The stories that people today and people back in history have been taught about religion and the fall of Satan are relatively the same. God is the savior, the king, and the almighty power. He is an unseen leader whose power we worship, one who is of an understanding nature and blessed character. What we have been taught about Satan and his followers has never gone far from what the Bible has always told us. Satan is a dark character, a selfish, jealous, and powerless creature that tries to bring people to his hell and make them as miserable as he is himself. It would appear that Milton tried to disprove this assumption- it seems he instead portrayed Satan as a powerful, heroic and magnificent being. God can be interpreted as far and few choose to believe- dark, emotionless, egotistical, and unforgiving. Although this was not necessarily his aim, the way that he wrote it left it open to many different interpretations.
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Milton’s word choices and his character development make Satan’s character an object of curiosity. The reader is swayed to be attracted to Satan’s appeal, if not his power. Satan’s character is strong-minded, intellectual, and at times, philosophical. Milton does not portray the fault of Satan’s fall on lack of intelligence, or weakness of character- it is more a simple acceptance of evil. Satan says, "So farewell Hope And with Hope farewell Fear Farewell Remorse: all Good to me is lost Evil be thou my Good," (Milton, IV. 109-111). Milton summarizes Satan’s acceptance of evil best, saying that the profoundest Hell will receive a new leader, one who possesses a mind that cannot be changed. (I. 29-31)
Satan’s ‘heroic’ ambition and courage is shown throughout the story and are accepted as his characteristics. Milton made each character with their own distinctive and descriptive personalities. The beginning of book one is where you first see Milton begin to identify exactly
what traits will belong to each character.
The mother of mankind, what time his pride had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host of rebel angels, by whose aid aspiring to set himself in glory above his peers, He trusted to have equaled the Most High, If he opposed; and with ambitious aim against the throne and monarchy of God, raised impious war in Heaven and battle proud with vain attempt. (Milton, I. 36-49).
Satan did not like the way things were being run and he wanted to challenge authority, so he decided to make a change. These are all examples of human faults, of feelings and attempts that are made by humans. Could it be that Milton wants us to relate to Satan so he gives him human thoughts and characteristics? He is resourceful, intelligent, and an eloquent leader. He values freedom and knowledge over servitude. He is not afraid to break away from what he has been told to believe and is proud, vain and ambitious. Are those not human traits as well? Milton may have presented him in this way for many different reasons. He may be portraying Satan attractively because evil is attractive; and if it were not, then there would not be quite so much of it in the world. The characters of Paradise Lost may be interpreted many different ways, depending on what you are reading and what time period it was written in. Milton’s original ambition may have not been to define Satan’s character so drastically, but his works were often taken out of one time period and put into another with totally different religious and biblical beliefs and thesis.
Although on the surface Satan seems heroic and easily befriending, that very well may be one of Milton’s talents; getting him to seem trustworthy and worth following. More so, this relates humans in general to Adam and Eve and their vulnerability. Eve trusted him and believed what he said, and so easily we are also led into believing his ambition is worthy and his plight is admirable. In all reality, he is trying to take down God, the ultimate good.
Milton’s poem epitomizes human action and expression through otherworldly tales. Paradise Lost is about deception, ambition, evil, and the difference between what we are led to believe and the actual reality of things. Often we can be led into believing something due to a great leader and an eloquent speaker. Milton shows us the danger in following what we feel is right in the moment, opposed to what we have been taught for years and years.
The questions that Milton’s Paradise Lost presents are open-ended and unanswerable. They are the questions that scholars and religious figures have been trying to answer for hundreds of thousands of years. However thought provoking he may be, Milton leaves us with an unsaid statement, a declaration. Since the beginning of time, humans have been susceptible to evil and deceit. They have been led into uncertainty and darkness by a friendly ally or a masked danger. In a world of seeming invincibility, the inability to distinguish the identity of a true Satan and the fear of the unknown can still humble even the strongest man.
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