|Posted on January 31, 2013 at 9:10 AM|
The object of Paradise Lost (1667), as John Milton declares in the opening passages, is to learn why Adam and Eve tasted the Fruit of Knowledge, and who or what seduced them into disobedience against God. He also wants to understand the reason for God’s plan, and to justify his decision to expel the fallen angels, and human beings, from Heaven.
The character Satan is initially in despair over how far he has fallen, not just the physical fall from Heaven to the darkest depths of Chaos, but of his utter defeat at the hands of God. Yet even after tasting God’s indomitable strength, Satan is still as defiant and determined as ever. His military pride has been wounded, and now his grief is been transformed into rage. Even if victory is impossible, he swears to continue his rebellion, and to mar the future works of God, out of spite and vengeance. His chief servant Beelzebub, though intensely loyal to Satan, is initially filled with despair. Outwardly, he is boastful, and agrees with his commander that they should continue the fight, but inside, he is greatly disheartened by their dire situation.
Milton describes the fallen angels as being immensely powerful, and enormous in size. The narrator compares them to the Titans of Greek mythology, great stone giants who were also cast down into Chaos, by the Gods of Mount Olympus. He also compares them to the Leviathan, the largest creature God ever made, even claiming that sailors would mistake them for islands, and drop anchor beside them. These descriptions illustrate to the reader that, even in defeat, Satan and his followers are still incredibly formidable. It also generates deception and confusion, since the reader has no idea what a Titan or a Leviathan look like, and learns later that the fallen angels can actually change their size and shape.
Satan and Beelzubub gather up the hundreds of thousands of fallen angels, all of whom are still armed and armoured. The size and strength of their army, even in defeat, bolsters their confidence, and they fly towards Heaven, and offer a defiant war-cry towards God. After that, they build Pandemonium, deep beneath the crusts of Chaos, and make it the capital fortress of Satan’s new kingdom.
Satan is a tragic figure, and his desire to keep fighting, even in the face of imminent defeat, is classically heroic. From his perspective, his struggle is justified. He believes God’s rule is oppressive, and argues that since angels are “self-begot and self-raised” they ought to be self-governed. He even goes so far as declaring he’d rather be free in Hell than a slave in Heaven, which is an admirable, as is the council he of demons he assembles, in opposition to God’s totalitarian rule. However, as the story progresses, he turns more and more to evil means. He longer aspires to defeat God (since this is deemed impossible), seeking only vengeance and to pervert the course of good. However tragic an anti-hero he began as, he becomes too corrupt and bitter to root for.