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Paradise Lost by John Milton - Barron's Booknotes
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LINES 47-191. SATAN ENTERS THE SERPENT

Satan has been circling the earth for seven days and nights. Finally, on the eighth night, he slips through the guardian angels. Paradise, as we said before, was in Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Satan went in with Tigris where it flowed underground and came up with the river when it became a fountain in Paradise, near the Tree of Life.

The places he has been are listed in a catalog of place names, ranging from Eden through the river Ob in Siberia and back to India, a list meant to impress with the range of Satan's wanderings. He has decided to use "The serpent, subtlest beast of all the field," for his evil purposes.

As he prepares to enter the snake's body, Satan expresses his "inward grief." This speech, addressed first to the earth and then becoming a soliloquy about his feelings, is essential to an understanding of Satan's character. Read it with the psychological insight you'd use if you were discussing someone you know. It is a dramatic presentation of the confused and contradictory feelings people have when they are so frustrated that they want to do something reckless.



Watch the shift in Satan's focus as his feelings change. First he admires the earth, at the center of the universe, receiving light from all the other heavenly bodies. How pleasant it would have been for Satan to live on earth, but instead "the hateful siege / Of contraries" increases his torments. The only way to resolve his contradictory feelings is to destroy man. Then he will be able to say that he has spoiled in one day what it took God six days to create.

The thought of God shifts his focus to his near victory: almost half of the angels followed him in Heaven rather than God. Satan attributes the creation of man to God's need to replace the numbers of angels lost.

He returns briefly to the magnificence of the World and the angels guarding it. His pride makes him sympathize with what he thinks is the indignity of service. Pride also causes him anguish at having to use the serpent, "bestial slime," as a hiding place to elude the angels.

But he will do anything for revenge, despite his understanding that revenge "back on itself recoils." His final focus is on spite, the meanest kind of revenge.

He finds the serpent and enters through his mouth. Until this moment, the serpent was as innocent as any other creature: "Fearless unfeared he slept." With details like this, Milton increases the sense of terrible impending tragedy which will spoil the innocence of everything forever.

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