[Music: Courtesy of http://www.bensound.com]
00:03 Marissa Greenberg (MG)
Welcome to Promiscuous Listening, where we take a cue from John Milton’s 1644 tract Areopagitica and its promotion of reading promiscuously to learn from the diversity of voices in 21st-century Milton studies. My name is Marissa Greenberg, and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to my conversations with scholars about the works of John Milton, and especially his epic poem, Paradise Lost.
In book 3 of Paradise Lost, readers leave hell and chaos behind as they ascend with the poet-speaker to heaven. After witnessing the fallen angels’ pain and demonic debate, and watching Satan fly haphazardly toward Earth, the tranquility and order of heaven come as some relief. But that relief is short lived. For book 3 of Paradise Lost is among the epic’s most challenging. Theological thorns and legalistic knots, not to mention emotional turmoil make for difficult reading. So, I’m grateful to Dr. Mario Murgia, who will be helping us through book 3. Welcome, and thank you for joining us. Might we begin by asking you to introduce yourself?
01:17 Mario Murgia (MM)
Thank you, Marissa. It’s a pleasure to be here. Well, as you said, I’m Mario Murgia. I’m full professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. And I’ve been teaching English literature there for over 25 years now. And, well, apart from that, I do some research on Milton and 16th- and 17th-century Spanish and English literature as well, particularly poetry. For the past few years or decades, if you will, I’ve been researching Milton and the manner in which his influence has actually had an impact on different writers, poets, and artists. That includes artists, writers and poets from other parts of the world not only the Anglosphere, as it were, but also, and in particular, writers and artists from the Spanish speaking world, and from other latitudes and countries and nationalities.
Thank you, that is certainly valuable to recognize that Milton’s poetry is global in a way and is going to change depending on the language, the cultural context, the political contours, as well as the medium, because you mentioned artists and I’m guessing you mean visual artists as well.
Exactly. I always say that certainly Milton is no Shakespeare, in terms of influence and precedence in other, in other literatures, other than that written in English. But, of course, we need to know that Milton is surprisingly – has had this, this very strong influence on artists and writers outside the English-speaking world. And now many people know that. Of course, more people are getting to know that, that Milton is highly influential in other languages and climes and latitudes. But I think that aspect of, of Milton, and his poetry, in particular, needs to be better known. And people need to approach Milton from an international and a global point of view. In that respect, it’s always fascinating to talk about that.
I wonder to what extent, and I think this will feed nicely into our discussion of book 3, Shakespeare’s writing plays in which we hear multiple voices, taking a variety of positions and representing a whole range of identities. Whereas Milton is much more partisan in his politics, in his theology. And so, he’s differently adaptable as a result, I would venture, that one has to — an artist would first have to square themselves with Milton’s positions, often strident positions, on issues of politics and religion, before thinking about how can I respond in a way that’s going to speak to my own milieu. That theological position, in particular, comes through with, I mean, the force of a hammer in book 3, right? There is no denying that Milton is a Christian writer. And we see that quite bluntly in the invocation to book 3, right, book 3 opens, it’s the second of our four invocations in the epic and this one opens like a prayer, “hail holy light”, which evokes the role of light in creation in the Christian Bible, right, not only Genesis, but also John. This prayer like invocation of light takes a couple of interesting turns: first, from Scripture inward to Milton’s epic, tracing the narratives movement from hell to heaven, and then from the epic poem to the epic narrator and their physical blindness, right, but we can never really get away from the context of prayer here, and particularly Christian prayer. And so, I was wondering if you might talk a bit about how you understand the relationship here, between prayer and poetry?
