After class, I couldn’t help but look up what the cerastes was. Apparently it is a serpent of Greek legend that is most likely based off the habits of the horned viper. It is not actually a creature found in Book VII of creation but appears in Book X when Satan and the other fallen angels transform into different variations of serpents:
But hiss for hiss returnd with forked tongue
To forked tongue, for now were all transform’d
Alike, to Serpents all as accessories
To his bold Riot: dreadful was the din
Of hissing through the Hall, thick swarming now
With complicated monsters head and taile,
Scorpion and Asp, and Amphisbaena dire,
Cerastes hornd, Hyrdus, and Ellops (517-525)
What I find extremely interesting about this is that this is event that my favorite author C.S. Lewis refers to in his Screwtape Letters. It is one of my favorite works by Lewis who takes the position of a demon named Screwtape who writes letters to his nephew Wormwood, a demon and tempter-in-training. Dr. C has mentioned Lewis before in class and it is clear that his writing, specifically the Screwtape Letters, is influenced by Milton’s epic, whom he explicitly mentions in Letter 22:
“In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. Now that the transformation is complete I recognise it as a periodical phenomenon. Some rumour of it has reached the humans and a distorted account of it appears in the poet Milton, with the ridiculous addition that such changes of shapeare a “punishment” imposed on us by the Enemy. A more modern writer-someone with a name like Pshaw-has, however, grasped the truth. Transformation proceeds from within and is a glorious manifestation of that Life Force which Our Father would worship if he worshipped anything but himself.”
Here, Screwtape randomly turns into a centipede. I always thought this was such a strange occurrence reading this as a kid but now reading Paradise Lost and knowing exactly what Lewis is referring to, this fascinates me all the more. We as readers understand that the transformation of Satan and the fallen angels into serpents is a curse, but Lewis takes the interesting position of one fallen angel who sees it a “glorious manifestation” of the transformation within from the “Life Force” which ought to be worshipped.
So here you see a typical Milton blogpost: looking into one word exposes the persistence of Paradise Lost and the world of influence Milton had on literature. I also highly recommend the Screwtape Letters for someone who wants an incredibly entertaining yet insightful novel that compliments our current reading! You won’t be disappointed.