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Satan in Paradise Lost

In Milton's Paradise Lost the figure of Satan presents a contrast between the magnitude of the evil he instigates and the meanness of his character. The contrast extends, in Milton's metaphoric picture of Heaven, Hell, and Paradise even to his physical size and his ability to cross the entire universe, ascend near to heaven, and visit the Sun. Formerly one of God's most glorious creations, and still possessing immense power, Satan fell because of an almost childish level of self-importance. The absurdity of his envious behavior, the foolishness of his attempts to battle God's might, his perpetual self-deluded lies, and his base deceptions are all actions and sins characterized by endless pettiness. His exercise of his free will, one of God's greatest gifts, sent him as low as possible and in his brooding discontent Satan expended his great mental power on low schemes. Satan, the Antichrist, functions in the poem as the direct opposite of Christ in all things. Thus, in comparison with Christ's limitless understanding and benevolence, he is tiny in spirit. Yet, for humanity, the consequences of Satan's smallness of spirit are enormous and Milton's readers were meant to be appalled at the way such evil rose from such humble beginnings.

Since this is a poem meant to "justify the ways of God to men" (I, 26) Milton chose to put his explanation in terms that would make the deepest contact with his readers. To accomplish this he made his Satan the most fascinating character in the poem and drew him as "an interpretation of a certain type of life, a type which is always present as an open alternative for man," and of the relationship that such a type of man necessarily has with God (Frye 25). Milton's Satan is a fascinating creation, therefore, not because he is admirable (though he possesses a few ostensibly admirable traits) and not because evil in art is often more interesting than good (though it often may be), but because the...

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Satan in Paradise Lost. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:18, November 29, 2021, from