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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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BOOK II

LINES 1-298. THE DEBATE IN PANDEMONIUM

As suits his position, Satan presides over the debate from a high throne, "that bad eminence." But the debate is really a setup. Three fallen angels (later, the gods who deceive the Israelites into worshipping them instead of the true God) offer what you might think are reasonable alternative strategies; but Beelzebub, like a well-trained staff officer, brings out the plan which we know will be agreed on, and then Satan takes on the job of carrying it out.

Moloch blusters that open war is preferable to remaining in Hell. We can't be worse off than we are, he says. If God wins again, we will be put out of our misery: God will "reduce / To nothing this essential, happier far / Than miserable to have eternal being." But it may be impossible even for God to annihilate them because they may be divine and therefore immortal (lines 99-100). In that case, they already know the worst.



Belial is also unsure whether as fallen angels they are immortal, but he makes a different argument. If we can be annihilated, why take the chance? We might not be because God might not even give us that relief. And it is certainly better to have some "intellectual being / Those thoughts that wander through eternity" than nothing. War against God will not only risk annihilation, it will also hurt their chances of getting back into God's grace through good behavior (lines 208-213).

Mammon's position is much less subtle than Belial's and more directly opposed to Moloch's. Instead of continuing to fight against God, let us make our kingdom here. There are plenty of resources, as Mammon knows because in Book I he mined the materials to build Pandemonium. Hell could eventually become a place rivaling the magnificence of Heaven; the torments they now feel will diminish with time.

Do you find any of these arguments convincing? It's obvious that Milton despises Belial, who "Counselled ignoble ease and peaceful sloth." This comment, addressed directly to us, may help us to understand one of the reasons why Satan seems attractive whether Milton intended him to or not. Satan is active. He doesn't just accept his fate, he thinks of ways to change it.

The other fallen angels like Moloch's idea best, fearing another defeat. But it isn't what the leadership wants.

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