:20.
The next essay concludes the thoughts on Israel and Belial.