Is Satan a Renaissance Man? Satan is not a human character, but a lot of the things he says and does make him resemble a Renaissance man, such as his emphasis on his own wisdom and his own...
Is Satan a Renaissance Man?
Satan is not a human character, but a lot of the things he says and does make him resemble a Renaissance man, such as his emphasis on his own wisdom and his own achievements. Readers of Milton's time, however, would have considered Satan a chronic liar and a skillful deceiver. Should we sympathize with Satan's comments and behavior, or do you think Milton's treatment of Satan is a veiled criticism of the Renaissance emphasis on human wisdom and achievement? Or was Milton's attitude toward Renaissance humanism profoundly mixed and irreconcilably conflicted?
Satan is a polarizing figure, and I think part of that comes down to Milton's own ambivalence about notions of "freedom" and "equality" that emerged from the Renaissance and resulted, in England in the 17th century, in the Civil War. When we think about the "Renaissance man," we think, among other things, about the idea of "genius," of people like Da Vinci or Machiavelli, who were possessed of enormous personal, creative, or political gifts. Satan definitely falls into that category. Like the Renaissance man, he is a tremendously charismatic figure and a bold leader but also prideful, arrogant, and committed to asserting his own authority in the face of the established power structure (in this case, the authority of the Almighty). Satan has been compared to that other Renaissance man, Oliver Cromwell, and it is true that, like Cromwell, Satan opposes himself to divine authority. Cromwell's success in dethroning and executing Charles I can be seen as a kind of triumph of republican ideals of equality, but in fact the result of the Commonwealth was military dictatorship. While it is a misreading to draw a specific correlation between Satan and Cromwell (whom Milton supported), what is clear is that Paradise Lost problematizes the Renaissance ideal of the "great man" and introduces the notion that personal greatness can nevertheless lead to a fallen state.
No, I do not think we should sympathize with Satan. Yes, a Renaissance Man cared about his own self-advancement, but he did not do so at the expense of others. All Satan cared about is himself, and doing what he wanted and getting what he wanted.