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 chapter will analyse whether or not Satan can be the epic hero of Milton’s work. Romantic critics such as William Blake and Lord Byron argue that Satan is indeed the hero of the work, especially when taking into consideration books I and II of Paradise Lost.
There were also critics, nowadays referred to as Anti-Satanists, who disagree with this. They generally find Satan’s speeches pompous and ridiculous and his behaviour despicable. Furthermore, these critics also take into consideration what happens to Satan after books I and II, in which Satan’s ethical and moral decline becomes apparent: as the story advances he experiences a strong regression and all his seemingly heroic traits are reduced to nothing. In establishing the heroic status of Satan, three separate elements will be analysed.
The first one is Satan’s actions; the second is his appearance, and, thirdly, Satan’s character will be given attention. In Paradise Lost, Satan has a complex character, worthy of a hero. One thing that these three elements have in common is that in the beginning of Paradise Lost, they are described as being heroic: Satan’s courageous actions, his splendid exterior and brave character. However, as the story progresses, Satan loses his heroic qualities. He tricks Adam and Eve into their Fall, a non-heroic action. Furthermore, he realises that Hell is inside him and is part of his being, which shows a digression of his character.
And finally, he turns into a snake, losing his former angelic appearance. Contrastingly, Dante’s Satan has no heroic qualities at all. He is an ugly brute, not able to move. He is a passive devil, as opposed to the active and well-established Satan in Paradise Lost. Dante’s Lucifer does not need many qualities attributed to him, heroic or otherwise. His role in the plot of La Divina Commedia is very limited: he is nothing more than a mere negation of God. The fourth chapter deals with Hell, since the greater part of Satan’s heroic behaviour in Paradise Lost takes place in Hell.
It is not unusual for an epic hero to be placed in Hell or the underworld: the Aeneid and the Odyssey are famous works that refer to the underworld as well. However, these classical epics are not set entirely in Hades: only part of the tale is about the journey of the hero into the Underworld. Contrastingly, Satan travels out of Hell and returns to it during the poem and it forms the basis of the journey, as opposed to Aeneas and Odysseus, who have Earth as their basis. Milton’s Hell lacks order, which provides Satan with the freedom to manifest himself as leader and organiser.
Hell in Paradise Lost gives Satan the opportunity to be a hero: the chains on the fiery lake are too weak to hold him and he can travel straight out of Hell without many obstacles. This lack of order in Hell stands in shrill contrast to the order of Heaven: Satan and the fallen angels have disrupted that natural order, so that now they are forced to dwell in a place where nature seems to make no sense and is chaotic. Contrastingly, the location of the devil in Dante’s Hell is very precise: he is located in the deepest pit. He is frozen in ice and not able to move.
Whereas Milton’s Hell facilitates Satan’s active movement, Dante’s Hell does not provide this opportunity. The universe of Milton is very loosely structured: Heaven is above and Hell below, separated by Chaos, with Earth hanging down from Heaven by a golden chain. Later on in the poem, a bridge is created by Satan which links Earth to Hell. But when it comes to describing where precisely Hell is located and what it looks like, Milton explains this in a manner which does not reveal much about distances and dimensions. Hell is described as a “bottomless perdition” (I. 47)2 or the “vast and boundless Deep” (I. 47). Hell seems to have no borders, it is infinitely large. Yet it does have walls and gates: “Our prison strong, this huge convex of Fire, / Outrageous to devour, immures us round / Ninefold, and gates of burning Adamant / Barr’d over us prohibit all egress” (II. 434-437). This forms a contrast to Dante’s Hell, which is very ordered and consists of nine concentric circles. In every circle of Hell, Dante meets the souls that are allocated to their respective circle to undergo their eternal punishment. The fifth chapter of this essay will investigate the role of sin in Paradise Lost and La Divina Commedia.
In Paradise Lost, Satan’s heroic deeds are actually rooted in sin and the sins that Satan commits make him lose his heroic status. Although Satan’s deeds may be labelled heroic when looking at books I and II, his motives are impure. The most important of these underlying motives are the sins of pride, envy and wrath. It was the sin of pride that led Satan into rebelling against God, thus causing the war in Heaven: Pride forms the beginning of Satan’s ‘heroic’ adventure. However, envy also plays a large role: Satan is envious of Christ as well as Adam and Eve. Quotations of Paradise Lost have been taken from: Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Christopher Ricks. 1968. London: Penguin Group, 1989. Dante uses the order of the seven deadly sins of pride, envy, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth and wrath to structure his Inferno. He keeps a strict order in his Hell, this is because sin disrupts the divine order and those who have sinned have caused chaos in this order. Dante distributes the punishment for the seven deadly sins very neatly over concentric circles, with a systematic increase in wickedness.
