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E211 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Joseph Pascua on Milton's Paradise Lost, Book 2

Published by admin_main on Sat 30 Oct, 2010

13. Now to Satan's encounter with Death & to the allegory of the birth of Sin & Death (629-726, 727-814). This is a long episode. Why is the subject so important to Paradise Lost? What does it tell you about Satan's understanding of the consequences of his behavior?

Sin — Satan's daughter, who sprang fully formed from Satan's head during his rebellious assembly in Heaven. She is an allegorical representation of his sin against God & a parody of God's creation of the Son. Sin has the shape of a woman above the waist & that of a serpent below, while her middle is surrounded & tied so hellhounds, who occasionally burrow into her womb & gnaw her entrails. She guards the gates of Hell.

Death - Satan's son by his daughter, Sin. Death in turn rapes his mother, creating the pack of hellhounds that torment her lower half. The relations between Death, Sin, & Satan mimic grossly that of the Holy Trinity. Allegorically, he is the consequence of Satan's sin. He is not as sad a figure as Sin because he is empowered & in control of his condition. Death's appearance is described as an indistinguishable mass (1864, line 667 — If shape it might be called that shape had none distinguishable in member, joint, or limb, or substance might be called that shadow seemed). However, Death is a hateful & armed hostile character, carrying arrows & darts. Rather than suffering himself, Death takes pleasure in human pain & also in inflicting this pain.

The reason this subject is so important to Paradise Lost is because Satan's encounter with Sin & Death is an allegory, in which the three characters & their relationships represent abstract ideas. Sin is the first child of Satan, brought to life by Satan's disobedience. Since Satan is the first of God's creations to disobey, he personifies disobedience, & the fact that Sin is his daughter suggests that all sins arise from disobedience & ungratefulness toward God. To those who beheld her birth, she is at first terrifying but then seems oddly attractive, suggesting the seductive allure of sin to the ordinary individual. Sin originally dwelt alone in complete torment, representing the ultimate fate of the sinner. Then, because Death is Sin's offspring, this possibly indicates Milton's belief that death is not simply a biological fact of life but rather a punishment for sin & disobedience, a punishment that nobody escapes. Furthermore, it appears that Sin & Death represent the respected sins of lust & gluttony in addition to their nominal concepts. Even a brief reading indicates that Sin is depicted as a seductive woman (1863, line 650 - The one seemed woman to the waist, & fair. 1865, line 762 - I pleased, & with attractive graces won the most averse, thee chiefly, who full oft thyself in me thy perfect image viewing becam'st enamored) & Death as a gluttonous monster as seen later in book 10 with Eve recognizing Death (2019, line 989 — Childless thou art, childless remain; so Death shall be deceived his glut, & with us two be forced to satisfy his rav'nous maw). Hence, even after Raphael's warning to Adam & Eve in book 7 (1949, line 126 — But knowledge is as food, & needs no less her temperance over appetite), their gluttony for knowledge leads to their mortality.

In the end, this tells us about Satan's understanding of the consequences of his behavior that he still sees himself as an innocent victim, merely overlooked for an important promotion & not to blame. However, his capability to think so selfishly in Heaven, where all angels are equal, loved, & happy, is surprising. His confidence in thinking that he could ever overthrow God displays incredible vanity & pride, & his pride is still seen as he persuades Death & Sin to allow him to pass the Gates of Hell in order to get revenge. Once a powerful angel, he has become blinded to God's grace, forever unable to reconcile his past with his eternal punishment.

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