Mysteries to Themselves

The fallen angels in Paradise Lost are of course shockingly wrongheaded in their estimation of God: Lucifer and company, while in heaven, thought they could beat God in a fight, and some of them continue to think so even after they find themselves greatly diminished and in hell.

It’s hard to imagine what metric they could possibly have been using to think that their strength measured up to the divine, though Satan does at one point claim that God had sneakily concealed his full power from them in order to trick the rebel angels into attacking him. Still, for Satan to imagine he could beat God is a bit like looking at the ocean and guessing, “I bet I could drink that up.” It’s an odd sort of ignorance for such intelligent beings to have.

But these angels/demons have an even odder ignorance, and Milton shows it in two places. First, in Book 2, during the council meeting at Pandemonium, Moloch makes a speech calling for “open war” against heaven, attempting to rouse the fallen troops and re-arm for a new assault. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he asks. “What fear we then?” If we face the thunder of an even more enraged Almighty, could we be “more destroy’d?” Well, maybe so:  Moloch worries out loud that God’s “utmost ire… to the highth enrag’d,” might be strong enough to “quite consume us, and reduce to nothing this essential.” 

“Damn the torpedoes” indeed. Even in the council of demons, Moloch stands out as the rash and reckless one. He’s all for re-attacking heaven and being snuffed out of existence. But it turns out he doesn’t actually know if such snuffing out is an option:

Or if our substance be indeed Divine,
And cannot cease to be, we are at worst
On this side nothing; and by proof we feel
Our power sufficient to disturb his Heav’n,
And with perpetual inrodes to Allarme,
Though inaccessible, his fatal Throne:
Which if not Victory is yet Revenge.

If it turns out the fallen angels are made of such divine stuff they can’t stop existing, then Moloch’s willing to make the most of it. If we can’t beat God, at least we can hassle him, and that’s something.

But to me, the big news from Milton land is that the fallen angels don’t know what they’re made of. They are proceeding on guesswork.

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