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Paradise Lost: Bk II 
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Post Paradise Lost: Bk II
Book II Discussion

Please use this thread to discuss Book II of Paradise Lost



Last edited by Saffron on Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:21 am, edited 1 time in total.



Wed Jan 21, 2009 11:53 pm
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After Book 1 I wasn't so sure what I'd gotten myself into with Paradise Lost. I must admit I struggled a bit with the language and the content. I think with Book II I am getting the hang of it. I am beginning to have the sense of sitting around listening to a fantastical story being told aloud.


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Thu Jan 22, 2009 7:28 am
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Right, PL is a lot to get into, but I think your approach is sound. There are some questions we might be thinking about as we read through this work. One I have already tried to indicate, and that is 1) the degreee to which PL works as an epic or a drama/epic, that is on the primary level of the reader's response, divorced as much as possible from the poem's theology.

Others would be: 2) How are we to understand the "mind" of Milton and his educated contemporaries with regard to the Christian religion? There might be a danger of oversimplifying their thinking based on the apparent truth that they saw biblical commentary as also to a degree historical commentary. However, to see them through a present-day lens of fundamentalist Christianity would be a big mistake. Today, as far as I can see, there is virtually no theology in fundamentalism, whereas for Milton--despite his protestantism--theology was still a very live issue, which means that the Bible did not answer all theological questions. I imagine that theology for Milton, and even for the less educated, was on a par with politics for us today. Milton was not a theologian, but he still felt called upon to weigh in with his "On Christian Doctrine." I guess I'm saying we have to be careful about seeing even Milton as a strict biblical literalist, and about translating all features of his poem into his personal beliefs.
3) Related to #2, would we agree with Sir Walter Raleigh's criticism that PL is just a monument to dead ideas? If Milton's Christianity is not our Christianity, or even if we are not Christians, what is there for us in the artistic/moral vision of PL? Anything?



Thu Jan 22, 2009 8:23 am
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Post Paradise Lost
I, too, have attempted to read this work several times over the years, and put it back on the shelf...but the Illiad was not a favorite for me.

Dwill suggessts:
"There are some questions we might be thinking about as we read through this work. One I have already tried to indicate, and that is 1) the degreee to which PL works as an epic or a drama/epic, that is on the primary level of the reader's response, divorced as much as possible from the poem's theology."

Finally having made it into Bk ll and found that I am enjoying it, I would say yes...but again...is it really possible to searate theology and politics from the piece when the two were so bound together in those times? Even now, it seems to me there remains an intense struggle to separate the two in reasoning as well as governing.


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Thu Jan 22, 2009 8:55 am
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Post Re: Paradise Lost
Grindle wrote:
I, too, have attempted to read this work several times over the years, and put it back on the shelf...but the Illiad was not a favorite for me.

So perhaps for you PL will have an inside track, since it lacks so much of the martial stuff and glorifying of violence.
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Finally having made it into Bk ll and found that I am enjoying it, I would say yes...but again...is it really possible to searate theology and politics from the piece when the two were so bound together in those times? Even now, it seems to me there remains an intense struggle to separate the two in reasoning as well as governing.

The answer to your question is surely "no," but what I was thinking of is the possible validity of of at least some sentiment and drama in the poem, even if we reject the theology (as I do). It might even go beyond sentiment and drama to include respect for the statement of our human predicament-- in a different vernacular than we would use, but perhaps valid in translation for us. But that is for people to determine. I won't be sure where I stand myself until I've reread this poem. I hope that undertaking this work as a group will help those who have attempted it before get to the end this time. (Maybe we should read Moby Dick sometime?)



Thu Jan 22, 2009 11:53 am
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Post Re: Paradise Lost
DWill wrote:
I hope that undertaking this work as a group will help those who have attempted it before get to the end this time. (Maybe we should read Moby Dick sometime?)


:laugh: You hit the nail squarely this time! I have tried to read Moby Dick; I even liked it, but couldn't get to the end -- maybe the support of a group would see me through to the end. Maybe that should be the next fiction!


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Thu Jan 22, 2009 12:04 pm
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The book club as support group for getting through imposing classics--yes, that is a good statement of a purpose. Then you can't give up without feeling like a wimp!



