Analysis of Satan's Speech in Milton's Paradise Lost
John Milton's Paradise Lost is a work of enduring charm and value because of its theological conceptions, its beautiful language, and its "updating" of the epic to the modern world's values. Book II of this epic poem opens with Satan's speech to his minions in hell, proposing war on Heaven itself. In these first 44 lines, Satan is clearly established as epic hero, but at the same time is theologically/morally denounced by the speaker.
This section of the poem opens by establishing Satan's position of power and prestige:
High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Show'rs on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, (II. 1-5).
These lines create an aura of awe and majesty for Satan, showing his glory and splendor through material things, while at the same time inferring indirectly that this material show is all that Satan has, rather than real power or value.
After this portrayal of Satan the epic hero in all his magnificence, the speaker (the heavenly muse) is very careful to bring down his image morally, despite the magnificent outward experience. The muse asserts that,
by merit raised
To that bad eminence; and from despair
Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
Vain war with Heav'n, and by success untaught
His proud imaginations thus displayed, (II. 5-10).
The muse is very careful to remind the reader that Satan is in a high position because of his greed, and the high position he has obtained is not a good position to be in, despite what the power-hungry epic hero may think. Also, this passage suggests that at this point Satan is in such despair that anything provides hope, no matter what it may be, and that this is what motivates Satan to declare war against Heaven, despite the impossibility of winning such a bout.
Satan proceeds to address his gathered host of followers who with him were thrown out of heaven. He addresses them as "Powers and Dominions, deities of Heaven," (II. 11), appeasing their egos and appealing to their desire for power and control. He justifies this, despite their recent loss, "for since no deep within her gulf can hold/Immortal vigor, though oppressed and fall'n/I give not Heav'n for lost," (II. 12-14). Because of the strength and power of those doomed to hell for all eternity, they will be able to re-conquer Heaven despite what God did to them. He proceeds to say that, "From this descent/Celestial Virtues rising, will appear/More glorious and more dread than from no fall," (II. 14-16) because the struggles of living in Hell will increase the power and glory of the gifts of each of the fallen. As a result of these assertions of the power and might of the denizens of hell, Satan...