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The Tragic Part of Satan's Image in Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost is an outstanding work of world literature, one of the few bright and extant examples of the literary epic, a creation extremely diverse in content and at the same time extremely complex and contradictory, causing controversy and discussion among readers. Since the plot of Paradise Lost is based on biblical legends, the poem was ranked among the books that are considered as a poetic and artistic interpretation of the Bible. It is known that John Milton was a believer and well versed in the Bible, but it should also be remembered that he interpreted and revealed the essence of the biblical texts in his own way. The poet did not completely alter the legends, he only supplemented them. Paradise Lost, in this respect, is the best example. But Paradise Lost not only deviates from the church doctrine, but sometimes comes into direct conflict with it. And the most memorable character in this poem, as well as its driving force, is Satan. Lucifer himself is not a classic character in an epic poem. But Milton managed to make his image so ambiguous and requiring analysis. This essay will look at the tragic part of Satan’s image that is so attractive to readers and how this humanity played a role in his journey from one of God’s archangels to the most famous lord of darkness. Even today, literary scholars argue about this supposed Satan and the nature of his actions, because the real Bible described him as unambiguous evil, but not Milton. Carey (Carey, 1999, p. 163) noted that Satan’s inner debate and self-criticism reveal him as a creature of dynamic tensions, such as the other characters of the poem notably lack.

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After one of God’s angels, Lucifer, rebelled against his Father, he, along with the other fallen angels who joined him, was exiled to Hell for his disobedience. Now Satan, who, thanks to his rebellious disposition and great conceit, became the main commander of the military and the ruler of the Underworld, has perked up and is ready to rise again to strike a new blow. His plan is to corrupt the new creation of God – the first people – Adam and Eve. Despite the fact that Satan in biblical legends personifies absolute evil, in Paradise Lost he is a more complex and multifaceted character, whose point of view sounds quite convincing. Once exalted by romantics, Milton’s Satan is still regarded by many as a ‘goodie’.

Milton portrays Satan as a character who wants to sympathize at the beginning of the poem. And the truth: an angel who was not free to express his, independent opinion and only loved God and the angels too much, whose power and authority he considered the only faithful and worthy of respect and worship. However, these parts of his inner world can be transferred to another plane: the desire for independence, which led to a split in the heavenly heaven, pride for his divine origin, which he saw as a higher power and bow before the ‘lower deities’ (first people) did not see the point. As one of the highest archangels in Heaven, Satan feels that he deserves more and does not see the power in other beings more powerful than him and his fellows. And this sense of pride leads to his downfall. Milton argues that no one is more powerful than God, and therefore no one should question God’s actions. But Satan does just that. And while his jealousy of God’s new ‘children’ and his desire for independence are understandable, readers can see that his reaction is agitated, unfounded, and even perhaps premature. Carey (Carey, 1999, p. 166) in his chapter called Satan as ‘a creature of mood’, and he believes that Satan’s character is given greater depth by his wavering, slumbering and deceptive ability which apprehends reality through prism of self-deception and forgetfulness. Milton also tries to show Satan when he doubts the correctness of his actions, which makes him more than a common and standard villain. However, as the epic continues, his logic weakens, and Lucifer unconditionally obeys his evil intentions, making the plan to seduce people with the fall into his meaning of existence, which finally brings him off the righteous path. Milton may have chosen to portray Satan in this way that would grab the attention of readers and justify God’s actions.

However, Satan’s vengeance cannot be fully justified or condemned. In fact, God gave creatures free will so that they could make their own choices, but this only concerned the human race. Angels, although they could also express themselves openly, but their will and intentions should not have run counter to what God commanded. One way or another, free will was suppressed and God’s fulfilled. And from the deed of Satan, it is clear that even if he used the right to choose what to believe in and what to support, for God everything was already known, and Lucifer’s revenge would have been useless. God speaks to his Son with these words in Book 3: ‘so bent [Satan] seems/On desperate revenge that shall redound/Upon his own rebellious head’ (Milton, 2001, p. 47). As Saunders (Saunders, 1966, p. 95-96) noted he definitely sees the difference between good and evil. But he stumbles and chooses to follow evil, submitting to pride and an unnaturally tyrannical will. He degrades himself – he involves innocence in his degradation, abuses his gifted nature and heroic abilities, and, importantly, he is clearly aware of what he is doing. Satan could have gone the most harmless way and repent and ask the Father for forgiveness, and in return his place in heaven, but the Fallen Angel, in fact, gave vent to his feelings. Deciding that God’s judgment was unjust, he decided to hurt both God and his creatures.

