Knowledge is the key to immortality
Paradise Lost Book I by John Milton
Prepared by Dr. Baburam Swami - Assistant Professor - English




Satan of Book-I Paradise Lost, is one of the glorious examples of political leadership and political oratory. His speeches are the key to his character and his art of oratory excels the best of Roman rhetoric. He is the leader of the rebel-angels in Heaven and the uncrowned monarch of Hell. By following his lead, the fallen angels are deprived of “happy fields, where joy forever dwells.” Satan has now the task of retaining their loyalty and does so by the sheer magic of his high-pitched oratory. There is a certain pathetic grandeur of injured merit in them which wins the hearts of his followers. Around the character of Satan, Milton has thrown a singularity of daring, a grandeur of sufferance and a ruined splendour, which constitute the very height of poetic sublimity.

Satan is the first to recover from the stupor into which all the rebel angels fall. Soon he notices his first lieutenant, Beelzebub, weltering by his side. He finds that his compeer is much changed. So he makes a cautious approach, for he is not sure whether his friend is in a mood to blame him or he still loves him.

First Speech. Satan’s speeches reveal pure Miltonic lyricism. His opening speech to Beelzebub is a magnificent set-piece. It reveals the character of Satan – a defiant rebel and a great leader. He encourages and sympathizes with his followers with bold words and sentiments.

Satan first takes pity on the change in his friend. Then he refers to their friendship of the hazardous enterprise in heaven and in their present misery. He is ashamed to admit the might of God. But he will not allow it to change his mind. He has nothing but contempt for God who insulted his merits. It is a sense of injured merit that makes him wage war against the tyrant of Heaven. As for the battle, it has been an equal match and the issue uncertain. It is not their want of merit but God’s new and secret weapon that won the war. There is an irony through Satan’s speech which continually reduces his stature even when apparently it seems to be building it up. Satan’s historical of “high disdain” and “sense of injured merit” have overtones of the ludicrous. It seems weak and childish.

A single victory does not permanently ensure God’s victory. For the present, they may have lost the field, but that does not mean they have lost everything.

What though the field be lost?

All is not lost-the unconquerable will.

And study of revenge, immoral hate,

And courage never to submit or yield.

And what is else not to be overcome?

He, who failed to conquer these things cannot be said to be victor at all. Defeat is complete only when the spirit and the will too are subjugated. The bow down before God is worse than defeat. So he is determined to wage eternal war by force or guile.

Satan’s question “what though the field be lost?” is “an exposure of himself and his inability to act in any other way other than what he enumerates.”

Though the speech is one of high rhetorics there is barrenness; no suggestion of action at all except to brood on revenge and hate. Revenge will be eternally “studied” and have sustained yet it is so grandly expressed that we are thrilled by the implied suggestion to wage ceaseless war against hopeless odds, this appears as admirable.

Second Speech. With his second speech, Satan sweeps off all doubts from his friend’s mind. “To be weak is miserable, doing or suffering.” If God attempts to turn evil into good, it must be the sacred duty of the fallen angels to foil his attempts and turn all good to evil. God has now withdrawn all his forces and is in a confounded state. They should not let this opportunity slip. It is imperative that all of them should assemble and consult how they may hereafter most offend their enemy, best repair their own loss.

The audacity and superb self-confidence of Satan are well brought out in these words. He seizes the opportunity to mobilize his forces once again, conscious of the crushing defeat that he and his followers have suffered. Satan is trying to infuse fresh courage into them. His speech shows a heroic quality.

Third Speech. After winning over Beelzebub and putting new courage in him, Satan asks him whether they are forced to exchange this mournful gloom for celestial light. Now that they have become avowed enemies of God, the farther they are from him the better. So he welcome the dismal horrors of the infernal world. For him Hell is as good a place as Heaven, for his mind remains unchanged by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

In Hell they are free from servitude. It is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

“Farthest from him is best” is a statement of heroic defiance and of moral alienation. Once again the appeal is to the law of nature and God’s monarchy is presented to be based on force not on reason.

The line “Receive thy new Possessor” is characteristic of the Satanic mind and its passion for over lordship.

Satan’s speech is “full of ringing phrases expressed with a deliberate sonority.” The brief elegiac note gives way to rhetorical assertions of self-confidence. Again irony underlies the rhetoric. The ringing line “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” with its melodramatic tone scarcely conceals the mixture of pride and spite which it expresses.

Fourth Speech. Taking Beelzebub with him, he addresses other angels, with a resounding voice. He directly touches their ego by calling them, “Princes, Potentates, Warriors, the Flower of Heaven.” He ask them whether they are sleeping thus on account of physical exhaustion or in despair. He exhorts them to “wake, arise or be forever fallen.”

Initially, Satan sarcastically addresses his fallen angels and then he tries to revive their detached spirits. His speech is so commanding and fiery that his followers are roused out of their stupor.

Fifth Speech. Satan addresses the assembled angels. He is filled with pride to have so many comrades. It is impossible that these vast numbers are vanquished. They are all powerful and still there is every hope of regaining their native seat. God has conquered them by use of force, but such success is only a partial success. Hell cannot contain so many valiant spirits for long. Peace of course, is despaired and therefore ruled out. The only course open to them is war. “War open or understood.” Satan invites all of them to the great council.

Satan choked with emotion and tears, begins his speech, like a politician he indulges in rhetoric. Without distorting facts he turns them to a different light and gives his defeated host a margin of hope. Throughout, Satan resolves “to wage by force or guile eternal war.” Later he places an alternative before the infernal council “op’n war or covert guile.” But now one finds that the emphasis is on war not guile. Satan is determined to combat with God to save his own pride. Satan makes a warlike speech full of contradictions and absurdities when examined closely but admirable and impressive on the face of it ending with an appeal to continue conflict.

“War then war

Open or understood must be resolv’d

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