Yes, I think that the relationship between one thing and the other, between prayer and poetry is always very, very strong, even if, even if we don’t realize. One of the notions, I think, that brings poetry and prayer together is structure. We pay close attention, for example, to the structure of prayer, say, say the Lord’s Prayer or whatever, whatever kind of pray, you can think about, even mantras, for example. They’ve got very close knit structure that very much resemble the structures that we can find in certain kinds of poetry. Mostly the kind of poetry that we associate with specific poetic forms or with poetical formalities, for example, a sonnet, or, I don’t know, in Spanish, there’s this form that we call silva, for example, that consists of lines eleven and seven syllables, that combine and that make us move through the topics and the aspects of particular pieces of poetry in a very, say, organic way, if you will, very much like poetry does. So, I think that relationship begins with form but also launches itself in parts of the human consciousness, which is precisely what makes poetry, or the best kind of poetry, and prayer is very much something that we remember all the time. It’s something that we resort to at different stages of our lives. And, of course, that means that those structures that poetry dwells in, that prayer dwells in, are very memorable. And I think that memorability is one of the aspects that makes poetry, that makes both poetry and prayer, something that even that sometimes we need to resort to, not only for enjoyment, but also for appeasement, if you will. And of course, reflection,
Your point about memory: Part of at least formal prayer is about repetition and the ways in which it gets lodged in the mind through those structures.
And, sorry, repetition is really important here. Because through repetition, we find themselves in very interesting and very meaningful states of rapture, if you will, when we start repeating words. That can also be found in for example, song, or music in general, of course, that kind of repetition takes us to different levels of consciousness. And that’s precisely how prayer works for the most part. And that’s also how poetry works. I will keep talking about the best kind of poetry. And by that I need to say that I mean memorable poetry. And by that, in turn, I don’t only mean poetry that we memorize, but poetry that we find meaningful for different reasons. So, for whatever reason, you remember those lines, you remember those poems, you remember those prayers, and you find them useful, and not in the pedestrian sense of the word, but very much in the spiritual sense of the word and in the intellectual sense of the word as well.
It’s pretty evident that rapture is the very thing that our poet speaker here is, is seeking.
Both rapture in the sense of wanting to have poetic inspiration, but also the idea of rapture of being physically taken up to heaven, which is where the bulk of this book unfolds.
Right after that invocation, we learn that God is sitting up in heaven and is watching everything unfold, right:
Now had the Almighty Father from above, / From the pure Empyrean where he sits / High throned above all height, bent down his eye, / His own works and their works at once to view… [3.56-59]
And these works, of course, they include Adam and Eve on earth, and
Hell, and the gulf between, and Satan there [3.70]
and “Him,” Satan,
God beholding from his prospect high, / Wherein past, present, future he beholds, / Thus to his only Son foreseeing spake. [3.76-78].
God literally sees everything, not only all space, but all of time, it’s unfolding beneath him, this absolute divine survey that we as humans don’t have access to, right. We know what came before us. We cannot see ahead. If we have physical sight, unlike the poet-speaker here, even that is limited, both by physical bodily ability and by the weather, by typography. And yet even to get to an acknowledgement of God’s absolute survey, the poet has to ask for a rapturous experience to, to acknowledge what is not available to us.
And yet poetry is working so very, very hard to make it available to us.
It’s also that all-seeing survey of God’s in the poem is also crucial to Milton’s examination of soteriology, right, or theology of salvation.
I must say that the book 3 is a very interesting book in Paradise Lost. I mean, all of them. But book 3, in particular, is very arresting, if you will, because it’s very dense book. And it’s a very kinetic book, as well, there’s lots of movement. And movement in book 3 is particularly interesting because we go, we go from, from one — I was getting to say place, but the point is, outside the created world there’s no actual place, which makes movement very peculiar in this respect, because we know that we have come out of hell, and into the heavens, that is to say that, that implies particular upward movement. But at some point in book 3, we learn that this kind of movement is only metaphorical, because there is really no up and down outside the created universe, there is no side to side. So the way that, for example, Satan enters the world is very telling of this, because when he finally finds his way towards the earth, he flies in orbits, for example, he does not fly in straight lines, and that imitates the movement of the stars, and the movement of the planets, which is very interesting. Satan is behaving in that way, very much like a planet, which means errand, he is very much an explorer, that, that doesn’t really know what to go that needs that needs to, to ask for directions. And he does that, by means of deception, which, which makes everything very relative. So, movement is an expression of that kind of relativity. And of course, the relativity we see there is what centuries after that would be recognized as also the relativity of time. Because outside the created universe, there is actually no time. That’s one of the reasons why God is able to see everything at the same time. He’s able to see past, present, and future and he’s able to, to know everything. And I think that that relativity is a topic that needs to be discussed in, in further detail.
