Satan's Character in Paradise Lost Book 1

Satan’s Character in Paradise Lost Book 1 | Character Analysis

  • April 17, 2022
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Satan’s Character in Paradise Los...
Satan’s Character in Paradise Lost Book 1 | Character Analysis

Introduction

Characterization is the most important ingredient of an epic poem. In order to match the level of Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey, John Milton creates Satan’s character, a detailed description of which he gives in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. He sketches his character in a way that it really seems like an epic poem. Milton illustrates his character minutely; he gives him powers, motivation, leadership qualities; a will to never give up and courage to fight with God. Satan is the first character with whom the readers are firstly introduced. Remaining characters come after Satan. It is not only remarkable but also a unique character ever created in the history of English literature. 

Milton gives each character superpowers but there is no match for Satan’s character in his pride and dignity despite the fact that he has been often criticised for being negative and the villain of Paradise Lost as obvious from Book 1. It is pertinent to mention here that the majority of the critics agree on the point that it is Milton himself in the guise of Satan in Paradise Lost. Certain characteristics that readers find in Satan were there in Milton as obvious from his autobiography. He has a rebellious attitude and several attributes that are common in the author of the book. 

Character Sketch of Satan’s Character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost

From the very beginning of the poem just after the traditional invocation and introduction of the theme of the epic poem, the poet introduces us with a fallen hero. His name is Satan. It should be remembered that the poet first gives a mental sketch of his character and then he proceeds with describing his physical appearance. He mentions his will to fight back, his plan to regain his lost position and then describes his physique.

Leviathan, which God of all his works
...
Satan permitted to rise from the fiery lake of Hell

It seems that initially he is not permitted to move; however, subsequently he is freed from chains. The poet uses a simile, a poetic device to compare things in order to create imagination in the minds of the readers. He uses the word Leviathan in description of his monstrous size. In Jewish mythology, Leviathan is a sea serpent. It is believed that God has created him to show his powers of creation. John Milton has good knowledge of different myths, hence, he makes allusions to different books and myths to show the figure of the main character of his epic poem.

The poet further goes on to say something more about Satan’s character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost; he makes allusions to Titans, who in Greek myths were 20 to 30 feet tall. He creates a strong image in the minds of his readers; however, one must have knowledge of Greek, Jewish myths and Bible before understanding what he tries to say. Nevertheless, the poet writes more about him and sketches him at the time when he moves. He mentions his heavy, large and round shield that is like a moon and his spear like the longest pine tree on the earth that he used to hang on his shoulders while waking.

Satan’s Attributes in Book 1 of Paradise Lost

He remains unconscious along with his fellow angels for nine days and nine nights if we count the number of days and nights on earth. The author discloses his readers the first attribute of Satan that he is immortal; therefore, he has not died. Secondly, the poet gives us a brief introduction of his history that he was destined to incur God’s anger. Soon after he becomes conscious, he realises his loss. He is in pain; however, it never means that he would soon accept defeat. In hell, there is silence everywhere but he breaks the ice and addresses his army like a general. 

He asks his fellow angels to rise and remember who they were once; though he makes them aware of their miserable condition, he also tells them that they were once great heroes. Here we find leadership as one of the most discussed attributes of Satan’s character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. He also makes them clear that he would never accept defeat. Milton very beautifully sketches his will to fight back in following lines:-

What though the field be lost
All is not lost-the unconquerable will.
And study of revenge, immortal hate. 
And courage never to submit or yield

He does not want to ask forgiveness from the Almighty but wishes to fight back. He wants revenge and it is the only ambition that he has. As he and his fellow angels know that they are immortal, hence, he tells them that they have two choices; either to suffer or to rise and fight back for what was once theirs. One of the most referred line of Book 1 of Paradise Lost regarding Satan’s pride is:

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.

This single line of Book 1 of Paradise Lost sums up Satan’s character. It shows his pride, his unending will power to fight back, his bravery and ambition of never giving up achieving what he deserves. 

