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John Milton in Paradise Regained has Christ deplore the “false glory” which comes from military conquest and the despoiling of nations in battle (1671)

In Milton’s great poem Christ and Satan argue about the nature of greatness and glory. Christ makes the following points about the true nature of glory:

They err who count it glorious to subdue By Conquest far and wide, to over-run Large Countries, and in field great Battels win, Great Cities by assault: what do these Worthies, But rob and spoil, burn, slaughter, and enslave Peaceable Nations, neighbouring, or remote, Made Captive, yet deserving freedom more Then those thir Conquerours, who leave behind Nothing but ruin wheresoe’re they rove, And all the flourishing works of peace destroy, Then swell with pride, and must be titl’d Gods, Great Benefactors of mankind, Deliverers, Worship’t with Temple, Priest and Sacrifice; One is the Son of Jove, of Mars the other, Till Conquerour Death discover them scarce men, Rowling in brutish vices, and deform’d, Violent or shameful death thir due reward. But if there be in glory aught of good, It may be means far different be attain’d Without ambition, war, or violence; By deeds of peace, by wisdom eminent, By patience, temperance…

To whom our Saviour calmly thus reply’d.
Thou neither dost perswade me to seek wealth
For Empires sake, nor Empire to affect
For glories sake by all thy argument.
For what is glory but the blaze of fame,
The peoples praise, if always praise unmixt?
And what the people but a herd confus’d,
A miscellaneous rabble, who extol
Things vulgar, & well weigh’d, scarce worth the praise,
They praise and they admire they know not what;
And know not whom, but as one leads the other;
And what delight to be by such extoll’d,
To live upon thir tongues and be thir talk,
Of whom to be disprais’d were no small praise?
His lot who dares be singularly good.
Th’ intelligent among them and the wise
Are few, and glory scarce of few is rais’d.
This is true glory and renown, when God
Looking on the Earth, with approbation marks
The just man, and divulges him through Heaven
To all his Angels, who with true applause
Recount his praises; thus he did to Job,
When to extend his fame through Heaven & Earth,
As thou to thy reproach mayst well remember,
He ask’d thee, hast thou seen my servant Job?
Famous he was in Heaven, on Earth less known;
Where glory is false glory, attributed
To things not glorious, men not worthy of fame.
They err who count it glorious to subdue
By Conquest far and wide, to over-run
Large Countries, and in field great Battels win,
Great Cities by assault: what do these Worthies,
But rob and spoil, burn, slaughter, and enslave
Peaceable Nations, neighbouring, or remote,
Made Captive, yet deserving freedom more
Then those thir Conquerours, who leave behind
Nothing but ruin wheresoe’re they rove,
And all the flourishing works of peace destroy,
Then swell with pride, and must be titl’d Gods,
Great Benefactors of mankind, Deliverers,
Worship’t with Temple, Priest and Sacrifice;
One is the Son of Jove, of Mars the other,
Till Conquerour Death discover them scarce men,
Rowling in brutish vices, and deform’d,
Violent or shameful death thir due reward.
But if there be in glory aught of good,
It may be means far different be attain’d
Without ambition, war, or violence;
By deeds of peace, by wisdom eminent,
By patience, temperance;
I mention still
Him whom thy wrongs with Saintly patience born,
Made famous in a Land and times obscure;
Who names not now with honour patient Job?
Poor Socrates (who next more memorable?)
By what he taught and suffer’d for so doing,
For truths sake suffering death unjust, lives now
Equal in fame to proudest Conquerours.
Yet if for fame and glory aught be done,
Aught suffer’d; if young African for fame
His wasted Country freed from Punic rage,
The deed becomes unprais’d, the man at least,
And loses, though but verbal, his reward.
Shall I seek glory then, as vain men seek
Oft not deserv’d? I seek not mine, but his
Who sent me, and thereby witness whence I am.

About this Quotation:

We continue our exploration of John Milton’s thought, this time turning to one of his great epic poems Paradise Regained (1671). After seeing the rise of Cromwell, the defeat of the Republic and the restoration of the monarchy Milton had time and opportunity to reflect on the nature of martial glory and conquest. He concluded rather sadly in this poem that “if there be in glory aught of good, It may be means far different be attain’d Without ambition, war, or violence.” Perhaps he had in mind Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland.

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