So it begins. Milton strats off his epic with two sentences that are 26 lines long. It also reminds me why I don’t really read epics. Epics can be so boring, and while Paradise Lost has some wonderful moments (thus far) in which Satan talks shit about God and being kicked out of heaven, I could do without the invocation of the muse and without the long, long list of demon angels that fell with Satan.

Actually, in all honesty, so far the opening has been the most exciting part for me. Milton calls on the muse to inspire him, but unlike most epics, the muse for this epic is the Holy Spirit. There is also a running theme of light and dark (yes, this is probably obvious). The holy Spirit, of course, can be seen as the light of the world (I also think of the flames over the Apostles heads when they are hiding after Jesus’s crucifixion) which Milton ask to illuminate what is dark in him. 

Some main points I want to keep in mind: 

It is amazing (or not considering this is one of the canonical classics of literature) is how many references to dark and light, high and low, Milton refers to. There is also the subtle irony (which s found in Dante’s Divine Comedy too) of Milton writing an epic about the hubris of Satan and the fall of man– which is in itself, at least partially, a hubristic task. Who does Milton think he is that he can “…justify the ways of God to men” (Line 26)?

Milton’s opening outlines man’s fall from grace and expulsion from Eden, and then Milton opens up on Satan and his brood fallen and defeated from Heaven. There is something in Satan that has always bothered me. I caught a glimpse of it today: Lucifer means bringer of light, which is Satan’s name before his fall, and Satan means enemy. There is a corealtion it seems, throughout religions, that light (knowledge) is bad and the “enemy.” Think of Prometheus bringing fire (knowldge) to humans, or of Lucifer, bringer of light, who “informs” the other angels that they don’t have to follow what God says if they don’t want. I also think of the Tower of Babel– people getting along, working together, using a collective knowledge, and then they are punished. Here we have the first bringer of light punished. 

We find him defeated and speaking almost incoherently. I think Satan is so likable in this story because of his resolve. Although he has been whupped by God and the other arch angels, Satan refuses to change, repent, make amends, admit he was wrong, or even apologize to all those other angels that were kicked out of heaven. Satan is steadfast:

“That glory never shall his wrath or might/ extort from me. to bow and sue for grace/ With suppliant knee, and deify his power” (ln. 110-112)

Satan even goes on to call God a tyrant (line 124), and then to say that he is equal with God and that God is only greater because of his lighting. (257). This is right before the famous “better to reign in hell that to serve in heaven” (263) spiel. 

It seems that Beelzebub realizes God’s power and helps Satan realize it to. Bee reminds Satan that they are only alive because God let them live; furthermore, they were able to get out of their fiery lake because God let them. Satan, once out of the Stygian sludge, rallies his enormous troops, the troops build a hall, and then they have a meeting to see what they are going to do next. Are you kidding me? Even in Hell, you have to sit through pointless, bureaucratic  meetings. I guess this is where that evil practice started.

Some other interesting things about book one: well there aren’t a whole lot. We get the long list of the impressive angels that fell to hell. But there is this sense of building up and describing the greatness of this hellish army only to show that God’s army was so much more superior and greater yet. There is never any real sense of the size of things. Satan gets compared to giants, titans, whales as big as land masses, but it is all still arbitrary, and from what I understand of what I have in store for me, Satan’s stature diminishes throughout the story.