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The Role Of Satan In Dante's Inferno And Specifically In Paradise Lost

2432 words - 10 pages

The source of all evil, a terrifying entity, and the adversary of God in an eternal war for the souls of mankind, Satan is often put forward as a powerful “other,” having little in common with those he tempts and torments. For example, in Dante’s Inferno, Satan is massive, strong and beast-like, chained like Cerberus in Hell for the punishment of mankind, chewing on the bodies of history’s greatest traitors like a vicious dog. Milton's relatable, human-like Satan is on the other end of the spectrum. He is depicted as the underdog, one who must overcome tremendous obstacles, causing the reader to see him as a tragic hero and to feel sympathy for the fallen angel. Satan soon begins a transformation of both his mind and physical appearance, not only making his true nature apparent to the reader, but also causing the reader to realize that he or she may have more in common with Satan than previously thought.
Paradise Lost opens in media res: Satan is in a dire situation. He has been, by the command of God, driven out of Heaven with his legion of Angels into the great Deep of Hell, a place “in utter darkness. . . As far removed from God and light of Heaven as from the centre thrice to the utmost pole.” (I.70-75). Satan's desire to rebel against his creator stems from his unwillingness to be suppressed by God and his Son, claiming that angels are "self-begot, self-raised" (5.860) and thereby denying God's authority over them as their creator (Singh). In Book I, Milton portrays Satan as a strong, imposing figure with great abilities as a leader and public statesmen. These persuasive powers are evident throughout the book. Not only is Satan cunning and deceptive, but he is also able to rally the angels to continue in the rebellion after their agonizing defeat in the Angelic War (Leonard). After being damned to Hell for eternity, Satan feels neither defeated nor depressed. On the contrary, he speaks inspirationally and evokes his legion of ruined angel to not abandon their ambition. As Satan states in Book I of Paradise Lost,
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? (106-109)
Satan appears to be a grandiose figure, one who is neither afraid of being damned eternally nor ghastly figures such as Chaos or Death, as he is the one to travel through Chaos and Night to reach Earth. Satan is not impeded in the slightest by his initial failure as he continues to encourage others to not allow feelings of loss and disappointment to conquer their aspirations. By constructing Satan in this way, Milton highlights the admirable qualities of the character (Cammareri). Many readers have argued that Milton does this deliberately in order to make Satan seem heroic and appealing, drawing one into sympathizing with him against his or her will. (Chela).
Satan is initially described to the reader as “the arch-enemy and thence in heaven called Satan” (I.81). Satan's...

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