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Having sung of Paradise Lost, Milton proposes as theme for a new epic "Paradise Regained." In it he purports to sing of "deeds heroic although in secret done" and to describe how Christ was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan.

Book I. While baptizing in the Jordan, John suddenly beheld Christ approaching, and, although he at first demurred, yielded at last to his request to baptize him too. While the Baptist was doing this, a heavenly voice proclaimed Christ Son of God. This was heard not only by John and his disciples, but also by the adversary, who, ever since the fall, had been roaming around the world, and who for years past has been closely watching the promised Redeemer in hopes of defeating his ends.

Suddenly realizing that the conflict between them is about to begin, Satan hastens back to Hades to take counsel with his crew. When all are assembled, he reminds them how long they have ruled the earth, adding that the time has come when their power may be wrested from them and the curse spoken in Eden fulfilled. He fears Jesus is the promised Messiah, owing to his miraculous birth, to the testimony of the precursor, and to the heavenly voice when he was baptized. Besides he has recognized in Christ's lineaments the imprint of the Father's glory, and avers that, unless they can counteract and defeat the Son's ends, they will forfeit all they have gained. Realizing, however, that this task is far greater than the one he undertook centuries before,—when he winged his way through chaos to discover the new world and tempt our first parents,—he volunteers to undertake it in person, and all the evil spirits applaud him. This settled, Satan departs to carry out the second temptation.

Meantime another assembly has been held in heaven, where, addressing the archangel Gabriel, the Almighty informs him he will soon see the fulfilment of the message he bore some thirty years previously to Mary. He adds that his Son, whom he has publicly recognized, is about to be tempted by Satan, who, although he failed in the case of Job, is undertaking this new task confident of success. The Almighty also predicts that Satan will again be defeated, but declares Christ is as free to yield or resist as Adam when first created, and that before sending him out to encounter Sin and Death he means to strengthen him by a sojourn in the desert. On hearing that Satan's evil plans will be frustrated, the angels burst into a hymn of triumph with which heaven resounds.

  So spake the eternal Father, and all Heaven
  Admiring stood a space; then into hymns
  Burst forth, and in celestial measures moved,
  Circling the throne and singing, while the hand
  Sung with the voice; and this the argument:
  "Victory and triumph to the Son of God
  Now entering his great duel, not of arms,
  But to vanquish by wisdom hellish wiles.
  The Father knows the Son; therefore secure
  Ventures his filial virtue, though untried,
  Against whate'er may tempt, whate'er seduce,
  Allure, or terrify, or undermine.
  Be frustrate, all ye stratagems of Hell,
  And devilish machinations come to nought."

During this time the Son of God, after lingering three days by the Jordan, is driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, where he spends his time meditating upon the great office he had undertaken as Saviour of mankind. In a grand soliloquy we hear how since early youth he has been urged onward by divine and philosophical influences, and how, realizing he was born to further truth, he has diligently studied the law of God. Thanks to these studies, our Lord at twelve could measure his learning with that of the rabbis in the temple. Ever since that time he has longed to rescue his people from the Roman yoke, to end brutality, to further all that is good, and to win all hearts to God. He recalls the stories his mother told him in regard to the annunciation, to his virgin birth, and to the Star of Bethlehem, and comments upon the fact that the precursor immediately recognized him and that a voice from heaven hailed him as the Son of God!

Although Christ realizes he has been sent into the wilderness by divine power, and that his future way lies "through many a hard assay" and may lead even to death, he does not repine. Instead he spends the forty days in the wilderness fasting, preparing himself for the great work which he is called upon to accomplish, and paying no heed to the wild beasts which prowl around him without doing him any harm.

It is only when weakness has reached its highest point and when Christ begins to hunger, that Satan approaches him in the guise of an old peasant, pathetically describing the difficulty of maintaining life in the wilderness. Then he adds that, having seen Jesus baptized in the Jordan he begs him to turn the stones around him into food, thereby relieving himself and his wretched fellow-sufferer from the pangs of hunger.

  "But, if thou be the Son of God, command
  That out of these hard stones be made thee bread;
  So shalt thou save thyself and us relieve
  With food, whereof we wretched seldom taste."

Jesus, however, merely reproaches the tempter, rejoining, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but from the words which proceed out of the mouth of God," and explaining that he knows who Satan is and for what purpose he has been sent hither. Unable to conceal his identity any longer, the evil spirit admits he has come straight from hell, but adds that God gave him power to test Job and to punish Ahab. He argues that the Almighty, who fed the Israelites with manna and supplied Elijah with miraculous food, does not intend to starve his only Son. Then, expressing admiration for Jesus' intellect, Satan explains he is not the foe of man, since through him he has gained everything, and whom he prides himself upon having often helped by oracles and omen. In spite of these arguments, Jesus refuses to listen to him, declares his oracles have lost all power, and adds that he is sent to execute his Father's will.

  "God hath now sent his living oracle
  Into the world to teach his final will,
  And sends his Spirit of truth henceforth to dwell
  In pious hearts, an inward oracle
  To all truth requisite for men to know."

