In Paradise Lost Book II, Satan explains to Sin why he wants to leave Hell:

            ... through the void immense
To search with wand'ring quest a place foretold
Should be, and, by concurring signs, ere now
Created vast and round, a place of bliss
In the purlieus of Heav'n, and therein placed
A race of upstart creatures ...

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. 1667, 2nd ed. 1674. The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton. Eds. William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon. New York: Modern Library, 2007. pp. 251–634. Book II, ll. 829–834, p. 350.

Earlier, Satan has reminded his fellow rebels of the rumors they heard in Heaven before their fall, to the effect that the universe should be created and peopled:

Space may produce new worlds; whereof so rife
There went a fame in Heav'n that he ere long
Intended to create, and therein plant
A generation, whom his choice regard
Should favor equal to the sons of Heav'n.

ibid., Book I, ll. 650–654, p. 317.

And Beëlzebub has suggested that the fallen angels can avenge their defeat by despoiling God's new creation, which he describes as follows:

                   There is a place
(If ancient and prophetic fame in Heav'n
Err not) another world, the happy seat
Of some new race called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
in power and excellence, but favored more
Of him who rules above: so was his will
Pronounced among the gods, and by an oath,
That shook Heav'n's whole circumference, confirmed.

ibid., Book II, ll. 345–353, p. 334

These earlier speeches indicate that the universe will soon come into existence: it is a place foretold / Should be. God's will and oath guarantee this. But the speeches also make clear that at the time the angels fell, the universe was in prospect and not already brought into being. Why then does Satan say that it is by concurring signs ere now / Created? What "concurring signs" has he observed that make the universe's existence not merely a prediction, but a fait accompli? How could Satan even have observed any such signs while locked up under the dome of Hell?

Perhaps Satan is merely lying to Sin? He needs her to open Hell's gates to let him out, so he promises that once he has found the newly created place, he will let her dwell there along with her lover Death. Perhaps saying that it is already in existence is his way of making the bargain more appealing to Sin? This possibility is mere speculation, however, and evidence would be needed to support it. No doubt there are other, likelier explanations as well. How have scholars and critics explained these "concurring signs"? What can be gleaned by analyzing this speech of Satan's, either in its specific context or in the context of the entire epic?

1 Answer 1


I think Francis Storr is correct when he says that Milton does not explain these “signs”:

831 By concurring signs. To judge by concurring signs. What these signs are is not intimated.

Francis Storr, ed. (1889?). Paradise Lost, book 2, p. 55, note to 2.831. London: Rivingtons.

This puts us into the realm of fan fiction, I am afraid! The only writer (that I have found) to venture into speculation on this front is William Empson:

Beelzebub says that God promised to create the World and Man with an oath that shook all Heaven, and that this was “ancient” (II.350); whereas Satan has recalled a recent rumour in Heaven that the creation which threatens the hierarchy will occur “ere long” (I.650); then Satan tells Sin that “concurring signs” make him believe the prophecy already fulfilled (II.830). These three accounts are consistent, especially as God gives other “signs” in the last two books; and we may believe that God created us to spite the devils, because he would always foreknow that he would some day want to. The only problem is whether this rumour arose after the promotion of the Son or before. There would be no occasion for it after, during the War in Heaven, when their minds are fully occupied with a different case of promotion over their heads; the more statesmanlike view is that the angels began buzzing with rumours and interpreting “signs” as soon as God named the date for the grand Summons at which he promoted the Son.

Wiliam Empson (1960). ‘The Satan of Milton’. In The Hudson Review 13:1, pp. 45–46.

Note that Empson takes “concurring” in the sense “agreeing with” and not in the sense “coinciding in time”, as suggested by John Bradshaw:

831 By concurring signs, … created. Shown to be created by signs that coincide with the prediction.

John Bradshaw, ed. (1873). The First Six Books of Paradise Lost, p. xliii, note to 2.831. Madras: Higginbotham.