The souls of the damned are subjected to this order and are allocated according to their sins. Contrastingly, Milton does not follow this medieval list of seven sins. A very relevant reference to sins is the allegory of Satan, Sin and Death as an incestuous family. Satan has a daughter called Sin and together they have a son: Death. Sin is Satan’s first child, and she is brought into the world thanks to Satan’s disobedience to God. The fact that Satan and his daughter Sin have a child called Death, makes death the inevitable consequence of sin.
Although Milton perhaps did not intentionally incorporate the seven deadly sins in his work and although pride, envy and wrath are the most important sins of the work, the other four sins of lust, gluttony, greed and sloth can also be found in the poem and will also receive attention in this chapter. Additionally, some attention will be given to another well-known account of sin and Hell from the Romantic period, namely William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The analyses made in the chapters mentioned above will make it possible to answer the question whether or not Satan can be an epic hero.
And if he is not an epic hero, can he be regarded as another kind of hero? It is interesting that throughout the centuries, many scholars have shared the opinion that Satan is indeed the hero of the work, while others have strongly opposed this view. This concluding chapter will investigate further how these two opposing views came into existence and will try to give an answer to the question. 2. Background This chapter will provide background information on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Dante Alighieri’s La Divina Commedia (1321).
Both works are epics and are widely considered to be masterpieces that are still read today. This chapter will give some general information on epics, as well as the epic in the Renaissance period and why La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost can be considered as epics. Furthermore, attention will be given to the epic hero. However, first of all we must focus on the authors themselves and their works. It seems likely that Milton when writing his Paradise Lost, was inspired not only by Dante’s vision of Hell, but also by Classical literature. Milton had an exceptionally great knowledge of La Divina Commedia. David Masson states in his Life of Milton, that Milton ‘must have known this great poem better than any other Englishman alive’ and remarks that Milton read the Commedia ‘attentively and reverently. ’ Milton studied the Italian language and during his Cambridge years he widely read in Dante, Petrarch, and other Italian poets. In a letter to Benedetto Buonmattei, the leading Dante-expert of the day, he writes of the depth of his study of Italian literature, especially the works of Petrarch and Dante. Milton even provides an English poetic translation of a few lines from the Inferno in his work Of Reformation. This information and the many similarities between the two works may indicate that Milton was inspired to use the genre of the epic for his work, as applied by Dante and by classical authors before him. Dante finished his Commedia in 1321 and he is considered to be one of the greatest poets of all times. His La Divina Commedia can be regarded as one of the works of art that initiate the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy. 5 The story tells of the character Dante, who travels through the afterlife. The work consists of three different parts, containing Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
The work had quite an impact and it had a wide range of audiences: students read it in grammar school and the work was discussed in the marketplace and even in church. One of the main reasons for this impact is probably the fact that is was written in the vernacular as opposed to many works written in Latin. 6 It was 3 Butler, George F. Giants and Fallen Angels in Dante and Milton: The Commedia and the Gigantomachy in Paradise Lost. Modern Philology. 95. 3 (1998): p. 352. 4 Butler, George F. The Fall of Tydeus and the Failure of Satan: Statius’ Thebaid, Dante’s Commedia, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. Comparative Literature Studies. 3. 1-2 (2006): p. 143. 5 Lewis, R. W. B. Dante: a Life. London: Phoenix, 2002: p. 15. 6 Parker, Deborah. Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993: pp. 28-31. Boccacio who added the word Divina to the title of the work, stressing the divine meaning it contains. In literature, an epic is a grand narrative poem in majestic style about the exploits and adventures of a superhuman hero engaged in a quest or some serious endeavour. The hero is distinguished above all others by his strength and courage. The subject-matter of epic includes myth, legend, history, and folk tale.
Battles and perilous journeys play a large part, as do gods, the supernatural, and magic; scenes are often set in the Underworld or in Heaven. Certain formal features are conspicuous: the narrator vouches for the truth of his story; there are invocations, elaborate greetings, long speeches, detailed similes, digressions, and the frequent repetition of elements typical of an epic. 7 There is a standard distinction between traditional and literary epics. Traditional epics are works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, while literary epics were composed in deliberate imitation of the traditional form.
