GENERAL SOURCE SURVEY FOR THE DEMONOLOGY OF
(C) Copyright 1987 by Mike Blakemore
Abstract. While it is generally assumed that Milton’s sources for the demonology of PL are biblical, a cursory examination of the evidence shows this is not the case. Although the Bible was important in the work’s composition, Milton also drew upon sources apocryphal and pseudepigraphal, as well as upon the large body of Hebrew legend concerning demons, much of which pre-dates Judaistic thought. In the final analysis, Milton opts for poetic sensibility over orthodox Scriptural authority, using his varied materials as the dramatic needs of his work dictated.
In Paradise Lost it is the fallen angels, rather than the faithful, who attract our interest. Before the fall, God makes it clear they had all better go along with His program if they know what’s good for them. As He introduces His son, whom He orders them to worship, he says:
…him who disobeyes
Mee disobeyes, breaks union, and that day
Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls
Into utter darkness, deep ingulfts, his place
Ordained without redemption, without end.
Robert West notes that in Milton’s day, the vast majority of angelologists in England held that angels were “secured by grace from the danger of lapse or by a compulsive love of God.”
But this would make for a garden-variety angel who is merely doing something about what he has little choice. Also, an angelic elect would run counter to Milton’s lifelong devotion to that intellectual freedom in which sapient beings are ultimately responsible for their own behavior. That same idea of an angelic elect would also remove most of the dynamism of PL’s plot.
Lucifer is like the classical tragic heroes in that his äpride (hubris) demands expression (as did Eve’s.) Satan has a certain appeal, at least in the beginning, where he is cast as an anti-hero, a cad whom we admire for his direct attempts to get what he wants. He has very human virtues and failings; courage, persistence and ingenuity. But his tragic flaws are unsavory. He has a huge ego and a petty streak. If God won’t let him share the dais, he will at least damage God’s newest creation -- man.
C.S. Lewis states it is easier to draw a villain than a hero. “To make a character worse than oneself it is only necessary to release imaginatively from control some of the bad passions which, in real life, are always straining at the leash,” he writes. “To draw a `good’ one, it is necessary to rise above oneself; hence the scarcity of well drawn ‘good’ characters.”
In his Satan, Milton creates a character of truly Olympian proportions. For a worthy foe of God, nothing less will suffice. But the questions prompted by this creation make it patently absurd to look at PL in either strictly allegorical or literal senses. Angelology and demonology are, at best, imperfect branches of theology, itself built on a revealed doctrine which defies empirical examination, and in which legend and bias inevitably infect any reasonable metaphysical speculation. Milton dealt with this problem in the manner of a thinking and literary man, counterweighting his logic with what often seems a tenuous belief in God. He was, as was said of Browning, a man who would call himself Christian no matter what he believed in, diverging from mainstream Puritan thought as his conscience dictated.
Scholars have made much of the fact that in the entirety of PL, Satan gets the best lines, and use this to argue a certain Miltonic sympathy for him. But while Satan may be more eloquent than the others, it is only early in the story that His Infernal Eminence has heroic virtues. Before the end of book two, his grandeur is visibly crumbling.
At the gates of Hell as he begins his first foray into the world, the reader sees his first post-fall interaction with anyone outside of his “horrid crew.” He is a wanton, as witnessed by the conversation with his daughter Sin and his son-grandson Death, and by revelation of his grotesque relationship with them.
He continues his degeneration, becoming a common sneak in his use of trickery to obtain directions to Eden from a charmingly gullible Uriel. Thus, his demeanor moves even farther from his previous persona of the magnificently active äand vibrant Lucifer, the bearer of light, confirming himself by his own free will as the truly evil Satan, who needs darkness to do his work.
In the Old Testament, Satan was not such a bad fellow. His name literally means adversary, or accuser. He was the prosecuting attorney in God’s court. Although sometimes given unpleasant tasks, his actions were always undertaken with God’s sanction, one example being the harassment of Job. In the New Testament, he is the tempter of Jesus. Citing extensive Talmudic commentary, Leo Jung lists, among Satan’s virtues; “Kindness, consideration, [and] delicacy of feeling.” He also mentions Satan’s sense of humor.
In the Hebrew pantheon was a class of demons known as the sedim, suggesting a linguistic connection. The concept of these beings may have come from Babylonia, where they were sometimes represented by winged bulls -- a common fertility symbol, according to Frazer.
