Summary: Book VI

Raphael continues his story of the first conflict between Satan and the Father. Again, Raphael gestures that he must find a way to relate the war in terms that Adam will understand. Raphael returns to his story with Abdiel, who confronts Satan and the other rebel angels and tells them that their defeat is imminent. He leaves the followers of Satan and is welcomed back into the ranks of God. He is forgiven by God and praised for his loyalty, obedience, and resistance of evil. God appoints Gabriel and Michael the leaders of Heaven’s army, which is justly made up of only as many angels as Satan’s army.

Shortly thereafter, the two sides prepare their armies. The two armies line up in full view of each other, waiting for the signal to attack. Satan and Abdiel square off in the middle; they exchange insults, and then blows, and the battle begins. Both sides fight fiercely and evenly until Michael, the co-leader of the good angels, deals Satan a blow with an unusually large and intimidating sword. The sword slices through Satan’s entire right side, and the rebellious angels then retreat with their wounded leader. But because angels have no bodies, says Milton, they can only be wounded temporarily, and Satan is able to regroup for the next day of fighting. Satan easily rouses himself and his followers for a second day of battle arguing that better weapons must yield better results. He plans to use a secret weapon, cannons, which the rebels spend the entire night building.

Satan’s army unveils the cannons the next day and bombards the good angels. The good angels find themselves at a disadvantage as their armor becomes a hindrance to their escape. Michael finally provides a solution: the good angels pick up mountains and move them across the battlefield to bury the rebel angels and their artillery. The rebel angels must slowly dig themselves out from underneath the mountains and reassemble. Night falls, and God decides that there will be no fighting on the third day, and that the war must now end. He sends out his Son the next day, who charges through the enemy ranks on a great chariot and drives them from the battlefield. The Son, endowed with the power of God, surrounds the rebel angels, Satan included, and drives them out of the Gate of Heaven through a hole in Heaven’s ground. They fall for nine days through Chaos, before landing in Hell.

Raphael warns Adam that Satan has begun to plot the doom of mankind. Raphael hypothesizes that Satan, in order to get revenge, wishes to make them commit sin to tarnish God’s beloved creation. Raphael adds that Satan may also want others to rebel against God and suffer a similar fate. Raphael explains to Adam that they must fear Satan and must not yield to his evil plot.

Analysis: Book VI

The war in Heaven is probably intended to be read as a metaphor, encapsulating spiritual lessons in an epic scenario so that we (and Adam) can understand what Raphael is talking about. The story certainly contains lessons that Raphael wants Adam to learn from. One of the morals of the war in Heaven is that disobedience leads to a person’s becoming blind to the truth. Satan and the rebel angels feel empowered by their new decision not to submit, yet their opposition to God actually renders them powerless. Satan and his army never seem to realize the futility of their rebellion. Satan rouses himself and his troops to more and more disobedience, but their continued failure and continued hope of victory demonstrate the blinding effect that their pride and vanity have wrought. Thus blinded, they are easily overcome in battle each day, by only a small portion of God’s angels actually fighting against them. Adam tries to learn the parallel between the battle between good and evil that occurred in Heaven and the battle that will occur subtly on Earth. In similar fashion, we are supposed to envision the parallel of Adam’s struggle in our own lives, as we strive to ward off evil and attain virtue.

Read more about the importance of obedience to God as a theme.

Raphael’s narrative makes the war in Heaven seem unreal, and almost cartoonish. As Raphael explains, angels are exempt from death, which lessens the consequences of the battle and thus makes it seem that less is at stake. Satan, for instance, is grievously wounded by Michael’s sword—he is almost hacked in two—but he is ready to fight the next day. The good angels pick up entire mountains and sling them at the rebel angels. Unable to die or even be seriously wounded, the rebel angels can dig themselves out from under the mountainous rubble, dust themselves off, and plan for their next strike. The entire war comes to seem rather silly because it lacks drama. The outcome is never in doubt.

The style of battle does not resemble the warfare of Milton’s day, but rather the feudal warfare of earlier epics. Milton presents the warring factions each lining up with their spears and shields across a battlefield. The battlefield discussions between the two sides before battle are reminiscent of scenes in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. Then, amid classical style warfare, the rebel angels employ what was in Milton’s time a relatively new and dangerous weapon of war: a gunpowder cannon. Milton introduces this discrepancy in modes of warfare to allude to his society’s advancements over those of the classical age. Satan’s invention of the cannon is an unexpected development, signaling Milton’s belief that gunpowder is a demonic invention and that so-called advancements in war are futile and worthless.

Read more about Milton’s fascination with the epic as a genre.