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33. The Parade of Demons, Third Essay
Astarte, Thammuz, Dagon, Rimmon
For those the Race of Israel oft forsook
Thir living strength, and unfrequented left
His righteous Altar, bowing lowly down
To bestial Gods; for which thir heads as low [ 435 ]
Bow'd down in Battel, sunk before the Spear
Of despicable foes. With these in troop
Came Astoreth, whom the Phoenicians call'd
Astarte, Queen of Heav'n, with crescent Horns;
To whose bright Image nightly by the Moon [ 440 ]
Sidonian Virgins paid thir Vows and Songs,
In Sion also not unsung, where stood
Her Temple on th' offensive Mountain, built
By that uxorious King, whose heart though large,
Beguil'd by fair Idolatresses, fell [ 445 ]
To Idols foul. Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allur'd
The Syrian Damsels to lament his fate
In amorous dittyes all a Summers day,
While smooth Adonis from his native Rock [ 450 ]
Ran purple to the Sea, suppos'd with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded: the Love-tale
Infected Sions daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred Porch
Ezekiel saw, when by the Vision led [ 455 ]
His eye survay'd the dark Idolatries
Of alienated Judah. Next came one
Who mourn'd in earnest, when the Captive Ark
Maim'd his brute Image, head and hands lopt off
In his own Temple, on the grunsel edge, [ 460 ]
Where he fell flat, and sham'd his Worshipers:
Dagon his Name, Sea Monster, upward Man
And downward Fish: yet had his Temple high
Rear'd in Azotus, dreaded through the Coast
Of Palestine, in Gath and Ascalon [ 465 ]
And Accaron and Gaza's frontier bounds.
Him follow'd Rimmon, whose delightful Seat
Was fair Damascus, on the fertil Banks
Of Abbana and Pharphar, lucid streams.
He also against the house of God was bold: [ 470 ]
A Leper once he lost and gain'd a King,
Ahaz his sottish Conquerour, whom he drew
Gods Altar to disparage and displace
For one of Syrian mode, whereon to burn
His odious off'rings, and adore the Gods [ 475 ]
Whom he had vanquisht.
We are now in the heart of the batting order of the leading Rebel Angels who rise to heed Satan's call. The Baalim and Ashtaroth, with "general Names," have come forward but now Milton highlights one of their "troop," Astarte (438-46). Next comes Thammuz of Phoenicia (446-57). Then appears Dagon, the god of the Philistines (457-66), and finally Rimmon, a Syrian deity (467-76). As many editors have noted, Milton derives his information about these both from the Bible and more contemporary sources, such as Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World, and various works by Selden, Sandys, and Charles Stephanus. At times Milton's care with words improves the sources he quotes, especially in describing the influence that Rimmon cast on the Israelite king Ahaz, after Rimmon had lost the worship of Naaman the Syrian. This essay will look at each of these Rebel Angels briefly.
Milton's general method in treating the Rebel Angels is to show two things: (1) how they were venerated in their native lands and (2) how they audaciously won over Israelite kings or worshippers so that the kings willingly set up the Rebel Angels as gods in the proximity of Yahweh's temple. Astarte was a lunar goddess of the Phoenicians, usually depicted with "crescent horns" (439). As the Phoenician equivalent of Aphrodite, she was involved in the love business. Hence the "Sidonian virgins" nightly "paid their vows and songs" to her (440-41). But she wasn't satisfied with that lofty position; she also finagled a way into Israel, where "stood/ Her temple on th' offensive mountain" (442-43). We don't have any record of this happening, though we do know that Solomon honored all his wives by recognizing their religious choices in Jerusalem (I Kings 11). He also had Phoenecian wives--implying an honoring of Astarte. Solomon is here called the "uxorious king" (444) because he fondly and foolishly doted on hundreds of wives (I Kings 11). Milton also slips in the other descriptive phrase for Solomon: "whose heart though large. . ." These words refer to the understanding God gave Solomon (KJV; I Kings 4:29):
"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore"
Thammuz or Tammuz (446-57)
This male deity had its origin in Sumerian religion, but it was adopted by the Syrians and Northwest Semites, which is where the Bible draws its knowledge of this deity. The kind of story Milton tells about Thammuz, whose "wound" is celebrated yearly by the Syrian Damsels when the smooth River Adonis "Ran purple to the Sea" (451), is the kind that the English reading public craved, and so the story was easily available in many authors of the 17th century before Milton. The story identifies Thammuz with the Greek god Adonis, who was killed by being gored to death in the highlands of Syria. His blood mingled with the water of a stream, named after him, and the stream, becoming purple, carried his blood to the sea. This was not a one-time occurrence; it occurred annually. Though scientists endeavored to show that the redness in the Adonis River was due to clay being carried seaward, those who created the story of Adonis desired no such naturalistic explanation.