and might be approaching it in a variety of ways. One, of course, being early modern physics, and the discoveries that are being made in Europe in the 17th century about how objects move through space. And…
Think of the archangel Uriel, who appears in book 3. We know that he’s a being that is very much associated with the sun. But when we finally get to see him, when Satan actually meets him in the guise of a cherub, by the way, when he does that, is Ariel in the sun? Is he on the sun? Is he near the sun? Where exactly is he? I think that that’s very difficult to grasp, isn’t it? How, how can we how can we define place if place is relative as well, at least, once again, outside the created world?
And I think, it is my personal opinion that, for example, one of the peculiarities of book 3 in Paradise Lost, is actually the manner in which it begins. I’ve always thought that that is very much the way that the whole of the poem should have begun. And not many people realize this. But the way in which, for example, book 1 begins is very odd. If you, I mean, if you think about it, the first word in Paradise Lost is a preposition: “Of man’s first disobedient.” That’s very strange. I mean, no other epic from anywhere else in the world, from any other tradition begins like that. In contrast, book 3 in Paradise Lost begins “Hail” – “Hail, heavenly light” – which is more in tune with what other epics. Think of The Odyssey, think of the manner in which The Divine Comedy begins. I do think that the way in which book 3 begins should have been the way that book 1 should have been put forward in the first place. But, of course, Milton makes up for that as book one progresses. And we see the reasons why he begins with that, with that proposition. But as we move on, we actually start seeing the reasons why it is book 3 that begins that way. And one of the reasons is that book three, now that time has progressed. Book 3 is one of the most personal books in the whole of Paradise Lost. So much so that the beginning of book 3 is one of the most powerful, arresting, and famous passages from the whole poem. That prayer to light is one of the passages that people are most readily remember. I think that that’s very significant. And the other reason that book 3 begins that way is because this is the first book in Paradise Lost where we get to see, quote, unquote, Heaven, we get to see God, both God the Father and the Son, of course. So, it is very appropriate and very fitting to begin with free that way, in the manner of, of prayer. But it’s a very personal kind of prayer. Of course, we know Milton is blind by the time that he is actually dictating this, as tradition has it. It is only understandable that he should do something like that, that he should, that he should open book 3, with a prayer to light in particular, which is an effluence of God as we are very soon learn. So that’s something that we need to bear in mind, as we start discussing book 3 and reading book 3.
How do you see the prayer then functioning vis-a-vis what comes, the substance of what comes, very shortly thereafter?
I see it not only as preparation, but also as an immersion in the worldview of the poet, no pun intended. What I mean is this: We are about to witness, I mean, we have been witnessing from the very start, things that nobody has ever seen before. These are things that we can only imagine, but Milton is putting those things forward in, in a way that we can actually behold them with the eye of the mind. So that means not only preparation, but also immersion in this kind of world. And I think that the prayer to light is precisely that, it does precisely that. It immerses us in the world picture of the poet. And it makes us plunge into a world that is beyond this world. A world that can barely be called that because it’s not an actual world. It is a place that is no place. It is a time that is no time. So, we need to make an effort in order to try to imagine that and see it with our mind’s eye. I am referring to this to this section of book 3 as the prayer to light because, once again, that is very much the way that prayer works. It makes us lose ourselves into a world that is beyond our grasp, or sensorial grasp. So, we need to make use of our intellect, and more importantly, of our imagination, not only to understand all this, but also to become part of the narrative.
