Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Adam, the first man and representative of humankind. Although gifted with reason and restraint, he allows an excessively passionate tenderness for Eve to blind him. Forewarned by the Archangel Raphael of danger from Satan, he nevertheless yields to Eve’s entreaty that she alone be trusted. When he learns that she has fallen, he chooses to join her rather than turn from her. His first reaction after his own fall is to rebuke and blame her for his own sin. After falling into almost suicidal despair, he repents. When the Archangel Michael foretells the future redemption of humankind by Christ, he accepts his fate with gratitude.
Eve, the first woman and representative of womanhood. Beautiful, gentle, and submissive, she holds Adam enthralled. She is horrified when Satan first approaches her in a dream, but piqued by what she considers Adam’s lack of faith in her, she stubbornly insists on working alone, thereby leaving herself vulnerable to the Serpent’s temptation. Like Adam, after the fall she is first lustful, then quarrelsome. Finally, she too accepts her fate with dignity and resignation.
Satan (Lucifer), the chief of the fallen angels, adversary of God and humanity. His obvious heroism and grandeur are tainted by a perversion of will and accompanying perversion of intellect. Rebellious against God, he is incapable of understanding Him. A self-tormented spirit,...
(The entire section is 975 words.)
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Adam is the first created human being and the true "hero" of Paradise Lost. The reader's first view of Adam is, significantly, seen through the eyes of Satan as he perches like a cormorant on the Tree of Life (ironically planning Adam's death). The distinction between Adam and Eve, the only humans in the garden, and the other living creatures, the animals, heightens our perception of their uniqueness as beings created in the image of God. They are "of far nobler shape erect and tall, / Godlike erect, with native Honor clad" and "In naked Majesty seem'd Lords of all" (IV.287-290). The image of God in humankind is associated with wisdom, truth, holiness, freedom, and authority. These things characterize both Adam and Eve in their unfallen state.
The reader is not left to assume, however, that Adam and Eve are equal. In fact, Milton hastens to assure us that they are "Not equal, as their sex not equal seem'd" (TV.296). Adam is formed for contemplation and valour; Eve for softness and grace. It is Adam who is truly the image of God; Eve is the image of Adam, from whose side she is created. They are created, "He for God only, she for God in him" (IV.299), and it is this distinction which is both their strength and their downfall. Adam is characterized by reason and free will, created for absolute rule and authority, he must not only obey God, but must inspire obedience in Eve. If Eve's fall results from a failure to obey God's commandment, it...
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Beelzebub is the chief of the devils, Satan's "second-in-command." He is the first devil to awaken from his stupor on the fiery lake and is thus the audience for Satan's opening speech (1.84-124). Beelzebub, like Satan/Lucifer, is associated with light—or rather, lost light, for Satan's address to Beelzebub is the first indication of how far indeed they have fallen, and how much they have changed. It is thus appropriate that Beelzebub, the first to join in Satan's plans for rebellion in Heaven, is the first to respond to his exhortations in Hell. Beelzebub's name, in Hebrew, means "lord of the flies," and he is an appropriate commander of the demons who, like flies, swarm into Pandemonium for the council.
At the council of devils (Book II), Beelzebub, like Satan, is content to wait until the others have had their say. (See also Moloch, Belial, and Mammon.) As the final (and strongest) speaker, when he does speak, his grave manner, majestic face, and stately words present an effective contrast to Moloch's reckless despair, Belial's hollow and slothful vice, and Mammon's greed. A true statesman and loyal second-in-command, he presents not his own strategy, but Satan's, promoting the subtle plan of taking revenge against God by seducing or destroying humankind.
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Eve, the mother of humankind, is presented as an ambiguous character. On the one hand, she is, like Adam, created in the image of God, noble, virtuous, and above all, beautiful. On the other hand, she is the first to fall because from the beginning it is obvious that she is not equal to Adam. Outwardly, she is less obviously the image of God; even her beauty is "dishevelled" and "wanton," indicating the natural wildness which she will be unable to tame. In character, too, she is inferior, weaker in reason and authority, uninterested in Adam and Raphael's intellectual conversation. Eve is characterised by the sensual, by wilfulness, and by appetite.
Being weaker in reason, Eve is easier prey for Satan. Satan uses Eve's innate characteristics, playing upon her desire while appealing to her pride, which has been wounded by Adam's suggestion that alone she will be unable to resist their adversary. Determined not to seem weaker, Eve leaves herself open to Satan, who preys upon her weaknesses. He flatters her, suggesting that she is the true ruler, not only "Queen" of all, but a "goddess among gods." He arouses her curiosity (not a desire for knowledge, which she does not have) by extolling the virtues of the fruit which has given him the power of speech, and finally convinces her by the use of persuasive arguments which sound reasonable to her inferior reason. Deceived, she eats and falls.
In many ways, though she is presented in a condescending...
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Satan, whose name means "enemy" or "adversary" in Hebrew, is the first character to whom the reader is introduced, and the most complex. The leader of the fallen angels, Satan was known as "Lucifer" (Latin, "hghtbearer") before he initiated a rebellion against God and was cast out of Heaven. It has been suggested that Satan is the true "epic hero" of the piece, largely because of his epic language and heroic energy. However, as Robert M. Adams and George M. Logan point out in their introduction to the poem in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, it is ' 'energy in a bad cause," even if it is heroically exercised. Satan is characterized in Book I by pride, by the refusal to accept defeat, and by the conviction that it is "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n" (1.263). Even here, of course, the careful reader will discern his envy, his false ambition and his self-deception, as he characterizes God as a tyrant and plots his revenge. Yet his speech is stirring, and the reader can see the valiant leader who was able to draw one third of heaven with him in rebellion as he rouses his troops to action and embraces his new home, declaring that "the mind is its own place, and in itself/ can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven" (1.254-5).
Milton's portrayal of Satan is honest and reflects an important truth: evil is powerful because it is attractive, and this is part of its danger. It is this attraction which will ultimately cause the...
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Abdiel is a seraph who, though originally one of Lucifer's legions in Heaven, remains faithful to God. He attempts to persuade Satan and his rebel angels to abandon their revolt and, failing, abandons them. He symbolizes true fidelity.
Belial is the fallen angel who speaks second at the council of devils in Book II. In keeping with his faint-hearted counsel of ''ignoble ease and peaceful sloth'' (11.226), he is the last to rise from the burning lake. Because Belial is not the name of a pagan god, but an abstract noun meaning "wickedness," he represents vice in general and is associated with atheism. In Book II, he is described as outwardly dignified, but false and hollow, speaking persuasive words which disguise his inner weakness and vice. He argues that it is useless to pursue a war they cannot win, and admonishes that Hell is not the worst fate that could befall them. In essence, his is a counsel of craven fear: he wishes to avoid war in order to avoid worse punishment, and clings to the hope that if they do not give God further cause for alarm, in time God's anger may abate and the fires of hell will lessen.
Death, Satan's son, is literally conceived in Sin, as he is born of Satan's incestuous union with his daughter, Sin. True to his parentage, Death becomes the father of all sins, as he...
(The entire section is 1718 words.)