Here are lines 205–224 of book II of "Paradise Regained" by John Milton:

But he whom we attempt is wiser far
Then Solomon, of more exalted mind,
Made and set wholly on the accomplishment
Of greatest things; what woman will you find,
Though of this Age the wonder and the fame,
On whom his leisure will vouchsafe an eye
Of fond desire? or should she confident,
As sitting Queen ador'd on Beauties Throne,
Descend with all her winning charms begirt
To enamour, as the Zone of Venus once
Wrought that effect on Jove, so Fables tell;
How would one look from his Majestick brow
Seated as on the top of Vertues hill,
Discount'nance her despis'd, and put to rout
All her array; her female pride deject,
Or turn to reverent awe? for Beauty stands
In the admiration only of weak minds
Led captive
; cease to admire, and all her Plumes
Fall flat and shrink into a trivial toy,
At every sudden slighting quite abasht

Belial suggests to Satan to lure Christ with a woman but Satan rebukes him and utters these lines. What I understood of this is that Satan is aware that he cannot lure Christ with a woman. But what is the exact meaning of the phrase "admiration only of weak minds led captive".

2 Answers 2


The passage exploits multiple meanings of various words to make its statement that the power of beauty is dependent on the admiration of those it captivates.

Stands means is held upright, in the usual meaning of the term, and contrasts with Fall flat and shrink a couple lines later. But it also suggests has standing, i.e., maintains a position of some worth. Satan says that beauty matters only as long as it has weak minds to admire it. If beauty is not admired, then it has no standing. It falls flat and means nothing.

Plumes are of course literally the feathers with which a beautiful woman might deck herself, but to plume oneself also means to flatter oneself or to take pride in oneself. So beauty might plume itself, but if we cease to admire, then that self-flattery receives a sudden slighting, or unexpected insult, which destroys beauty's pride.

Only is nicely ambiguous: in the admiration only of weak minds means both:

  1. Beauty's power relies solely on admiration
  2. Only weak minds admire beauty.

So if someone does not admire beauty, then beauty loses its power. And someone strong-minded does not admire beauty.

Putting all this together, the passage means:

Beauty has standing only when it is admired. And only weak minds are captivated enough to admire beauty. Beauty's power and pride rely upon holding weak minds in thrall.

The implication is that since Christ's strong mind and lofty spirit are indifferent to beauty, he will destroy Beauty's pride, and a beautiful woman who seeks to tempt him will either find her pride humiliated, or be moved to reverence toward Christ.


Here beauty is personified and stands for physical charm. The line suggests only weak minds are made captive by and enamored of outward beautiful appearance. Beauty can not exert any lasting impact on such an August being.The line that follows, goes to explain how it falls flat.

  • 1
    This answer is basically correct. I don't know why it was downvoted and had a -1 score. Upvoted.
    – verbose
    Feb 19, 2021 at 10:23

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