Sympathy for the Devil


Book review of Paradise Lost by John Milton

Been cast into Hell for eternity?  Look on the bright side.  That’s what he does:

Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell

Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings

A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n . . .

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Whose side are you on, Milton?  You seem to have framed the Devil as an admirable Stoic.  Of course Milton has to pretend to side with insipid, old God and his goody-two-shoes son, but the scenes of those two sedatives chin-wagging are about as compelling as the dinner table conversation at the Flanders’ house.  We can disregard the boring bits.  Paradise Lost is an epic poem about literature’s most fascinating and maligned character, the one who dared to stand against God himself.  He may have a bad reputation but the Devil seduces from us our curiousity.

Milton opens his verse in the midst of the drama, with Satan having been driven out of heaven and finding himself newly arrived in the Place Without God together with those fallen angels who were on the wrong side of history.  He gives a speech to his minions, demonstrating the stiff upper lip which probably got him the leadership role in the first place:

Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,

Free, and to none accountable, preferring

Hard liberty before the easie yoke

Of servile Pomp.

My devout reader might not yet have warmed to Satan’s view so I present him with this conundrum. Which would you prefer?

Option 1

Spending your life in a luxury prison in Thailand where the other inmates are nice people, not criminals.  You are free to travel around as you wish, visit beaches, eat fine food and swim in the pool.  WiFi is super fast.  The only drawback is that you have to follow the Ten Commandments.  If you sneak off for a cheeky night in Pattaya, illegally download music or complain about your mother’s nagging, you will be immediately  and permanently thrown out into . . .

Option 2

Being the Heavenly Emperor of Calcutta.  You can do anything you want there.  Anything. Except leave.

Hands up who chose Option 2?  Ah, you devils.  I know whose side you’re on.

So the demons spiffy up Hell and plan to fight against Heaven by messing up God’s latest pet project – Earth.

Meanwhile, the as yet uncorrupted Adam and Eve are living it up in Eden, doing soft work and strutting around naked. This section of the poem is terribly dull because the pair have no problems and, in the edition I have, there are not even any Eve tit-and-bum illustrations to bide us over.  After a while the weary reader becomes anxious for Satan to make his entrance, just as an irritated movie-goer watching Titanic yells, ‘Bring on the iceberg!’ when it becomes clear there will be no further nudie portrait scenes.

In this sterile world, God prefers his innocent creations to live in a heavenly state of ignorant bliss:

But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less

Her Temperance over Appetite, to know

In measure what the mind may well contain,

Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns

Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Winde

In other words, too much knowledge is like eating too many beans and farting a lot.  Scientists and philosophers beware.

Think onely what concernes thee and thy being;

Dream not of other Worlds, what Creatures there

Live, in what state, condition or degree,

Contented that thus farr hath been reveal’d

Not of Earth onely but of highest Heav’n.

Curiousity is bad, mkay.  What is it, exactly, God’s worried we might find out?  Hmm?  In any case, Adam at one point replies:

How fully hast thou satisfi’d mee, pure

Intelligence of Heav’n, Angel serene,

And freed from intricacies, taught to live,

The easiest way, nor with perplexing thoughts

To interrupt the sweet of Life, from which

God hath bid dwell farr off all anxious cares,

And not molest us, unless we our selves

Seek them with wandring thoughts, and notions vaine.

I again offer my reader a bifurcated path: would you prefer to be taught all the deepest secrets of the multiverse (its origins and meaning, the nature of any extraterrestrial life or intelligence, the future, and all that lies beyond), OR . . . a billion dollars, excellent health and reliable erections for another century?  Knowledge, or comfort?  And if you choose the first option, would it fry your brain, like trying to charge a 120V appliance from a 240V socket?  I don’t know.  You’d just have to take that risk.  It goes without saying that you would be unable to profit or benefit from that knowledge in any secondary way because that would mess up my neat little thought experiment.  Don’t make my life difficult.

Thankfully our fiery fiend soon escapes from Hell (magnificent story there) and flies across the chaotic abyss towards our stultified Earth.  He picks the hoochie mama as an easy mark and convinces her to eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  Adam, thoroughly cuntstruck, realizes Eve’s going to be turfed out of Eden and lose her immortality so he, too, eats the fruit in order to share her wicked fate.

Guys, don’t do that.  It’s almost as bad as letting a BPD girlfriend move in with you.

Betaboy says,

Certain my resolution is to Die;

How can I live without thee, how forgoe

Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn’d

To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?

Should God create another EVE, and I

Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee

Would never from my heart

That’s the true Original Sin right there: oneitis.  Had Adam read my blog world history would have turned out very differently.  He’d be banging a stable of hoes until he ran out of ribs and was reduced to flopping around Eden like a slug.  Oh and the drama’s not done yet.  Who does Eve blame for her predicament?  Going to give you three . . . two . . . one . . . that’s right!  She blames Adam for being foolish enough to let her out of his sight:

Being as I am, why didst not thou the Head

Command me absolutely not to go,

Going into such danger as thou saidst?  . . .

