Paradise Lost

by: John Milton

Satan

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 be overcome?) That glory never shall his wrath or might Extort from me, to bow and sue for grace With suppliant knee and deify his power, Who from the terror of his arm so late Doubted his empire[.] (I, 106–114)

Once they’ve fallen to hell, the rebel angels lie quiet, dazed and in pain from the overwhelming shock of their expulsion from heaven. Here, Satan comforts his troops by saying that though they have lost heaven, they should not lose their will to resist. As a character, Satan’s strength consists of his steely will and refusal to abandon his goal.

Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable, Doing or suffering: but of this be sure, To do augh good never will be our task; But ever to do ill our sole delight: As being contrary to his high will Whom we resist[.] (I, 157–162)

Satan convincingly rallies his troops by refreshing their spirits and recommitting them to their original goal: to never do good, and to always do evil against God’s will. Satan stands as an imposing, confident figure. In his speeches to the fallen angels, he shows himself to be a strong military leader with an impressive talent for rhetoric.

To visit oft this new creation round; Unspeakable desire to see, and know All these his wondrous works, but chiefly man, His chief delight and favour; him, for whom All these works so wondrous he ordain’d, Hath brought me from the choirs of cherubim Alone thus wand’ring. (III, 661–667)

Disguised as a cherub, Satan meets the Archangel Uriel, who guards the gates to Earth. Satan tells Uriel he has come to see and pay respects for God’s wondrous creation, Adam and Eve. Satan’s speech so flawlessly reflects respect for God and convincingly conveys an identity as a worshipper that he successfully tricks the seasoned but unsuspecting Uriel. Satan’s talent for fraud and deception demonstrate his ability to deceive even those most on guard against him.

O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams, That bring to my remembrance from what state I fell; how glorious once above thy sphere; Till pride and worse ambition threw me down, Warring in heaven against heaven’s matchless King. (IV, 37–41)

Satan’s overwhelming confidence begins to crack, and he begins to doubt himself. As Satan looks across Eden, he begins to feel the pangs of regret for what he has lost. Satan acknowledges that pride and ambition brought him down to his current state, and he even acknowledges that God exists as a ruler without equal.

What could be less than to afford him praise, The easiest recompense, and pay him thanks, How due; yet all his good prov’d ill in me, And wrought but malice; lifted up so high I ‘sdain’d subjection, and thought one step higher Would set me highest, and in a moment quit The debt immense of endless gratitude, So burdensome still paying, still to owe; Forgetful what from him I still receiv’d, And understood not that a grateful mind By owing owes not, but still pays, at once Indebted and discharg’d[.] (IV, 46–57)

With these words, Satan reveals a more private side that greatly contrasts with his public persona as leader of the rebel angels. In hindsight, Satan pines that praising God while in heaven was a small price to pay for God’s goodness to him. He recognizes that the heavy debt he pays now for sinning far outweighs the light burden of gratitude he threw off while serving God. Through Satan’s lament, readers begin to understand Satan’s complexity as a character.

Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep, Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide, To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven. (IV, 75–79)

In his lament, Satan acknowledges that his heart turns good to evil. He has generated his own evil. He himself contains hell, therefore, for him, hell seems a heaven. Such an existence almost inspires pity in the reader for Satan, since his commitment towards evil now seems like simply a commitment to stay true to himself.

O then at least relent: is there no place Left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame Among the spirits beneath, whom I seduc’d With other promises and other vaunts Than to submit, boasting I could subdue Th’ Omnipotent. Ay me, they little know How dearly I abide that boast so vain Under what torments I inwardly groan, While they adore me on the throne of hell. (IV, 79–89)

Satan admits that the only way to regain his former state is to repent. But for Satan, repentance feels like too high a price to pay. Satan cannot submit, because he has too much pride. The rebel angels view him as powerful and would never suspect the vast suffering he feels inside, as these lines show. Satan’s pride commits him to eternal anguish.

So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear, Farewell remorse: all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good; by thee at least Divided empire with heaven’s King I hold, By thee, and more than half perhaps will reign; As man ere long, and this new world shall know. (IV, 107–113)

Despite Satan convincing his troops to commit themselves to evil, he still must convince himself to do the same. Here, Satan gives himself a pep talk, bidding goodbye to hope and remorse and embracing the resolve to divide God’s kingdom. Satan’s decision driven by pride, a superficial emotion, seems melodramatic, especially in contrast to Adam’s future commitment to repentance, an act driven by the more substantial emotion of sorrow.

[I]f what is evil Be real, why not known, since easier shunn’d? God, therefore cannot hurt ye and be just; No just, not God; not fear’d then, nor obey’d: Your fear itself of death removes the fear. (IX, 698–702)

Satan, disguised as a serpent, tempts Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Satan argues that eating from the tree of knowledge will allow her and Adam to distinguish right from wrong. Furthermore, he explains that God could not be just if he wanted to hurt them. Satan’s equal insight into reason and emotion enable him to seduce the innocent, his greatest strength.

Why then was this forbid? Why but to awe; Why but to keep you low and ignorant, His worshippers; he knows that in the day Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear, Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then Open’d and clear’d, and ye shall be as gods. (IX, 703–708)

Satan finally persuades Eve to eat from the tree by arguing that eating its fruit will extend her limited vision and enable her to see as a god. He presents knowledge as a means to an end of making her God’s equal. Satan’s powerful ability to pervert reason to his purposes further demonstrates how knowledge can be used for evil ends.