This book concerns the Council in Hell and Satan’s plan of revenge. Satan is sitting on his throne in Pandemonium, “insatiate” for war and revenge. He opens with a manipulative speech to his fellow devils about the democracy of hell. In heaven there was envy of leaders because there were hierarchy and inequality, but here in hell, Satan has been “elected” by his fellows to be the leader because he is the most heroic, offering to take on the greater share of danger and pain.
Moloch, the devil of anger, suggests “open War.” Belial, on the other hand, is a devil of sensuality, afraid of God and annihilation. Things are not so bad, he counsels. Mammon, the devil of materialism and greed, wants to create splendor in hell and forget about heaven.
The other devils approve Mammon’s peace plan because they are afraid of the heavenly host. Beelzebub, Satan’s henchman, now prepares the ground for Satan’s own design. He reminds the devils that God still rules in hell—they are his captives. The only thing to do is to be revenged by sabotaging God’s latest project in the Garden of Eden. Humans are puny and can be seduced. The devils vote yes to this plan, then Beelzebub asks, who will go to Eden to do this job?
No one has the courage to volunteer, except Satan. Satan will go alone, while they stay at home guarding hell. To celebrate Satan’s heroic deed, the devils hold epic games.
Meanwhile, Satan begins his journey, and at the Gate of Hell meets his daughter, Sin, who holds the key. She relates how she was born from his own mind in heaven, and then, when he mated with her, she bore their son, Death, in hell. Sin opens the door for Satan because he promises human food for hell if he is successful in his quest to earth.
Satan makes a difficult and dangerous journey through Chaos and the warring atoms, creating a bridge between hell and earth.
Milton sets up hell as a twisted version of heaven. The devils want “freedom” but can only imitate, not create. They appear ludicrous when they argue philosophy or set up Olympic games like the heroes of Greece. They are, after all, living in a “convex of fire,” creating their own mental illusions of freedom.
The infernal trinity of Satan, Sin, and Death mirror Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sin, born from Satan’s mind, reverently addresses him as “father,” as Christ will address God. The son, Death, is the consequence of their incest, the opposite of the Holy Spirit.
Satan cannot die, but it is a kind of death to deny the source of one’s own life. Thus, it is not God who punishes him, but his own state of mind. He has exiled himself from God. Satan appears to be a noble leader, willing to take all the risks, asking advice of his comrades, when, in fact, he is continuing his maniacal plan of using everyone for his revenge against God.
Paradise Lost: Book 2