Literary epics do not necessarily have to contain all of the epic conventions as the ones mentioned above, as long as it manifests the epic spirit and grandeur in the scale, the scope and the human importance of their subjects. 8 So, works do not have to comply to all the epic conventions in order to be called an epic. It is not difficult to apply the label of an epic to Paradise Lost, since it contains many epic conventions. La Divina Commedia may not contain an epic hero or lengthy descriptions of battles, but it does contain many epic features, such as the epic spirit and grandeur of the scale of the narrative.
Furthermore, the subject of the redemption of the human soul is certainly of profound human interest. The Renaissance period shows the revival of art and literature under the influence of classical models, and many literary epics were written in this period, of which La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost are certainly the most impressive ones. Milton’s Paradise Lost is generally looked upon as the main work of the English Renaissance. The Renaissance is believed to have originated in Florence in the fourteenth century, where there was a revival of interest in classical antiquity.
Important figures of that era were Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, but also painters like Giotto. The period from the end of the fifteenth century has become known as the High Renaissance, when several Italian cities began to rival Florence’s leading position. Renaissance thinking spread from the early 7 “epic”, in: The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. M. C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers, (Oxford University Press, 1996). Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. See: www. oxfordreference. com, (16 January 2009). 8 Abrams, M. H. Glossary of Literary Terms. 1971.
Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999: pp. 77-78. sixteenth century onwards. 9 This influence and revival of classical culture, art and literature is represented in both Paradise Lost and La Divina Commedia, notably in the framework of the setting of the underworld, which is a common literary motif of classical epic literature. Other famous literary examples with the same motif are Hercules’ journey into the underworld to capture Cerberus, Orpheus’ descent into Hades to retrieve his wife, after she had died because of a snake-bite, or Virgil’s Aeneid, in which Aeneas travels into the underworld to meet his father.
Inspired by stories such as these, Dante and later Milton wrote their epic poems. Milton had the intention of writing an epic poem on an exalted subject decades before he started writing Paradise Lost in 1658. In his At a vacation Exercise in the College (1628), he already mentioned that he wanted to devote himself to “singing in the manner of Homer” and he envisioned writing a poem concerning “wars and heaven under Jupiter”. Notes and drafts from around 1640 contain four drafts of projections of the Fall of man, one of them called Paradise Lost and another Adam unparadiz’d.
Milton spent almost twenty years writing controversial prose and political pamphlets and he was a strong supporter of liberty of conscience, human choice and free will, themes also recurring in Paradise Lost. 10 The story itself tells of the fall from heaven of Satan and the other angels who rebelled against God. Milton’s work shows many influences of the Classics and can be classified as an epic. The epic poem Paradise Lost was originally published in ten books, but from 1674 onwards the work consisted of twelve books after the Virgilian model, by splitting books seven and ten.
Paradise Lost is the poem Milton is still famous for today. 11 Paradise Lost is seen by many scholars to be one of the most sublime products of the Renaissance and especially as the great epic of that age. 12 Two very important epic conventions which can be found in both the works of Milton and Dante, are the recapitulation of the past and prophecy of the future. 13 In Paradise Lost, the recapitulation of the past takes place in book V where Raphael tells Adam the story of the war in heaven and the Fall of Satan and the other angels.
The epic convention of the prophecy can be found in books 11 and 12, where Michael reveals to Adam the future of his descendants. He tells Adam about the Flood: 9 “Renaissance”, in: The Oxford Reference Online. A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, ed. Elizabeth Knowles, ( Oxford University Press, 2006). Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. See: www. oxfordreference. com, (16 January 2009). 10 Loewenstijn, David. Milton, Paradise Lost. A Student Guide. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004: pp. 10-14. 11 The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol 1. Ed. M. H. Abrams. New York: W.
