Monday, October 15, 2007

John Milton: Satan encounters Sin and Death...

Gustave Doré (1866)
Not quite so formidable in this depiction...
(Image from All-Art.Org)

Since we're on the subject of death and have glanced at John Milton's description of Death personified, ready with his "mortal Dart" to confront anyone, let's take a look at Death's first encounter with Satan, who has himself recently escaped from the chains that bound him to a flaming, hellish sea, has managed to rouse his fallen angelic followers to further, even greater resistance to the reign of God, and is heading off on a reconaissance mission to see if he can escape from Hell and find his way through chaos up to the rumored world wherein he suspects to find the newly formed creature "man." The confrontation occurs when Satan reaches the gates of Hell, only to find his way barred not only by the great, locked gates but also blocked by the two formidable shapes, Sin and Death, sitting to either side of the exit (Paradise Lost, Book 2.629-736):
Mean while the Adversary of God and Man,
Satan with thoughts inflam'd of highest design, [630]
Puts on swift wings, and towards the Gates of Hell
Explores his solitary flight; som times
He scours the right hand coast, som times the left,
Now shaves with level wing the Deep, then soares
Up to the fiery Concave touring high. [635]
As when farr off at Sea a Fleet descri'd
Hangs in the Clouds, by Æquinoctial Winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the Iles
Of Ternate and Tidore, whence Merchants bring
Thir spicie Drugs: they on the Trading Flood [640]
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape
Ply stemming nightly toward the Pole. So seem'd
Farr off the flying Fiend: at last appeer
Hell bounds high reaching to the horrid Roof,
And thrice threefold the Gates; three folds were Brass, [645]
Three Iron, three of Adamantine Rock,
Impenetrable, impal'd with circling fire,
Yet unconsum'd. Before the Gates there sat
On either side a formidable shape;
The one seem'd Woman to the waste, and fair, [650]
But ended foul in many a scaly fould
Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm'd
With mortal sting: about her middle round
A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark'd
With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung [655]
A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,
If aught disturb'd thir noyse, into her woomb,
And kennel there, yet there still bark'd and howl'd
Within unseen. Farr less abhorrd than these
Vex'd Scylla bathing in the Sea that parts [660]
Calabria from the hoarse Trinacrian shore:
Nor uglier follow the Night-Hag, when call'd
In secret, riding through the Air she comes
Lur'd with the smell of infant blood, to dance
With Lapland Witches, while the labouring Moon [665]
Eclipses at thir charms. The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,
For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night, [670]
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,
And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head
The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
The Monster moving onward came as fast [675]
With horrid strides, Hell trembled as he strode.
Th' undaunted Fiend what this might be admir'd,
Admir'd, not fear'd; God and his Son except,
Created thing naught valu'd he nor shun'd
And with disdainful look thus first began. [680]

Whence and what art thou, execrable shape,
That dar'st, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated Front athwart my way
To yonder Gates? through them I mean to pass,
That be assured, without leave askt of thee: [685]
Retire, or taste thy folly, and learn by proof,
Hell-born, not to contend with Spirits of Heav'n.

To whom the Goblin full of wrauth reply'd,
Art thou that Traitor Angel, art thou hee,
Who first broke peace in Heav'n and Faith, till then [690]
Unbrok'n, and in proud rebellious Arms
Drew after him the third part of Heav'ns Sons
Conjur'd against the highest, for which both Thou
And they outcast from God, are here condemn'd
To waste Eternal dayes in woe and pain? [695]
And reck'n'st thou thy self with Spirits of Heav'n,
Hell-doom'd, and breath'st defiance here and scorn
Where I reign King, and to enrage thee more,
Thy King and Lord? Back to thy punishment,
False fugitive, and to thy speed add wings, [700]
Least with a whip of Scorpions I pursue
Thy lingring, or with one stroke of this Dart
Strange horror seise thee, and pangs unfelt before.

So spake the grieslie terror, and in shape,
So speaking and so threatning, grew tenfold [705]
More dreadful and deform: on th' other side
Incenst with indignation Satan stood
Unterrifi'd, and like a Comet burn'd,
That fires the length of Ophiucus huge
In th' Artick Sky, and from his horrid hair [710]
Shakes Pestilence and Warr. Each at the Head
Level'd his deadly aime; thir fatall hands
No second stroke intend, and such a frown
Each cast at th' other, as when two black Clouds
With Heav'ns Artillery fraught, come rattling on [715]
Over the Caspian, then stand front to front
Hov'ring a space, till Winds the signal blow
To join thir dark Encounter in mid air:
So frownd the mighty Combatants, that Hell
Grew darker at thir frown, so matcht they stood; [720]
For never but once more was either like
To meet so great a foe: and now great deeds
Had been achiev'd, whereof all Hell had rung,
Had not the Snakie Sorceress that sat
Fast by Hell Gate, and kept the fatal Key, [725]
Ris'n, and with hideous outcry rush'd between.

