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Milton's Paradise Lost - Book 1: Satan

10 Nov 2017Essay Samples

In Book 1 of Milton's "Paradise Lost," Milton re-tells the story of Creation, and highlights the story of Satan, cast from Heaven for wanting to be equal in power with the "Almighty Spirit." What is interesting about Milton's characterization involves the many "human" traits which he ascribes the Satan.

With the devil interacting with earthly matters, which God had set up to unfold "naturally," Milton imbues Satan with a variety of qualities which are not spiritual, but are material. For example, when Satan is described as the "Th' infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile, stird up with envy and revenge..." he is depicted as both clever enough to seduce the "Mother of Mankind" and, acting with "envy and revenge," displays typically human qualities. These human qualities, or examples of affect, do lead Milton to cast Satan in a sympathetic role of someone whose suffering is what drives his rage:

But his doom Reserv'd him to more wrath; for now the thought

Both of lost happiness and lasting pain Torments him;

round he throws his baleful eyes

That witness'd huge affliction and dismay Mixt with

obdurate pride and stedfast hate...

This is referring to Satan's realization of what he has lost, and how his pride and hate are, ultimately related to this loss, the betrayal, perhaps, of God Almighty, and the torment of being condemned to the fires and darkness of Hell.

This betrayal is expressed when the "lost Arch Angel" announces that the only recourse is to challenge the "celestial light" of Heaven by reproducing his own "mournful gloom" on earth, as a way to rally support for his sense of loss. Satan's argument, or rationale, is based on what he perceives to be an unequal state in Heaven, and so his declaration of earthly revenge is motivated by a desire to prove that he can influence Humankind more that the Almighty, because he is assuming earthly characteristics, and influencing earthly events. Thus Stan says:

Be it so, since he

Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid What

shall be right: farthest from him is best

Whom reason hath equald, force hath made

supreme

Above his equals.

In this passage, Satan realizes that the Almighty is not "in touch: with earthly worlds, and yet is dictating what shall be the "right" behaviour for humankind to adhere by; and Satan furthermore suggests that the Almighty assumed this role of "dictator" through force, making him a supreme being and above any equal. This way, Satan is espousing equality, and criticizing the Absolute power of God, who is not on earth but is in his throne, far away from the consequences of his decisions.

Satan, as well, positions the value of the mind over the value of the spirit, again situating himself in the realm of the material world. Announcing himself as the "new professor:"

One who brings A mind not to be chang'd

by Place or Time.

The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make

a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

Here Satan refers to the values of reason and rationalism, a form of empiricism, where it is the mind which can overcome and rule the spirit, it is the mind which can create Heaven or Hell, and it is the mind which can reign on earth, against the spiritual demands of the Almighty. The reference to a mind that cannot be changed by "Place or Time" is a reference, possibly, to objectivism, which enables the mind to assume eternal qualities, and thus in this passage Satan presumes that mind can overtake the spirit's wishes.

This rationalist perspective recurs when Satan announces that on earth, "we shall be free," again criticizing the supreme rule of God. He supposes that since the "fall from grace" and the casting of Adam and Eve from the garden, that the Almighty has no interest in earthly matters, and so will not interfere with anything Satan wants to do on earth:

Here at least

We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.

This last line, one of the more famous quotes, suggests that being in charge is better than being a servant; that free will is superior to the sublime deference demanded by God; thus stating it is better to be in charge of one's own decisions than to serve another. In this passage, Satan is expressing interesting egalitarian thoughts.

All of these references run contrary to dominant Christian depictions of Satan, who is always cast in the most hideous forms of influence. But did Satan bring the negative qualities of moral behaviour to earth, or were these aspects of hate, revenge, greed, and envy, already present, and is that why Satan could so easily influence human behaviour? Because he was more in touch with mankind's nature? It is a curious interpretation of the Devil, one which renders sympathies for Satan, as opposed to fear.

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