THE CHARACTERS OF PARADISE LOST
The battle in Heaven
The Fallen Angels
BY NICHOLAS ZENG
The other devils are rather wimpy compared to Satan, but their debate is a key part of Book II.
The name means 'king' in Hebrew. Moloch also goes by the name of Baal and is best known for his inordinate fondness for child sacrifice. In Book II he is basically Rambo without the weapons: 'the strongest and the fiercest spirit | That fought in heaven; now fiercer by despair' (II.44). He characterizes a brawn-not-brains mentality as he advises open war because he cannot stand being defeated and surviving. The samurai ethic of hara-kiri is perhaps brought to mind. However, instead of disembowelling himself, Moloch clamours for another battle which he knows - but won't admit - cannot be won. This would make for good theatre, but Milton (perhaps regrettably!) chooses to stick to the biblical narrative and so Moloch is overruled.
Belial is the corrupt but soft-spoken metrosexual, the smooth white-faced talker: 'to vice industrious, but to nobler deeds | Timorous and slothful, yet he pleased the ear' (II.116). (I am reminded of a number of modern politicians.) In Hebrew, the word 'Belial' means 'worthless' so it is apt that his words are pleasing but meaningless. Compare this with Satan's words to Eve, which are both pleasing and successful in causing action, and allow the forces of Hell to win round one of the engagement. In Paradise Lost talk is not always only talk, but while Satan is the Archenemy of God, worthy of fear and able to seduce the innocent Eve, Belial is ineffective and can only work in the already corrupted fallen world to persuade people to do rather nasty and immoral things. In Book II, Belial comes across as an expert wielder of Murphy's Law and even echoes Hamlet's love of talk and aversion of action. In his splendid speech to the demonic council Belial provides a perfectly useable model for avoiding action, which we lazy people would do well to study and emulate!
Mammon counsels the devils to be happy with what they have got, and to create a home for themselves in hell:
Our own good from ourselves, and from our own
Live to ourselves. (II.252)
It is somewhat ironic that 'Mammon' means 'greed', as here he is essentially telling the devils to be content with what they have. This has blasphemous echoes of typical Christian advice to be satisfied with ones lot and desire no more, the difference being that for Mammon God does not come into it, while for Christians God is the one who provides, not the self. This is one of the key differences between the fallen angels and man in the poem: while the good Christian man accepts his dependence on God, the devils (and some of the ungodly men described in Book XI) strive to be independent and in so doing, rebel against God who is sovereign over all. Milton seems to be saying that true greed is to think of oneself as sufficient, and to take or appropriate selfhood, when that self is created by and rightly belongs to God. In this light Mammon really does counsel greed by exhorting the devils to live to themselves.
Beelzebub means 'Lord of the Flies'. In Paradise Lost, he is second in command to Satan in the hierarchy of fallen angels. He is not just a pig's head on a stick, as those who have read William Golding's novel may surmise. He is broad-shouldered, well-proportioned and every bit the superhero (or supervillain). It is true that he is a crony of sorts to Satan; Satan uses him as his mouthpiece to articulate the final plan (to shift the battlefield to earth) to preserve the appearance of democracy in the council. Yet he comes into his own as a speech-maker. Oozing derision at the useless plans of the other demons, he puts forth the plan with confidence and poise, asking the assembly,
advise if this be worth
Attempting, or to sit in darkness here
Hatching vain empires. (II.376)
This is splendidly dismissive, reducing the fallen angels who are so full of bombast and military splendour, to scouts swapping ghost stories around a campfire or school kids talking about sex at a pyjama party. He is the only fallen angel who comes close to Satan in screen-time and charisma and Milton deliberately leaves it vague as to who speaks when the call comes for someone to go out from Hell and find information about earth and Man. Yet like the other devils, he soon fades into the background when Satan takes center-stage. This semi-elimination of secondary characters focuses the drama on Man and his adversary, and tightens the plot, turning up the tension until the climactic one-to-one encounter between Satan and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Sin and Death
Chaos and Night