Paradise Lost

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Satan as the Hero of Paradise Lost

Satan Arousing the Rebel Angels, William Blake (1808)

Leontien Kouwenhoven
1260707
Supervisor: Dr. J. R. Veenstra
Second Reader: Prof. Dr. A. A. MacDonald
06-03-2009
Doctoraalscriptie
Engelse Taal- en Cultuur
Faculteit der Letteren
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Wordcount: 17.325

Table of Contents
1. Introduction

1

2. Background

5

3. Satan

13

4. Hell

21

5. Sin

30

6. Conclusion

39

7. Works Cited

43

1. Introduction
Can the devil be an epic hero? This seems to be the case in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the great epic from the English Renaissance. Milton’s Satan is brave, resourceful and powerful and an excellent leader as well. When reading the work, after a few pages, the reader may indeed get the impression that Satan is an epic hero. However, this idea does not last for long; when one reaches Book III, the favourable image of Satan as a heroic freedom fighter deteriorates and in the end he is transformed into a beast. Milton’s description of Satan stands in a long tradition of representations of the devil in European literature. One of the greatest earlier works that gives us an image of the devil is Dante’s La Divina Commedia, also a work of epic proportion. Dante’s Commedia will be used in this essay as a contrast to Milton’s epic: Dante’s Devil seems to be the complete opposite of Milton’s Satan. He is motionless, frozen in ice and represents a passive evil. This essay will try to answer the question whether or not the devil can be an epic hero. And if not, whether or not he can be another kind of hero? The descriptions of the devil in Dante and Milton are strongly influenced by their respective world views. Milton’s Renaissance perspective is different form Dante’s medieval outlook. Satan’s heroic status owes a lot to the Renaissance world view.

With the books and articles written on Paradise Lost and La Divina Commedia, one could fill a library. However, some articles and books have been very useful in writing this essay. To give some examples, John Steadman has written many articles on John Milton and Paradise Lost, of which “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of Paradise Lost” and “Milton and St. Basil: The Genesis of Sin and Death” and “Milton and Mazzoni: the Genre of the Divina Commedia” have been particularly relevant. A book which gives an excellent insight in the medieval world view is C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image, which is very suitable in obtaining background information on both La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost. Another work which provides relevant information on the history of the devil is Jeffrey Burton Russel’s Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, which gives an elaborate analysis of the position of the devil in society and literature. Singleton’s translation of Dante’s La Divina Commedia is used throughout this paper1. The translation is very good, but more importantly, Singleton added extensive notes and commentaries in separate volumes. In finding out what kind of hero Satan might be, Peter Thorslev’s The Byronic Hero has been most helpful. 1

Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy: Inferno 1. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. New Jersey: Princeton: University Press, 1970. English translations of Italian quotes from La Divina Commedia have been taken from Singleton’s translation.

The second chapter of this essay will provide background information on John Milton and his Paradise Lost and Dante and his La Divina Commedia. Both works can be regarded as epics and this chapter will give information on epics in general, the epic in the Renaissance and on the epic hero. Also, this chapter will discuss the epic conventions which can be found in both La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost. Furthermore, some attention will be given to the authors themselves and their works.

If Paradise Lost is an epic, then the work should contain an epic hero. The most likely character to be the hero would be Satan. This third...
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