Study Guide

Paradise Lost Lies and Deceit

By John Milton

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Lies and Deceit

Book 1

"Him haply slumb'ring on the Norway foam
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixèd anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by his side, under the lee" (1.203-7)

Milton compares Satan to a giant creature that some "pilot" might mistake ("deeming some island") for an island; the point of the simile is that Satan seems like one thing (a heroic leader, an unjustly maligned angel), but is really another. In other words, he's a gigantic symbol of deception.

Book 2

"he seemed
For dignity composed and high exploit:
But all was false and hollow" (2.110-12)

Milton here describes Belial; notice the rhetoric of "seeming." It is implied in the famous simile about the island (described above), and discussed more explicitly here. Belial is "false and hollow," a description that resonates nicely with the canon sequence (described below). Things are not always what they seem in this poem; in fact, they are often not what they "seem."

Book 4

"Whereof he soon aware,
Each perturbation smoothed with outward calme,
Artificer of fraud" (4.119-21)

All of Satan's emotions are normally visible on his face, but here he shows his ability to display an "outward calm," even though he's as far from calm as one could get. The rhetoric of artificiality is quite patent here; we see it not only in "smoothed over," but also in "artificer." The latter contains the word "art" in it, suggesting that Satan is also some type of bad artist or something, or at least one that is more focused on the inauthentic than the natural.

Book 6

"in hollow cube
Training his dev'lish engin'ry, impaled
On every side with shadowing squadrons deep,
To hide the fraud" (6.552-5)

Satan's behavior in battle is the perfect example of what kind of character he is. He organizes his legions in such a way so as to conceal the "fraud," i.e., the canon. Note the recurrence of words associated with deception here: "hollow," "devilish," "fraud," and "hide," words that can be used to describe Satan more generally.

Book 9

"his final sentence chose
Fit vessel, fittest imp of fraud in whom
To enter and his dark suggestions hide
From sharpest sight" (9.88-91)

The serpent is the proper "vessel," the "fittest imp" for Satan. It's not totally clear why, especially since Milton is at pains to point out how everything is innocent. Is the serpent already a deceptive animal? Notice the contrast between "dark suggestions" and "sharpest sight," a dichotomy which plays on the contrast through the poem between darkness (Hell, Satan, etc.) and light (Heaven, good angels, etc.).

"He ended, and his words replete with guile
Into her heart too easy entrance won" (9.733-4)

Satan's words are full ("replete") of "guile," and yet, ironically, they find an "easy entrance" into Eve's "heart." We see this throughout the poem, and as readers we are not exempt; often, Satan's most deceptive or problematic speeches are the most effective. There is something about his "guile" that appeals to Eve, and to us.

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