W. Norton & Company, 2000: p. 1816. 12 Loewenstijn, David. Milton, Paradise Lost. A Student Guide. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004: p. 16. 13 Bush, Douglas. “Virgil and Milton”. The Classical Journal. 17. 5 (1952): p. 180. …Till God at last Wearied with their iniquities, withdraw His presence from among them, and avert His holy eyes (XII. 106-109) Michael also talks about the journey of the Hebrews: Till by two brethren (those two brethren call Moses and Aaron) sent God to claim His people from enthrallment, they return With glory and spoil back to their promis’d Land (XII. 169-172)
These Biblical events that Milton mentions here, have not yet happened, but cast a look into the future. There are many other epic conventions to be found in Paradise Lost. To begin with, the work has a beginning in medias res; the work begins when Satan and the other angels that rebelled against God have already fallen: “… the Poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into Hell” (I. Argument). Secondly, Milton uses the classical notion of the invocation of the Muse: “Sing Heaven’ly Muse” (I. 6). Another important epic convention is the elaborate descriptions of battles.
We find this in Paradise Lost when Michael tells Adam the story of the War in Heaven: “… when all the Plain / Cover’d with thick embattled Squadrons bright, / Chariots and flaming Arms, and fiery steeds / Reflecting blaze on blaze” (VI. 15-18). Milton has also incorporated epic catalogues, an example of which can be found in Book I, where there is a lengthy description of the angels that fell together with Satan into Hell: “First Moloch… ” (I. 392). Furthermore, the notion of supernatural intervention occurs when Christ offers to sacrifice himself for mankind.
Paradise Lost contains many epic similes, for example: Angel forms, who lay intranc’t Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks In Vallombrosa, where th’Etrurian shades High overarch’t embow’r; or scatter’d sedge Afloat, when with fierce Winds Orion arm’d Hath vext the Red-Sea Coats, whose waves o’erthrew Busiris and his Memphian Chivalry, While with perfidious hatred they pursu’d The Sojourners of Goshen, who beheld From the safe shore their floating Carcasses And broken Chariot Wheels (I. 301-311) The last significant epic convention to be found in Paradise Lost is the descent into the underworld.
Like in Milton’s Paradise Lost, there are many examples of epic conventions to be found in Dante’s La Divina Commedia. The most obvious one is the epic convention of the descent into the underworld: just as in the Aeneid, Dante’s hell consists of circles separated by geographical boundaries. 14 However, there are many more epic conventions Dante makes use of. One of them is the beginning in medias res: “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura” [Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood] (Inferno I. -2). Dante also invokes the muse, as is often done in classical epics: “O Muse, o alto ingegno, or m’aiutate; / O mente che scrivesti cio ch’io vidi, / Qui si parra la tua nobilitate” [O Muses, O high genius, help me now! O memory that wrote down what I saw, here shall your worthiness appear! ] (Inferno II. 7-9). Furthermore, the work contains three events which can be classified as supernatural interventions. The first one is the moment when Dante encounters three animals on his way: a she-wolf, a leopardess and a lion, hich form an allegory of the temptations of Sin. The second intervention is when Dante meets Virgil, who is to be his guide: “Mentre ch’i’ rovinava in basso loco, / dinanzi a li occhi mi si fu offerto / Chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco” [While I was ruining down to the depth there appeared before me one who seemed faint through long silence] (Inferno I. 61-63). However, the most important intervention is that of Beatrice: “Io son Beatrice, che ti faccio andare; / vegno del loco ove tornar disio; / amor mosse che mi fa parlare. ” [I am Beatrice who sent you.
I come from a place to which I long to return. Love moved me and makes me speak. ] (Inferno II. 70-72). Beatrice is sent to help Dante when he strays from the right path in his life and she wants him to learn the knowledge he needs in order to redeem himself. Beatrice tells Dante that when she was still alive, she was his inspiration and this inspiration kept him on the straight and narrow path of a good Christian life: Quando di carne a spirto era salita E bellezza e virtu cresciuta m’era, Fu’ io a lui men cara e men gradita; 14 Feldherr, Andrew. Putting Dido on the Map: Genre and Geography in Vergil’sUnderworld”. Arethusa. 32. 1 (1999): p. 90. E volse i passi suoi per via non vera, Imagini di ben seguendo false, Che nulla promession rendono intera. [When from the flesh I ascend And beauty and virtue in me increased I was to him less dear and delightful; And into ways untrue he turned his steps, Pursuing false images of good That never any promises fulfil] (Purgatory XXX. 127-132) Beatrice’s death signified the moment that Dante’s life started to go downhill and now she is chosen to turn his life in the right direction once gain, as she had done in life. He was tempted by sin and Beatrice offers Dante a chance to purify and save his soul. Dante’s work contains many elaborate epic similes, an example of which can be found in the description of some damned souls: “Come le rane innanzi al la nimica / Biscia per l’acqua si dileguan tutte, / Fin ch’a la terra ciascuna s’abbiaca” [As the frogs before their enemy the snakes all vanish through the water, till each cocks itself on the bottom] (Inferno IX. 76-78). Dante also makes use of the epic notion of catalogues.
