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Can anyone help me with the analysis of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost?

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dragonfly88 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 20, 2011 at 12:04 AM via web

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Can anyone help me with the analysis of Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost?

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allynah | College Teacher | Honors

Posted March 16, 2012 at 5:47 PM (Answer #1)

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His depiction is nightmarish in nature and creates feelings of dread and fear for his audience. Satan’s character is reflective of the setting, and illustrative of the darker side of human nature.

Character of Satan

In Book One, Milton uses language to create the character of Satan as a gallant figure that inspires and commands the legion of angels at his requisition. Satan’s dark, and ultimately evil façade, is overshadowed by his charismatic, dominant and powerful affectation. He becomes an extremely attractive and compelling figure to the fallen cherubs.

The most powerful aspect of Milton’s use of language can be witnessed by the charismatic nature of Satan. In the first few books in Paradise Lost, Satan becomes a heroic figure, although, as the poem progresses, he loses his foothold and unwillingly reclaims his common reputation -- of deceitfulness.

Satan's Appeal to Human Nature

Satan is shown to be very arrogant and desirous. He is described as an “infernal Serpent,” which plays to Christianity’s ingrained association of Satan from the book of Genesis. The angels are portrayed as rebels due to their behaviors and strong allegiance to the Dark Prince.

Milton plays to human nature in his description of the angels. The audience catches a glimpse of themselves in the portrayal of these ethereal figures as they witness some of their own characteristics reflected. Both Satan and the angels exhibit very human traits. They succumb to the common temptations and sins that people struggle with -- such as vanity, greed, lust and gluttony.

Satan's Ambition and Greed

Satan is extremely ambitious and dedicated to his pursuit of power, position and image. He yearns to be in control and have his followers admire him while, at the same time, seeking comfort from him. Satan feels he will become their Savior. He is determined to do so. He sees it as something he is owed.

The charismatic nature with which Satan speaks is extremely effective. Since their descent into Hell, the angels now view Satan as their leading voice and salvation. Though other angels may be fully capable of taking the reins as leader, no one would dare attempt to threaten Satan’s position.

Satan's Physical Stature

Milton’s physical description of Satan matches the enormity of his personality. His armor is described as massive in size and weight. The massive weight and size of his shield alone, which “… hung on his shoulders like the moon,” apparently is plenty to be thought intimidating. His spear “ … to equal … the tallest pine” further demonstrates his immense height and strength.

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allynah | College Teacher | Honors

Posted March 16, 2012 at 5:49 PM (Answer #2)

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Satan's Inner Struggle

Regardless of the number of angels Satan has at his command, such faithfulness does not diminish his resentment over his defeat in Heaven. Losing the happiness he once knew contributes greatly to the animosity that he directs inwardly. He makes conscious attempts to preserve his calm demeanor for the sake of his followers; to make it easier for him to place the blame on God.

It can be argued that Satan feels some regret over his actions, but since he has won the affections of his legion he cannot allow such feelings to show. To allow the angels to see this kind of uncertainty would be interpreted as weakness.

Illustration to Book 1 of Paradise Lost - John Baptist Medina

Satan is the most interesting character in "Paradise Lost," possessing rhetoric skills and characteristics that we would associate with a tragic hero.


Paradise Lost is an epic poem by John Milton, published first in 1667 with only ten books, but was later revised in 1674 with an additional two books. Paradise Lost retells the story of the Genesis, starting from the fall of Satan from Heaven, moving to the creation of Earth by God, to Satan’s temptation to Eve, and concluding with the fall of man and Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. Milton rewrites this part of the Bible in rich poetic language, and in many ways set up a whole tradition of English literature.

Satan as the tragic hero

Undeniably the most interesting character in the epic poem is Satan. The reader expects Adam to be the hero of the poem, and to some extent the Son of God emerges as one, sacrificing himself for the redemption of mankind. However, it is Satan who is described as a true tragic hero. In Aristotle’s terms in the Poetics, the hero of a tragedy must have a tragic flaw which contributes to his own downfall from a high estate. Satan’s tragic flaw is pride, and he was the angel who was loved the most by God before he fell towards Hell.

Moreover, Satan embarks on an epic journey from Hell to Earth, passing through Chaos and Night. However, going against God will ultimately result in failure, and Satan’s journey ends by showing him and the devils being transformed into serpents. The reader admires the courage that Satan shows by taking on the task to tempt God’s new creation – man; a dangerous task that the other devils are not eager to undertake, and Satan is described as possessing “transcendent glory” for undertaking such a “perilous attempt."

Satan and Milton

Although we read Paradise Lost with certain expectations, since most readers are familiar with the story of the Genesis, this expectation is shattered once we encounter the powerful and attractive character of Satan. In fact, this is what prompted William Blake to remark that Milton was “a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

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