Thammuz also made it to Israel, and Milton tersely describes the passage from Ezekiel 8:14 in lines 452-57:
Infected Sions daughters with like heat,
Whose wanton passions in the sacred Porch
Ezekiel saw, when by the Vision led
His eyes survey'd the dark idolatries
Of alienated Judah"
Note how carefully he picked up on many details of Ezekiel's prophecy (8:14):
"Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord; women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz"
Milton interprets the weeping of the women as expressions of "like heat" and "wanton passions." He also captures in two words ("sacred Porch") what the Bible describes in about 10 words.
The Philistines were historic enemies of Israel to the West. Five cities (the Pentapolis) constituted this land, and one of the temples of Dagon, their god, was at Ashdod. Milton mentions the temple in "Azotus," an equivalent of Ashdod (we know of this equivalency because of a contemporary map listing Azotus where we know Ashdod was), as well as the other four cities (465-66). The word dag in Hebrew means "fish," and so a legend grew up that Dagon was basically a "sea monster, upward man/ And downward fish" (462-63). But the significant story about him is recorded in I Samuel 5:1-7. After the Ark of the Covenant was taken from Israel by the Philistines, it was placed in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod. The thought seemingly was to give the "foreign" deity (Yahweh) a "taste" of what it was like to play second fiddle to the local deity (Dagon). Milton follows the biblical text closely, with the result of Yahweh's two day residence being the discovery of a shattered, armless Dagon on the final morning. The text says that the arms were "lying cut off upon the threshold" (I Samuel 5:4). Milton doesn't miss a beat. The "brute image" of Dagon was "maim'd" with "head and hands lopt off" and "on the grunsel (threshold) edge" (459-60). No detail is too small for Milton to tuck gently into a packed line of exposition.
The "delightful" seat of Rimmon was "fair Damascus," which rested on the "fertile banks" of dual rivers--the Abbana and Pharphar, "lucid streams." It is almost as if Milton is describing Damascus as a mini-Eden. In any case, he spends the rest of his ten lines describing two biblical pictures that lead in different directions: (1) the cleansing of the leper Naaman, the leader of the Syrian troops, at the command of Elijah and in the Jordan River rather than Syrian waters; and (2) the worship of Rimmon by Ahaz, denominated the "sottish conqueror" of Rimmon's people, Syria. Thus, in a few memorable words, Milton says: "A leper (i.e., Naaman) once he (Rimmon) lost, and gain'd a king" (i.e., Ahaz; 471). When Elisha the prophet told Naaman to bathe in the Jordan to be healed of his leprosy, he cried out (II Kings 8:12):
"Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?"
He washed in the Jordan, his skin was restored "like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean" (II Kings 8:14). As a result, Naaman said (II Kings 8:15):
"Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel"
Oops. Rimmon lost that one. But he managed to gain another--and that story, about Ahaz, is told in II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28. The Scripture says in stark words, "he sacrificed unto the Gods of Damascus" (II Chronicles 28:23). So you have an exchange of sorts. Rimmon certainly belongs in the batting order of the "heavy hitters" of Hell.
We see Milton's care for detail, his eloquent and entertaining recounting of traditions he had received, and his skill in shaping a narrative of magnificent scope and power. The host of Hell appears to be of weighty reputation indeed..