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17. Rise and Shine, Second Essay
Satan's First Speech in Paradise Lost I.84-124
Introduction: Satan's Massive Delusions
In Satan's first speech in PL, he makes the journey from confusion to clarity, but his journey comes at a great cost. The clarity that he attains after line 94 is clarity purchased with the currency of delusion. For example, Satan says to Beelzebub in 93-94 that he had no way of knowing before the angelic revolt God's great strength ("Till then who knew/ The force of those dire arms"). But, as young people would say today, that excuse is "so lame." The first rule of being a good general is correctly to assess the strength of your opponent. The "who knew" statement of Satan would be laughable had not scholars and readers of PL, along probably with Beelzebub, taken it so seriously. He is entering the "antres vast and deserts idle" (metaphorically using Othello's words--caves and deserts) of competition against the Most High; don't you think he would have assessed things a little better?
Well, one of the reasons he hasn't done so is his delusion about the nature of the angels. Under the surface in PL is a running debate about whether angels are eternal or created beings. Satan seems to think here, and it is more clearly spelled out later, that angels are eternal and indestructible, and that things have gotten as bad as they can ever be for them. But what any sane-thinking person knows when engaging in battle is that things can always be worse than they are.
Even More Delusions
Again, as shown in the previous essay, Satan is deluded about how "shook up" (105) God was in the battle between Rebel and Good angels. God's throne wasn't shaken. Satan misjudges his own power, as well as God's. Brilliant general. Again, Satan is deluded about the forces behind God's control of the universe. He says "by fate the strength of Gods...cannot fail" (115-16). But anyone who has the least knowledge of the God of PL knows that fate doesn't stand over against and above God. What God wills is fate (VII.173).
Satan is also deluded because he lets his rhetoric trump his reason. He speaks as if God desires creatures to "deify his power" (112), whereas in reality, God's power is just a reflection of the divine person, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. Satan is, to use the language of 1980s feminism, seeking to "objectify" God, to reduce God to his attributes, such as power, rather than to see God as the creative mind/person behind the universe. Because of this Satan makes another verbal error, referring to God as the one who "Sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven" (124). God certainly rules, and it is probably better to refer to Heaven as a "monarchy," but Satan has painted himself into a rhetorical corner by failing to see, in the first instance, that he has lost the battle.
And, he has lost the battle because he has misjudged everything. And he misjudged everything because of his pride. And he is proud because of his sense of "injured merit" (98). That, then, is Satan's rub. He was passed over for a promotion. That is the essence of Satan's hurt. The promotion went to the Son. And, the Son was just so undeserving of it or, rather, Satan felt he deserved it so much more. But what does one do in Heaven if you are passed over for a promotion? On earth, if that happens you have three choices: you either learn to live with the "new staff, you leave the company or you become disgruntled and maybe even lead a revolt within the company.
But, if we think about it for a moment, perhaps we begin to have some sympathy for Satan. Satan now had nowhere to go, if he tried to choose that alternative of "leaving" Heaven. After all, it isn't as if Satan was working for the Wall Street Journal and a Murdock got the promotion instead of him; he could just go down the road to the Times or other publication. But here, in Heaven, you have the quintessential expression of a "Company town." It is God's way or no way. So, Satan was really put in a difficult bind. Someone other than he was going to be paramount in Heaven after God. It was the Son, through whom the world would be created. The Son's star was rising, and Satan, who was known as Lucifer, the Morning Star, the Bright One, saw his light now fading. And, he could do nothing about it. God had just chosen to prefer the Son over him. What kind of fairness is that?
So, Satan's options were few. He could either knuckle under or live in a constant state of anger and resentment, perhaps even planning a revolt. He chose the latter course and ended up leading the revolt. Actually, I think that if people had to live in a company town after being "passed over" for a promotion, I think about 90% of them would grow resentful and imagine themselves leading a revolt some day. Satan is just doing what any normal human would have done in a similar situation. Maybe we can feel for Satan a bit, despite his terrible misjudgments.
The whole complex of emotions you meet between "injured merit" and "pride" and "revolt" are really the subject of a biography of Satan. This isn't the place for that biography, even though I think I have given some of the chapter titles.
A Final Delusion
Finally, Satan shows his delusion in this speech by the seemingly confusing line 109: "and what is else not to be overcome." What does this mean? Well, we need to look at the preceding lines, first. He has just listed a number of factors which actually are in the Rebel Angels' favor should they decide on a subsequent revolt. What do they still have? They have (106-108):
"th' unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.."
If Elizabeth Barrett Browning could "count the ways" of love, let's "count the ways" here of Satan's remaining power. Satan claims these are four things he still has. Count them. Then, line 109 follows, and it means "what more things do I have that still have not been overcome?" It is almost like the biblical phrase "Time would fail me" if I were to narrate all the good things of God, or all the faithful heroes of faith, etc. Thus, Satan is trying to make the case to Beelzebub that so much more is left to them after the defeat.
It certainly is a rhetorically effective speech, but if we strip off the veneer of eloquence, we see that Satan is adding up five 0's and saying, in effect, he has a "five-figure" number that results. The sum of all the things that remain is really zero, since Satan ignores, or chooses to evade, the central issue of the battle: the superior divine power. What use is it, ultimately, to rally the troops through false rhetoric if the facts on the ground are all against you?
Thus, in a nutshell, we see Satan as a deluded rhetorician who suffered in Heaven because of his "injured merit." He simply couldn't abide the ignominy and lack of divine attention that resulted from being passed over. One strategy to handle the disappointment is to puff yourself up beyond reason and tell yourself that you are better not just than the person who was promoted but anyone/anything else. But this kind of attitude distorts reality and deludes you, so that you end up making bad decisions, decisions that can land you and those whom you influence in Hell. That, then, is where we are.