This past week, I finished reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It turns out the version I downloaded from Project Gutenberg was the 10-book first edition from 1667 rather than the 12-book second edition from 1674. That said, as far as I can tell, Milton didn’t actually add material, he simply changed the division of the books to better group thematic and structural elements of the poem. Milton’s goal in writing Paradise Lost was to create a Christian epic poem on the scale of Greek epics such as The Iliad or The Odyssey.
As I mentioned in my last post about Paradise Lost, I wanted to read Milton’s version of the so-called War in Heaven. This was where Satan rebelled against God’s will and was cast into the fiery pit. According to Milton, the reason for the rebellion was that God had just presented Jesus as his son and announced he was superior to all the angels. The angel Lucifer opposed this and enticed nearly a third of the angels into open rebellion.
In the poem, the angel Raphael describes the war in heaven to the first human, Adam. He explains that his description of the war is metaphorical so that Adam (i.e. the reader) has a chance of knowing what Raphael is talking about. Another element that makes this war interesting is that it’s fought between immortals who cannot die. It opens with the rebellious angels charging in with swords. They’re beaten back and the Angel Michael even splits Satan nearly in half!
But the ethereal substance closed,
Not long divisible; and from the gash
A stream of necturous humour issuing flowed
Sanguine, such as celestial Spirits may bleed,
And all his armour stained, ere while so bright.
Satan and his angels fall back and forge a giant cannon. When the rebels fire it, the good angels are knocked back like so many bowling pins. The good angels regroup and bury Satan and his rebels under mountains and boulders. Finally, when the rebels dig their way out, Jesus climbs on a chariot and casts them into the fiery pit.
Because this battle is meant to be metaphorical, I have to admit I amused myself by imagining a modern version with machine guns, rocket launchers and even tactical nukes!
That noted, let’s return to the story. God decides to create the world we know and tops it off with his finest creation, man—oh yeah, and woman, too. Yeah, I know Paradise Lost was written in the seventeenth century, but I have to admit the hardest part about reading the book was Milton’s attitude toward women. Poor Eve is just so befuddled by those angels that she prefers to go elsewhere and have Adam explain what they said later. Satan sees this as his opportunity to get revenge by corrupting God’s favorite creatures.
Satan possesses a poor, innocent snake who stands more or less upright and confuses Eve by throwing a lot of ideas at her all once. Not the least of which is telling Eve that he’s a talking snake because he ate from the Tree of Knowledge and it didn’t do him no harm no how. From this point on, you probably know the story. Eve eats the fruit, then tempts Adam to eat the fruit and they are cast out of Paradise, hence the title of the poem.
It was a pleasure to delve into into this early experiment in English-language epic poetry. Yeah, the sexism is cringe-worthy and some of the battles are almost humorous, but I get the feeling Milton liked poking fun at Satan and his minions. I did enjoy seeing Milton’s theology, which although similar to what I was raised with had some fascinating differences.
Over the years, I’ve come to view two categories of angels: Biblical angels and mythic angels. The terms are imperfect and not meant to imply any particular belief or disbelief. It’s simply that Biblical angels are like those described in the Bible. They tend to be scary with multiple faces and eyes on their wings. Some are even large, sentient wheels. These are not creatures you mess with! “Mythic” angels are those from the broader angel lore, such as Paradise Lost where angels are more like super humans. In fact, Milton includes mythological figures such as the Greek gods among the angelic ranks.
Every now and then, my Scarlet Order vampires meet angelic creatures. Although I imply they’re highly advanced aliens, I do keep their origins somewhat mysterious. I’ve always seen these creatures as being kin with the mythic angels. One of my favorite Scarlet Order stories includes an encounter with such a creature aboard the Hindenburg. It was reprinted earlier this year in the anthology These Vampires Don’t Sparkle. Check it out at Amazon or Smashwords.