By contrast, the Islamic Shatan (or the Zoroastrian Satan,) is a truly evil and dynamic devil, who refused to worship God’s new creation, man (consistent with the Jewish tradition), and was, hence, turned into a demon, swearing an oath of revenge against God. John B. Noss suggests a Zoroastrian influence on Islam here. In Jewish and Islamic thought, Satan operated only with the permission of an omnipotent God, although in Zoroaster’s thinking, the forces oś eviž werŚ powerfuž anš poseš Š verý reaž threaŰ tÔ AhurŠ Mazda, literally, “Wise Lord.”
BuŰ iŰ iů iÓ thŚ Neų TestamenŰ thaŰ SataÓ evolveů aů Š trulý eviž characterģ AlthougŤ hiů connectioÓ witŤ thŚ serpenŰ iů onlý toucheš upoÓ iÓ Genesis¨ RevelatioÓ (12¨ 7-10) iů explicit.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his
angels waged war upon the dragon. The dragon and
his angels fought, but they had not the strength
to win, and no foothold was left them in heaven.
So the great dragon was thrown down, that serpent
of old that led the whole world astray, whose name
is Satan, or the devil -- thrown down to the earth
and his angels with him.
John again identifies the dragon as Satan in the opening of Rev. 20.
ä That Lucifer has taken a full third of the angelic complement with him prompts Sir Herbert Grierson to wryly note that “if the third part of a school or college or nation broke into rebellion we should be driven, or strongly disposed, to suspect some mismanagement by the supreme powers.”
Unlike the Jewish Satan, Milton’s Christianized Satan was the very personification of evil, although just how the name Lucifer creeps in as the unfallen angel is unclear. Jung comments this may be due to a misinterpretation of Isaiah 14, 12-13.
How you have fallen from heaven, bright morning star,
felled to the earth, sprawling helpless across nations!
You thought in your own mind, I will scale the heavens;
I will set my throne high above the stars of God,
I will sit on the mountain where the gods meet
In the far recesses of the north.
Robert H. West states that this is more likely the railings of the prophet against Nebuchadnezzar, who, like most kings, probably enjoyed court flattery which compared him to either the Morning Star (Lucifer), the Sun or to God himself. Along these lines, Luke quotes Christ as saying, “I watched how Satan fell, like lightning, out of the sky.” (10:18), a citation upon which the the early Church Fathers speculated for several centuries.
It should also be noted that descending stars were often considered fallen angels in a number of Middle Eastern folk cultures. Considering that the Zoroastrians were no mean astrologers, it would do well to remember that it was a group of Zoroastrian Magi (from whence comes the word “magic”) who were the first to adore the infant Jesus. This Christian concept of Satan may well have connections with the Islamic/Zoroastrian idea. The Persian Zoroastrians spoke a branch of Indo-Aryan, a sub-school of Indo-European, the same language grouping of most modern European language. Their malevolent daevas were the precursors of our modern devils.
Zoroastrian influence on western religious thought must not be underestimated. It has in common with all the Mediterranean religions the concept of a tripartite universe, including a heaven, earth and underworld. (Hindu cosmology is a much more unified operation, without such clear divisions.) Zoroastrianism has also provided a comprehensive dualistic theology appearing later in the Manicheanism, still very much äalive in some Middle Eastern Christian sects. It has always been easier to see things in black and white rather than in shades of gray, and metaphysical arguments concerning evil as an aspect of good have gone on for thousands of years and into the present. Another tenet of Zoroastrianism held in common with Christianity is the general resurrection to come at the end of the present world order, the condemned spending eternity in an unpleasant place called “The House of the Lie.”
In both Hebrew and Islamic traditions, Shatan (or Satan) was a prominent angel who became a devil through disobedience, and who took his revenge upon God by seducing man. The Muslims and early Jews, however, reject the idea that Satan can actually rebel. The idea was more fully developed later, in a Hellenized Judaism where lesser beings rebel against God, an idea central to Greek mythology.
In the popular theology of his day, Milton was safe in casting Satan as ruler of Hell and chief demon. The rest of his infernal hierarchy, however, has a certain arbitrary quality to it that can only be justified as poetic license. Milton draws upon the large and often-contradictory body of Semitic legend for his precedents, and taps into a tradition of reducing gods overshadowed by Yahweh to the ranks of demons, as will be more fully explained below.
