Defoe contends that whereas Milton’s Satan, after falling through Chaos for nine days–which inspires the snide remark “a good poetical flight, but neither founded on Scripture or philosophy” (71)–is swallowed up and locked into Hell, the Devil is more likely to be set free in the atmosphere and wander among us. The image of a wandering Devil is found in Ephesians (ii. 2), I Peter (v. 8), and Job (i. 7):
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.
Whereas Defoe claims to pit biblical authority against Milton’s mythopoetic universe, he actually misreads Paradise Lost, since Milton’s Satan is far from being confined to hell. Defoe nevertheless substitutes for Milton’s “deficient, if not absurd” (72) scheme the suggestion that “he is more a vagrant than a prisoner; that he is a wanderer” (73). The next paragraph develops this idea, which Rushdie uses in a truncated form in the epigraph. Following the standard doctrine, Defoe’s unexpurgated text reads:
Satan being thus confined to a vagabond, wandering, unsettled condition, is without any certain abode; for though he has, in consequence of his angelic nature, a kind of empire in the liquid waste or air, yet this is certainly part of his punishment that he is [continually hovering over this inhabited globe of earth, swelling with the rage of envy at the felicity of his rival, man, and studying all the means possible to injure and ruin him; but extremely limited in his power, to his unspeakable mortification: this is his present state,] without any fixed abode, place, or space allowed him to rest the sole of his foot upon. (73-4)
(For a discussion of the relations between Defoe’s The History of the Devil and Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, see my “The Epigraph to The Satanic Verses: Defoe’s Devil and Rushdie’s Migrant”, forthcoming). Martine Dutheil. See Dutheil, pp. 53-61 for a much fuller discussion of this theme.