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Role Of Satan In Paradise Lost

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In his epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton presents Satan as a complex and multifaceted figure. As Jeffrey Burton Russell describes in The Prince of Darkness, Milton’s goal in writing this epic poem was to “justify the ways of God to men” (Russell, chap.12, p.15). With this in mind, it is easy to interpret the character of Satan as a mere foe, the evil at the opposite of God’s goodness, and to see God as the obvious protagonist of the poem. Things in Milton, however, are not quite as black and white, and while the justification of God’s actions is at the centre here, it is the character of Satan who drives the poem forward, as a protagonist should.
Satan is presented as a heroic figure from the very beginning of the poem. Not unlike hellenistic
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His pride, his envy and his manipulative nature all cause him to rebel against God and lead to his own downfall. Not unlike Achilles or Oedipus, Satan is portrayed as the engineer of his own misery. This heroic characterisation of the first few books highlights the scope of his fall, from a dashing angel to a deceitful snake, and shows the audience the sneaky ways evil can be tempting. As Russell writes: “Milton also deliberately made Satan appear magnificent at the beginning so that his audience might feel all the glamour of evil” (Russell, chap.12, p.15). And magnificent he is indeed! He is described as princely and godly, a clearly unnatural being of great power. He is compared to Teneriff and Atlas, and is said to reach the sky to emphasise his grandeur. Everything about his description at the start is tempting and glamourous. Quickly though, as the poem progresses, so do the images associated with him and soon, Satan’s evil deeds are reflected even through his physical appearance. When he is…show more content…
He has the faults and doubts associated with humanity rather than being a character of pure evil who operates in a dichotomic black and white world. In Paradise Lost, Satan is envious, prideful, angry, rebellious, argumentative, and manipulative. He envies the son of God’s position and with clever argumentation convinces others to follow him in a rebellion against God. He manipulates others to get what he wants, such as when he convinces Eve to eat the fruit or when he lets Belzebuth present what is his own plan to convince the other dwellers of Hell to follow it. Despite all those traits, Satan is seen as having glimpses of remorse throughout the story, even doubts as to his own behaviour. He thinks about repenting more than once and it is those doubts that raise the question of Satan’s humanity. After all, a creature of pure evil would never show hesitancy, and even less remorse. After seeing the sun for the first time after being cast out of Heaven, Satan has a moment of self-awareness in which he acknowledges that he created his own misery, which leads him to think about repenting (Russell, chap.12, p.55). He does reject the idea quickly, but it’s those little moments of self-reflection that make Milton’s Satan the intricate character that he is. The idea of remorse is
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