John Milton – “Paradise Lost” Book 5 (the end)

After Satan’s speech, the only uncorrupted angel, Abdiel comes forward and says he is wrong because God is good and just, not a tyrant. But even assuming for a moment that Satan’s argument about equality of all is valid, the Son was an active participant in creating all angels and so making him the king elevates all the angels, or is like the “incarnation” for them. At least I think that’s what he is saying, because this is expressed through one of Milton’s tortuous sentences and the footnote doest not really help. Anyway, Abdiel advises all the rebels to go and seek God’s pardon when there is still time. Satan answers haughtily that Abdiel has no proof it was the Son who created the angels, and since he himself cannot remember the moment of his creation, he thinks he created himself through his willpower, and tells Abdiel to run away before they stop him. Abdiel answers that he is going to leave, not only because he is afraid of them, but because he is afraid of being hit by friendly fire when God starts to wreak his vengeance. He leaves, alone and proud, among the long lines of rebel angels scorning them. Now, I do agree with the critics who identify Abdiel with Milton in this last passage: a lone dissenting figure among the jeering crowd of Royalist supporters. But Abdiel’s argument is still not quite convincing to me, maybe because it is expressed in such a complicated way. His point is: our king is a nice king (unlike the Stuarts) and he created us, so we owe him (unlike the Stuarts). But who is to decide whether the king is good or bad? A lot of people liked Charles I well enough to fight and die for him, and the whole point of the Royalist political philosophy (not that I share it, of course) was that you obey your king because he is the king, anointed by God, and it’s not up to the public to decide whether he is a good king or not. Maybe there is something innately different between 21st-c. way of thinking and 17th-c. way of thinking: I think rules are rules, and if you are an egalitarian, you can’t suddenly say there is one set of rules for the Earth and another for Heaven. But maybe Milton was capable of holding two opposing views in his head at the same time.

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