Thus baffled, Satan vanishes into "thin air diffused," and night steals over the desert, where fowls seek their nests while the wild beasts begin to roam in search of food.

Book II. John the Baptist and his disciples, made anxious by Jesus' long absence, now begin to seek him as the prophets sought Elijah, fearing lest he too may have been caught up into heaven. Hearing Simon and Andrew wonder where he has gone and what he is doing, Mary relates the extraordinary circumstances which accompanied her Son's birth, mentioning the flight into Egypt, the return to Nazareth, and sundry other occurrences during the youth of our Lord. She declares that, ever since Gabriel's message fell upon her ear, she has been trying to prepare herself for the fulfilment of a promise then made her, and has often wondered what Simeon meant when he cried that a sword would pierce her very soul! Still, she recalls how at twelve years of age, she grieved over the loss of her Son, until she found him in the temple, when he excused himself by stating he must be about his Father's business. Ever since then Mary has patiently awaited what is to come to pass, realizing the child she bore is destined to great things.

  Thus Mary pondering oft, and oft to mind
  Recalling what remarkably had passed
  Since first her salutation heard, with thoughts
  Meekly composed awaited fulfilling.

Satan, having hastened back to the infernal regions, reports the ill success of his first venture, and the effect his first temptation had upon our Lord. Feeling at a loss, he invites the demons to assist him with their counsel, warning them this task will prove far more difficult than that of leading Adam astray. Belial, the most dissolute spirit in hell, then proposes that Satan tempt Jesus with women, averring that the female sex possesses so many wiles that even Solomon, wisest of kings, succumbed. But Satan scornfully rejects this proposal, declaring that He whom they propose thus to tempt is far wiser than Solomon and has a much more exalted mind. Although certain Christ will prove impervious to the bait of sense, Satan surmises that, owing to a prolonged fast, he may be susceptible to the temptation of hunger, so, taking a select band of spirits, he returns to the desert to renew his attempts in a different form.

Transferring us again to the solitude, the poet describes how our Saviour passed the night dreaming of Elijah fed by the ravens and of Daniel staying his hunger with pulse Awakened at last by the song of the larks, our Lord rises from his couch on the hard ground, and, strolling into fertile valley, encounters Satan, who, superbly dressed, expresses surprise he should receive no aid in the wilderness when Hagar, the Israelites, and Elijah were all fed by divine intervention. Then Satan exhibits the wonderful banquet he has prepared, inviting Christ to partake of it; but the Son of God haughtily informs him he can obtain food whenever he wishes, and hence need not accept what he knows is offered with evil intent. Seeing our Lord cannot be assailed on the ground of appetite, Satan causes the banquet to vanish, but remains to tempt Christ with an offer of riches, artfully setting forth the power that can be acquired by their means. He adds, since Christ's mind is set on high designs, he will require greater wealth than stands at the disposal of the Son of Joseph the carpenter. But, although Satan offers to bestow vast treasures upon him, Christ rejects this proffer too, describing what noble deeds have been achieved by poor men such as Gideon, Jephtha, and David, as well as by certain Romans. He adds that riches often mislead their possessor, and so eloquently describes the drawbacks of wealth that Satan realizes it is useless to pursue this attempt.

Book III. Again complimenting Christ on his acumen, Satan rehearses the great deeds performed by Philip of Macedon and by Julius Caesar, who began their glorious careers earlier in life than he. Then, hoping to kindle in Jesus' heart a passion for worldly glory, Satan artfully relates that Caesar wept because he had lived so long without distinguishing himself; but our Lord quietly demonstrates the futility of earthly fame, compared to real glory, which is won only through religious patience and virtuous striving, such as was practiced by Job and Socrates. When Christ repeats he is not seeking his own glory but that of the Father who sent him, Satan reminds him God is surrounded with splendor and that it behooves his Son to strive to be like him. But Jesus rejoins that, while glory is the essential attribute of the Creator, no one else has a right to aspire to anything of the sort.

Undeterred by these checks, Satan changes his theme, and reminds Christ that, as a member of the royal family, he is not only entitled to the throne, but expected to free Judea from Roman oppression. He states that the holy temple has been defiled, that injustice has been committed, and urges that even the Maccabees resorted to arms to free their country. Although Christ insists no such mission has been appointed for him, he adds that, although his reign will never end, it will be only those who can suffer best who will be able to enjoy it.

                        "Who best
  Can suffer, best can do; best reign, who first
  Well hath obeyed; just trial ere I merit
  My exaltation without change or end."

Then, turning upon his interlocutor, Christ inquires why he is so anxious to promote the one whose rise will entail his fall? To which Satan replies that, having no hope, it little behooves him to obstruct the plans of Christ, from whose benevolence alone he expects some mitigation of his punishment, for he fancies that by speaking thus he can best induce Christ to hear him. Then, feigning to believe that Christ has refused his offers simply because he has never seen aught save Jerusalem, Satan conveys him in the twinkling of an eye to the summit of a mountain, whence, pointing eastward, he shows him all the great kingdoms of Asia. Thus, he reveals the glories of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia,—of whose histories he gives a brief résumé,—before pointing out a large Parthian army setting out to war against the Scythians, for he hopes by this martial display to convince Christ that, in order to obtain a kingdom, he will have to resort to military force. Then he adds he can easily enlist the services of this army, with which Christ can drive the Romans out of Judea, and triumphantly reign over the land of his ancestors, whence his glory will extend far and wide, until it far surpasses all that Rome and Caesar achieved. Jesus, however, demonstrates the vanity of all military efforts, declaring his time has not yet come, but assuring him he will not be found wanting when the moment comes for him to ascend the throne, for he hopes to prove an able ruler.