In that regard do you think that the invocation, that prayer, is setting up the reader or even possibly modeling for the reader what Milton’s God means when referring to “prayer, repentance, and obedience due”? There’s the repetition of, of that word. There’s “To pray, repent, and bring obedience due. / To prayer, repentance, and obedience due” [3.190-191]. Like, do you see any connection? Or am I drawing a connection where none exists?
I mean, there is a connection, absolutely, of course. I think what you’ve said about repetition is really interesting, because there’s lots of repetition in book 3. I think that book 3 is one of the books in Paradise Lost we can find interest in iteration, if you will, not only iteration of ideas, but also iteration of concepts. In order to explain something which is books, what book 3 does, in order to explain something, you often need to repeat it, if you will, you need to repeat the concept, you need to repeat the words and repeat the idea. That’s what God does sometimes in book 3 in Paradise Lost. That’s what the Son does in book 3. That’s what that what the poetic voice does. A repetition that is not is not only didactic, but it is also very poetic. And I insist very prayer-like. Most prayers work on that level. They work on the level of repetition.
I like that because, to my mind, it gives a much more positive read to moments in this book that have been condemned as unnecessarily complex or overtly legalistic. So, another favorite passage of mine is God saying, “if I foreknew, / Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault, / Which had no less proved certain unforeknown” [3.117-119].
Yes, every, everybody’s left wondering what that means. You read or you hear that musing. What? Well, what is what does that even mean? And one of the one of the interesting things about those lines, and about the big 3 in general, is that there is repetition there, but it’s never repetitive. If you know what I mean. There’s never a point in book 3, where you say, “Okay, I know what is coming.” And that’s one of the strengths of this part of the poem.
The way you phrase that, you know, “we don’t know what’s coming,” seems to again, be so much in line with Milton’s soteriology here, right?
And carries forth throughout the, the epic, and I’m thinking ahead to the moments of Adam and Eve praying both before and after the fall. One thing that Milton really emphasizes is how spontaneous those prayers are. So even though there is a certain, there’s certain levels of formal expectation about what a prayer is, that spontaneity, that poetry, that repetition, without it being identical iteration, I think, is part of how Milton understands prayer and understands the human relationship to the divine, right. But I guess what I want to say is the way you’re describing prayer as poetry is making me think that for Milton, these repetitive structures are part of embodying and practicing freewill. Even within the formal contours of prayer.
Yeah, exactly. I think I need to elaborate on that, because, of course, we know what is coming. In general terms. Because, of course, we’re living the results of that, if you will. I mean, if you’re a Christian, and you believe in these things, you know that you are a fallen being, and you know that you’re living the consequences of whatever happens there. What I mean to say when I, when I say that we don’t know what’s coming, is that we, we cannot really expect such passion and such poeticity from characters like, for example, God the Father and God the Son, if we read, for example, the Genesis from where this is supposed to come. I mean, in the book of Genesis, what we find is just a very brief description of what goes on there. But we don’t really get to hear what is going on in the minds of God the Father, or the Son, or, of course, Satan. That’s what I mean to say when I say that we are surprised by what we encounter. When we keep on reading, we know the overall say, layout of the story. But when we keep reading, we find, for example, these repetitions, these reflections, these justifications, if you will, of everything that goes on in heaven. And we are simply taken aback by the force of the words, by the force of the lines of poetry, and the force of these, say, elaborations.
One, one such moment of digression, perhaps might be the best word, that is certainly unexpected at first is the passage often referred to as the paradise of fools. And often I think readers, A., don’t know what to make of that passage, either. But also, you have written about the ways in which translators have, who come from different religious backgrounds, have grappled with that passage. So, I’m wondering, and this is certainly a Miltonic intervention in the biblical story. So, I’m wondering if you might describe that passage and how you understand its significance?