First after Satan is Beelzebub, henchman and chief lieutenant. After the initial onslaught, it is to Beelzebub that Satan first speaks, referring to him as “Fall’n Cherub.” In both Jewish and Christian traditions a cherub is a high order of angel. In ancient Babylonia, a kerub was a griffin, half-mammal, half-bird, similar to the Hebrew sedim. These were the same cherubim of Moses and Solomon, says Emily Hahn, “carved and gilded supports of God’s throne, each with one great golden wing curving up and around the throne and above it to meet the other in a sort of arch that shaded the divine Occupant.” They also appeared on the Ark of the Covenant.
It was Beelzebub whom the Pharisees called the prince of demons and who is one of the few three-dimensional characters in Milton’s hell, outside of Satan. The biblical references to Beelzebub are well-known. It was by Beelzebub, said the Pharisees, that Jesus cast out devils, prompting Jesus to make the famous comparison about a house being divided against itself. Putnam’s suggests that the name of Beelzebub comes from the Hebrew word Baal-zevuv, “Lord of Flies,” or, less kindly, “Lord of Dung”. Putnam’s further suggests this is a mocking corruption of the Canaanite Baal-zebul, or “Prince Baal,” Baal being a powerful fertility god, lord and ämaster of natural regenerative forces and identified with lightning and rain. He was frequently represented as a winged bull (sedim, kerub?), and in his mythology, was slain and resurrected. In this he is analogous to other dying and resurrected fertility gods such as Osiris, Zagreus, Dionysius and Tammuz. Another name belonging on this list is, significantly, the Greek Adonis, the word Adonai replacing the Yahweh in later Judaism. In both Greek and Hebrew the word means “my lord” or “my master.”
Moloch was another fertility god sometimes associated with Baal, a nasty chap who liked having small children sacrificed to him by fire. The first commandment, “Thou shalt not have strange Gods before thee” indicates God was very much aware of the Hebrew inclination to flirt with other deities. Moses had been gone up the mountain only a few days when the Hebrews asked for another god and were given a golden calf (Prince Baal?). Moloch was another one to whose charms the Israelites often fell prey. Even the wise Solomon built shrines to him (1 Kings 11.7), although it must be noted in all fairness that he had a weakness for women and built these shrines to placate his not-so-Jewish wives and concubines, and not anywhere near the temple. Moloch enjoyed such popularity, in fact, that in Leviticus (18.21; 20.2), God was specific about not sacrificing one’s children to what Milton calls a
horrid King besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,
Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud
Thir children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire
To his grim idol.
At the council in Pandaemonium, Moloch is the first to answer Satan’s request for ideas. He was
the fiercest spirit
That fought in Heav’n; now fiercer by despair:
His trust was with th’ Eternal to be deem’d
Equal in strength, and rather than be less
Car’d not to be at all; with that care lost
Went all his fear:
In noting his desire for violence without regard to the äconsequence, Irene Samuel writes that
he cares little whether that violence turns on God,
Heaven, Hell, or himself. The only desirable
alternative he sees to effecting his combative will
is annihilation. Thus Milton links the impulses of
murder and self-destruction and sees the roots of
both in the aggressive need of brute force to
dominate its world in order to feel adequate.
After Moloch’s speech comes Belial’s.
But all was false and hollow; though his Tongue
Dropt Manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Maturest Counsels; for his thoughts were low;
To vice industrious, but to Nobler deeds
Timorous and slothful: yet he pleased the ear.”
Milton’s association of Belial with lust indicates he may have been familiar with the story of the 200 Watchers, which appears in slightly different forms in the pseudepigraphal books of Enoch and Jubilees. In the story, 200 angels become infatuated with human women and make their way to earth, a journey that takes nine days. That number reappears in PL.
Nines times the space that measures Day and Night
To mortal men, hee with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rolling in the fiery gulf…
Upon their arrival on earth, the Watchers take wives and begin copulating to beat the band, their children growing up to be giants and causing a number of problems. God chastises both the Watchers and their beloved children with various punishments. He first sends Uriel to warn Noah, then Raphael to tie up Azazel, the Watcher’s chief. Significantly, the Old Testament Azazel was a wild desert demon associated with the scape-goat.
