Study Guide

Paradise Lost Book 6

By John Milton

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Book 6

  • Abdiel heads back to where the good angels are. As morning dawns he notices the plain of Heaven "Covered with thick embattled squadrons bright,/ Chariots and flaming Arms, and fiery steeds" (6.16-17).
  • God addresses Abdiel from behind a golden cloud, saying essentially "well done, servant of God. You've made the more difficult but the right choice."
  • God then orders the angels Michael and Gabriel to wage war against the rebel angels and send them to Hell.
  • The clouds darken over God's hill and a trumpet is blown; the angels begin marching, rank and file, towards the north, where they encounter Satan's legions armed and ready.
  • The two sides close in on each other, until there is just a narrow space between them; Satan, who is sitting on a "sun-bright chariot" amidst his crew, descends.
  • Abdiel can't endure the sight, and says to his fellow angels: "I can't believe this guy still looks like an angel. Once he betrayed God his appearance should have withered."
  • He then addresses Satan, saying, "You're crazy. God could destroy you with anything. Some of us prefer faith and trust in God, as you can see."
  • Satan responds, telling Abdiel that he will be the first to feel Satan's wrath ("the first assay/ Of this right hand provoked").
  • He says that he (Abdiel) was just trying to get on God's good side, and that many of the "good" angels are choosing servitude over freedom.
  • Abdiel responds, telling Satan that he's wrong. Worshipping and obeying God is not slavery or servitude; servitude is worshiping an "unwise" leader like Satan.
  • With that, Abdiel strikes Satan so swiftly that he doesn't have time to repel it. His legions are shocked and "enraged" to see their leader thus treated.
  • Michael gives the order for the trumpet to sound, and the armies clash: "now storming fury rose […] Arms on armor clashing brayed/ Horrible discord, and the madding wheels/ of brazen chariots raged" (6.207; 209-211).
  • If the earth had existed at this point, it would have shaken to the center; even the weakest angel could wield the cosmos. Just imagine millions that strong, says Raphael. Luckily, God limits their strength.
  • The battle is brutal; it is sometimes fought on land, sometimes in the air. Even the worst rebel angel behaves like a good soldier though.
  • Satan notices Michael, and approaches him with his shield. Michael, seeing an opportunity to capture Satan and end this civil ("intestine") war, addresses Satan.
  • He tells him he (Satan ) has brought "misery" into Heaven, which had known only peace before. Heaven will not tolerate him: "Get of here and take your evil with you to Hell," he seems to say
  • Satan responds, saying something like: "Don't talk trash, Michael, because you can't back it up. We plan to win Heaven or turn it into Hell, so long as we're free in the end. I'm not afraid of you or God so bring it! I've been looking for you."
  • The two stop talking and start fighting; they seem like two planets coming together. As both try to kill each other with one stroke, Michael chops Satan's sword in half and then slashes his right side.
  • A "nectarous" substance oozes from Satan's body, which quickly heals, though his armor is stained. "Then Satan first knew pain," says Raphael.
  • His minions rush to his aid and cart him back to his chariot. Satan is furious because he realizes he's not the "matchless" fighter he thought himself to be.
  • Meanwhile, the battle rages. Gabriel thrashes Moloch while Uriel, Raphael, and Abdiel all confound various enemies.
  • The battle field is a mess of broken chariots and wounded steeds; the rebel angels are wounded and many are fleeing. This battle is the first time they feel "fear" and "pain."
  • Night falls, which causes a natural break in the action. Both sides bivouac for the night; Satan calls a council.
  • He feeds his legions a bunch of bull; he says they've proven themselves worthy of "honor, dominion, glory, and renown."
  • He says they thought God all-powerful, but the force He sent hasn't been able to defeat them; ipso facto, He's fallible. Yeah, sure, they've been hurt, but they also can't really die. No biggie.
  • But, Nisroc responds, the pain really, really sucks. Whoever can come up with a more effective strategy will be much appreciated.
  • Satan says he has an idea; he'll build canons ("hollow engines long and round"), which they'll shoot at the enemy.
  • The rebel angels set to work on building the canons; they dig up the ground, find the necessary elements, etc.
  • In the morning, the good angels are preparing for battle when Zophiel, a scout, alerts them that Satan and his forces are marching towards them so they should get ready.
  • Satan's army approaches in the shape of a square with an empty center ("hollow cube") to conceal the canon. He orders his soldiers to flank right and left.
  • The canons are unveiled and lit by the rebels. Smoke, flames, "chained thunderbolts and hail/ Of Iron globes" level thousands of angels. They don't know what to do; they can't advance or retreat.
  • Satan sees this and remarks, in derision, that the good angels were coming towards them but then they changed their minds! Belial responds with his own sarcastic remarks.
  • Satan and company are convinced of victory and laugh at God's thunder; but the good angels aren't done yet. They're mad, and they begin tearing out the surrounding hills!
  • "Amaze/ And terror" seize the rebel host as God's angels throw the hills at them. They're crushed, but those not buried by mountains copy God's angels and throw hills back.
  • God can see the whole thing. He turns to His Son and says this thing's been going on for two days and that it's as brutal ("sore"), as expected.
  • He tells Jesus that only His Son has the power to end the war; take my chariot, my sword, and my thunder and "drive them out / From all Heaven's bounds into the utter deep" (6.715-716).
  • The Son responds, saying he always does what his father asks. He'll do it, and afterwards everyone will rejoice.
  • The chariot comes forth, pulled by "four Cherubic shapes." Their bodies are "set" with stars, their wings with eyes, and the wheels of the chariot also with eyes.
  • Jesus, with his bow and quiver, ascends the chariot. He approaches the battle "in sapphire throned." Michael moves his soldiers around to make room for the Son.
  • The rebel angels rally for another attack; they're only invigorated by the Son's arrival.
  • The Son addresses his angels, telling them they can stop fighting. He'll do the rest because it's his job ("to me their doom he [God] hath assigned").
  • The Son assumes a very terrible countenance and flies towards the rebel army; all of Heaven shakes, except for God's throne.
  • The rebel angels are astonished, and immediately drop their weapons. He shoots arrows while the cherubim pulling the chariot shoot fire and lightning.
  • He gathers the rebels together like goats and pushes them towards the wall of Heaven; a hole opens up, revealing the chaos without. The angels are horrified and throw themselves out of Heaven.
  • They fall for nine days, until Hell, "the house of woe and pain," receives them.
  • The hole in the wall of Heaven is closed, and the angels approach the Son, rejoicing. He returns to his father.
  • Raphael concludes, telling Adam that he's done his best to make him comprehend things beyond human comprehension. Satan is trying to undo him (Adam) as they speak, he says.
  • "Let it profit thee to have heard/ By terrible example the reward/ Of Disobedience" (6.909-911), he concludes.

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