Especially in Canto IV, when Dante and Virgil are in Limbo, we see many of these epic lists: “Quelli e Omero, poeta sovrano; / L’altro e Orazio satiro che vene; / Ovido e ‘l terzo, e l’ultimo Lucano” [He is Homer, sovereign poet; next is Horace, satirist; Ovid comes third, and Lucan last. ] (Inferno IV. 88-90). All the characters named in this and the other catalogues, are names from the classical period, and hence proper to the epic genre. As well as Milton, Dante’s work casts a look into the future, which is an important epic convention. We find this in Dante’s conversation with Caccio, a Florentine punished in the Inferno.
Caccio tells Dante about the future of Florence and the victory of Dante’s adversaries. Dante is able to make these kinds of references to the future, since the story is set in late March of the year 1300, but actually written between 1308 and 1321. Caccio tells Dante: “Dopo lunga tencione / Verranno al sangue, e la parte selvaggia / Caccera l’altra con molta offesine” [After long contention they will come to blood, and the rustic party will drive out the other with much offence] (Inferno VI. 64-66). He refers here to the May day festivities of 1300, where there was bloodshed between two Guelph factions, the Bianchi and the Neri.
In June 1301, the Bianchi gained political control of Florence and banished the Neri from the city. 15 Caccio tells Dante more about this particular situation: “Poi appresso convien che questa caggia / infra tre soli, e che l’altra sormonti / Con la forza di tal che teste piaggia. ” [Then, through the power of one who presently is temporizing, that party is destined to fall within three years, and the other to prevail] (VI. 67-69). Caccio here refers to the fact that the exiled Neri turned to Pope Boniface VIII for help and they managed to regain control of Florence and passed severe sentences against over six hundred Bianchi.
Caccio predicts these events to happen within three years. 16 By deliberately setting the story in the past, Dante is able to incorporate such prophesies into the story. It is striking that Dante chooses Virgil, one of the most famous classical authors, to be his guide. Virgil has written a work containing a journey into the underworld as well. In his Aeneid, Virgil tells the story of Aeneas descending into the underworld. The fact that Virgil has already written about such a journey and therefore knows the way makes him the perfect guide.
Another possible reason for choosing Virgil is the great admiration that the author Dante has for the poet, which he refers to when they first meet in Canto I: “Tu se’ lo mio maestro e il mio autore: / Tu se’ solo colui da cui io tolsi / Lo bello stile che m’ha fatto onore. ” [You are my master and my author. You alone are he from whom I took the fair style that has done me honor. ] (Inferno I. 85-87). It is clear that La Divina Commedia belongs to the epic genre. However, the one thing that the work is missing, is an epic hero. Dante might be considered to be its hero, but he does not display much heroic behaviour.
His main task in the work seems to be describing what he sees as an observer: to keep a traveller’s journal as it were. In the sixteenth century, this lack of a hero caused scepticism in regarding the work as an epic. Others hailed Dante as the best heroic poet, even surpassing Homer. However, as we have seen in this chapter, there are so many ways in which La Divina Commedia can be described as an epic, that scholars nowadays see the work as belonging to this genre. 17 There are two important qualities that enable Milton’s Satan to act as the epic hero of Paradise Lost: freedom and free will.
In Milton’s day and age, individualism and liberty became important issues. The notion of freedom and equality often recurs in Paradise Lost, and in most instances this can be linked to Satan. Satan can be described as a free spirit and there seem to be no boundaries to his freedom; even the boundaries of Hell are hardly any 15 Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy: Inferno 2 commentary. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970: pp. 101-102. 16 Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy: Inferno 2 commentary. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970: p. 02. 17 Steadman, John. “Milton and Mazzoni: the Genre of the Divina Commedia”. The Huntington Library Quarterly. 23. 2 (1960): p. 108. restriction for him. But most of all, it is this notion of a new sort of freedom which enables Satan to become the hero of Paradise Lost: “Here at least / we shall be free” (I. 258-9). For Satan this means that he is able to start his rebellion in Heaven and it gives him the opportunity to start his quest to cause the Fall of Adam and Eve. The theme of free will is also important. We see that in Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve are meant to make mainly good choices.