Thu Jan 22, 2009 12:14 pm
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WOW. Everything that I found lacking in Book I I was happy to find here in Book II. I found the entire thing extremely enjoyable. It ranged from exciting to suspensful and was just excellent. It didn't seem to ramble as much as Book I did either. At least to me it seemed that Milton followed a clear path through to the end so that this book read in a rather straight forward manner.
Milton's entire concept still seems rather questionable however. There still exists this paradox that god is allowing all of this to happen while at the same time can stop it whenver he chooses. It's been suggested that god knows exactly where all of this is going to end so perhaps that justifies his allowing it to an extent...Perhaps his allowing Satan and Sin to enter the world are because of what happens in subsequent books (Adam and Eve), so I will have to wait for that to unfold to answer itself. (I am attempting to read this as if I am being introduced to all of this material for the first time. I have never read PL before but so much of this has been coopted into the fiction vernacular since Milton's time that I feel like I know most of the subplots already).



Thu Jan 22, 2009 2:31 pm
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Cool. I've been reading some background stuff and haven't caught up to you on my re-read. Seems what you're wondering about is this maddening theology that Milton didn't invent; it seems so tortured, doesn't it? God is like the house in gambling, and the house always wins. With omniscience, God always gets to be smarty pants.

I looked in my Milton book at "On Christian doctrine." I was surprised to see my underlinings there, don't recall having read it, but at least some of it I did. From my brief look, it's all there, how Milton works out, only from the Bible, the character of God and his powers. But I'm sure his ideas on this were not unique.



Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:01 pm
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[quote="DWill"]Seems what you're wondering about is this maddening theology that Milton didn't invent; it seems so tortured, doesn't it?
quote]

Haha- Yeah, pretty much the story of my life...I think thats the same for all recovering christians like my self.



Fri Jan 23, 2009 9:46 am
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So, these are a few of the things that I found particularly interesting (besides the altogether awesome description of hell throughout Book II)
(quotes are from dartmouth.edu translation)

1) "Turning our Tortures into horrid Arms
Against the Torturer; when to meet the noise
Of his Almighty Engin he shall hear [ 65 ]
Infernal Thunder, and for Lightning see
Black fire and horror shot with equal rage
Among his Angels; and his Throne it self
Mixt with Tartarean Sulphur, and strange fire,
His own invented Torments."
- These are the words of Moloch, who is laying his case for full on open war with heaven. I found it intriguing that as he lists all of the terrible weapons they have at their disposal he also conceeds that all of those weapons have been invented by god.
Unless I'm mistaken these "tortures and torments" would be unpleasant things. I'm confused by the fact that God is the creator of bad things as well as good. Isn't the point of later in this book claiming that Sin sprang from the head of Satan then was raped by him and he in turn fathered death to illustrate the fact that Satan is the creator of all that is bad?
Again, this is me struggling with the convoluted theology, not precisely the text itself.

2) Belial's speech adds an interesting tidbit to the conversation that was held in the thread for Book I - about whether angels can in fact be killed.
"Thus repuls'd, our final hope
Is flat despair; we must exasperate
Th' Almighty Victor to spend all his rage,
And that must end us, that must be our cure, [ 145 ]
To be no more
; sad cure; for who would loose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through Eternity,
To perish rather, swallowd up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night, [ 150 ]
Devoid of sense and motion? and who knows,
Let this be good, whether our angry Foe
Can give it, or will ever?"

- This is interesting because it seems that even the angels in hell (demons?) aren't sure whether or not they can be killed. Belial says that's what they should hope for yet he's not sure if God can or will do it-(see bold)



Fri Jan 23, 2009 10:17 am
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I found the language in Bk. II to be more difficult. It's not the vocabulary or Milton's spelling, but the syntax, which appears to be more like badly translated Latin at times. This is 60 years after Shakespeare, yet it's less like English to me.

About the demon's council, I picked up that none of the speakers but Satan believe that they have any chance to strike at God's throne or to get the best of God in any other way. Even Moloch favors open war only because that is the only option to being miserable in Hell, and some measure of revenge would feel good. But all think that God can't be beat, except Satan. The traditional way to look at that would be to say that Satan has enormous pride, which is a form a self-deception. He deceives himself. Another way to look at it, though, is that he won't accept what is only reputed; he has to find out for himself. But he's smart enough to know that so soon after being beaten, war isn't the best path.

I thought the "interlude" after the council was kind of amusing, where in imitation of the classical epics Milton has the demons holding contests, exploring Hell, and having seminars and such.

The meeting with Sin and Death and the story told about Satan's fatherhood of them seemed like burlesque allegory to me. It isn't in keeping with the impression we have of Satan so far, but that is what Milton intends, to take some of the glory away from Satan. It was also pretty bold of Milton to make Heaven the place of the origin of Sin. I wasn't surprised here that Milton implies that only through God's sufferance does Satan's ploy to get the gates open work.