Characteristics of Satan’s Character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost

There are some attributes of Satan that the readers of the book find out. Those are:

  • A great leader
  • Brave commander
  • Ambitious hero
  • Avail Opportunities
  • Never Settle on less than he deserves
  • Rebellious nature
  • Indomitable Courage

A Great Leader 

John Milton portrays Satan as a great leader. His speeches are evident that neither he gives up on his ambitions nor does he let down the morale of his army. He is courageous, self-confident and determined to his plans. From the very beginning when he speaks and breaks the silences, readers realise his leadership qualities. He answers every question with confidence that Beelzbub asks him. It seems that he has inherited the best leadership qualities. He seems like a politician of modern days who always has a satisfactory answer to every question. Furthermore, he is a powerful, inspirational and motivational speaker.

He shows his sympathy with his fellow angels. All speeches of Satan reveals that he shows himself not different to his fellow angels and indicates himself one of them. He has clever skills of moulding the minds of his army. Flattery, making propaganda mixed with threats are also some other important leadership qualities of Satan’s character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. 

Brave Commander

He has been illustrated as a wicked general and a brave commander. He wants to remain a commander forever, hence, he says that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven. Satan knows that he has less powers yet he wants to fight back with the help of fallen angels. He does everything to boost their morale. He, like a general, plans operations for them. 

Ambitious Hero

The Hero of Paradise Lost remained controversial between the critics; some say that Satan is the hero whereas others regard Adam as the main hero of the poem. It is also a matter of fact that if Adam is the hero of Paradise Lost then he is actionless. Most of the action of the poem has been associated with Satan’s character and that too in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. He has an ambition to gain what he has lost. He cannot compromise on less, hence, he does everything he can to regain his lost position. Following line describes him as an ambitious hero:

All is not lost-the unconquerable will.

Avail Opportunities

Satan knows the weaknesses of others and always finds an opportunity to discover more. He avails every opportunity that he has to avenge his enemies. He goes to Eve in the guise of a serpent and flatters her beauty. As we all know that flattery is one of his best leadership qualities; therefore, he flatters her and tempts her to eat the forbidden apple. 

Indomitable Courage

William Blake observes Satan and mentions that Milton belongs to the devil party. He further mentions that Milton has glorified Satan’s character especially in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. Critics are of the view that good qualities should be attributed to the hero instead of bad ones, hence, Milton has not done poetic justice while writing his epic poem. He creates such a character that has an unyielding courage. He never loses hope nor does he give up on his ambitions. Besides, he is the most powerful character of Paradise Lost but he uses his powers to do the evil that gives a negative message to the readers. 

Milton has been discharged from this charge as Satan’s glorification is no more associated with him as hero but as a villain. John Milton justifies God’s ways. He never says that Satan is the hero of his book, rather he shows the possibility that a villain can be more powerful than the hero. Whatever may be the objection of the critics, it is sure that he creates Satan a character that has an indomitable courage.

Rebellious Nature

Milton creates the rebellious nature of Satan in Paradise Lost. He is the only one who challenges the authority of the Almighty and rises in opposition as well as armed resistance against Him. This quality is certainly unique in his character. He does not accept the norms nor does he accept defeat. He does not settle matters on the basis of compromises but with battles. Needless to mention that he fails at the end and becomes a tragic hero of Paradise Lost. 

John Milton in Satan’s Character In Book 1 of Paradise Lost

Critics and students of literature observe John Milton in Satan’s character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost. All the twelve books of Paradise Lost have autobiographical elements in them. Book 1 specifically reflects the personality of John Millton. Milton has also a spirit of a rebel who would not yield on any account. His autobiography reveals that he stood for freedom and sided with the Parliamentarians after opposing monarchy. Satan’s speeches are speeches of Milton in reality. He raises voice against the system and raised the slogan “Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” 

There is always subjectivity in every poem. Paradise Lost is also subjective to some extent but that does not mean John Milton was on the side of the devil party. He is a true poet who has completed an epic poem and has not sided with any party regardless of the evil characters that he has created. 

Conclusion:

In Book 1 of Paradise Lost John Milton gives Satan’s character a heroic stature. Indeed, the figure of Satan seems to be inspired by the spirit of renaissance. He makes him unique; a character that was never created in history. In Book 1 of Paradise Lost, Milton gives Satan’s character epic attributes such as a great leader, brave general, a hero determined to his ambitions, a person who never settles on less than he deserves, a rebel and an indomitable courageous hero.

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