Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'm reading Paradise Lost by John Milton, originally published in 1667. It is an epic poem, written in twelve books, telling the story of man's fall from grace. Milton had gone completely blind by the time he started writing the poem, so it was all dictated to different amanuenses. 

Book one was the scariest thing I've ever read. Obviously this is a work of fiction -- but there is enough truth inside of it that I found it terrifying. In this book Satan and the angels that followed him have been tossed out of Heaven. They've landed in Hell -- a place of utter darkness, flame, and horror. 

"A dungeon horrible on all sides round 
As one great furnace flamed yet from those flames
No light but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all but torture without end
Still urges and a fiery deluge fed
With ever-burning sulfur unconsumed."

The rebel angels -- rather, demons -- lie on a burning lake, stunned as a result of their literal fall. The first to revive is Satan himself; he arouses his second in command, Beelzebub. They discuss their losing battle without regret because they are consumed with hatred toward God. Beelzebub wonders what their future holds: if they are going to have to serve God in the depths of fiery Hell. Satan bristles at this idea; he is determined to do everything he can, even from this great distance and miserable state, to attack God or thwart His plans.

"Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!"

Satan rouses the other demons. 

"First Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood
Of human sacrifice and parents' tears"

What a powerful image (remember, Moloch was the Caananite god to whom child sacrifices were made). They gather together and Satan addresses them. He encourages them to believe that they will regain Heaven and until that day they must find ways to attack God. He actually blames God for their fall (he lies smoothly, constantly), saying that if He had not hidden His strength they would have known not to try to fight Him. He tells them of a fable or a rumor that God is going to create something special and maybe this could be an area in which they can attack. This new creation, of course, is man.

"There went a fame in Heav'n that He ere long
Intended to create and therein plant
A generation whom His choice regard 
Should favor equal to the sons of Heav'n.
Thither, if but to pry, shall be perhaps
Our first eruption, thither or elsewhere."

His speech rouses the demons, countless, millions of them. They band together and begin to build Pandemonium -- a castle, the capital of Hell. Pandemonium is completed at the end of the book and Satan calls a council.

I've read this now four or five times. The first time, though, was late at night and I could not sleep for thinking about the reality of Hell (I know that the eternal Hell has not been opened yet -- I'm not reading this for the theology, though, so I don't get too caught up in that part necessarily). I wanted to run down the street shouting to everyone, "Do you know where you're headed? Prepare yourselves!" Because the reality is going to be worse than Milton -- as genius as he was -- could ever have described.

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