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The Old English Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost: The Characterization of Satan | Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2772 words Published: 14th Dec 2020

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John Milton was one of the most inspiring poets in the world for many reasons. One main reason he was inspiring to so many people is that he created one of the most popular epics of all time in 1667 called Paradise Lost. Another reason he was inspiring was that he created it while blind. Even with not being able to see, he was able to pull off something so wonderful that people today still enjoy it. Paradise Lost is an epic poem that tells about man's creation and fall. It also makes a connection with its readers because it is like the Old English book of Genesis. Because it is similar, one might wonder what makes it unique if it is a copy of the book of Genesis? The epic goes into a great amount of detail about each character and has a plot that goes way beyond what the Bible taught. One way is the author and his past with religion, but another is how he leaves the readers with the question “Is Satan the hero or villain?” There are so many important characteristics in this epic that Satan has, and everyone views it differently on whether they would see him being the hero. Each character in this epic will make a connection with its readers, so it makes it hard for the readers to see someone else as a hero.

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 To begin, Milton’s background is very important because it shows how he made a connection with his writings. Milton went to college to become a Minister, but while in school his writings reflected on him being a poet than a Minister. In 1639, he decided to have his work devoted to political and religious changes. His texts make a connection between his life and his writings and then challenges the reader. In “The Old English Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost: The Characterization of Satan”, the author, Elisa Ramazzina, states: “The poem reports the accounts of the fall of the rebel angels, of Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve and their subsequent exclusion from the Garden of Eden. Through the words of the protagonists, a series of significant topics is dealt with, which express the personal ideas of John Milton. As a matter of fact, Milton argued that the Church, of any form and confession, was an obstacle to what he called ‘true faith’ and that every man should trust only his own conscience rather than Biblical exegesis as the most powerful instrument for understanding the Word of God.” (Ramazzina 91) The uniqueness started with John Milton and how he wanted the readers to view situations how their conscience feels rather than what they think is right because it is written in the Bible. 

The character, Satan, was seen by pursuers as either a hero or villain. Throughout the entire existence of writing, Satan is the most mainstream character to enhance. Satan has plenty of qualities that make him perceived as a hero and as a villain and these attributes have caused a debate of unclarity. Researchers have composed on numerous occasions approaches to help pursuers' feelings on whether Satan is a legend or not for his epic.

A way that Milton shows Satan with gallant highlights, including fortitude, is in book two when he came across Death and Sin by the gate. After Satan’s triumph, he uses Sin and Death to take over Earth. In the Norton Anthology English Literature book- Volume B, it is stated by Milton: “Meanwhile, ere thus we sinn’d and judg’d on earth, Within the gates of hell sat Sin and Death, In counterview within the gates, that now Stood open wide, belching outrageous flame Far into Chaos, since the fiend pass’d through, (Milton X.229 –34) This shows pursuers that he isn't dreaded to assume responsibility if necessary. He discloses to Sin and Death that they need to immediately go to Earth and take over. This is nothing unexpected to pursuers that Satan would act along these lines, which means being forceful and speaking condescendingly to somebody, on account of the notoriety he has made for himself in anything the pursuers have perused or seen previously. Since he has terrible notoriety this would be him being revolting and evil, but if it was someone like Beowulf, this would be a hero trait that he has. If it was not for his notoriety and being recognized as a villain, many would consider him to be a legend along these lines.

Milton shows Satan being heroic when he went facing Michael. A leader would advance toward the front, show no dread, and attempt to lead his men to triumph. Satan did precisely that, even with the little possibility that they could win. A genuine leader would support his men's certainty regardless of whether he didn't have the foggiest idea about the result being fortunate or unfortunate. Even though Beowulf fought alone, his men wanted to fight with him, but he insisted on being the leader and doing it alone to protect his people. In a way they are like another, both being fearless, and the only difference is Satan used his men to fight and Beowulf did not. Satan also shows that in tough situations, he does not fall and quit, he finds a way to make it possible for them to fight. This nature of him is demonstrated when he conflicted with the great heavenly angels and chose to make a cannon. Indeed, even with leadership and the capacity to think and react quickly, he is still seen in this epic as a villain. On the off chance that it was any other individual, they would be viewed as a legend.

