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32. The Parade of Demons, Second Essay
Paradise Lost I.376-505
. . .Nor content with such
Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart [ 400 ]
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His Temple right against the Temple of God
On that opprobrious Hill, and made his Grove
The pleasant Vally of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna call'd, the Type of Hell. [ 405 ]
Next Chemos, th' obscene dread of Moabs Sons,
From Aroar to Nebo, and the wild
Of Southmost Abarim; in Hesebon
And Horonaim, Seons Realm, beyond
The flowry Dale of Sibma clad with Vines, [ 410 ]
And Eleale to th' Asphaltick Pool.
Peor his other Name, when he entic'd
Israel in Sittim on thir march from Nile
To do him wanton rites, which cost them woe.
Yet thence his lustful Orgies he enlarg'd [ 415 ]
Even to that Hill of scandal, by the Grove
Of Moloch homicide, lust hard by hate;
Till good Josiah drove them thence to Hell.
With these came they, who from the bordring flood
Of old Euphrates to the Brook that parts [ 420 ]
Egypt from Syrian ground, had general Names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
These Feminine. For Spirits when they please
Can either Sex assume, or both; so soft
And uncompounded is thir Essence pure, [ 425 ]
Not ti'd or manacl'd with joynt or limb,
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones,
Like cumbrous flesh; but in what shape they choose
Dilated or condens't, bright or obscure,
Can execute thir aerie purposes, [ 430 ]
And works of love or enmity fulfill.
Milton's introduction of about a dozen divinities from the areas surrounding Ancient Israel provides real headaches for the student and scholar of Milton alike. What do you do with this most detailed list? On the one hand you can scour the Bible for references to the events of which Milton speaks. For example, when he talks about Peor, the "other name" of Chemosh of Moab (412-17), who "enticed/ Israel in Sittim.../ To do him wanton rites" (412-14), we might just turn to the story as told in Numbers 25:1ff. and read about it for ourselves. Then, we tack onto that the story of Solomon's building a temple for Chemosh/Peor on the "hill of scandal" (the Mount of Olives) in Jerusalem (415-417), which is mentioned in I Kings 11:7. Then, Milton concludes his brief treatment of Chemosh by mentioning how "good Josiah" drove them (i.e., Chemosh and Moloch) thence to hell, which wonderfully summarizes the purification activity of Josiah at the end of the 7th century, as recorded in II Kings 23:1-15. Thus, we could have a pastiche of Scriptural references linking idea to idea.
But Milton uses more than the Scripture. For example, in his treatment of Chemosh of Moab (406ff.), he mentions several place names of ancient Moab. His mention of them all must have seemed pedantic in the seventeenth century; how utterly incomprehensible it is to most in the twenty-first! Yet, what he is doing is following the text and maps of Thomas Fuller's A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine, one of the first geographies of the Holy Land, which was published shortly before Milton went blind. I would have expected that with all the scholarly work on Milton someone would have taken the appropriate map of Fuller, placed it right next to Milton's text and said, as it were, "See, here is exactly what Milton did--he picked these place names to describe Chemosh's domain." It makes one wonder, too, how Milton worked in composing these lines. He was blind in 1652, before he began the epic. Had he read (or had read to him) sections of Fuller's book along the way, so that he could just "meditate" on that section as he composed the lines in his mind? Or, did he say to his amanuensis, "Now I need to have a lot of place names from Moab to put in next to my treatment of Chemosh.."? Thus, the long and detailed list of foreign gods/idols begs the question of Milton's compositional method. That is, what had he memorized? What learned for the first time? How did he "refresh" his mind?
In the remainder of this essay, I won't try to imitate the commentators by linking Milton's words with Scriptural or other texts. You can consult them, such as Kastan's or Hughes' Paradise Lost. Let's just look at his language.
Looking at Milton's Language
One of the keys to Milton's writing throughout PL, and evident here also, is his skillful use of adjectives. With one carefully selected word he both creates a vivid picture and freezes an image in our mind about the subject he describes. A dozen examples from the first part of this "Parade" invite us:
1) "fiery Couch" (377), the place where the demons "reclined."
2) "promiscuous crowd" (380), the "mixed" group of demons. The original meaning of "promiscuous" is something that is "random" or "unsystematic" or "indiscriminate" (OED, s.v. 1a).
3) "horrid King" (392), to describe the besmeared Moloch.
4) "grim idol" (396), Moloch again.
5) "wat'ry Plain" (397), the region around Rabbah of Ammon.
6) "Audacious neighborhood" (400), a rich word, describing the boldness of Moloch in setting up shop near Israel, as well as his "wickedness" (OED, s.v., 2) in corrupting people.
7) "wisest heart" (401), describing the wise King Solomon.
8) "opprobrious Hill" (403); once demons/foreign gods had set up their temples near Yahweh's temple, that hill became either the "opprobrious" hill or the "hill of scandal."
9) "pleasant Valley" (404), describing Hinnom. Why is this adjective appropriate? Was it formerly pleasant? Or pleasant to the eye, whereas underneath it was full of corruption?
10) "obscene Dread" (406), a reference to Chemosh. Whereas Moloch would require blood and sacrifice/murder, Chemosh is interested in lust. Thus, we understand "lust hard by hate" to describe the neighboring temples of these gods (417).
11) "wanton rites" and "lustful orgies" (414-15) are the ways of Peor, the "other Name" of Chemosh.
12) "good Josiah" (418) captures in a word this 7th century BCE Judaean King who did what was "right" in the sight of the Lord (II Kings 23) and destroyed all the foreign idols/gods.
Once you let this mode of Miltonic speaking sink into your mind, you discover yourself speaking and thinking in this way. And, it is a great way to speak and write. People long for the kind of crisp clarification and limiting power of well-chosen adjectives. Note that these adjectives are not just plucked out of the air in order to make the narrative more pleasant. They often capture in one word a longer reality described in one of Milton's sources. Thus, behind the word "wise" Solomon is the entire narrative of I Kings 3. In order to understand "wat'ry" plain around Ammon, we need to know II Samuel 12:27:
"Joab sent messengers to David, and said, "I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the water city."
Finishing with Baalim and Ashtoreth
Milton confuses us a little in lines 419-423 before astounding us with his philosophically rich description of the fine, but material, texture of spirits (423-30). Confusion arises because we were prepared to meet "gods/demons/Rebel Angels 3 and 4" but instead are told that the Baalim and Ashtoreth were those of "general name" who came all the way from the Euphrates, which bordered to the East, to the brook separating Israel from Egypt (called the Wadi or brook Besor in I Samuel 30). Thus, we are confused because we don't know if a horde of these creatures just stood up and ambled over to Satan or whether two representative ones did. Milton doesn't tell us; he just says that male and feminine came.
I mentioned lines 423-430 elsewhere, in my description of his vitalist or monist philosophy, and will only add here that Milton sees even the spiritual and ethereal creatures, such as Angels, as material, beings made up of the finest and thinnest Essence. Here he emphasizes how they can change their sex at will, and thereby are free to execute their "Aery" purposes with ease. I like Milton's Angels; they seem to have the appearance of humans without any of the disadvantages of that appearance--aches and pains, limitation of space, aging. Their protean ability to transform themselves even exceeds that of modern politicians. Ah, to be an angel for a day!