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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 406-669. THE SECOND DAY

The war stops for the night, but Satan does not rest. He calls a council to discuss their next move. We now know something about his debating style: he's going to be asked a question to which he conveniently has the answer. Nisroc obliges. He cannot stand pain, the new discovery, and wants to know if there is any weapon which would inflict some of it on their enemy.

It's already invented, Satan says. Beneath the surface (remember, this isn't the earth!) are the makings of gunpowder. We shall overwhelm God's forces with a new weapon, the cannon. Raphael, turning to Adam, who listens intently to the story, remarks that the angels recognized what a simple idea it was once they had been told about it. For us twentieth-century readers, Raphael's remark that man may just as easily invent more terrible instruments of war is heavily ironical.



The "victor angels" rise next morning and scout for their enemy. The cherub Zophiel brings the news that the rebels are advancing, closely packed. They are hiding the cannon, but the heavenly host doesn't know that yet.

Satan delivers a speech full of puns. On the surface it seems he is talking about offers of peace, but every word has two meanings: "composure" means the composition of gunpowder as well as a truce; "overture" is not the beginning of negotiations, as the heavenly host is intended to think, but the opening blast from the cannon; "discharge," "in charge," "touch," "propound," and "loud" all have two meanings.

Raphael tells what he saw, because of course he was there: as the ranks of the rebel angels divided in two, the heavenly host saw what looked like pillars laid in rows on wheels. Behind each "pillar" stood an angel with a lighted torch, who touched off the gunpowder.

The effect is all that the rebel angels hoped for. As the enemy are blasted off their feet, "By thousands, angel on archangel rolled." The heavenly host are routed and rendered helpless, to the amusement of Satan and his friends. He and Belial enjoy themselves in two more speeches full of fairly tedious puns.

The heavenly host finally pulls itself together and makes a somewhat surprising counterattack. They pull up hills and throw them on top of the rebel angels. The weight of the mountains causes their armor to cut into their flesh painfully. Although they are spirits and logically shouldn't be capable of being imprisoned under heavy weights, their sins have made their spirits heavy, and it's not so easy for them to get out.

Meanwhile, those rebel angels who haven't been caught by flying mountains adopt the trick themselves. "So hills amid the air encountered hills," as Heaven is torn up in a horrifying chaos which seems worse than war itself.

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