Despite the fact that Satan should be seen as the antagonist of the story, it is hard to look past every one of the things that he did to make him a legend. Satan shows his authority when he and the fallen angels land in hell for the first time. He was one of the first ones to stand up and the rest seemed to be lost. In the Norton Anthology English Literature book- Volume B, it is stated by Milton: “ Of Hell resounded. “Of hell resounded." Princes, Potentates, Warriors, the flow'r of Heav'n, once yours, now lost, If such astonishment as this can seize Eternal Spirits: or have ye chos'n this place After the toil of battle to repose Your wearied virtue, for the ease you find To slumber here, as in the vales of Heav'n? Or in this abject posture have ye sworn To adore the conqueror? who now beholds Cherub and Seraph rolling in the flood With scattered arms and ensigns, till anon His swift pursuers from Heav'n gates discern Th' advantage, and descending tread us down Thus drooping, or with linked thunderbolts Transfix us to the bottom of this gulf Awake, arise, or be forever fall'n." (Milton 1.315-30) From these lines, Satan can be seen with initiative characteristics simply like other heroes of literature do. He gives them the idea that he is passionate about winning, getting out of hell, and that he does not see them as damaged, he sees them as warriors. Just by demonstrating his sentiments while conversing with them the manner in which he does, before the finish of his discourse, they are prepared to attack, and they view him as a leader. The emotions and attitude that he conveys, they also want to convey them as well. This quality that Satan has is like what Beowulf had. Although Beowulf fought alone, he still had troops that followed him around and wanted the same passion that he had. The only difference is that Beowulf wanted to keep his people safe, this included his troops and the people of the kingdom. Satan indicated authority when choosing to assume responsibility for the fallen angels. Satan is seen with resolution and the capacity to control circumstances they experience. Indeed, even with these qualities, Satan isn't given the credit of being a hero he has the right to have. Satan additionally acquires pride. It is noticed in the Norton Anthology English Literature book- Volume B: "For who can yet believe, though after loss, That all these puissant legions whose exile Hath emptied Heav'n shall fail to re-ascend, Self-raised, and repossess their native seat?" (Milton 1.631-4) In the epic, Satan concedes that he misses God, however, his pride is too huge for him to ask and approach him for forgiveness and come back to paradise. Because he has pride, he yells at the top of his lungs “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven." (Milton 263) Satan saying and doing every one of these things, is it seen as something underhanded and appalling.

Satan can take care of business regardless of what he needed to be done to get there. This is seen when he fools Eve into eating the forbidden fruit God told her not to eat. He made her innocent mind believe that there was this fruit that gave him the ability to speak, which she has never seen before. In the Norton Anthology English Literature book- Volume B: “Here grows the cure of all, this fruit divine. Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, Of virtue to make wise: what hinders then To reach, and feed at once both body and mind?” (Milton IX.776–79) This is Satan’s most prominent quality since his equivalent knowledge made it possible for him to seduce the innocent.

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Satan utilized his quality of character and his moving demeanor to show that it didn't trouble him and that he trusted in his demons. He wanted to persuade his demons, so he gave a discourse to inspire them. In order to persuade his army, he had to give himself a discourse first. “So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good; by thee at least Divided empire with heaven’s King I hold, By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign; As man ere long, and this new world shall know.” (Milton IV.107–13) This shows Satan was attempting to persuade himself that he will win. He then does the same for his devils, accept that they had an entirely decent possibility of winning, despite the fact that he realized they were being vanquished. This shows him being a good leader.

