As shown in studies by researchers including Wilmon Brewer, the similarities between the works of Milton and his classical predecessors, such as Athenian bards Aeschylus and Sophocles, strongly suggest their inspiration upon his work. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Milton blatantly passed off the works of his influences as his own; his ingenuity manifests in the form of updated storylines and personalities for the characters in his epic poems, namely those in Samson Agonistes and Paradise Lost, both based upon stories in the Bible. With that in mind, he appointed exemplars from Scripture to his tragic masterpieces as they demonstrate the outcomes of sin: Satan, Adam, and Eve in Paradise Lost, and Samson in Samson Agonistes.
Brewer states that Milton praised Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, noting “To the work of Aeschylus Milton refers four times in passages of criticism. The references become more and more inclusive and increasingly favorable” (910). Indeed, Milton applauds his Athenian influences in the preface of Agonistes, calling them “unequalled yet by any, and the best to rule all who endeavor to write tragedy” (qtd. in Brewer 911). Brewer interprets this as holding the Athenians in higher regard over Shakespeare, whom Milton also admired. He suggests Aeschylus’ trilogy on the death of Agamemnon prompted Milton’s admiration for drama portraying human suffering.
As the subject of the popular saying, “pride comes before the fall,” Satan’s arrogance is his ultimate undoing. Brewer observes the similarities between Aeschylus’ Prometheus and Milton’s portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost: both are exiled by a higher power to a place of great suffering, yet are ever-defiant in spite of their resulting predicaments (Brewer 911).
However, while Barbara Kiefer Lewalski notes that Prometheus and Satan consider themselves victims of an oppressive tyrant, Satan “admits that he was motivated to rebel by pride and ambition – not, like Prometheus, by an intention to benefit mankind” (120). Although it crosses his mind that he could be forgiven for his great transgression, he realizes that he is too proud to beg and that if he does return to Heaven, he is likely to defy God again. Such a proclamation indicates that he helplessly lacks a sense of remorse and is unwilling to even try giving up his pride.
Another key weakness stemming from his pride is his lack of foresight, or refusal to acknowledge God’s omnipotence. As such, Satan constantly schemes for either impossible or short-lived victories against his former master. Because of his faults, he is perpetually on the losing side of the struggles he initiates, despite succeeding in the short run. In Book V the angel Raphael explains that Satan “drew after him the third part of Heav'ns Host” (5.710) only to have God brush off what appears as a feeble attempt at rebellion. As told by Raphael in Book VI, Satan introduced firepower to the battlefield. Although the forces of Heaven...