Aug. 28th, 2016

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John Milton had depicted his protagonist, Satan, in Paradise Lost, Book I, with considerable ambivalence. The description of the epic narrator clearly indicates that Satan is the “infernal serpent” who had corrupted and deceived the “mother of mankind”. However the speeches of Satan create a grand heroic impression about him. Yet, Milton introduces sufficient ambiguity in Satan’s words to indicate that he is not as valiant and noble as he appears to be.
Satan’s first speech begins at the point where he is still lying on the burning gulf of hell but has regained consciousness and is observing his new surroundings. Looking at his follower, Beelzebub, he recognizes how the rebel angel’s have lost their heavenly glow, scarred by their defeat and fall, his first speech addressed to Beelzebub is thus, steeped in regret for the loss of the “transcendent brightness” of heaven. Satan’s shrewdness, however, soon replaces regret with the awareness that his followers are likely to blame him for the loss of heaven and their present misery. So, he cleverly devices his arguments to prove that every among the rebellious angels had a role in the uprising against God. Using expressions like “mutual league” and “united thoughts”, Satan implies that it was a collective decision.
Satan’s first speech also exposes his egoism since he never acknowledges the true greatness of God as God is his sole enemy. In front of Beelzebub he attempts to prove that God had been victorious only for his physical force, about which he mentions in the speech “he with his thunder” here Satan evokes the impression of classical deities such as Zeus or the Capricious gods, who punish human transgressions with thunder. Satan never utters the name of God in case it may even indirectly convey some reverence for him. He refers God with derogatory expressions like “potent victor” alluding to his “wrath”, “might” and “rage” with which according to Satan, he perpetuates the tyranny of Heaven.
In order to maintain his self importance in the eyes of his followers he describes in his first speech the rebellion in heaven in a heroic light calling it the “glorious enterprise”. Satan’s words erode a stoic defiance where he mentions that he will “never bow and see for grace/with suppliant knee” before God. Satan depicts repentance and remorse in a lowly light to prevent his followers from repenting since that may secure God’s mercy and deprive him of his followers. Satan’s defiance is similar to the “hubris” of the classical tragic heroes.
This speech of Satan reveals the basic tenets of the classical stoic philosophy. It reflects Satan’s heroic endurance and optimism when he states, “What though the field be lost? / All is not lost.” His optimism and confidence are echoed in lines and phrases like “the unconquerable will” and “courage never to submit or yield”. However his opposition to God expressed in phrases like “study of revenge”, “immortal hate” reveals his destructive impulses. Despite his hopeful view of the future, it cannot be denied that the speech exposes his moral corruption. I specifically mean that if we compare this speech to the speeches delivered by the current time politicians these days we would be able to relate and find endless similarities. Satan’s depravity when he announces that he will wage “eternal war” against God by force or guile is remarkable. A man who is desperate enough to go against the “almighty” must have extreme guts and can do whatever he aims at doing. Dishonesty and descent are therefore, his essential philosophy of life, preventing us from perceiving him as an epic hero.
In his second speech, Satan contests Beelzebub’s opinion that in hell fallen angels maybe unknowingly serving God. Satan contradicts to his views by mentioning that their “task” and “sole delight” would be “to do ill”. He adds that if God attempts to “bring forth good” out of their evil deeds, “our labour must be to prevent that end, out of good still to find means of evil”. His leadership qualities are manifested in this speech when he enthusiastically encourages Beelzebub with his message of trying to achieve, “what reinforcement we may gain from hope”.
In Satan’s third speech his ambition of being ruler is very explicitly stated when he mentions “to reign is worth ambition through Hell/ better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”. Through his argument Satan himself exhibits the power thrust for being a monarch. In his speech like a stoic, Satan stresses the need for achieving mastery over one’s mind. He observes, “the mind is in it’s own place and in itself/ a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven”. Will power and determination according to him can triumph over adverse circumstances.
No matter what Satan may claim, he was actually shaken from within, but here gain by successfully camouflaging his anxiety and appearing as cool and composed as if he truly was unaffected by the recent calamity that shook him to the very core. Satan definitely scores points as an able leader, politician, ruler or diplomat. Satan doesn’t possess or betray any sign of repentance or regret. On one hand he appears to be really very brave and courageous, this deliberate blindness towards his folly or fault basically serves to present him in somewhat poor light. Satan’s sense of injured merit and high disdain reflects the pride of Satan which in the course over steps the mark of turning or becoming a negative attribute. Hence Satan considered himself more meritorious angel and when God chose Michael over him, he felt hurt and his false pride ignited his ambition leading to the great conflict.
Satan is a very competitive character. I readily believe if Satan was a 21st century generation character, he would have made his existence remarkable..


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August 2016


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