An Analysis of the Fallen Angels and Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton

Categories: Fallen Angels

Write about , showing both how he attempts to individualise them, and how he uses them to present his view of the world The fallen angels are Satan's minions and the voices by which Milton may express a variety of opinions and views, showing the diversity and intricacies of Hell, and the immorality of their actions and proposals.

Whilst we are often impressed by the skill with which the individual leaders perform their tasks and speeches, we are never left in any doubt as to the truth of G-d, and the futility of their debates.

By examining the angels as a group, Milton is able to leave the infernal dungeon, to take a flight throughout history, giving his own point of view. It is thus that Books I and Il of "Paradise Lost" are so unique, as the alternative, and less-frequently explored world of the devils, is probed in such a fascinating manner.

Milton uses the story of the fallen angels to open out on numerous eras, civilisations, myths and stories, allowing him to convey his own perception of the world's history, as the reader is guided through various points in time.

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Before we are introduced to the individuals, Milton depicts an enormous army of different species, each of changeable size and form. The image of a "pitchy cloud / Of locusts" to describe them as they rise from the burning lake is especially apt, given the destructive nature of, and biblical references to these insects. Milton states that they lost their original names after the Fall ("Got them new names, till wand'ring o'er the earth") and that they became known to man as the heathen idols of the Old Testament and the pagan deities of Egypt and Greece.

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A rich portrait of mythological and biblical history is painted, through the equation of the angels with the false gods and characters who featured in these past times. What is made clear throughout, is the fact that these civilisations are tainted by their neglect of the true G-d, in favour of these idols, which leads to their resultant downfall. First, we meet the icons to which Solomon sinfully built temples, and failed in his duty to the Lord. Moloch, the sun god, is the embodiment of wrath, demanding bloodthirsty human sacrifice from the Ammonite children; Chemos, god of the Moabites, and the Baalim, the Palestinian gods. The history behind these gods is noted carefully by Milton, and their mention does have significant meaning - when destroyed by Josiah, Solomon's temple to Moloch was known as either Tophet or Gehenna: other names for Hell. The angels, who "can either sex assume" may also take up the form of goddesses, whether the moon goddess Ashtaroth or Astarte; the universal nature of these counterfeit gods demonstrates the far-reaching effects of Satan's evil; that every time and place has been touched by this false reverence. We move geographical location, as Milton cites the sun god of fertility, Thammuz, lover of Venus, frantically worshipped every year in Babylon; the Philistine fish god Dagon, and the Syrian sun god Rimmon. Indeed, the angels have manifested themselves in other ages, as the "bleating" animal gods of Egypt that Milton scorned so - who "with monstrous shapes" are the renewed Olympian gods in "brutish forms", Osiris, Isis and Orus. Their destructive nature is all-pervasive, as the Holy Land could not escape it ("nor did Israel scape / The' infection"), as they succumbed to the idolatry supplication of the golden calf - formed of gold borrowed from the Egyptians, hence the "calf in Oreb".

Before continuing this passage through Satan's history, Milton introduces Belial as a static spirit - not a single deity, but the personification of intemperance through lust, "Vice for itself". He is all the more dangerous because he has no temple or recognisable image, and it is through this intemperance that the ultimate destruction, the fall of Adam, occurs. However, we quickly return to this account of the angels' most notable appearances throughout time, and what follows are the classical tales that fascinated Milton, yet which he disdainfully deemed inferior. The lonian gods were descended from Noah, yet gods are by their very existence self-being: Milton's sketch of the heavenly hierarchy lends an air of contempt for this particular type of false god. The mention of the god Vulcan is especially appropriate as a parallel to the story of the Fall, for he was hurled from Heaven by Jupiter, as the angels were by G-d.

The danger posed by these fiends is forcefully illustrated by the fact that Milton brings more modern history into the tale - real and recorded events, as opposed to purely legendary fables. The swarms of angels are likened to the barbarian Goths and Vandals who invaded and wasted the Roman Empire, just as they will hope to invade and sack G-d's new Earth. Even Milton's present day is alluded to, as Belial's luxurious city of Sodom is perhaps a comment on his Puritan dislike of the extravagance of the Restoration court - the archetype of the wicked city, and a 'current' manifestation of the angels.

It is during the council of the fallen angels in Pandemonium that we encounter different speeches from individual angels, and thus we are able to see that with the exception of Beelzebub) the characters that have been created to match the point of view they express - which defines their nature. They are nonetheless vital parts of the infernal debate, as they show the varying reactions to the situation, and the might of Satan, that he may overcome them to do what he has wanted from the beginning. We have already had brief introductions to the angels focused thereupon in Book I, and this more detailed meeting serves to further our understanding of Hell, and Satan's plan. Indeed, in his preface to "Paradise Lost", CS Lewis expresses this particularly succinctly: "each new speaker uncovers further recesses of misery and evil, new subterfuge and new folly, and gives us fuller understanding of the Satanic predicament" The first to speak is Moloch, the warlike embodiment of rage, and the most harsh of all the angels. Somewhat rash, he impatiently proposes that they should immediately "ascend" and renew their battles in Heaven ("My sentence is for open war"), leaving behind the Hell he so despises.

