ABSTRACT

This article considers Paradise Lost in relation to ventriloquism—that is, demonic possession as manifested in ventris loqui, “speakers from the belly.” It situates this topic in the literary contexts that Milton inherited and transformed, and then concentrates on three scenes of ventriloquistic possession in the epic: the toad dream in book 4, the demonic possession of the serpent in book 9, and the puppeteering of the fallen angels in book 10. Throughout the epic, Milton reframes belly talk as less about demons sneaking into and speaking out of bellies than about demons urging rational beings to listen to their own bellies, that is, to misdedicate their powers of mind to the deification of appetite. Attending to this motif—and to Milton’s deft construction of a realistic-feeling psychology out of the materials of demonology—helps to illuminate his keen interest in distinguishing between true and false prophets.

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