Satan Forms a Vital Role in Demonstrating and Vindicating God’s Eternal Providence Through Out Paradise Lost.
Brief analysis of the significance of Satan’s presence and character in Paradise Lost.
In “Paradise Lost” Milton attempts to prove God’s eternal providence reflecting in scale and magnitude such epics as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeniad. However one is instantly confronted by the effective introduction and focus upon Satan and his role throughout the epic poem. Milton’s particular portrayals of Satan vary with his development through various comprehensive “heroic genres of epic, romance and heroic tragedy”. Via generic topoi of the familiar aforementioned epic poems Milton creates a series of Satanic episodes that reveal a very mimetic behaviour in his degradation from fallen angel to the initiator of the Fall. One can identify and trace analogies to major heroic poems through “continuing verbal allusions, plot analogies, and references to scenes and motifs”. However it is important to note that Satan’s heroic nature is subtly “perverse” or “parodic” in contrast to the recognised paradigms. All the same, primary descriptions draw a distinctly attractive perception of the fallen hero villain. This forces contemplation as to why Milton uses Satan to prove God’s eternal providence to man. For example Satan’s adoption of the General becomes a symbol of strength and influential magnetism in Book one:
“All is not lost: the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield;
And what is else not to overcome?”
Clearly there is defiance in the face of defeat and unimaginable loss. The “will” though it be to hate is admirable for its audacity and equally the courageousness of never “submit[ing] or yield[ing]” is a very noble concept of human behaviour. There is an awe-inspiring quality in the abrupt sub clause aphorism “all is not lost” as he refuses to have his assistants lose face. His list of sub clauses each hold potent emotive figures of passion arguing his rhetorical genius. He continues with such examples of chiasmus as “can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”. This reversal of loss to victory is a powerful trope of persuasive rhetoric that neither the Messiah nor God achieve in Paradise Lost. Satan’s darker sublimity therefore not only shares hero villain substance as influential prior characters as Iago, Macbeth or Edward in “King Lear” but also provides a respectable figure of passionate ire to which we are drawn. It would be an understandable interpretation to suspect Milton’s intentions as exalting the devil. This would correspond to the common zeitgeist that evil and temptation attracts all humans reflected by the seemingly attractive portrayal of Satan in Book one.
However, although it is important that humans relate easily to the fallen Satan and sympathise for particular idealised characteristics one questions whether he signifies more than just a metaphor for humans’ attraction to sin. It is notable that God allows Satan to exist in misery rather than to perish into non-existence. Similarly one may question why there is evil and suffering if God is such a divine and benevolent figure. However it is open to interpretation as to whether God uses Satan to further test humans’ faith in his creator. This may be supported by “the will and high permission of all ruling heaven leaving him at large to his own dark designs”. William Blake’s famous jest that Milton was “a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it” suddenly loses potency when one considers Satan as God’s tool. This would support Milton’s theodicy. Yet it is still problematic to accept that Satan’s free will argues in Milton’s favour. Therefore he develops his character through the poem in order to assess his declination. For example in Book four Satan’s psychological volatility proves his sorrow and creates understanding from a reader’s perspective of his turn towards “malice”:
“Sometimes towards heaven and the full blazing sun,
Which no sat high in his meridian tower:
Then much revolving, thus in sighs began.
Clearly Satan creates an admirable acceptance of retrospective sorrow as he considers his utter destruction. His emotive poeticisms are full of pain and he continues: “O sun… how I hate thy beams that bring to my remembrance from what state I fell, how glorious once above thy sphere”. Lucifer was also commonly known as the “light bringer” or “morning star” from Latin. Satan appears to be unable to confront God and the sun becomes a symbol of intense “blazing” truth or God’s divinity that Satan cannot accept. Again one sympathises with his loss. His potent speech holds the traditional portrait of “Satan as orator-as rhetorician and as sophist” which “is just as heroic as the earlier portrait of Satan as martial combatant”. Milton explicitly compares Satan to “som orator renound in Athens or free Frome, where Eloquence florourised”. It is understood therefore that Satan maintains the attractive characteristics that uphold the metaphor of humans’ attraction to sin and further still concept that he tests our faith.
However his violent despair and “bitter memory” turns to anger through his logical progressive analysis of his own psyche. This supports the idea that Satan reduces himself to malice and hate than to consider redemption which would support understanding of Milton’s theodicy and reasoning as to why Satan proves God’s existence:
“Yet all his good proved ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up so high
I’sdained subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest…”
There is a particular emphasis on loss using the trope of polyptoton of the word stem “high” rising through to the superlative with which there is pause. The caesura succeeding “highest” represents the ephemeral thought upon potential victory, furthering his “malice” and hatred of God. It is understood that he hated God as well as desired the power of heaven’s throne. This is a logical step towards acceptance and an understandable movement towards intentions of the destruction of Eden. He wishes to destroy test humans’ faith and in this state we understand that all hope of repentance for Satan is lost. For example he states:
“So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,
Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my good…”
There is a dramaturgical significance in the order Satan’s speech as he provides himself with a counterpoised argument. Perhaps it is likely that his speech proves Satan’s final mode of behaviour. After considering agony in a “lowest deep”, “wrought malice” and repentance his chosen stance is to destroy God’s creations. However Satan does not quite adopt the role of the Antinomian as he has indeed far removed himself from moral stability but has not the hope or will of salvation such is described in the term’s definition. Milton instead argues that God has allowed the free will of Satan in order to prove God’s eternal providence. Again the proof returns to the conceptual analysis that Satan’s existence is God’s purpose.
The extent however to which Satan’s existence proves Milton’s theodicy is shaded by his continued corruption by infiltrating Eden and the snake. In Book nine he travels around the Eden created by God and searches for the sublest beast in all the field:
“Fearless, unfeared, he slept. In at his mouth
The Devil entered, and his brutal sense
In heart or head possessing , soon inspired
With act intelligential”
Before entering the snake Satan considers the “valley, rivers, woods, and plains” of which he describes as pleasures reduced to “torment within [him]”. This proves his undeniable hatred in an allegorical nature as the geographical features symbolise God’s creative ability and prowess ultimately returning him to his prior emotions. However there are subtle saddened undertones as he has lost the ability to admire such beauties. This further augments his intention to turn “for who all this was made” to infernal parody. One may assume that this is Satan before testing humanity and faith. This would be the basis of Milton’s solid argument and theodicy. However there is always the question of God’s ability and boundary. For example if God is omnipotent and omniscient he would surely know the future and therefore the fact that man would Fall. But perhaps this is the exact reason why humans’ relate better to the figure of Satan and his characteristic sin: because God transcends understanding. Milton hints at answers as to God’s further intentions but always he remains distant and ineffable. Therefore in conclusion, Satan becomes an argument for and against God’s eternal providence depending on one’s adopted aspect of his purpose.