He cannot accept that they will face inevitable defeat, or that the best they can hope for is to be so disgraced as to "accept this dark opprobrious den of shame". Somewhat simple of thought, he does not seem to contemplate, nor to go so far as to admit, that he exists purely at G-d's pleasure, and that His power in infinitely greater than his own. However, blind fury certainly gets the better of him, as he points out that there could be nothing worse than this inexorable Hell, and that ceasing to exist could be the most severe punishment - which may perhaps be more pleasant ("happier far / Than miserable to have eternal being"). He suggests using G-d's weapons against him, replacing his almighty thunder with "in fernal thunder", in a desperate attempt to find some way of defeating the creator - oblivious, or refusing to accept that this will never be possible.

Deceived by passion and pride, he recklessly vows that they should fly up to their rightful place, their "native seat" in Heaven, as he considers that even if they cannot defeat G-d, his central motive is that to wreak any kind of harm in the process would be a gain - "Which if not victory is yet revenge". Consolable only by destruction, Moloch's rants carry little weight in comparison to the measured responses that will follow.

Next, the more subtle and more polished in manner ("in act more graceful and humane"), Belial speaks, a true contrast to the aggressive Moloch; a character whom we have previously seen as the menacing static spirit. Adept in sophistry, his beautiful words are dangerously persuasive, arguing convincingly and deliberately. He belittles Moloch's words, using the language of warfare to realistically explain the truth; the "armed watch" and "access impregnable" mean G-d cannot lose, and they cannot hope to defeat him. Dismissing the despairing course of action ("First, what revenge?"), he prefers to contend that as long as they have "intellectual being", they exist (cogito, ergo sum), and that to waste such a gift in a futile renewal of war would be pointless ("Wherefore cease we?"). Whether G-d would indeed annihilate them is doubtful indeed, as eternal damnation was their punishment, and Belial cannot see any advantage in risking this safe refuge for what might even be worse: "Better these than worse". His sensible argument seems reasonable enough, but we know that Belial's true danger lies in his masquerade, and thus we must be wary of his words.

Mammon follows, as a kind of extension of Belial's speech, vaunting a plan of apparent apathy and surrender - claiming that any armed attack would be fruitless. He does show a deeper understanding of the angels' very natures, as he concedes that there is no possibility of any reconciliation with G-d, or any kind of return to Heaven. The truth is that they will never repent, and neither will they be able to conquer Heaven - thus they are destined to remain in Hell: "for what place can be for us Within heav'n's bound, unless heav'n's lord supreme We overpower?" Indeed, the concept of Heaven seems alien to him, rather, he has a distinct scorn of it, contemptuously describing the "warbl'd hymns" and "forc'd hallelujahs". It has no real meaning for him; to serve G-d is no pleasure, but "splendid vassalage" paid to "whom [they] hate", "wearisome" and arbitrary - indeed, Hell seems infinitely more preferable, their own dominion. The corruption of his mind is made clear by is failure to comprehend the difference between the two extremes, and his skilled rhetoric, employed in parodying G-d, is particularly disturbing, as he pledges to make Hell into their own Heaven: "We can create, and in what place so e'er / Thrive under evil". Mammon is the personification of avarice, and this is unmistakable at his proposal to choose material wealth as their G-d - indeed, he cannot even se how Heaven could offer anything greater than the lustrous gold: "what can heav'n show more?" His style is certainly impressive, and arouses the support of those amongst the conclave, but the fiendish message is not hidden by the eloquent words.

Beelzebub must be considered in a different light, for as Satan's chief lieutenant, he uses his oratorical powers and position of status not to voice his own view, but rather to command support for Satan's own suggestion. Stately language, "a pillar of state", "princely counsel", "imperial powers", "the weight of mightiest monarchies" and "majestic though in ruin" serves to elevate him to a position only just below Satan himself, and lends an air of extreme importance. He rallies the council away from Mammon's plan, and astutely points out that G-d would never allow them to create a rival empire ("for he, be sure / In highth or depth, still first and last will reign / Sole king"). Beelzebub successfully plays the part of impressive statesman to propose an indirect attack on G-d though Man, and whilst he may not be given the credit for such a devious plan, his cunning is undoubtedly of great importance in securing the support of the rest of the conclave. His classical phrase "by force or subtlety" is especially apt, and the fact that he compels an almost complete turnaround is testament to his skill of speech. It is thus that the angels will embark on their first manifestation on Earth in history, which will lead to all those cited by Milton, and the Fall of Man.


Updated: Apr 09, 2022
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An Analysis of the Fallen Angels and Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton. (2022, Apr 09). Retrieved from

An Analysis of the Fallen Angels and Satan in Paradise Lost by John Milton essay
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