Satan: nowhere to place his feet?
On an email list that I belong to, Larry Swain -- occasional blogger and regular Medievalist -- posted a query about Aelfric of Eynsham's remark that Satan fell from heaven because he found nowhere to place his feet:
The source is Aelfric of Eynsham's Libellus Veteri et Novo Testamenti and the language is Old English. Aelfric treats the fall of the angels several times in various works and sermons, and it is only in this particular one that he makes the claim that Satan found nowhere to place his feet, though he comes close in another. This is one of his later works, so it isn't as if he knew no better, but there are a few later works that also treat the fall of the angels in which he does not make this claim. In his Hexamerone composed (not merely translated) shortly after the Libellus he also makes the for Aelfric (and I stress the "for Aelfric) claim that Satan fell on the sixth day of creation, the day on which God made Adam and Eve. I can trace precisely where he derived that idea from, unique detail in his texts though it is. By analogy I'm attempting to track down the unique detail in the Libellus. I know most of his sources: the Bible, Augustine, Gregory, Martin of Bragda, the homiliary of Paul the Deacon, known in England in a manuscript collection known as Pembroke 25 of which I have a microfilm copy, Bede are his chief sources and influences. Neither Augustine nor Bede include that detail. I'm checking the other two but thought I'd ask to see if anyone on list had encountered this idea previously anywhere.I'd never heard of this view, but it struck a chord -- an overtone perhaps -- so I pointed to a possibly related depiction of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Regained:
I'm interested in your question because I wonder if Milton is obliquely alluding to it in Paradise Regained 4.550-580, where Satan places Christ at the pinnacle of the temple and challenges him to stand on that precarious spot. Christ stands there, but Satan falls.Although I didn't do so on the email list, allow me to quote here that passage in its context, the last of the three temptations that Satan subjected Christ to in the desert, which begins here with Satan speaking:
Therefore to know what more thou art then man,There are some obvious echoes of the Redcrosse Knight's defeat of the great dragon in Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, with its repeated use of "fall" and "fell" to emphasize the magnitude of the fall. I'm not interested in that point at the moment, but just in case you are:
Worth naming Son of God by voice from Heav'n,
Another method I must now begin. [ 540 ]
So saying he caught him up, and without wing
Of Hippogrif bore through the Air sublime
Over the Wilderness and o're the Plain;
Till underneath them fair Jerusalem,
The holy City, lifted high her Towers, [ 545 ]
And higher yet the glorious Temple rear'd
Her pile, far off appearing like a Mount
Of Alablaster, top't with golden Spires:
There on the highest Pinacle he set
The Son of God, and added thus in scorn: [ 550 ]
There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand upright
Will ask thee skill; I to thy Fathers house
Have brought thee, and highest plac't, highest is best,
Now shew thy Progeny; if not to stand,
Cast thy self down; safely if Son of God: [ 555 ]
For it is written, He will give command
Concerning thee to his Angels, in thir hands
They shall up lift thee, lest at any time
Thou chance to dash thy foot against a stone.
To whom thus Jesus: also it is written, [ 560 ]
Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.
But Satan smitten with amazement fell
As when Earths Son Antæus (to compare
Small things with greatest) in Irassa strove
With Joves Alcides and oft foil'd still rose, [ 565 ]
Receiving from his mother Earth new strength,
Fresh from his fall, and fiercer grapple joyn'd,
Throttl'd at length in the Air, expir'd and fell;
So after many a foil the Tempter proud,
Renewing fresh assaults, amidst his pride [ 570 ]
Fell whence he stood to see his Victor fall.
And as that Theban Monster that propos'd
Her riddle, and him, who solv'd it not, devour'd;
That once found out and solv'd, for grief and spite
Cast herself headlong from th' Ismenian steep, [ 575 ]
So strook with dread and anguish fell the Fiend,
And to his crew, that sat consulting, brought
Joyless tryumphals of his hop't success,
Ruin, and desperation, and dismay,
Who durst so proudly tempt the Son of God. [ 580 ]
So Satan fell... (PR 4.538-581)
So downe he fell, and forth his life did breath,As you see, the great dragon fell, and rather resoundingly. But back to Milton and my own email list query about Milton's source for Satan:
That vanisht into smoke and cloudes swift;
So downe he fell, that th'earth him vnderneath
Did grone, as feeble so great load to lift;
So downe he fell, as an huge rockie clift,
Whose false foundation waues haue washt away,
With dreadfull poyse is from the mayneland rift,
And rolling downe, great Neptune doth dismay;
So downe he fell, and like an heaped mountaine lay. (FQ Bk I, Canto 11, Stanza 54)
John Carey's footnote [John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (London: Longman, 1968, 1971)] to line 560-561 [of Paradise Regained, Book IV] notes that "In visual art ... it was quite common for the artist to depict Satan as reeling or falling."That was what I wrote in reply to Swain's original query. Now, I admit, the possibility is remote, but I still wonder if Milton is perhaps making an oblique allusion to Satan falling by failing to find a place for his feet at the temple's spire, whereas Christ can stand there.
Unfortunately, Carey gives no examples, so I'm not sure if he's speaking just about the iconography of Satan tempting Christ but himself falling or of iconography showing Satan's first fall.
The image of Satan 'reeling' in iconography suggests Satan's difficulty in finding footing (but that's Carey's descriptive wording).
Suggestions welcome ... on any of these points.