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Developing Characterizations of Satan

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The struggle between good and evil, the rewards of Heaven, and the consequences of sin are all Christian themes shared in the works of Hildegard, Dante, and Milton. While their works vary in style and substance, they are informed by a common religious background and understanding. Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum, Dante’s Inferno, and Milton’s Paradise Lost all have a common character in Satan. Satan in both the Ordo Virtutum and Inferno appears in a significant, but limited role. In Paradise Lost, Satan is a primary character and expresses a full range of traits and provokes a wide range of responses from the audience.

Hildegard’s Devil appears seductive more than anything else and he demonstrates the allure of sin. The singing in Hildegard’s vision before the play begins warns of the “most foul deceiver” (382). In the play, the Soul at first appears content among the Virtues, before feeling burdened by its body and the desire to explore the world. The Devil appears at this moment of weakness to appeal to the Soul’s feelings and exploit its vulnerabilities. Despite being the opponent of Virtues, to the Soul he appears as empowering, not threatening. He tells the Soul, “Serve the world, and it will embrace you with great honor” (384). When Humility cites scripture to inspire the other Virtues, the Devil responds in turn with an argument based in scripture. The action of the play occurs rapidly, but the draw of the Devil is clear. When the Soul repents for her actions she describes how “a fiery sweetness swallowed [her] up in sin” (386). Hildegard’s Devil is a flat character. He does not cause the audience to feel strong emotions the way later portrayals would, but Hildegard succeeds in demonstrating that the Soul, repres...

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... shifts to Eve because of her naivete. Satan’s action was intentional, but it is mankind that is punished for it. His actions have caused his own fall from Heaven and mankind’s fall from Paradise. Though his words are attractive at times, his actions as an unrepentant rebel opposed to God and indifferent towards the suffering of others make him a disdainful character. He completely fails to redeem himself and loses the audience’s sympathy by the end of the epic.
Across these three works Satan was transformed from a seductive, but flat, character, to a suffering monster, to a complex, multidimensional antagonist. Within the Christian world, Satan provides an interesting representation of evil. He can be used to demonstrate the charms of sin or its consequences. The these three works demonstrate a changing and increasingly complex understanding of evil and sin.
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