Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth, the tempted, an embodiment of the poet’s religious philosophy and ideals. He is reasonable, intelligent, and holy. Pronounced the beloved Son of God at his baptism, he enters the desert to meditate on the course he should choose to fulfill his destiny as the Saviour of humankind. His self-communion and his troubled dreams show His humanity and prevent His becoming a mere theological abstraction. Superior to both physical and spiritual temptations, He overcomes Satan and redeems humankind from its fallen state caused when Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation.


Satan, the tempter, the great Dictator of Hell. Debased from the splendid, though tarnished, rebel of Paradise Lost (1667), he is a sly, lying trickster. His choice of temptations for Jesus shows shrewdness, but shorn of understanding of God, he lacks wisdom. Frustrated by the fortitude and virtue of Jesus, he lapses into snarling and futile rage. His violence recoils on himself, and astonished, he falls a second time, completely conquered.

John the Baptist

John the Baptist, the trumpet-voiced “great Proclaimer.” Satan learns at the baptism of Jesus by John that he now has a terrible adversary among men.


Belial (BEE-lee-ehl), the self-indulgent fallen angel. Lustful himself, he thinks lust the perfect temptation; therefore, he advises Satan to use women in his temptation of Jesus. His suggestion is scornfully overruled by Satan.

Mary the Mother of Jesus

Mary the Mother of Jesus, who is pure-hearted and calm but nevertheless troubled over the long absence of her Son.

God the Father

God the Father, the omniscient and all-wise being who foretells to Gabriel the temptations and their outcome.


Gabriel (GAY-bree-ehl), the angel of the Annunciation. He is chosen to hear God’s prophetic plan.