That’s a fascinating passage, for many reasons, because it is very much a digression from the narrative. And that’s the passage where Milton condemns and satirizes earthly attitudes towards life. And not only that; it’s a passage where Milton satirizes the Catholic Church in particular and the ways of the Catholic Church. So the ways in which that has been translated, for example, into languages like Spanish is very peculiar because the translation of that passage, of that particular passage, depends very much on the point of view and the ideology of the translator and, of course, on the ideology of the translator’s, the translator’s possible readers. For example, Paradise Lost was translated in Spanish-speaking America in the 19th century. And it hasn’t been retranslated ever since. Whereas in Spain, it started being translated in the late 18th century, and it keeps being translated. But those 19th-century translations of Paradise Lost differ greatly in terms of, of their approach to, for example, this particular passage. There are two Colombian translations, two 19th-century Colombian translations, and one Mexican translation. One of the translations does deal with that passage very literally; it does translate, for example, the satire that Milton directs to, for example, the orders of friars that appear there, and their vices, of course, the vices of the, of the, of the orders. But the Mexican translation does not deal with that. Tdhe translator skips ahead and he ends up writing about, for example, vices and sins like blasphemy and, and envy etc., etc. But he does not mention the orders of friars or the priests or anything like that. So, you can see that translators and readers have approached this part very, very differently according to their own sensitivities. And according to their own sensibilities, religious sensibilities, which is, which is also something that we that we need to take into consideration, because that passage in the original English is very aggressive. It is very crude, I would say, in its criticism, and it needs to be. I mean, if you, if you know, where Milton is coming from, that passage needs to be that way.
And the other interesting bit is that some of those Spanish-speaking translators have taken the passage, and Milton’s Paradise Lost in general, as a model of revolutionary thought and of revolutionary poetry, which is, of course, something that they found not only interesting and relevant, but also significant in their own social and political contexts. Of course, we know that Spanish-speaking America in the 19th century, in the, in the second half of the 19th century is striving — in the, I mean, from the first half, but particularly in the mid-19th century, still struggling against the vices and the malignity, if you will, of imperial power. They’re still struggling for their independence. Which means that Milton would become some kind of an inspiration for that kind of thought, for revolutionary thought. But, of course, some of them are still very much Catholic. So, they need, they need to deal with that kind of content very carefully.
What I’m hearing is that Milton’s Arminianism, right, this idea that salvation is available, it’s only available through grace, but humanity, unlike Calvinism, humanity actually plays a role in that working toward grace. And so, if I’m hearing correctly, Mexican and Latin American translators, as well as those engaging with Milton in other ways, seem to kind of appropriated that theology for politics. As Catholics, they still believe in the sacrament and in good works. And that, you know, living a vicious life is the fastest way to hell. But that act, the act of revolution, they themselves are responsible for their political salvation as it were.
Yes, I think the key word is responsibility. Because what Arminianism believes in is the possibility that humankind has a responsibility towards salvation. That is to say, you can actually cooperate with Christ in your own salvation, which is something that Calvinism does not accept. Of course, we can see that in Paradise Lost. And we can see that in the manner that, as you say, those translators and poets appropriated the idea, or the set of ideas that underlies this concept. Revolution means rapid change. So, if that rapid change is not achieved, that is your responsibility, the same way that that change when achieved is also your responsibility. Of course, it depends on, on other circumstances. I mean, the success or lack thereof, or lack thereof depends on the circumstances, but it is mainly your responsibility.
Milton’s God makes that very clear, when describing the role of “umpire conscience.”
(MG) Right, that will, for those, the line goes actually “Umpire Conscience, whom if they will hear, /
Light after light” – and so, we return to that opening imagery, right – “Light after light, well us’d they shall attain, / And to the end persisting, safe arrive” [3.195-197]. Some very clear parallels to be made to hearing the call to revolution. And if you hear the call, and then the end, the goal of freedom will be arrived at.
And conscience comes hand in hand with reason, which is another key aspect of this, this concept not only responsibility, but also change, if you will, advancement, if you will, in your spiritual and personal status as a human being.