Bradshaw doesn’t give an argument for this interpretation, and I think that (from a fan-fictional point of view) Empson’s is better because more flexible, as I will illustrate by giving a different theory, which is that Satan saw signs of the first day or days of Creation as he fell from Heaven.

Milton’s timeline is somewhat slippery,† but two main strands of the narrative begin with the end of the War in Heaven. In the first strand, the defeated rebels are driven out of Heaven and:

Nine days they fell: Confounded Chaos roared,
And felt tenfold confusion in their fall
Through his wild anarchy, so huge a rout
Incumbered him with ruin: Hell at last
Yawning received them whole, and on them closed

Paradise Lost 6.871–875.

In Hell the fallen angels were chained on the “burning lake” for another nine days:

Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he, with his horrid crew,
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf,
Confounded, though immortal.

Paradise Lost 1.50–53.

After their release an indeterminate time is spent in the building of the city of Pandemonium before Satan’s expedition across the Abyss, his encounter with Sin, and the reopening of the gates of Hell.

Meanwhile, in the second strand, “after Lucifer from Heaven fell with his flaming legions through the deep” (7.131–134), the Son returns “victorious with his Saints” (7.136) and God soon ventures forth upon the six days of Creation. How soon exactly? Milton does not say. The only terminus a quo that we have is in book 8, where Adam proposes to relate his own experience of the sixth day of Creation, and Raphael replies:

For I that day was absent, as befel,
Bound on a voyage uncouth and obscure,
Far on excursion toward the gates of Hell;
Squared in full legion (such command we had)
To see that none thence issued forth a spy,
Or enemy, while God was in his work;
Lest he, incensed at such eruption bold,
Destruction with creation might have mixed.
Not that they durst without his leave attempt;
But us he sends upon his high behests
For state, as Sovran King; and to inure
Our prompt obedience. Fast we found, fast shut,
The dismal gates, and barricadoed strong;

But long ere our approaching heard within
Noise, other than the sound of dance or song,
Torment, and loud lament, and furious rage.

Paradise Lost 8.229–244.

So on the sixth day of Creation, the gates of Hell were already shut, and the fallen angels (we might deduce) were being tormented in chains on the burning lake. So Satan missed the events of the sixth day, but that does not mean he could not have seen, from a great distance, signs of the first five days as he fell through Chaos. In Milton’s cosmology, Heaven lies above the celestial north pole, Hell below the celestial south pole, and the Universe hangs from the former by a “golden chain” (2.1005, 2.1051), so that the fall of the angels from Heaven to Hell took them past the site of Creation.

A schematic representation of the cosmology of Paradise Lost. At the top, extending infinitely upwards, we have “Heaven or the Empyrean”; at the bottom, Hell. In between lies Chaos, except for a spherical shell containing the Universe. Inside this shell we find the concentric Primum Mobile, Crystalline Sphere with its Jasper Sea, the fixed stars, the spheres of the planets, and an innermost sphere of air surrounding the Earth.

Thomas N. Orchard (1913). Milton’s Astronomy: the Astronomy of Paradise Lost, p. iv. London: Longman, Green. The Universe is depicted as a spherical shell suspended in Chaos between Heaven and Hell (but somewhat closer to Heaven, see 1.74). The “golden ladder” descending from Heaven to Earth represents the “stairs whereon Jacob saw angels ascending and descending” (3.510–511), and the “causeway from Hell” represents the “bridge of wondrous length” (2.1028) built by Sin and Death along Satan’s track.

† Some authors have tried to compress Paradise Lost into a time-scheme of a few days or weeks; the most well-known of these being the 33-day scheme of Alastair Fowler (Paradise Lost, 1971, p. 26). But I prefer the position of Thomas Newton:

It is impossible to say, how much time is taken up in the action of this poem, since a great part of it lies beyond the sphere of day; and for that part which lies within the sphere of day, it is not easy to state and define the time exactly, since our author himself seems not to have been very exact in this particular.

Thomas Newton, ed. (1749). Paradise Lost, volume 2, p. 314. London: J. & R. Tonson.

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