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

John Milton

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…

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.