Milton's Book of Numbers: Book 1 of Paradise Lost and Its Catalogue

Quint, David
April 2007
International Journal of the Classical Tradition;Spring2007, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p528
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
The various elements of book 1 of Paradise Lost—the action that leads to the building of Pandaemonium, the geography of Hell that combines reminiscences of Biblical Sodom and Egypt together with Virgil's Carthage and Rome, the content and sequence of the similes—are organized around and symbolically unified by the catalogue of the leading devils from verses 376 to 521. Milton pointedly reverses the order of action in book 2 in the Iliad so that his catalogue precedes the calling of a council of war: it is a joke at the expense of the devils who, raised into military muster, now proceed only to talk, signaling that the epic to follow will feature a war of words and Odyssean fraud rather than a military conflict. In Pandaemonium the devils build an infernal version of the Jerusalem temple that their chiefs listed in the catalogue will later infiltrate; Milton registers his distrust of all institutionalized and localized religion. The book insistently comments upon its own act of poetic creation: the catalogue at the center both confers individual names on its devils and reduces them to nameless numbers just as the similes cut them down to size; Milton's fiction both gives and denies to the devils an identity as it meditates upon the relationship of its own poetry to idolatry.


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