Researchers have given their conclusion in Satan's part in the epic on in the event that he is a legend or not. “In spite of such guidance, there are those who continue to be impressed with Satan's heroic or tragic proportions and who find him and his crew rather more attractive and better realized than the heavenly actors generally. E. E. Stoll, cautious about admitting Milton to be of the devil's party, is nevertheless forthright in upholding the superior channs of Hell.... In my own mind Satan's role by no means outweighs the rest of the poem, nor do his values emerge for me as in any sense the guiding values. 1 cannot agree with E. M. W. Tillyard that in certain passages Milton "is on the Devil's side nor that one cannot avoid admitting "that Milton did partly ally himself with Satan, that unwittingly he was led away by the creature of his own imagination." M. Saurat's conclusion that Milton "was of the devil's party without knowing it; but he was also of God's party, and, what is more important, he knew it seems to me finally only little better, though a more ingenious way of saying the same thing. His position is more tenable and more interesting because he explicitly makes Milton the hero of his own poem and considers the action to take place within the soul of the poet himself. Having roughly equated the poet's soul with his poem, he has the advantage of being able to claim that the poet's own passion, Satan, which exists both within the poem and within the poet, must be mastered by the poet (rather than by God or the Son in the poem) within himself and, by projection, within his poem since the arena of poem and soul are really one.” (Miller 183-184) This article shows that there are many mixed feelings of Satan and how he is a hero or not while readers read Paradise Lost. Depending on how one wants to view Satan, that is they will find what he does heroic or not. Since this epic is based on Genesis in the Bible, it can be easily noticed why readers would automatically point fingers at Satan and label him as a villain. Satan is portrayed as evil and the villain of everything, and it is hard for some readers to look at his actions and see good. For other readers, that can see Satan heroic, those people have an open mind to change and new possibilities. Connections with Satan being Milton’s hero in the story has sparked a lot of readers' attentions. According to Lisa Ampleman: “The Romantic poet William Blake even said that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” (Ampleman 1) William Blake was not the only one who thought Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Milton was Christian so there is no way to prove that Milton was against or for Satan or felt sorry for Satan and how people view his character. One thing is for sure and that is this epic is strictly literature so Satan could be the character that Milton viewed on “something being larger than life”.  Epic poems have a hero that becomes larger for life, and in Paradise Lost Satan is viewed as it.

Defining what a hero would be a good way to see exactly which character in the epic did what a hero is supposed to do, and Edith Kaiter did exactly that. According to Kaiter: “In the Greek tradition, the tragic hero was supposed to stir up admiration, fear, and pity and had to display a tragic weakness or flaw in his character which was to lead to his downfall. Satan may be said to inspire these emotions. He is admirable in his indomitable pride and his unyielding ambition, just as he inspires fear and pity for his forecast doom and his determination to fight against something he apprehends as undefeatable. Paradoxically, his main qualities are also his tragic flaws: envy, pride, ambition, self-glorification give the character his singularity and magnificence but also pass the rigorous sentence on him. Despite Milton’s attempts to make Satan an incarnation of evil, he is still a fascinating figure which gains our admiration and sympathy.” (Kaiter 2) William Hazlitt remarked on what was said and he said Satan is “the most heroic subject ever chosen in a poem.” (Hazlit 107) Satan is a good representation to the meaning of a tragic hero that would be found in an epic.

Despite the fact that there are a few pursuers that consider Satan to be a villain this originates from how he was seen before and a portion of the things that were done in the epic made him appear as though he was conflicting with more significant position authority. A way people would consider him to be a villain is because he conflicted with God and attempted to vanquish him. Since he attempted to do this, pursuers would find in their mind that a villain would be the person who might need to assume control over the most dominant being on the planet. The more he wanted to be in control the more he turned into a despicable character in the epic. Another way he is marked as a villain is on the grounds that he began as an angel, however more significant position authority showed him out and he became something beneath Earth, a devil. Satan additionally makes individuals want to do things that he pretends are the correct thing when they are most certainly not. Numerous pursuers have blended emotions on if Satan is spoken to as a legend or not. Despite the fact that there are things he does that would cause him to be viewed as a villain, just a genuine legend would lead his men to conflict with the best power on the planet. He caused his men to accept that they could do it, despite the fact that he didn't trust it himself. Just a hero would have enough boldness to take himself and conflict with something that is more dominant than anything on the planet. After noticing multiple critics saying that Satan is the hero in the epic and characterizing what a legend would be, it is sheltered to state that Satan belongs as the hero in the epic.

Works Cited

  • Ampleman, Lisa. “Why Satan’s character in Paradise Lost is the original antihero.” americamagazine.org. America the Jesus Review, 19 Oct. 2017. Web. 24 Nov. 2019.
  • Kaiter, Edith. “MILTON’S SATAN: HERO OR ANTI-HERO?.” afahc.ro. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE of SCIENTIFIC PAPER, 25 May. 2011. Web. 24 Nov. 2019. .
  • Miller, Milton. “Paradise Lost: The Double Standard.” University of Toronto Press, University of Toronto Quarterly, 5 Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2019.
  • Ramazzina, Elisa. “The Old English Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost: the Characterisation of Satan.” L’analisi Linguistica E Letteraria, UNIVERSITÀ CATTOLICA DEL SACRO CUORE, 24 Dec. 2016. Web 24 Nov. 2019. < analisilinguisticaeletteraria.eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Elisa_Ramazzina-The-Old-English-Genesis-and-Milton’s-Paradise-Lost-ALL_1_2016.pdf.>


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