At God’s direction, Gabriel then forces the giants to kill each other. Michael makes the Watchers observe, then ädeposits them in the underworld to stay until the last judgement, after which they will go into the eternal flames.
Belial reappears in Paradise Regained, urging Satan to tempt Christ with women. Satan scoffs, pointing out that Belial is inclined to attribute his own personal weakness to everyone else. Satan says;
Before the flood, thou with thy lusty crew
False titled sons of God, roaming the earth
Cast wanton eyes on the daughters of men,
and coupled with them, and begot a race.
(PR II, 178)
For a few members of his demonic host, Milton again turns to folklore. By the Middle Ages, Europeans had started classifying various demons as to their powers to entice men to indulge in the more base instincts. In his continuing demonology, Milton draws on the morality playwright’s practice of personifying sins as devils. As we have already established, Lucifer’s sin was pride. After his fall, it becomes anger, an understandable response to thwarted ambition.
There is little scriptural authority for Mammon outside of a few New Testament mentions as to the danger of wealth (Mat. 6.24; Luke 16.9,11,13.), Milton does, however, mention Spenser’s “Cave of Mammon” (Faerie Queen) in Areopagitica.
In the speeches at Pandaemonium, Mammon appears in what is probably Milton’s declining order of the importance of various sins.
Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell
From Heav’n, for ev’n in Heav’n his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav’n’s pavement, trodd’n Gold
Than aught divine or holy else enjoy’d
In vision beatific…
He is Hell’s architect, building a house of splendor true to his love of riches and luxury. After all, he points out, “This Desert soil/Wants not her hidden lustre, Gems and Gold.”
ä The sheer volume of Milton’s demonic catalogue makes its complete discussion impractical. One personage who merits being singled out, however, is Astoreth “whom the Phoenicians called/Astarte, Queen of Heav’n…” One can only speculate whether Milton might have developed her more fully, had he the time or the the inclination. She was a fertility goddess with a large following, similar to the Greek Aphrodite, the Roman Diana and the Egyptian Isis. Written mention of her was found in the 1931 West Syrian excavation of Ugarit, and has been dated about 1,400 B.C. Like most female fertility goddesses, she was associated with the moon. Although the patristic Hebrews and Jesu-centric Christians worked hard in trying to stamp out her worship, the lingering human desire for a female fertility goddess has crept back into circulation through Mary, the mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven. In the Roman Catholic calendar, the spring month of May is reserved for her veneration.
Hahn states that when one ancient tribe (or for that matter, modern tribe) conquered another, the victor’s deity was imposed upon the loser, and that no sensible victor tried to destroy the loser’s gods. This would undermine the whole business. Instead, the loser’s gods were reduced in stature. Both the Mosaic distaste for visual depictions of God and this practice of transforming the old rivals of Yahweh into demons reappears in Christianity. The early Christians were, like most people in those days, an ignorant and superstitious lot. Particularly in Greece and Rome, they believed that devils resided in the pagan idols. Interestingly, Faunus, (the Greek Pan), with his cloven hooves, stubby horns and tail, could stand as a prototype for medieval depictions of the devil.
It was upon these wide-ranging concepts that Milton drew, many of which appear to have been introduced into Western Christianity by Pope Gregory I (c.540-604), an exmonk who wrote extensively on the Eastern Mediterranean ideas of the early Church Fathers. Oriental sympathies did not color all his thinking, however. In one of Christendom’s more embarrassing power struggles, he refused to recognize the Patriarch of Constantinople and set off 500 years of dispute ending in a complete break in 1054, and which today remains unhealed.
Milton was no stranger to literary license, inventing and borrowing as his plot dictated. Such free selection of material was needed to hybrid an arch-fiend of towering stature for a true enemy of God and Christ. The lesser persons in his supporting cast were similarly constructed from the best sources available to shape them into consummate äfigures of wickedness.
Oddly, Milton’s epic never made it onto the Index of the arch-conservative Roman Catholic Church. Although he constructed a fanciful cosmology at odds with orthodox views, he slid around the hair-splitting theological arguments, using a poetic sensibility to make sense of Scriptural spirit. He showed little or no interest in the scientific accuracy of Scripture, but approached it with an awareness of its background and development.
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