Study Guide

Paradise Lost Book 2

By John Milton

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Book 2

  • Book 2 opens with Satan sitting on his throne; he addresses his legions, saying that he still hopes to regain Heaven.
  • He says that now they must debate about the most effective way to fight God; he asks whether all out war or something more subtle is better.
  • Moloch speaks first; he's in favor of open war with God. They should just batter God's throne with all they've got because things can't be possibly get any worse.
  • Belial – a really clever speaker – is up next. He's not in favor of open war because Heaven is too well-fortified and will easily expel the foreign invaders.
  • And besides, being an angel, even in Hell, is better than death; things could be worse. They could be burned alive by the fires of Hell, chained to the burning lake, etc.
  • Actually, Belial is against any form of war because God will figure out their plans and defeat them. Who knows? Maybe God will relax his punishment if they just put up with it for a while.
  • Mammon is up next; he says it is impossible to defeat God and, even if He forgives everybody, they'll have to be slaves and pay tribute to Him. Not worth it.
  • They should just do what they want in Hell, because they're free there. With a little hard work, they can make the best of their situation.
  • There is applause after this speech; the fallen angels are afraid of another war, and would rather build an empire in Hell to rival Heaven's.
  • Beelzebub rises up; he says it's a joke to think they can have their own empire in Hell. God will eventually exert his dominion over it too.
  • There will be no peace, but they don't necessarily have to assault Heaven. Rumor has it that God is building a new world. They should check it out.
  • Maybe they can destroy mankind, or "Seduce them to our [the devil's] party" (2.368).
  • The fallen angels vote in favor of Beelzebub's plan…supposedly. It sounds rigged.
  • He resumes his speech and asks who is bold enough to try and find this new world?
  • Nobody volunteers, and all the angels are afraid; this is a bold, important, and dangerous task.
  • Satan stands up and addresses the council. He says Hell is a really strong prison and it's hard to get out; if one gets out, then one has to deal with a dark place that has no being ("unessential Night"). It's like stepping off the planet into something unknown.
  • He says he wouldn't be a good sovereign, though, if he were afraid of doing something. He's the leader and should brave more dangers. He'll look for the new world.
  • He tells the angels to make Hell cozier while he's away.
  • The fallen angels greatly respect their leader; they treat him like a "God…equal to the highest in Heav'n" (2.479). He's risking his own life for their sake after all.
  • They shouldn't get too excited; this prospect is kind of like a gleam of sunshine when it's clearly going to rain.
  • The highest-ranking angels emerge from Pandemonium with Satan, who is surrounded by a group of heavily-armed soldiers.
  • Trumpets made of fake gold proclaim the result of the council; Hell resounds with cheering.
  • The leaders each go their own way, to relax or chill out – to find "truce for [their] restless thoughts'' – while they wait for Satan to return.
  • Some angels tear up rocks and create a huge ruckus; some of them go off and sing songs. Still others go off in the hills to meditate on philosophical subjects. Some even have races!
  • One group assembles into platoons and goes in search of an "easier habitation" – i.e., a nicer place to live. Each group travels along the banks of one of the four rivers of Hell (Styx, Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegeton).
  • Beyond these is the river of forgetfulness, Lethe. And beyond that, the platoons discover that Hell is a frozen wasteland. Huh?
  • That's right, it's snowing and there's hail. Basically it's like Antarctica. It's so cold, though, it almost burns. "Cold performs the effect of Fire," Milton says.
  • Apparently the fallen angels will be forced to spend time in this part of Hell on a regular basis, frozen in ice; the change from fire to ice is brutal.
  • Meanwhile, Satan makes his way towards the gates of Hell, which are very strong, and surrounded by fire. There are three of them (one brass, one iron, one "adamantine rock").
  • There are two figures on either side of the gate. The first is a female from the head to the waist, but below the waist, she's a serpentine. Around her waist are little hell-hounds that constantly bark but sometimes retreat into her womb. Disgusting!
  • The other is dark and black; he appears shapeless, and is very terrible (sorry, that's all Milton gives us). He wears a fake crown on his head, and is introduced at line 666. Hmmm….
  • Satan is not afraid; he addresses them, saying he's going through that gate no matter what.
  • The male asks him if he's the rebel angel that started a huge war in Heaven. He (the shapeless figure) is in charge here, not Satan.
  • Satan and this figure stare each other down (like two thunder clouds), almost as if they were about to duel. Each plans to kill the other with one stroke, but the female jumps between them.
  • She asks Satan why he's about to kill his….son! And she asks the other why he's about kill his…father!
  • Satan asks her what she's talking about, and she tells him: during the planning of the revolt in Heaven, she (still unnamed) sprung forth from the left side of his head! The rebel angels named her Sin.
  • Satan had a secret sexual relationship with his daughter Sin and impregnated her; she fell with the angels from Heaven, was given the key to Hell, and gave birth to Death (the shapeless guy).
  • Death eventually raped ("embraces forcible and foul") Sin (his mother), who gave birth to those hell hounds around her waist. They howl and gnaw out her insides.
  • Satan tells Sin that he's trying to free his angels and that he's going in search of God's newly-created world. He'll let Sin and Death roam free there if he finds it.
  • Sin says that God has forbidden her to open the gates. Why should she listen to God, though, since He's exiled her? Besides, he's not her real dad, Satan is.
  • Sin opens the gates; a thunderous sound is heard, and flames and smoke burst out. Beyond is "a dark/ Illimitable Ocean without bound,/ Without dimension" (2.891-893).
  • Satan observes this place – it's called Chaos, and it is hot, cold, moist, and dry all at once. It's really loud, louder than the sounds of war or the sound of the earth imploding.
  • Satan takes flight; his journey takes him over a number of strange, hybrid substances; he has to walk-fly, crawl, swim, basically move in every which way. This is Chaos, after all.
  • He hears some sounds and moves towards them, eventually coming to Chaos' throne. He tells him (Chaos) that he's trying to find the borders of Heaven and asks for directions.
  • Chaos says he knows who he is; he heard the angels fall and saw the heavenly angels pursue them.
  • He directs Satan towards earth, and Satan takes off like a pyramid of fire.
  • Satan approaches Heaven, and he can see its light shining into the dark abyss. He also notices the universe (Milton calls it the "world"), hanging from Heaven by a golden chain.
  • He moves towards it "full fraught with mischievous revenge."

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