Milton in his widely read work “Paradise Lost” develops his character Satan differently than many of the traditional portrayals of him in the Bible. Whereas the Bible portrays him as the essence of evil, Milton creates a character that has a human side to his persona. He has hopes, dreams, aspirations and weaknesses that he deals with on a level that are relatable from a human perspective.
In the bible, Satan’s lot is clearly cast, he is the enemy of God, the enemy of humanity, and is pure evil. In the New Testament, Jesus says about Satan, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (John 3:8). Writing in the 17th Century, Milton developed a full spectrum portrait of Satan.
The first chapter of the book deals with man’s disobedience which caused him to lose Paradise. Satan is revolting against God and is trying to draw angels to the side of his cause. In many ways, Milton’s portrayal of Satan mirrors how he is presented in the Bible. He is called the “Arch-Enemy” by heaven. What is relatable is the effort Satan puts into achieving his task of the fall of man and the doubts that he overcomes in order to do so. Milton writes, “If once they hear that voice, their liveliest pledge / Of hope in fears and dangers . . . New courage and revive, though now they Iye / Groveling and prostrate on yon Lake of Fire.” Very little action happens in the first part of the book. Instead Milton spends the time developing the character of his Satan. He is first introduced as strong and confident, but his woes and failures weigh on him and eventually leads to a hallow and downtrodden character.
Ostensibly, Adam and Eve are the heroes of the story and the characters that Milton wants the reader to sympathize with. His goal, of leading to the fall of Adam and Eve, and them to lose paradise. But his character is far from being simple. While he does seek vengeance, he also comes across as likable. His army of demons, he treats with respect and esteem and seems to has a loyalty to them. Take for instance these two lines, “How such united force of gods, how such / As stood like these, could ever know repulse” (Milton, 16). Satan believes in his army and he is proud of them. He sees them standing like God and it is difficult for him to wrap his head around the fact of their defeat.
This defeat informs what Satan does next, and his desire to corrupt mankind. The reader can relate to an image of a defeated man, whose dream will never now be realized to justify his attempts to drag humanity down to his depths.
Contemporary works depicting Satan, such as the 1997 film The Devil’s Advocate, carry on the tradition of Milton by portraying complicated, at times sympathetic, Satans. Directed by Taylor Hackford, Al Pacino plays Satan. The film has a clear allusion to the Milton Satan, as his mission in the movie is to corrupt a lawyer named John Milton. Like the Satan in Milton, the Satan in the devils advocate sees his position as fascinating and necessary to shake up the status quo of creation. The Devil tells John Milton “I’m the hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt. I’m a surprise . . . They don’t see me coming” (Hackford).
Al Capone’s character in the film is enticing and charming. While Milton’s Satan does not engage in sex with women, he shows his charm in his first meeting with Eve. He called her “Fair angelic Eve,” and goes on to say, “Partake though also / Happy though though art Happier though may’st be, worthier canst not be” (Milton, 77). He goes on to call her a goddess and temps her with lovely promises. This mirror the modus operandi of The Devil’s Advocate Satan who explains how he is able to temp humans, “You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with it’s desire’ you build egos the sixe of cathedrals; fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse”
As shown in Book IV, Satan justifies his behavior as inevitable, saying that it is the hell within him that causes him to justify his behavior. He knows he is broken, and is acting out in the only way that he feels that he can.
While Satan is far from a hero in Paradise Lost, his is a much richer, more understandable character than the Bible’s portrayal of him as simply being pure evil. In Milton he is understood evil, who attempts to harm others and spread the pain that he himself feels on the inside. Paradise Lost is about the paradise that the Devil lost because of his fight for freedom, and his “evil” actions are the inevitable consequence of the depths he’s sunk to.
Devil's advocate. Dir. Keanu Reeves. Perf. Al Pacino. Warner Home Video, 1997. DVD.
Milton, John. Paradise lost. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Library, 1993. Print.
The New English Bible; New Testament.. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print.