And the active use of that reason.
Whereas elsewhere, Milton’s God is very dismissive of the idea that humanity is passive. And that —
There is no point in being passive. There is no point in having a passive creation, if you will. I mean, if, if they don’t work towards their own wellbeing, their own, their own good, then they’re just inert, if you will, and, and there is no praise in that. So, so humankind needs to work towards their, as I said before, their advancement and, and their own salvation, and they need to work towards their own evolution, spiritual evolution, if you will.
One of my favorite bits from Milton’s prose is the passage in Areopagitica, where Milton is just ripping into his critics who want to insist that God’s foreknowledge and humanity’s freewill aren’t reconcilable. The image that Milton provides of, of course, humanity has to have free will, is, he says, otherwise, Adam would be like “Adam […] in the motions,” or a marionette executor. If I’m remembering correctly, you’ve translated Areopagitica?
I have. Yes.
So how do you treat that passage?
As far as I can remember, I treated that as it is. I think, I think I actually use the word marionette for that translation, because the passage not only deals with that, with the possibility of Adam being some kind of a puppet, which is, which is absolutely not the point for someone like Adam and for humankind in general, but also it deals with the problem of a reason. That passage is very explicit about reason being the same as choosing, which is something that is repeated verbatim in Paradise Lost in book 3. That’s something that is repeated there. And it’s very, it’s very meaningful in that, if you choose, then you are able to exercise your free will. And if you do that, then you are being a reasonable being. Reason, in that sense, becomes some kind of an emanation of God, if you will. Reason is very much like light in that sense. So, the two, the two ideas come together. Reason is the light of humankind, or the light through which men and mankind, of course, can find their way through life and existence. Mostly, we think that, for example, the kind of life that Milton refers to in book 3 of Paradise Lost, is not only the light that we can see, or that allows us to see in the physical world. It is also an effluence. Not only that, but light is some kind of, it’s some kind of a spiritual entity that has always existed with and within God. And so, God shares that light with humankind by means of creation, evidently. And if that light is recognized as reason, then it will make sense because it is through, through God’s grace, that that reason and that light reaches men, in such a way that it becomes a, an integral part of the human being.
Right, right. And just as earlier we were talking about conscience and, and following conscience, pursuing grace, pursuing revolution, as being the opposite of passivity. It seems like here the light of reason, the opposite for Milton might be necessity, which he, God very much makes it very clear. If humanity does not have free will than they are serving necessity, not me [consult 3.110-111]. And he later pairs necessity with tyranny. Right? That’s an enforced rule as opposed to willful, willed, eager obedience, which is what of course God wants in Milton’s epic.
Yes, of course. There is no praise, as I said before, there’s no praise in doing something out of need. There is, there is praise in doing something because you want to do it. Not because you need to do.
Book 3 ends with Satan consciously choosing not to return to God.
Yes, which means that he has not only resisted but also rejected grace, which is a key idea for Milton. Because what we see in Paradise Lost is that the grace can be rejected. It can be opposed. But, of course, the reasonable thing to do is the opposite. I mean, you’re being reasonable, and you’re using your reason, when you embrace that, and, and therefore you are worthy of having been created.
When we return to Satan, Milton returns to that opening image of the survey, right. Whereas God has this absolute survey of all time and all space, Satan, as a created being like humanity, can only see kind of what he’s done in the past and the space immediately in front of him. And so, I’m just going to read a little bit here, because it’s so starkly different from, you know, God’s being able to see everything.
As when a scout / Through dark and desert ways with peril gone / All night, at last by break of cheerful dawn / Obtains the brow of some high-climbing hill, / Which to his eye discovers unaware / The goodly prospect of some foreign land / First-seen, or some renowned metropolis / With glistering spires and pinnacles adorned, / Which now the rising sun guilds with his beams. [3.543-551]
One reason why this verse has struck me in the past is because of the contrast with God’s survey. But reading your work on Mexican and Latin American translations of Paradise Lost, this passage is striking me in a new way, because it’s very much about conquest, right? This spy going out, and “oh, here’s a city that we can invade and take over because they’re completely unaware of our presence.” And so, I’m wondering if this has been a passage that has been commented on by poets and thinkers and other artists in the Spanish-speaking world in the context of Spanish imperialism in in the Americas?
