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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 776-1015. GABRIEL CONFRONTS SATAN

The angelic guards are posted to watch for the intruder. Ithuriel and Zephon are given the job of searching the bower where Adam and Eve are asleep.

They find Satan almost at once, squatting in the shape of a toad by Eve's ear. As soon as Ithuriel touches him with his spear, Satan springs up in his own shape. The transformation looks like an explosion, as the epic simile tells you.

Now we have come to one of the most dramatic passages in Paradise Lost. To get its full flavor, read it like a play, assigning roles to different speakers. Milton's skill in writing lines of blank verse is at its best here.

At first the two angels don't recognize Satan, causing him to reply scornfully "Know ye not me?" You must be really low in the heavenly pecking order not to recognize me.



Zephon answers scorn with scorn: you don't look like a glorious angel now, you look like a creature from Hell. The rebuke stings Satan: he "felt how awful goodness is" (using "awful" in the sense of awe-inspiring).

When they bring Satan to where Gabriel has just met the other guards, Gabriel asks him why he has left Hell to make mischief in Paradise. Satan thinks it's a silly question-who wouldn't try to leave Hell? Yes, he was there beside Eve who was asleep, but that doesn't mean anything. Gabriel answers sarcastically that Heaven lost a good judge of wisdom when it lost Satan, and that his smartness will get him sent back to Hell to learn better. Why is Satan alone? Gabriel asks.

Satan gets angry and calls his former comrade "Insulting Angel," and he boasts of his leadership in taking on the dangerous spying mission. He scoffs at the "gay legions" in Heaven who take the easy way and cringe before God instead of fighting against his tyranny.

Gabriel objects to Satan's using the word "faithful" of himself and his actions. Gabriel even accuses him of having flattered God with his fawning and cringing, hoping to take over God's throne. When finally he gets down to business, he threatens Satan that he will drag him in chains back to Hell and seal it over, if he finds him in Paradise again. Satan has the last word, defying Gabriel to capture him without another War in Heaven.

At this the angels surrounding Satan turn bright red and tighten their circle around him. There are so many of them and they stand so upright that their spears look like a field of wheat waiting to be cut. For his part, Satan draws himself up so that he looks like a mountain whose top reaches the sky. His helmet is proudly crested, and he seems to carry powerful weapons. It is a tense moment: will another war break out to tear apart not only Paradise but Heaven itself?

God doesn't want it to happen. He sends a miraculous sign from Heaven, holding in the sky the astrological sign Libra, the Balance, which God had used during the creation to equalize earth and air. In one side of the balance God places the consequences of leaving the place quietly; in the other, the consequences of fighting. Fighting proves lighter, which means less sensible: "The latter quick flew up and kicked the beam."

Look, Gabriel says, God doesn't want another fight. Neither of them can do what God denies, although the sign clearly shows that Satan is a lightweight compared to Gabriel. Satan leaves hastily, as the night gives way to dawn.

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