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Describe Satan's character in Book I of Paradise Lost by John Milton.

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magdalena- | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:13 PM via web

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Describe Satan's character in Book I of Paradise Lost by John Milton.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted November 5, 2009 at 12:32 AM (Answer #1)

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Book I of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost describes Satan as utterly dismayed to be thrown form the realm of light to a place of dark and suffering [85]. Satan has been left his spirit and strength in entirety [146]. He suffers feelings of pity and remorse for having brought the rebel angels with him to the outer place of darkness [90]. He bolsters himself and his courage by vowing that they will "do ought good never" but always do ill, which will be their "sole delight" [160]. Satan is confident that the Almighty won't drive them from where they now find themselves and demonstrates his determination to reign all-powerful where they now are and deems it better than serving God in Heaven amidst light and glory [262-3].

Though Satan is described by some as the hero of Paradise Lost, two things argue against Satan as hero, though Milton does make him sympathetic by endowing him with feelings of remorsefulness with pity and compassion for his rebel angels (he is, after all, still an angel). However, though sympathetic, Satan always dispels these higher, selfless qualities with determination to do harm and eventually avenge himself. The two things that argue against Satan as hero are: (1) Milton's description of him in Book I, since the description shows that, although he has brilliant qualities, his spirit and heart are set on intentionally doing harm and leading others (angels who also still have their angelic qualities and callings) to continually do harm. (2) Though only hinted at in early books, The Son of God enters the story later on and is Milton's true hero. This early focus on the antagonist and delayed entrance of the protagonist hero may be confusing to modern readers because, in our experience, the hero normally enters the story on or near page one.

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gaurkeerti | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 28, 2011 at 3:11 PM (Answer #2)

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Milton's Satan, by common consent, is one of the greatest artistic creation in any language. He is the most heroic and magnificent character ever portrayed. There has been great controversy on the ambiguity of his character. Yet it is true that his character engages the reader's attention and excites his admiration also. He is the main character of "Paradise Lost Book1". From the beginning of the epic poem till end, his character degenrates. This degradation gives real epic quality to Paradise Lost & also to Satan himself.

Satan is the villain of the great epic poem. He is an embodiment of evil incarnate. He disobeys God. He cannot be the hero, for in the end, he himself realizes his impotence. The revolt which Satan stirs up in the Heaven, leads to the fall of the angels. The problem for Milton was how to present such an evil character. If Milton had presented him pure and undisguised evil, he would have risked losing the sympathy & interest of his readers. He realised this danger and depricted Satan as possesing many purlities which are good, noble and wholly admirable. That's why, Satan's character is called unique and raged a great controversy among the critics. Yet it is true that he is means to be the villain. He is called 'archfriend', 'arch-enemy', 'apostale angel', 'the adversary of God & Man', n'the spirit malign' etc. His rebellion against God is due to pride and his desire to continue the war of envy, revenge and love of Evil.

Satan is an Archangel in Heaven. He has a high place in the hierarchy of angels. But he is proud and defiant. He rebels against God and falls down to Hell. One third rebellious angels also suffer from the same fate. From pride arise all the evils. Satan is full of pride.

He is courageous.He may be wrong headed, but he has infinite courage in himself. As the poem begins Satan is in a hopeless situation. He lies dazed & stunned in the Lake of liquid fire along with other angels. Heaven is lost to Satan & his followers. He says-

"What though the field be lost?

All is not lost: the unconquerable will,

And study of revenge, immortal hate,

And courage never to submit or yield."

He has firm determination and courage.He says that he will never 'submit or yield.' It is a heroic quqlity. He makes his evil intentions clear. He is prompted by undying hatred for God & a desire for revenge. He is not going to beg God for mercy because of fear. He claims to be equal ton God in arms & superior to Him in foresight. This claim is sheer arrogance on his part. He resolves to wagewar against God "by force or guile", and never to think of reconcilliation with Him. To him weakness is crime-

"Fallen cherub, to be weak is miserable

Doing or suffering"

There are some description. Satan's bodily dimensions. He is "huge in bulk". He is compared to Briareos who fought against Uranus and to Typhon who fought against Jove. He is also compared to the sea-monster "Leviathan". which God of all His works/ created hugest that swim "ocean stream" This description of His external features of Satan is surely worthy of an epic hero. But no sooner have we formed this impression then Milton in forms us of Satan's "dark-designs". Satan's wholly evil aims & designs are too obviously emphasised that satan has some heroic attributes.

Thus, Satan is the character of the epic poem Paradise Lost. He is courageous proud, strong willed and responsible leader. Yet his character degenrates as the poem ends.

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