Satan and Beelzebub II
Bill Long 4/26/08
In Book I of Paradise Lost; Beelzebub Responds
After witnessing a performance like that, where your commander-in-chief declares his unyielding commitment to fight on, what can you do if you are, like Beelzebub, second in command? Whereas Satan is the one who seemingly fearlessly wants to attack God, even though he will use more subtlety this time, Beelzebub isn't quite as eager to do so. He realizes that the mind and the spirit have returned and indeed "remain invincible" (I.139-40) even though "all our Glory extinct" and "happy state/ Here swallow'd up in endless misery" (I.141-42). Is he subtly disagreeing with Satan here? Satan had defiantly said (I.110) that God would never "extort" any more "Glory" from him, but Beelzebub is stating that their "Glory" is "extinct." Beelzebub seems to be more psychologically tormented than Satan or, alternatively, more "realistic" in his assessment of things. He now confesses that God is, in fact, the "Almighty" because "no less/ Than such could have o'erpow'rd such force as ours" (I.144-45).
Beelzebub's "Psychological" Approach
Though Satan sees God as an irrational, angry tyrant, Beelzebub is willing to recognize God as the Almighty, who has won a battle and can do with them as God pleases. Indeed, his speech in lines 146-155 explores an interesting psychological dimension not mentioned by Satan. Beelzebub's basic point will be that God might have indeed left them with powers seemigly intact not because the divine is unmindful or careless, but precisely to increase their torment! Let's hear his more "elevated way" of saying this (lines 143-55):
"But what if he our Conqueror....
Have left us this our spirit and strength entire
Strongly to suffer and support our pains,
That we may so suffice his vengeful ire,
Or do him mightier service as his thralls
By right of War, whate'er his business be
Here in the heart of Hell to work in Fire,
Or do his Errands in the gloomy Deep.."
Rather than knocking the demons insensate, God has "left us this our spirit and strength entire." While Satan interprets this preservation of the powers of mind and body to mean that God has not really won a decisive victory, Beelzebub sees it differently. Those who still have power can still serve the victor in ways that bring honor to the victor. The ancient Romans realized that the greatest sign of victory was not simply crushing the enemy on the battlefield, but in bringing back the defeated generals and showing them off in cages during parades through Rome. Beelzebub realizes that there is greater humiliation in the latter.
Beelzebub has the presence of mind to realize that he and Satan and the defeated angels are nothing more than God's "thralls/ By right of War." They are now slaves, even though the Almighty gives them the impression of their relative freedom in the fiery gulf. Beelzebub isn't sure what God's business is in hell, but in any case, the demonic forces are simply the "errand boys" of the divine. Beelzebub is more like the biblical demon, at least as portrayed by James--"even the demons believe, and tremble." Beelzebub is trembling in his situation.
Concluding the Speech
Given his perspective, then, that the demonic forces are now slaves of the divine power, he asks the question:
"What can it then avail though yet we feel
Strength undiminisht, or eternal being
To undergo eternal punishment?"
He hits back directly at Satan's approach--that their being of sound mind and strength is an advantage to them, since it provides the necessary prerequisites for an attack on God. Beelzebub says, through this rhetorical question, that it is of no advantage to have strength undiminished, since God can use the strength any way God likes. Or, conversely, possessing strength and spirit undiminished can also provide the context of continuing to suffer eternal punishment. Even though their divine essences cannot be obliterated, their eternality can intensify their pain. We as humans know that even though we can be subject to torment and torture, and some tortures are barbaric indeed, that eventually we will expire from the treatment. The demons, however, have no such hope. If God wanted to "up the ante" or "turn up the heat" yet more, according to Beelzebub, God could do so. They are now God's slaves, and they are probably being kept in their senses so that God can enhance their torment.
So we see that even in hell and among the demons there isn't agreement at first on how to proceed. But because of Satan's indomitable spirit, they will fight on. He makes that clear in his last speech of the triad--to which I now turn.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long