[Milton-L] Re: God as tyrant

srevard at siue.edu srevard at siue.edu
Fri Jul 21 04:59:53 EDT 2006

On the question of Zeus's tyranny.  I will not speak for the Romans,
but the Greeks thought Zeus ruled by law.  He overthrew the real
tyrant, Cronos (who had overthrown his own father,
 and established law, dividing his kingdom between
Poseidon and Hades (see Milton's reference in Comus, 18-20, where
he apparently conflates Jove with God).
Zeus had to defend his rule against the Titans and giants with
their assault on Olympus, and did so with the aid of his sibling
and children.  (This war was thought to be the ancient's muddled
version of Satan's war in Heaven). The Greeks looked on the Titans and the other
monstrous foes of Zeus as the anarchic elements in nature and
society.  See Pindar, Pythian 1. Although Homer sometimes has
Zeus behavior in so-called tyrannical ways (as, for example,
his treatment of Hera), other Greek poets (like Pindar) defend
his rule by law.
Since Milton uses Zeus as a model for God in PL, this is not
irrelevant.  Zeus, of course, was not the creator either of
man or gods, though he had the title of father of men and

Stella Revard

Quoting Jason Kerr <aelfric at gmail.com>:

> One more thought, in reference to the past (continuing?) discussion of God's
> potential tyranny: I am very interested in Milton's treatment of classical
> sources in PL. Many of the classical allusions seem to have an ironic twist
> (cf. the various references to the muses). Milton was not comfortable, as it
> seems Spenser was in _The Faerie Queene_ (please correct me if I am wrong),
> to let Jove stand in for the Christian God and leave understanding the
> difference to the reader. This is relevant because Jove was a tyrant in the
> classical sense, i.e., he occupied a throne that did not belong to him by
> right. Does the Father in PL fall into this category? The question of
> tyranny arises for Satan and crew in the elevation of the Son, which Satan
> frames in the terms of classical tyranny:
>                              since by Decree
> Another now hath to himself ingross't
> All Power, and us eclipst under the name
> Of King anointed (5.774-77)
> Only later, when challenged by Abdiel, does Satan indirectly extend the
> language of tyranny to the Father, if only in attempting to justify his own
> attempted tyranny:
> That we were formd then saist thou? and the work
> Of secondarie hands, by task transferd
> From Father to his Son? strange point and new!
> [. . .]
> We know no time when we were not as now;
> Know none before us, self-begot, self-rais'd
> By our own quick'ning power,
> [. . .]
> Our puissance is our own, our own right hand
> Shall teach us highest deeds, by proof to try
> Who is our equal (5.853-55, 859-61, 864-66)
> By arguing that he and his followers were "self-rais'd," Satan implies that
> the Father was also "self-rais'd," and that he therefore occupies his throne
> not by right, or at least not by any right that Satan himself could not
> claim. Satan undercuts whatever force this argument may have by making force
> the standard of proof (though he rejects this standard when it no longer can
> support his claims). For Satan, at least at this point in the poem, might
> makes right.
> The question then becomes one of what the poem posits as the basis for the
> Father's rule. The answer seems to lie in his attributes ("Omnipotent,/
> Immutable, Immortal, Infinite, / Eternal King") and then his status as
> creator ("thee Author of all being") followed by his glory ("Fountain of
> Light") (3.372-75). In these lines, the epic voice describes the praise
> lavished on the Father by the angels after the elevation of the Son, thus
> marking the parallel response to Satan's in Book 5. Is tyranny only in the
> eye (or perhaps knees) of the beholder?
> Jason A. Kerr
> Boston College
> --
> "Den som vover mister Fodfæste et Øieblick;
> den som ikke vover mister Livet."
>                                     -Søren Kierkegaard

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