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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 299-505. SATAN'S MISSION

Beelzebub, not approving of Mammon's speech or the applause it receives, quickly dismisses its arguments. God is not going to let the fallen angels make a home for themselves in Hell-he designed it as a punishment, and it will never be otherwise. On the other hand, open war is hopeless because God will win again.

What about something easier? Beelzebub elaborates the rumor of the creation of man, mentioned briefly by Satan in Book I. These creatures are equal to angels-perhaps they were intended to fill the gap caused by the expulsion of the rebellious one-third-but they will receive God's special favors. At least the place should be investigated, in hopes of finding a weak spot in God's armor, where he can be annoyed if not defeated. Some trick may deliver the new creation into their hands, so that the inhabitants of earth may join the fallen angels in Hell.



Satan puts the finishing touch on this managed debate by praising their judgment in adopting the plan he had in mind already. And then he raises the essential question: who is going to be the spy?

Their cowardly silence gives Satan his chance. He alone will take on the task of spying on God's new creation. Such an assignment best fits a leader, who should be prepared to take on any danger. A leader can't accept the honors due his position without also accepting the hazards.

He stands up and ends the debate right there, knowing very well that some other fallen angel would try to claim the difficult job, thus detracting from Satan's glory. They all bow to him and praise him for his heroism, prompting an epic simile in which their harmony is compared to a beam of sun lighting up the evening sky after a storm.

Milton now adds his own comment: how shameful it is that devils can agree among themselves but men cannot (lines 496-505). Milton had lived through a civil war and all the horrors of revenge when Charles II reestablished the monarchy. There were wars in Germany and France almost continually during his lifetime. If only mankind would unite against its common enemy, "hellish foes," and stop destroying each other! We can heartily agree, for things are no better three hundred years after Paradise Lost.

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