Massa's Satanic Insult References Milton's Paradise Lost


The story of retiring Democratic Representative Eric Massa has supplied no shortage of political drama, television drama, and conspiratorial drama. But there may also be a high literary element to the story. When Massa called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "son of the devil's spawn," many took it for just another accusation of Emanuel's hard-charging politics, if a particularly harsh one. However, Massa's comment immediately struck me as a surprisingly articulate reference to John Milton's great 17th century epic poem, "Paradise Lost."

Paradise Lost, widely credited with establishing the modern Christian understanding of a deeply entangled good-versus-evil dynamic in the world, tells the story of Satan's fall from Heaven and his earthly corruption of Adam and Eve. There are already a hundred or more ways this story could be applied to Congress, but the detail Massa chose to single out was a bit more precise. In a passage that has inspired many horror films and heavy metal songs, Satan produces a motherless daughter, Sin ("the devil's spawn"), with whom he has another child, Death. Death, then, is "the son of the devil's spawn." So who exactly did Massa compare Emanuel to? Here's Milton, introducing Death on--no kidding--line 666 of the poem:

The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd that shape had none
Distinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,
For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night,
Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,
And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his head
The likeness of a Kingly Crown had on.
Satan was now at hand, and from his seat
The Monster moving onward came as fast
With horrid strides, Hell trembled as he strode.
Th' undaunted Fiend what this might be admir'd,
Admir'd, not fear'd; God and his Son except,
Created thing naught valu'd he nor shun'd
And with disdainful look thus first began.

Later in the story, Sin and Death enter the world when Eve eats the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. God allows the two to remain and torment humanity with, well, sin and death. He promises, however, that his son will one day come to earth and force Satan's children to return to Hell. Glenn Beck, it seems, hoped that Massa would be the vanquishing Christ to Emanuel's Death. But Massa appears to see himself as just another human victim, if one who is surprisingly well versed in scripture and classic literature.

If nothing else, perhaps Satan's most famous line from Paradise Lost could have some significance for the retiring Massa. After Satan quits (retires?) his post as a high-ranking heavenly angel, citing irreparable conflict with God (the heavenly Majority Leader, if you will), he flees to Hell where he announces, upon arriving, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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