Paradise Lost, Book III – Response

Dearest Devoted Readers (Rob, Pamela, and Mom–soon to be joined by others hopefully)–

Some old news for me to keep you occupied while I figure out my next topic. Wrote this early in the fall of 2007 as I was just getting started on my research and hadn’t even worked rage into my thesis completely yet. This was part of a huge discovery for me.

—Katie

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“…seest thou what rage / Transports our adversary…” (III, 80-81).

“…on me let death wreak all his rage” (III, 241)

            What I found very interesting in this book was the very distinctive use of the word “rage.” While the word appears elsewhere in the poem I was interested specifically in the variety of meanings it had prior to and during Milton’s life, specifically the connotations it has in these two lines. While many of these meanings are not vastly different from the definition we think of when we hear the word today, it has some subtle nuances that bring an entirely new layer and richness to the text. The word today has a very specific connection to anger, especially in the context of an “outburst [especially] of pent-up anger and aggression triggered by a specific event” (Oxford English Dictionary). When we think of Satan’s character (of whom the word is used in reference to in line 80) this present day definition seems fitting and likely would not give a reader any cause to investigate further. It is easy to read Satan’s constant lust for revenge as an emotion connected to anger, and in some ways he is very angry. But there is a subtler emotion at work that is more clearly defined by the word rage and what it would have meant in the seventeenth century.

            According to the Oxford English Dictionary, as early as the fourteenth century the word had connotations of “madness or insanity,” and later it developed into a description of “violent passion” (OED). However, of all the many meanings and subtle connotations the word may have carried at the time, the definition I was most struck by was “a violent feeling, passion, or appetite” (OED). Once aware of this definition, the word “appetite” used to describe Satan’s driving motivation instead of “anger” seemed so much more appropriate. After all, it is Satan’s hunger and desire for revenge that moves him onward; it is his lust for power that initially led him to revolt against God. The word “appetite” is exceedingly subtle, but incredibly powerful. In line 80, it is God who is speaking and recognizes Satan’s appetite and acknowledges that this is the force which propels him onward.

            The next appearance of the word in Book III occurs at line 241 when Christ uses it in reference to death, and his ultimate defeat of death. I was immediately reminded of a passage in Book II where Death is described as being hungry:

                                                         “…and Death

Grinned horrible a ghastly smile to hear

His famine should be filled and blessed his maw” (II, 845-847)

When Christ then offers himself as a ransom for mankind he states, “…on me let death wreak all his rage” knowing that when he dies a human death he will ultimately rise again and thereby defeat death. When Christ offers himself to die for mankind he also knows that death must have the first victory before the final defeat; or that death must fill his appetite on living beings before his ultimate downfall.

            Another meaning of the word “rage” is one of sexual desire or violent lust. This would apply to Death and his violent rape of Sin. It might also apply to Satan and his covetous desire for equality with God. The word “rage” also has a connection with disease, specifically rabies. Since rage and rabies share a common Latin root the connection is clearly in the psychological aspects of each, and perhaps where the more modern meaning of rage comes from. While there aren’t any particular references to Satan being diseased in any way, it is possible that it could imply his psychological state is not what it should have been. His “rage,” his lust or his appetite, might possibly imply his lack of faith.

 

Sources:

Oxford English Dictionary Online

http://0-dictionary.oed.com.fintel.roanoke.edu/entrance.dtl

 

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My teacher, who would read our weekly responses and then ask a few of us to share with the class (we usually felt really honored to be picked since it was such a tough class), asked me to share my response. After I had finished she mentioned she was somewhat disappointed I ended so abruptly, but that she understood I had reached my two page limit. My teacher next uttered the phrase “SPIRITUAL RABIES” in connection with Satan, which perfectly ties into yesterday’s post and subsequent comments.

Spiritual rabies. Wow. I just want to chew on that phrase for a bit. It’s one thing to just think of a spiritual disease and the corruption of our souls because of sin….but think of the new connotations brought on by RABIES. The madness and insanity, the drooling, the anger, the BITING and gnawing….–to me it is a HUGE difference.

I take it back.

We’re not just spiritually diseased…we are spiritually RABID!

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3 Comments

  1. Hmm,

    I have a a harder time making sense of what that might ‘spiritually rabid’ might mean. Maybe not- maybe it explains well the crazy destructive behavior we see culturally, perhaps rooted in a spiritual vacancy. We need need that connection and seek it desperately in all the wrong ways and places, since we can’t get a handle on what it is exactly we’re looking for.

    I dunno- you’re challenging me, here Katie: I have my boxes, my mental models, and often they speak wisely to topics at hand, but sometimes they leave me with little to go on, or worse yet, with a disposition that’s only getting in the way. Challenge indeed- what do you think?

  2. Hey Rob—
    I guess as I am challenging you with this post, your comment is challenging me. I had a hard time figuring out how to respond. But it has occurred to me that I think what I am trying to convey with “spiritually rabid” has more to do with that violent appetite. So you are right in that we are hungering and searching for something, possibly that connection—but I think it’s more than just searching for something or exhibiting destructive behavior.
    We literally lust and hunger for it so violently that our “rabies” becomes infectious—affecting us, our loved ones, people we know, people we don’t know, our environment…

    I think you are hitting the point with the destructive behavior…but what I *think* spiritual rabies has to do with that is to illustrate how connected WE ARE to the destructive behavior….from how deep inside of US that behavior comes…

    Your thoughts?

  3. We declare War on Ourselves~~~~~~

    In the words of Walter Wink,”We internalize the ethic of productivity, the constraints of patriarchy, the imperative of success, the driven-ness of modern life, the obligations of machismo, the laws that prevent our achieving for ourselves what the powerful achieve at our expense. We become complicit. And so we leave unopposed the world that injures us, restructuring ourselves to appease the powers we depend upon. To achieve peace with the world, we declare war upon ourselves.”

    from (p. 42) Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the powers: Discernment and resistance in a world of domination. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

    I came upon this quote several years ago from the source below and saw so clearly the truth in the mobius of cannabalizing ourselves.

    The parable of the tribes: On anarchy, peace and spiritual
    transformation. Spirituality and Social Work Forum, 10(2), 1-6.

    http://www.ecosocialwork.org/papers/partrbspr.pdf

    Fundamental to Wink’s analysis of our society is his assertion that spiritual Powers are real — but not simply as angels floating in the clouds or demons waiting in hell to gloat over your soul, but as the psychospiritual complexes that are formed from collective human belief and energy. Our governmental and corporate institutions are themselves Powers, having a spiritual existence in the sense of having a Being above and beyond the sum of the individuals that comprise them (as well as enjoying legal status that puts them on the same footing as a human being!). Unrecognized, the Powers run amuck amongst us. We are slaves to our own creation, and blind to our slavery. Our allegiance to the Power of the national security state, for instance, blinds us to its own violence, opens us to being subverted to evil ends, allows us to be convinced that upholding democracy and freedom is synonymous with the killing of others.


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