Actually, no. Other passages have been, have been discussed in that way. But not this particular one. Well, not there I’m aware of. And that is very interesting, because, of course, those translators were still living in a world, if you will, in nations that very, that were very much under the yoke of foreign powers, even if some of those nations had already achieved their political independence. But that passage is particularly interesting, because what you, what you have said. It presents us with a prospect that is very much physical and visual. That is, what is more, I think, I think it is entirely visual, as opposed to what we can get and perceive from God’s vision of the world and, and the universe. Even if Satan can see the whole world. He cannot see everything at the same time. And that kind of vision is, strangely enough, the kind of vision that, for example, the Son shares. Because, and very few people notice this, the Son cannot, the Son cannot see everything at the same time the way that the Father does. For example, when he asks questions with regard to the future of mankind, he asks those questions very honestly. He really, I mean, you can perceive that he really doesn’t know what will become of humankind. Whereas when the Father ask a question as to, for example, who will offer himself for the salvation of humankind, you kind of sense that he does know. Even if he’s asking, and that’s, that’s not the kind of view that the Son and Satan actually have. But what is interesting there is that whereas the Son focuses on more spiritual aspects, Satan is, once again out of need, seeing the things of the world. Because not only because that’s where he’s going, but because that’s a part of the creative universe that he needs to grasp sensorially in order to do what he is about what he’s about to do, which is, which is no good evidently. So, it’s very becoming, because what he sees is the world’s physical opulence. What that passage describes is things that have to do, for example, with gold and with the attraction that something like gold, something, something shiny, something gilded would exert upon a viewer, right, which in this case, is evidently a bad spirit, Satan.
It’s a surreptitious view as well, like the sight is working in ways that – the word that’s coming to mind, a very, very high academic term, that’s coming to my mind is smarmy, right. I mean, this is not a moment of Satanic heroism. No, this as you say, this materialism, this acquisitiveness, in sharp contrast to as you said, the Son who’s genuinely inquisitive and seeks to save on behalf of others, rather than Satan who wishes to, as you say, grasp on behalf of —
Exactly and I think that’s very ironic, because Satan is presented as some kind of an explorer in that part of book 3. But what is ironic there is that Satan is not exploring the world for the sake of knowledge. He’s not exploring because he wants to know what’s there. Not because he wants to explain to himself what he will encounter, maybe will, but because he wants to do harm. In that sense, he’s not being reasonable. He wants to, of course, take revenge upon God through the created world, through humankind, which is evidently contemptible.
And we get almost a travesty or, or a send up, an exposé of Satan’s limitations, here at the end of book 3, impersonates the cherub, right. And –
Asks exactly the right question, right? I want to know more so I can glorify God. Right?
But with the intent of doing nothing of the sort.
The opposite. Yeah. And in that sense, we get to grasp this very Miltonic idea that physical sight is not only limited, but also deceitful, which is the reason why this book opens up with the idea that true sight and true light are those that allow you to see things from within. When Milton says, “there plant eyes” [3.53], he refers to the mind and not to the eye. And what is interesting there is that Satan is uncapable of that kind of sight. He clearly sees what he needs to see, in order to achieve his purposes, his malign purposes, which is, which is the whole point when Satan is, is presented like that. We need to remember that Satan is a shapeshifter, and he, and he gets to deceive almost everybody else, which is not too many people, but still, he gets to deceive the people. And he does by means of sight of shape, which is evidently something very physical and something that can be manipulated. And something that can, of course, lead you astray. Ultimately.