Then he reminds Satan how he tempted David to take a census against God's wish, and led Israel astray, until the Ten Tribes were taken off into captivity in punishment for their idolatry. He also comments upon Satan's extraordinary anxiety to restore the very people whose foe he has always been, as he has proved time and again by leading them into idolatry, adding that God may yet restore them to their liberty and to their native land. These arguments silence even Satan, for such is ever the result when "with truth falsehood contends."

Book IV. With all the persistency of his kind, Satan refuses to acknowledge himself beaten, and, leading Christ to the western side of the mountain, reveals to him all the splendor of Rome, exhibiting its Capitol, Tarpeian Rock, triumphal arches, and the great roads along which hosts are journeying to the Eternal City. After thus dazzling him, Satan suggests that Christ oust Tiberius (who has no son) from the imperial throne, and make himself master not only of David's realm, but of the whole Roman Empire, establishing law and order where vice now reigns.

Although Satan eagerly proffers his aid to accomplish all this, our Lord rejoins such a position has no attraction for him, adding that, as long as the Romans were frugal, mild, and temperate, they were happy, but that, when they became avaricious and brutal, they forfeited their happiness. He adds that he has not been sent to free the Romans, but that, when his season comes to sit on David's throne, his rule will spread over the whole world and will dwell there without end.

  "Know, therefore, when my season comes to sit
  On David's throne, it shall be like a tree
  Spreading and overshadowing all the earth,
  Or as a stone that shall to pieces dash
  All monarchies besides throughout the world,
  And of my kingdom there shall be no end:
  Means there shall be to this, but what the means
  Is not for thee to know nor me to tell."

Pretending that Christ's reluctance is due to the fact that he shrinks from the exertions necessary to obtain this boon Satan offers to bestow it freely upon him, provided he will fall down and worship him. Hearing this proposal, Christ rebukes the tempter, saying, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and only him shalt serve," and reviling him for his ingratitude. To pacify his interlocutor, Satan then proposes to make him famous through wisdom, and exhibits Athens,—that celebrated centre of ancient learning—offering to make him master of all its schools of philosophy, oratory, and poetry, and thus afford him ample intellectual gratification. But Jesus rejects this offer also, after proving the vanity and insufficiency of heathen philosophy and learning, and after demonstrating that many books are a weariness to the flesh, and that none compare with those which are the proudest boast of God's Chosen People.

                  "However, many books,
  Wise men have said, are wearisome: who reads
  Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
  A spirit and judgment equal or superior
  (And what he brings, what needs he elsewhere seek?),
  Uncertain and unsettled still remains,
  Beep versed in books and shallow in himself,
  Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys
  And trifles for choice matters, worth a sponge;
  As children gathering pebbles on the shore."

Irritated by the failure of all his attempts, Satan next taunts his opponent by describing the sufferings and humiliations he will have to undergo, until, seeing this too has no effect, he suddenly bears him back to the wilderness, where he leaves him for the night, during which he sends a terrific storm to appall him. Even in sleep Jesus is haunted by dreams and spectres sent by the tempter, but at dawn all these visions disappear, the storm dies down, and a lovely morning greets him when he awakes. Once more Satan appears to warn our Lord that the dreams of the night and the horrors of the tempest were foreshadowings of what he will have to undergo. In spite of this, Christ assures him he is toiling in vain; whereupon swollen with rage, Satan confesses that ever since he heard Gabriel's announcement to the shepherds in regard to Christ's birth, he has watched him, hoping to get some hold upon him during his infancy, youth, or early manhood. He now inquires whether Christ is really his destined foe and reluctantly admits he has failed in all his endeavors to tempt him. But one last test still remains to be tried, for Satan suddenly conveys Christ to the topmost pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem, bidding him demonstrate his divinity by fearlessly casting himself down, since God has "given his angels charge concerning him."

Not only, does our Lord reprove the tempter, but so calmly manifests his divine power by standing erect on this dangerous point, that Satan—like all other defeated monsters, such as the Sphinx—falls howling down into the infernal regions. At the same time angels convey our Lord to a lovely valley, where they minister unto him with celestial food and celebrate his victory with a triumphal hymn, for the Son of God has successfully resisted the tempter, before whom Adam succumbed, and has thereby saved man from the penalty of his sin.

Henceforth Satan will never again dare set foot in Paradise, where
Adam and his chosen descendants are to dwell secure, while the Son of
Man completes the work he has been sent to do.

  Thus they the Son of God, our Saviour meek,
  Sung victor, and from heavenly feast refreshed
  Brought on his way with joy; he unobserved
  Home to his mother's private house returned.


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