Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost written by John Milton is an epic poem which is considered to be the one of the best literary works of English literature. In this poem author describes the Biblical story of the fall of the first people: Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Eden Garden. Although the story is concentrated on the sin of Adam and Eve, Milton pays special attention to the fallen angel Satan who provoked first people to do it. Upon first reading Paradise Lost readers often associate Satan in Books One and Two with power and heroism. However, close reading and analysis proves that Milton’s intent was not to create a heroic Satan but rather a character whose fallacies and deceit create contempt. It also can be proved by the description of Christ from Book Three, because he serves as Satan’s antithesis.  

In the beginning of the poem, Satan stands center stage. He speaks to his followers in order to convince them that action, even revenge, is better than the acceptance of defeat. Though, readers accept him as a powerful adviser, who knows all secrets of world.

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, 

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: 

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven (Milton Book I 10).

After reading these words readers can be insensitive to the power of Satan and hence to the power of evil. Readers feel that Satan is heroic as a survivor, as a rebel as a creature who does not afraid God – its creator.  Moreover, readers feel that Milton’s God does not have the force of his devil.

Which when Beelzebub perceived—than whom,

Satan except, none higher sat—with grave

Aspect he rose, and in his rising seemed

A pillar of state (Milton Book II 40).

However, Satan’s power and grandness is ruined by his destructiveness.

Doing or suffering: but of this be sure –

To do aught good never will be our task,

But ever to do ill our sole delight (Milton Book I 7).

Milton asks readers to measure Satan by the qualities of morality, not by attitude to his power or achievement. He makes them to understand that powerful qualities are useless if destructive. For example, Satan always has such positive quality as honesty.

My sentence is for open war. Of wiles,

More unexpert, I boast not: them let those

Contrive who need, or when they need; not now (Milton Book I 31).

However, Satan uses it to achieve negative goals. In the context of the poem readers come to conclusion: Satan is plotting our death.

A universe of death, which God by curse 

Created evil, for evil only good; 

Where all life dies, death lives, and Nature breeds, 

Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things (Milton Book II 51).

Though, the positive qualities of Satan turn into negative ones. Moreover, much of his power derives from his own words: it is Satan who tells the readers that he shook the throne of heaven with his legions and that the battle was doubtful in its outcome. However, in reality Satan bested by the lesser angel, Abdiel. It makes readers treat Satan as a lying creature. For example, Satan lies about the Son’s vice – regency, saying that the Son is taking over heaven. He lies to Eve in the form of a serpent, saying he has gained the faculty of speech from eating of the forbidden fruit. Moreover, he is afraid of fighting with God directly and chooses for the revenge weaker people Adam and Eve, an action unworthy of a real classical powerful hero.  Readers change the attitude toward him. They realize that Satan is a character whose fallacies and deceit create “contempt”, because indeed he does not have any features to marvel at. It does not mean that Satan lose all his noble qualities such as willfulness, endurance, courage. It means that those very qualities make him and humanity unhappy. Moreover, in the long run these qualities show their real face and turn into anger, despair and envy.

The real antithesis of Satan is Christ. His description also helps to realize that all Satan’s power and greatness is nothing in comparison with him, because his power is not deception.

Beyond compare the Son of God was seen

Most glorious; in him all his Father shone

Substantially express’d; and in his face

Divine compassion visibly appear’d,

Love without end, and without measure grace,

Which uttering, thus he to his Father spake (Milton Book III 72). 

Moreover, in comparison with Satan Christ introduces real bravery. He does not afraid to sacrifice his life in order to save humankind and defeat evil and death. In comparison with Satan who can only praise himself, seduce weak people, and rebel against those who are stronger than he is, Christ is a real hero.

Behold me then: me for him, life for life

I offer: on me let thine anger fall;

Account me Man; I for his sake will leave

Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee

Freely put off, and for him lastly die

Well pleased; on me let Death wreak all his rage (Milton Book III 75).

To sum up, Milton’s Satan is described in Paradise Lost from the two different points of view. At the beginning the author makes readers to respect Satan and believe that he is a source of real power. He tries to emphasize all his good qualities such as honesty, willfulness, endurance, and courage. However, shortly afterwards readers understand that Satan is a character whose fallacies and deceit create contempt, because his positive qualities, in reality, turn into negative ones such as anger, despair, envy, and deception. Moreover, in comparison with Christ – the real hero, the Satan is only a vainglorious braggart.

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