Sin and Death amain
Following his track, such was the will of Heav'n, [ 1025 ]


That was a good moral that Milton draws from the admirable unity that the demons show (from the Dartmouth online edition):

O shame to men! Devil with Devil damn'd
Firm concord holds, men onely disagree
Of Creatures rational, though under hope
Of heavenly Grace; and God proclaiming peace,
Yet live in hatred, enmity, and strife [ 500 ]
Among themselves, and levie cruel warres,
Wasting the Earth, each other to destroy:
As if (which might induce us to accord)
Man had not hellish foes anow besides,
That day and night for his destruction waite.

And so, off Satan goes to see what trouble he can stir up in the new territory of earth. Here's a question to end with: The cosmology that Milton uses is Ptolemaic and from Greek myth. Yet Copernicus published his On Celestial Motions in 1543, more than 120 years before Milton began PL. Why didn't Milton get with the program? He wasn't some kind of throwback and was well aware of even recent developments in science.



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The philosophical problem of Paradise Lost is set out in the following lines from Book 2, where Milton says that reasoning about providence, foreknowledge, freedom and fate is difficult. My view here is that freedom can be understood on the model of resistance to disease: sin is like a virus on the planet, and humanity is strengthened by going through the illness, while gaia prepares antibodies. Freedom that lacks the fortitude to resist destruction is not real. It is like Einstein's view of time, that the future is just as real as the past, but life is so complex that this theory cannot diminish freedom. In other words, Jesus Christ is the vaccine innoculating planet earth against the cancer of sin.
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Others apart sat on a Hill retir'd, In thoughts more elevate, and reason'd high Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will and Fate, Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledg absolute, [ 560 ] And found no end, in wandring mazes lost. Of good and evil much they argu'd then, Of happiness and final misery, Passion and Apathie, and glory and shame, Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie: [ 565 ] Yet with a pleasing sorcerie could charm Pain for a while or anguish, and excite Fallacious hope, or arm th' obdured brest With stubborn patience as with triple steel.



Sat Jan 24, 2009 5:17 am
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DWill wrote:
The cosmology that Milton uses is Ptolemaic and from Greek myth. Yet Copernicus published his On Celestial Motions in 1543, more than 120 years before Milton began PL. Why didn't Milton get with the program? He wasn't some kind of throwback and was well aware of even recent developments in science.


Probably because Milton was aware of the dehumanizing effect of science -- the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge -- the shadow tree of the Tree of Life. Traditional cosmology -- astrological cosmology -- projects humanity onto the heavens by means of the Zodiacal Man -- the Great Man or Logos. The Great Man on the Cosmic Tree is as Christ on the cross, so the crucifixion is an antitype of the cosmic type. Persons with a greater orientation toward matter are hostile to such an interpretation of the cosmos.

Milton explicitly endorses the astrological worldview in Book 10 when the world is modified for the seasonality that follows sin:

To the blanc Moone
Her office they prescrib'd, to th' other five
Thir planetarie motions and aspects
In Sextile, Square, and Trine, and Opposite,
Of noxious efficacie, and when to joyne [ 660 ]
In Synod unbenigne, and taught the fixt
Thir influence malignant when to showre,
Which of them rising with the Sun, or falling,
Should prove tempestuous . . .

I found this chart helpful:

(1) Before the Fall of the Angels

HEAVEN
------------------------
CHAOS

(2) After the Fall of the Angels

HEAVEN
------------------------
CHAOS
------------------------
HELL

(3) After the Creation of the World

HEAVEN
------------------------
THE WORLD
------------------------
CHAOS
------------------------
HELL



Sat Jan 24, 2009 8:35 am
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DWill wrote:
Here's a question to end with: The cosmology that Milton uses is Ptolemaic and from Greek myth. Yet Copernicus published his On Celestial Motions in 1543, more than 120 years before Milton began PL. Why didn't Milton get with the program? He wasn't some kind of throwback and was well aware of even recent developments in science.


It seems very logical that Milton would go with the old geocentric model of the universe. He is after all, telling a biblical story -- the bible puts the earth at the center of the universe. It also makes sense in that Milton is retelling a myth -- myth is not science. PL is allegory, creation myth and epic all rolled into one fantastical story; too much reality or science would undermine his purpose.


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Sat Jan 24, 2009 8:52 am
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