At the end of that invocation, when that poet-speaker seeks to see, as it were, the invisible, I guess what I want to say is, we’ve observed how throughout book 3, Milton uses form uses structure, he uses repetition, he uses variation, but he uses also these figures of contrast. And so, what at the beginning of book 3 is this praise of what is invisible, Satan shows us the unreasonable side of that. By turning it into a hypocrisy. That we can’t trust necessarily what we see. And, as it turns out, we can always trust what we hear either.
Yeah, but the sad thing about that is that, of course, we have been faced with hypocrisy. I mean, because we have been living, I mean, by “we” I mean humankind as we know it. We have been faced with hypocrisy time and again. We know what it is about. But as I was saying, the sad thing about that is that Adam and Eve have never been faced with hypocrisy before. So, they don’t really know what it is, they don’t really know what it looks like. So, it is, it is only natural that they should fall for what Satan offers them. And that is, of course, something that has to do with their inability to see things for what they really are. Because, of course, their sight is physical and that compels them to choose wrongly. The important thing there is that they will have the possibility of being saved precisely because they have been deceived by someone else.
By an evil spirit. The reason that Satan cannot be saved or redeemed is because he has chosen to fall. He has chosen to reject and oppose God’s grace. And that’s the reason why he cannot share in this possibility of salvation. Whereas humankind does.
And we see him make that choice again, and again. And again/
Humankind does have that possibility.
This is this is line 573, more or less, I think. This is about Satan and the way that he’s moving on flying well towards the world: “Thither his cause he bends / Through the calm firmament” [3.573-574]. And what comes next is very interesting:
But up or down / By center, or eccentric, hard to tell, / Or longitude, where the great luminary / Aloof the vulgar constellations thick, / That from his lordly eye keep distances due, / Dispenses light from afar. [3.574-579]
That is very surprising, isn’t it? Because it challenges our notion of physical place and position in place. It’s hard to tell whether you are going up or down, whether you are going from side to side, because once again, a place that is no place, actually. What I think is that Satan here is being confused precisely because he cannot see everything. And that is due to the fact that he’s a fallen being. So, I think that this uncertainty as to position has to do with that kind of confusion that Milton is deliberately creating. And he does that masterfully. Because I mean, I mean, think about this: You’re a poet, you’re a human. And you’re trying to describe things that nobody else has ever seen before, things that are out of, out of time and out of place. How do you do that? You can, you can only do that by, by faulty means, languages is a faulty means, because it’s a human invention. At this point, at least. In order to describe this thing, you need to try to replicate the kind of confusion that Satan is actually experiencing. That’s why he needs to ask for directions, because he cannot see everything at the same time, because he does not know where he’s going. Because he is an explorer, a maligned explorer. So that confusion is only understandable from that point of view. We can only imagine what, the way that God actually witnesses that. Does he do that with a smirk? Does he do that with a sense of pity? We do not know; we can only imagine that. Because God is able not only to see that, but he has been able to foresee that from the very beginning. So, you can only imagine the effort of the poet trying to convey that.
Not to tie too neatly of a bow on our conversation. But I do think that there is a return here to prayer because, you know, one purpose in prayer is to resolve uncertainty, resolve confusion. And one thing Satan never does, very much like Claudius in Hamlet, right, he does not pray.
No, he does not.
At least Claudius claims that he attempts to pray, right. But there is no effort on Satan’s part to, as you say, reflect in a way that will give him, if not absolute sight, at least give him some of the light, as it were, that would guide him forward.
Yes, yes, exactly.
Well, thank you again, so much. This has been a really inspiring conversation. And I appreciate it so very much.
Thank you. Thank you very much. It has been my entire pleasure. And let’s hope this helps people not only read but also reason within, of course, our limits as human beings, but about the possibilities, not only of Paradise Lost but also about the possibilities of its teachings and its pleasures. Because I think that, first and foremost, Paradise Lost should be a pleasurable work [music starts playing] of literature. Something that we can actually, I know it’s difficult, but something that that we can actually obtain some kind of joy from, if you will.