How does Satan motivate his fallen angels in Milton's Paradise Lost?

Expert Answers
Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ironically, one of, if not the, most powerful speakers in Paradise Lost is the leader of the fallen angels, Satan.  In fact, if he were a motivational speaker in the 21stC, he most likely would command very high prices for his speeches.

Satan, who was once one of God's principal angels, rebels against God because God has given precedence to Christ, and Satan's anger takes the form of a rebellion in which he convinces a substantial number of other angels to join him.  His Latin name, Lucifer, means "Light giver," which places him perpetually in the perpetually ambiguous position of having an original name with the positive connotation of "knowledge giver" but who is also know as Satan, the adversary, the devil.

Satan's motivational skills are stunningly good, so good, in fact, that Milton ultimately takes them away in Book X, but at the beginning of the struggle between God and Satan, Satan is depicted as strong, proud (to a fault, of course), articulate, and intelligent.

After Satan and the angels have been defeated, "headlong themselves they threw/Down from the verge of Heaven," an act which, though desperate, is completely voluntary, an exercise of their free will.  If the reader doubts whether the angels truly have free will, this should convince anyone that, at the very least, Satan and his fallen angels have either limited or complete free will.

Advancing the theme of free will, Satan declares to his troops: "What  though the field be lost?/All is not lost; the inconquerable will. . . ."  Later, Satan ties the concept of free will to the intellect by arguing that "the mind is its own place, and in itself/Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."  This declaration, very dangerous in the context of the rebellion, basically says that each angel's intellect has the ability to create its own environment, in this case, either a heaven or a hell.  Of course, astute readers might question Satan's logic here--if Satan and his fallen angels are doomed to lose the war with God and suffer eternal punishment, how complete is their "free will"?

As a good leader should, after the fall and while his troops are still somewhat discouraged and in disarray, he gives them perhaps the most powerful speech in the poem when he says that the battle may be lost but "the unconquerable will,/And study of revenge. . .And courage never to submit or yield,/And what is else not to be overcome?"  In other words, their will and desire of revenge cannot be overcome, implying that they will be able to recover their original position in heaven.  This speech has an electrifying effect on the fallen angels who "clashed on their sounding shields the din of war."

In essence, then, with Satan's declaration of the primacy of free will, he argues that the continued exercise of that will inevitably leads to the defeat of God.  This speech, and the exhortation to fight, is Satan's declaration of independence and his commitment to wage perpetual war on God and his chosen beings.

nanthinii-mohan | Student

Satan is the central figure in Paradise lost.  He is the most dynamic and ofcourse the most impressive character in the epic.  Particularly as the question puts forth, the address given by Satan to Beelzebub and other Fallen Angels, highly lay us stunned of his indomitable spirit of "free will".

Satan was the first to awake from his stupor of dismay and fear.  As an indefatigable leader he was not willing to stoop before God and as a result defeat cannot subdue him and even the confinement in the 'bottomless perdition' too cannot imprison him.  He first starts his course of action to Beelzebub and sows all his encouraging terms to regain their lost power and glory.  This could be seen in his never yielding attitude "All is not lost-the unconquerable will" and "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven".

He then turns to other fallen angels who were floating in the fiery lake as if the inumerable autumn leaves floating in a stream.  In an thundering voice he exhorted them to 'awake' and  'arise' or to be for 'ever fallen'.  Hearing their master's voice they all arose and gathered around him.  Satan sowed the same seed of never yielding quality and counselled them to plan a new strategy to turn against the Almighty.  He then informs them about the creation of Man and that God has created them as a substitute to their place.  This raged their agony and they all assembled to built Pandemonium for a mutual discussion for their future course of action.  This illumined the Hell far and around and Satan remained undaunted, invincible, unyielding possessing "The mind in its own place".

As a leader of the train of fallen angels, Satan remains still as Aristotle says "The most exalted and most depraved being" in Paradise Lost, retaining his grandeur and magnificence in the evergreen pages of literature.


Read the study guide:
Paradise Lost

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question