O Father, what intends thy hand, she cry'd,
Against thy only Son? What fury O Son,
Possesses thee to bend that mortal Dart
Against thy Fathers head? and know'st for whom; [730]
For him who sits above and laughs the while
At thee ordain'd his drudge, to execute
What e're his wrath, which he calls Justice, bids,
His wrath which one day will destroy ye both.

She spake, and at her words the hellish Pest [735]
Forbore.... (
Paradise Lost, Book 2.629-736)
Not the most auspicious of meetings between a father and son who are also grandfather and grandson, but I suppose that Satan and Death have some family issues to work out.

Rather than doing that, however, they displace their aggression onto humankind, for Satan -- upon learning who Death is and how he came to 'be' -- promises to satisfy Death's hunger for mortal food with human beings, at which, "Death / Grinnd horrible a gastly smile, to hear / His famine should be fill'd" (PL 2.845-7).

Satan makes good on his promise by seducing Eve and -- through Eve -- Adam to commit sin and fall into a mortal state, which Sin and Death both sense from afar (Paradise Lost, Book 10.230-414):
Within the Gates of Hell sate Sin and Death, [230]
In counterview within the Gates, that now
Stood open wide, belching outrageous flame
Farr into Chaos, since the Fiend pass'd through,
Sin opening, who thus now to Death began.

O Son, why sit we here each other viewing [235]
Idlely, while Satan our great Author thrives
In other Worlds, and happier Seat provides
For us his ofspring deare? It cannot be
But that success attends him; if mishap,
Ere this he had return'd, with fury driv'n [240]
By his Avengers, since no place like this
Can fit his punishment, or their revenge.
Methinks I feel new strength within me rise,
Wings growing, and Dominion giv'n me large
Beyond this Deep; whatever drawes me on, [245]
Or sympathie, or som connatural force
Powerful at greatest distance to unite
With secret amity things of like kinde
By secretest conveyance. Thou my Shade
Inseparable must with mee along: [250]
For Death from Sin no power can separate.
But least the difficultie of passing back
Stay his return perhaps over this Gulfe
Impassable, Impervious, let us try
Adventrous work, yet to thy power and mine [255]
Not unagreeable, to found a path
Over this Maine from Hell to that new World
Where Satan now prevailes, a Monument
Of merit high to all th' infernal Host,
Easing thir passage hence, for intercourse, [260]
Or transmigration, as thir lot shall lead.
Nor can I miss the way, so strongly drawn
By this new felt attraction and instinct.

Whom thus the meager Shadow answerd soon.
Goe whither Fate and inclination strong [265]
Leads thee, I shall not lag behinde, nor erre
The way, thou leading, such a sent I draw
Of carnage, prey innumerable, and taste
The savour of Death from all things there that live:
Nor shall I to the work thou enterprisest [270]
Be wanting, but afford thee equal aid,

So saying, with delight he snuff'd the smell
Of mortal change on Earth. As when a flock
Of ravenous Fowl, though many a League remote,
Against the day of Battel, to a Field, [275]
Where Armies lie encampt, come flying, lur'd
With sent of living Carcasses design'd
For death, the following day, in bloodie fight.
So sented the grim Feature, and upturn'd
His Nostril wide into the murkie Air, [280]
Sagacious of his Quarry from so farr.
Then Both from out Hell Gates into the waste
Wide Anarchie of Chaos damp and dark
Flew divers, and with Power (thir Power was great)
Hovering upon the Waters; what they met [285]
Solid or slimie, as in raging Sea
Tost up and down, together crowded drove
From each side shoaling towards the mouth of Hell.
As when two Polar Winds blowing adverse
Upon the Cronian Sea, together drive [290]
Mountains of Ice, that stop th' imagin'd way
Beyond Petsora Eastward, to the rich
Cathaian Coast. The aggregated Soyle
Death with his Mace petrific, cold and dry,
As with a Trident smote, and fix't as firm [295]
As Delos floating once; the rest his look
Bound with Gorgonian rigor not to move,
And with Asphaltic slime; broad as the Gate,
Deep to the Roots of Hell the gather'd beach
They fasten'd, and the Mole immense wraught on [300]
Over the foaming deep high Archt, a Bridge
Of length prodigious joyning to the Wall
Immovable of this now fenceless world
Forfeit to Death; from hence a passage broad,
Smooth, easie, inoffensive down to Hell. [305]
So, if great things to small may be compar'd,
Xerxes, the Libertie of Greece to yoke,
From Susa his Memnonian Palace high
Came to the Sea, and over Hellespont
Bridging his way, Europe with Asia joyn'd, [310]
And scourg'd with many a stroak th' indignant waves.
Now had they brought the work by wondrous Art
Pontifical, a ridge of pendent Rock
Over the vext Abyss, following the track
Of Satan, to the self same place where hee [315]
First lighted from his Wing, and landed safe
From out of Chaos to the out side bare
Of this round World: with Pinns of Adamant
And Chains they made all fast, too fast they made
And durable; and now in little space [320]
The confines met of Empyrean Heav'n
And of this World, and on the left hand Hell
With long reach interpos'd; three sev'ral wayes
In sight, to each of these three places led.
And now thir way to Earth they had descri'd, [325]
To Paradise first tending, when behold
Satan in likeness of an Angel bright
Betwixt the Centaure and the Scorpion stearing
His Zenith, while the Sun in Aries rose:
Disguis'd he came, but those his Children dear [330]
Thir Parent soon discern'd, though in disguise.
Hee after Eve seduc't, unminded slunk
Into the Wood fast by, and changing shape
To observe the sequel, saw his guileful act
By Eve, though all unweeting, seconded [335]
Upon her Husband, saw thir shame that sought
Vain covertures; but when he saw descend
The Son of God to judge them terrifi'd
Hee fled, not hoping to escape, but shun
The present, fearing guiltie what his wrauth [340]
Might suddenly inflict; that past, return'd
By Night, and listening where the hapless Paire
Sate in thir sad discourse, and various plaint,
Thence gatherd his own doom, which understood
Not instant, but of future time. With joy [345]
And tidings fraught, to Hell he now return'd,
And at the brink of Chaos, neer the foot
Of this new wondrous Pontifice, unhop't
Met who to meet him came, his Ofspring dear.
Great joy was at thir meeting, and at sight [350]
Of that stupendious Bridge his joy encreas'd.
Long hee admiring stood, till Sin, his faire
Inchanting Daughter, thus the silence broke.

