At an earlier point, the epic narrator comments on mankind’s susceptibility to the blandishments of the fallen angels. Men and women are duped even to the extent that “devils they adore for deities.” The tone is one of incredulity; how could anyone be so stupid as to be unable to tell the difference? But the line’s assertion that as polar opposites devils and deities should be easily distinguishable is complicated by the fact that as words “devils” and “deities” are close together, beginning and ending with the same letter and sharing an “e” and an “i” in between. The equivalence suggested by sound (although denied by the sense) is reinforced by the mirror-structure of “adore for,” a phrase that separates devils from deities but in fact participates in the subliminal assertion of their likeness.
What, then, is the line saying? It is saying simultaneously that the difference between devils and deities is obvious and perspicuous and that the difference is hard to tell. This is one of those moments Davie has in mind when he talks about the tendency of Milton’s verse to go off the rails of narrative in order to raise speculative questions that have no definitive answer.
When Danielson comes to render “devils to adore for deities,” he turns it into a present participle: “worshiping devils themselves.” Absent are both the tone of scornful wonder the epic voice directs at the erring sinners and the undercutting of that scorn by the dance of vowels and consonants.
Or on the phrase, "mortal taste":
By eating of the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve become capable of death and therefore capable of having a beginning and an end and a middle filled up by successes, failures, losses and recoveries. To say that a “mortal taste” brought death into the world is to say something tautologous; but the tautology is profound when it reminds us of both the costs and the glories of being mortal. If no mortality, then no human struggles, no narrative, no story, no aspiration (in eternity there’s nowhere to go), no “Paradise Lost.”
Danielson translates “whose mortal taste” as “whose lethal taste,” which is accurate, avoids tautology (or at least suppresses it) and gets us into the next line cleanly and without fuss or provoked speculation. But fuss and bother and speculations provoked by etymological puzzles are what makes this verse go (or, rather, not go), and while the reader’s way may be smoothed by a user-friendly prose translation, smoothness is not what Milton is after; it is not a pleasure he wishes to provide.
I must admit that this prose Paradise seems especially useless to me because the only thing I like about Milton is the sound his words make. What is left in the prose version? An annoying God, a sexy Satan, angels with cannons, an Eve born already fallen. A mythic-lyric poem distended into an epic. I've always wished that Milton had written an epic about King David. It would have been on the right scale.
High on a Throne of Royal State, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her Kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence....
This isn't Finnegans Wake, people!