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31. The Parade of Demons, First Essay
Paradise Lost I.376-505
Say, Muse, thir Names then known, who first, who last,
Rous'd from the slumber, on that fiery Couch,
At thir great Emperors call, as next in worth
Came singly where he stood on the bare strand,
While the promiscuous croud stood yet aloof? [ 380 ]
The chief were those who from the Pit of Hell
Roaming to seek thir prey on earth, durst fix
Thir Seats long after next the Seat of God,
Thir Altars by his Altar, Gods ador'd
Among the Nations round, and durst abide [ 385 ]
Jehovah thundring out of Sion, thron'd
Between the Cherubim; yea, often plac'd
Within his Sanctuary it self thir Shrines,
Abominations; and with cursed things
His holy Rites, and solemn Feasts profan'd, [ 390 ]
And with thir darkness durst affront his light.
First Moloch, horrid King besmear'd with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents tears,
Though for the noyse of Drums and Timbrels loud
Thir childrens cries unheard, that past through fire [ 395 ]
To his grim Idol. Him the Ammonite
Worshipt in Rabba and her watry Plain,
In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon.
In the next 130 lines (376-505) we are introduced to the companions of Satan and Beelzebub in Hell. I will need five essays to introduce and describe them to you. For 16 lines Milton tells us about them in general before moving to a description of the chief twelve by name. The number twelve is significant because the Satanic circle is meant to be a pale imitation of the circle around Christ (the twelve disciples). The most significant move Milton makes is to take a dozen divinities from neighboring nations of Ancient Israel and proclam them the chief lieutenants of Satan. These are the most bold and audacious Rebel Angels, for they dared not only to reside in the neighborhood of Zion but many of them convinced/defrauded Israelite kings to set up their temples near the precincts of Yahweh, God of Israel. An important background verse to understand Moloch and Chemosh, for example, is I Kings 11:7:
"Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Moloch the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem."
Another is Jeremiah 7:30:
"For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it."
We see how these passages shaped Milton's phrasings in I.376-391 when we note that he says, for example in 387-89:
"yea, often plac'd
Within his sanctuary itself their shrines,
Abomination and proximity to the House of God are the common themes here and in Scripture.
Then, God is described as one "thund'ring out of Sion, thron'd/ Between the Cherubim," 386-87. Each of those phrases finds rich biblical resonance. First, from Joel 3:16,
"Yahweh will roar from Zion, and thunder from Jerusalem"
Then, King Hezekiah's prayer before the Lord (II Kings 19:15; cf Isaiah 37:16) says:
And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, 'O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim'"
The Rogues Parade
Milton has to "stretch" to come up with a dozen names of these demons from the Bible. Some names overlap--i.e., there is no difference between Astoreth (438) and Ashtaroth (422) in the Bible, yet Milton distinguishes them. He does so by saying that Astoreth is simply one of the hosts of Baalim and Astaroth. But sometimes he conflates figures, such as Chemosh and Peor, gods of Moab (406ff.). Milton imagines that each of the surrounding territories, except Egypt, had one (demon) god, and thus he sometimes equated gods who were different. Again, in order to fill out his twelve, he had to venture quite widely, to Egypt, and there he found three--Isis, Osiris, and Orus (478). He devotes a lot of attention to some, such as Moloch, and little attention to others. It would be a fascinating and rewarding quest to find all the sources for Milton's knowledge here, and I will show those sources in a few places, but a fully detailed commentary on these places is beyond my scope. He goes far beyond the Bible, relying on a medieval chronicler like John of Mandeville (for his discussion of Rimmon) and the contemporary A Pisgah Sight of Palestine, the massive work on the geography of the Holy Land, first published by Thomas Fuller in 1650, most clearly in his portrait the land of Moab. Milton's language is, as expected by now, dense, probing, vivid, even vehement. His catalogue of demons corresponds, in "epic-speak" to that of the ships in Homer's Iliad (Book II) and the Italian heroes in Virgil's Aeneid (Book VII), but as commentators on Milton have noted, Milton's list seems intrinsically important to the progress of PL, while those of Homer and Aeneid seem to be written to "constituents" (i.e., listeners who might themselves come from the same places).
These leading demons then emerge into the light of Milton's narrative, even while he says that "with their darkness durst affront his light," 391.
Beginning with Moloch (I.392-405)
We begin with Moloch the God of the Ammonites, who lived East of ancient Israel. The three consonants in his name--m-l-ch--spell the Hebrew word "king." Thus, it isn't always certain whether a specific name is always in view or simply the generic title "king." Nevertheless, Milton has many things to say about this "horrid" king (392). He is called horrid because of the tradition, found in the Bible, of having children sacrificed to him. Note the prohibition in Leviticus 18:21:
"You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord"
This tradition smacks of the kind of religious polemic familiar to any who have studied the history of religions--denigrating one's opponents by attributing activities to them that had only partial truth to them. We recall, for example, that some opponents of the early Christians, if the early Christian apologists can be believed, characterized their "love feasts" (i.e., worship services) as examples of "Oedipodean intercourse" or their communion celebrations ("eating the body and blood of Christ") as examples of Christian cannibalism or, in more refined language, "Thyestian banquets." No evidence of free-for-all sex or cannibalism among early Christians actually exists. Most scholars today would say that Moloch, represented since the Middle Ages as an upright calf-shaped deity with extended arms (to hold a child), received children dedicated to it and perhaps even was pleased with the purification of the infants through fire, even though they weren't actually sacrificed (i.e., killed). The ritual "sacrifice" to Moloch may have borne many similarities to the Christian rite of baptism. All the more reason for Christian apologists to denounce Moloch!
The medieval rabbi Rashi picked up on the Christian polemic against these foreign deities and described Moloch as follows:
"Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved."
Now that this biblical and historical information has been presented, the first lines of Milton's description of Moloch ring powerfully (392-96):
"First Moloch, horrid king, besmear'd with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parent tears,
Though for the noise of drums and timbrels loud
Their children cries unheard, that pass'd through fire/To his grim idol"
Milton, if anything, has improved the traditions he received. His concise and vivid language makes us stop, read closely, and admire his poetry.