O Parent, these are thy magnific deeds,
Thy Trophies, which thou view'st as not thine own, [355]
Thou art thir Author and prime Architect:
For I no sooner in my Heart divin'd,
My Heart, which by a secret harmonie
Still moves with thine, join'd in connexion sweet,
That thou on Earth hadst prosper'd, which thy looks [360]
Now also evidence, but straight I felt
Though distant from thee Worlds between, yet felt
That I must after thee with this thy Son;
Such fatal consequence unites us three:
Hell could no longer hold us in her bounds, [365]
Nor this unvoyageable Gulf obscure
Detain from following thy illustrious track.
Thou hast atchiev'd our libertie, confin'd
Within Hell Gates till now, thou us impow'rd
To fortifie thus farr, and overlay [370]
With this portentous Bridge the dark Abyss.
Thine now is all this World, thy vertue hath won
What thy hands builded not, thy Wisdom gain'd
With odds what Warr hath lost, and fully aveng'd
Our foile in Heav'n; here thou shalt Monarch reign, [375]
There didst not; there let him still Victor sway,
As Battel hath adjudg'd, from this new World
Retiring, by his own doom alienated,
And henceforth Monarchie with thee divide
Of all things parted by th' Empyreal bounds, [380]
His Quadrature, from thy Orbicular World,
Or trie thee now more dang'rous to his Throne.

Whom thus the Prince of Darkness answerd glad.
Fair Daughter, and thou Son and Grandchild both,
High proof ye now have giv'n to be the Race [385]
Of Satan (for I glorie in the name,
Antagonist of Heav'ns Almightie King)
Amply have merited of me, of all
Th' Infernal Empire, that so neer Heav'ns dore
Triumphal with triumphal act have met, [390]
Mine with this glorious Work, and made one Realm
Hell and this World, one Realm, one Continent
Of easie thorough-fare. Therefore while I
Descend through Darkness, on your Rode with ease
To my associate Powers, them to acquaint [395]
With these successes, and with them rejoyce,
You two this way, among these numerous Orbs
All yours, right down to Paradise descend;
There dwell and Reign in bliss, thence on the Earth
Dominion exercise and in the Aire, [400]
Chiefly on Man, sole Lord of all declar'd,
Him first make sure your thrall, and lastly kill.
My Substitutes I send ye, and Create
Plenipotent on Earth, of matchless might
Issuing from mee: on your joynt vigor now [405]
My hold of this new Kingdom all depends,
Through Sin to Death expos'd by my exploit.
If your joynt power prevailes, th' affaires of Hell
No detriment need feare, goe and be strong.

So saying he dismiss'd them, they with speed [410]
Thir course through thickest Constellations held
Spreading thir bane; the blasted Starrs lookt wan,
And Planets, Planet-strook, real Eclips
Then sufferd.... (
Paradise Lost, Book 10.230-414)
As we see from this long passage, when Satan for the second time meets Sin and Death, "Great joy was at thir meeting" (PL 10.350), far unlike their first encounter, by which, we learn the valuable lesson that even fiends can be friends.

I'll leave things as they now stand with the reconcilation of this dysfunctional family, such a happy state of affairs...

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At 5:11 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

My own favorite part of that scene comes a bit later:

He ceas'd, for both seem'd highly pleasd, and Death
Grinnd horrible a gastly smile, to hear
His famine should be fill'd, and blest his mawe
Destin'd to that good hour...

Chilling. I always take a point to read those lines aloud when I spend my scant three hours of class time on Milton.

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, those lines are nice. I also like the image of Death 'snuffing' the air, scenting mortality...

Jeffery Hodges

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