Satan’s words of retribution are notable from Book 9: ‘Revenge, at first though sweet/Bitter ere long back on itself recoils’ (Milton, 2001, p. 163). It can even be considered a turning point in Satan’s vengeful path when he can realize the consequences of his act and further exile. Satan was very clear in setting his goal, i.e. revenge against God and Heaven and the unrealized concept itself gave him pleasure and a sense of anticipation of victory. But saying these words, you can feel his humility and acceptance of the consequences of his decision, which did not lead him to anything good. Here Satan opposes the ‘sweetness’ of revenge to another, more unpleasant taste – ‘bitterness’. Also, Urban states that his attempts to portray himself as God’s victim are exposed as fallacious by Satan’s own words when Satan comes to Earth to tempt Adam and Eve. Here the lone Satan, with no followers to impress, experiences misery amid Earth’s beauty. As his conscience reminds him of his lost glory, Satan recognizes the perpetual Hell within himself. He seems to admit that his revenge was ultimately futile and that his purpose will eventually turn against him.

The power of Satan Milton lies precisely in the fact that he, for all his titanicity, is human. Human traits such as pride, disobedience, self-esteem, lust for power, which would seem not inherent in angels and other divine beings, are manifested in the character of Satan thanks to Milton’s poetic fantasy. Satana’s humanity is in his indomitable rebellious spirit, in his readiness to endure torment and again throw himself into a fatal competition with his invincible, but from this, the more hated enemy. The image of Satan is also humanized by the fact that it is shown in change, in development. One of the angels, he became their leader only by virtue of the fact that he rebelled against God. In battles with his opponent, he acquired his alluring and sullen charm. Milton explains that the inner world of Satan is distorted, and disfigured by lust for power, painful selfishness. Hence his cynicism and spiritual emptiness, which causes him suffering because he looks with envy at the happiness of people in Eden. Milton poses the problem of individualism to his readers, showing how Satan lost his inner moral battle with his unattainable selfish desires.

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In conclusion, it is important to highlight that in several books, Milton manages to make Satan a tragically attractive character, portraying him as complex, interesting, and with human flaws such as jealousy, doubt, and pride. Readers can learn about these feelings, as well as about Satan’s excuse that God unjustly punishes fallen angels. His inner being is close to human, because he lends itself to analysis of the feelings that arise in him. He does not just follow someone’s direction, but looks at things from different angles, just like a person sometimes doubting, unrestrained. Yet Milton also shows how erratic and inconsistent Satan’s actions become, and how, by choosing evil over redemption, he punishes unreasonably and viciously not only God, but all mankind. The poet shows a clear difference between the repentant Adam and Eve, who at the last moment try to convince their Father to forgive them, and the unrepentant Satan, who will never find the way to Paradise. One of the differences between Paradise Lost and the Bible is that Milton never claims that Paradise Lost should be viewed as a religious text, but rather that it is an epic work of fiction and that its characters are literary and allegorical. Nowhere in the Bible is Satan depicted as a sympathetic character – as Milton alludes to throughout Paradise Lost. The Bible itself acts as a moralizing literature, in which everything is written in black and white, where the truth lies only in the constant victory of good over evil. But Milton adds shades of gray, showing what deep feelings the motivation of the character is expressed, taking him out of the range of flat and faded characters. In many ways, with some artistic freedom, Milton made the familiar biblical story new and interesting, making the characters and their struggles more complex and ambiguous. 

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