Hadst thou bin firm and fixt in thy dissent,

Neither had I trangress’d, nor thou with mee.

And here Adam finally stands up for himself.  Must be that Knowledge fruit he ate because he now seems to have smelled the coffee:

. . . Thus it shall befall

Him who to worth in Women overtrusting

Lets her Will rule; restraint she will not brook,

And left to her self, if evil thence ensue,

Shee first his weak indulgence will accuse.

Ain’t that the truth.  Even God’s angel agrees when he arrives to deliver their punishment:

Was shee thy God, that her thou didst obey

Before his voice, or was shee made thy guide,

Superior, or but equal, that to her

Thou did’st resign thy Manhood [?]

And they are expelled to live in the world, to work hard and to suffer mortality.  On a brighter note, the reader is relieved of his grinding boredom.  Until Satan rocks up Eden seems a rather dreary place.  Somewhat like Adelaide on a Sunday.

The scene in heaven, too, is remarkably dull when Milton takes us back in time to before the attempted coup d’état.  Everyone is behaving themselves and talking about wonderful, good, goody goody good things.  Again, the reader rejoices when our hero first rebels.  Rock and roll!  Satan refuses to serve anyone, demanding instead freedom.  I can relate.  The bootlicking angel Abdiel defends God’s rule thusly:

Unjustly thou deprav’st it with the name

Of SERVITUDE to serve whom God ordains,

Or Nature; God and Nature bid the same,

When he who rules it worthiest, and excels

Them whom he governs. This is servitude,

To serve th’ unwise, or him who hath rebelld

Against his worthier, as thine now serve thee,

Thy self not free, but to thy self enthrall’d

Which also makes a pretty good argument against democracy.  The ensuing war is quite silly, with both armies made up of immortals.  All they can do is hurt each other – basically it’s a slap fight.  At some point writing this, did Milton think, ‘This is rubbish.  Clearly this never really happened’?  He doesn’t tell us.  Is he sneakily pointing out the ridiculousness of the Biblical account by fleshing it out in this way?  Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.  But anyway, Heaven’s amusing upstart loses and cops his penalty on the chin:

Heav’n casts thee out

From all her Confines. Heav’n the seat of bliss

Brooks not the works of violence and Warr.

Hence then, and evil go with thee along

Thy offspring, to the place of evil, Hell,

Thou and thy wicked crew; there mingle broiles,

Ere this avenging Sword begin thy doome,

Or som more sudden vengeance wing’d from God

Precipitate thee with augmented paine.

Who knew God was the kind of guy to hold a grudge.

So there you have it.  Milton was a Satanist in the literary sense – he portrays the Devil as a Joker-like villain who prevents us from dying of boredom.  Milton does so very carefully in order to avoid 1667’s powers-that-be warming his toes.  On the other hand, perhaps he is an earnest but hopelessly incompetent advocate for the Lord who inadvertently turns his readers against him.  Or maybe normal people are not so easily bored as I am, and do not favor evil and debauchery over middle class virtues and white picket babies.  Who knows.

Anyway, Satan, if you’re a lurker here let’s do a deal: My soul for a lifetime’s supply of Laphroaig, debauchery, and typo-free blog posts, ONO.

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  1. Grunt Gut · September 21, 2016

    Satan has yet to see hell. And when he gets there, it’s Jesus Christ that rules heaven AND hell (Revelation 20:10). Satan also has yet to visit the “abyss” or “bottomless pit”, a temporary jail (1,000 years) not to be confused with hell.


    • Nikolai Vladivostok · September 21, 2016

      Jesus is going to rule Hell, too? Bet the first thing he does is put up girly drapes.
      Where did you see that about Satan not being in hell yet? I didn’t get that understanding from Revelation.


      • ray · October 20, 2019

        Satan is prince of the powers of air, and currently rules from near-atmospheres. With his friends.


  2. martin2 · September 23, 2016

    Yes the most interesting character in Paradise Lost is Satan and the reader is both interested and sympathetic towards him. God is an insufferable prig with no sense of humour. One wonders what Milton was playing at. I used to think that Milton was a dreadful misogynist, but now I realise he was 100% correct in his estimation of the female character, and indeed Milton is one of the greatest red-pill men in history.

    Liked by 2 people

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  5. L. Beau Macaroni · July 27, 2020

    Nikolai wrote: Which also makes a pretty good argument against democracy.

    Yes, the passage you quoted might sound odd, if viewed in isolation, coming from the pen of someone with John Milton’s political career. But I also agree agree with your assessment, above, that Milton probably couldn’t risk pressing his Commonwealth/republican sentiments too brazenly in Restoration Era England, even in metaphor, as he does in much of the text of Paradise Lost.

    What you wrote above reminded me of William Blake’s belief about Milton composing Paradise Lost: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at Liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

    Liked by 1 person

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