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

Quick answer:

In Book I of "Paradise Lost," Satan is depicted as a fallen angel who, despite feeling remorse and pity, is committed to causing harm and seeking revenge. He maintains his spirit and strength, vowing to reign in his new dark abode rather than serve in Heaven. However, his character degenerates as the poem progresses, becoming the embodiment of evil and destruction. Despite initial admiration for his rebellion against God, by the end, his actions are driven by a desire to ruin God's creation, making him an antagonist rather than a hero.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Milton’s portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Milton's portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost is that of a fallen angel who is morally degenerate.

Over the centuries, numerous critics and commentators, most notably the poet William Blake, have argued that Satan is presented as a kind of hero, bravely standing up to a cruel, tyrannical God.

Yet if one examines Paradise Lost carefully, it becomes clear that this is a misreading of Milton's Satan. For what's most notable about the character of Satan is that he degenerates as the poem progresses, becoming a solitary, isolated figure, no longer the impressive figure of the first two books in the poem. There, Satan was a vaguely sympathetic character, a rebel against an angry, powerful God.

But from book 4 onwards, there is no doubt that Satan is given to us as the absolute embodiment of evil, so jealous and resentful of the Almighty that he is prepared to ruin his perfect creation by introducing sin and death into the world. This he does by tricking Eve into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

Initially, there may have been something vaguely admirable about Satan's attempts to assert his freedom from God. But by the time he's turned into a serpent to tempt Eve into eating of the Tree of Knowledge, his main motivation isn't freedom, even glory or renown, but purely and solely to destroy God's creation. This is why Satan is typically not regarded as the hero of the piece.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Analyse the character of Satan as he has been sketched in Book I of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Satan is a complex and intricate character around whom much controversy centers. Milton begins Book I of Paradise Lost by presenting Satan as he would have been moments after his expulsion from Heaven, where he was the chief angel with the highest honors and most exquisite beauty. His angelic qualities of ministering and compassion would still be intact and at the height of their strength: angels would retain their essential traits even after rebelling and being cast out of Heaven as punishment.

In shape and gesture proudly eminent [ 590 ]
Stood like a Towr; his form had yet not lost
All her Original brightness, nor appear'd
Less then Arch Angel ruind, and th' excess
Of Glory obscur'd:

As a result, one of the first things evident about Satan is his regret, sorrow, and compassion for the suffering of his followers (605-612). Satan weeps. He is unable to speak for the depth of his emotion at the changed condition he sees before him in the appearance of the other angels. Satan shows compassion and empathetic suffering (615-621).

On the other hand, in Book I Satan also makes it clear that his war against God will rage on and that he will ultimately attain revenge against God. Satan’s hatred, arrogance, violent nature, pride, and vengefulness are clearly displayed.

but of this be sure,
To do ought good never will be our task,
But ever to do ill our sole delight, [ 160 ]

These two sides of Satan demonstrate what he was and might have continued to be and foretell what he will become later in Paradise Lost. Book I is a snapshot, if you will, of Satan during his first moments of separation from God’s grace and presence.

The controversy around Satan arises because of all the good and, therefore, sympathetic qualities Satan possesses during this snapshot moment. Some critics contend Satan’s good qualities indicate that Milton was fashioning him as the hero of the epic poem because only heroes, even Byronic heroes, are introduced in such a positive and sympathetic light. In this opinion, the Book I presentation of Satan isn’t a snapshot of an interim position, it is the representation of the inner truth of the character of Satan. Other critics contend Milton begins with a justifiably authentic picture of Satan so that his fall into degeneration can be tracked and eschewed, or shunned, because of the revulsion Satan’s fall must engender.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Describe Satan in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost.

For previous answers to a very similar question, please use this link:

http://www.enotes.com/paradise-lost/q-and-a/describe-chracter-satan-paradise-lost-book-1-264393

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Posted on