Contrastingly, free will makes that Satan is only able to make bad choices. When taking into consideration only books I and II of the work, what we see is a rebel who fought for freedom: for himself and his peers. However, as the story continues, this heroic status of Satan becomes less likely. This chapter has shown that both La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost can be regarded as belonging to the epic genre. Since Milton chose the epic as the structure to tell the tale of the War in Heaven and the Fall of Adam and Eve, one can validly bestow the title of ‘hero’ on Milton’s Satan. 8 However, this view is certainly not shared by all critics: Satan is by no means universally regarded as the hero of Paradise Lost. There is no easy answer to the question as to whether or not Satan deserves that title. 18 Steadman, John. “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of ‘Paradise Lost’. ” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 120. 4 (1976): p. 225. 3. Satan Both La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost are widely regarded as being masterpieces in the history of literature. Paradise Lost is an epic, and as we observed in the previous chapter, many have seen Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost.
This chapter will analyse whether or not this claim might be true: can Satan be the epic hero of Milton’s work? This question is the oldest and most persistent of controversies over Paradise Lost. 19 To begin with, this chapter will first pay attention to the views of the Pro-Satanists and the Anti-Satanists: critics supporting the notion that Satan is the hero of the poem and critics who assert he cannot be the hero. Then we will turn to Paradise Lost itself. In establishing the heroic status of Satan, three elements will be analysed in this chapter.
The first one is Satan’s actions: what actions does he undertake in Paradise Lost which can be considered heroic? Are there also actions which are the opposite of heroic? The second element to be analysed is appearance: Satan is described as still having his angelic features and bearing mighty weapons. Thirdly, Milton gives his Satan a complex character. After the Fall, Satan immediately establishes himself as the leader of the fallen angels and volunteers to travel out of Hell on a quest. Since Dante’s devil is in many respects the opposite of Milton’s Satan, Dante’s Luciferl will be used as a contrast.
It is sometimes supposed that the critical support for Satan began with the Romantics, but the notion that Satan is the hero of Paradise Lost goes as far back as John Dryden. Romantic critics, such as William Blake, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley argue that Satan was the hero of the story. 20 Of course, they essentially do have a point, when only taking into consideration books I and II of Paradise Lost. These contain many references to Satan’s fight for liberty and the bravery of his actions. Critics who have an ethical sympathy for Satan have been labelled Satanists. 1 Then there are also the critics who oppose this favourable view of Satan: they are called the Anti-Satanists. Anti-Satanists generally find Satan’s speeches pompous and ridiculous and his behaviour despicable. Furthermore, they also take into consideration what happens to Satan after the first two books, which clearly show Satan’s ethical and moral digression. And the 19 Steadman, John. “The Idea of Satan as the Hero of ‘Paradise Lost’. ” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 120. 4 (1976): p. 253. 20
Carey, John. “Milton’s Satan”. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. Ed. Dennis Danielson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: p. 132. 21 Wittreich, Joseph Anthony Jr. “The ‘Satanism’ of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered”. Studies in Philology. 65. 5 (1968): p. 817-818. view of Satan indeed changes and becomes less favourable. By the time the plot advances to book IV, the idea of Satan as the hero, if he ever was one, seems to be finished when Satan himself mentions: “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (IV. 75).
Now that he is away from the other fallen angels, Satan realises the sorry state he is in. While in the eighteenth century the Romantic view of the work was quite strong, in the nineteenth century critics such as C. S Lewis, S. Musgrove and Charles Williams very much supported the Anti-Satanist view. Especially Lewis is very strong in his claim, stating for example that Milton could not foresee that his work would one day meet the simplicity of critics who take for granted things said by the father of lies and falsehood in public speeches to his troops. 2 However, the discussion between Anti-Satanists and Pro-Satanists still continues today; Pro-Satanists generally emphasise Satan’s courage, Anti-Satanists his selfishness and folly. Since disputability is generally advantageous to a work of literature, it certainly has done no harm to the popularity of the work throughout the centuries. 23 When looking at book I and book II of Paradise Lost, Satan may indeed be labelled an epic hero on account of his actions and the actions described in his speeches. He delivers heroic speeches to the other Fallen Angels, in which he bravely suggests to stand up and do something about the unjust way
God has treated him and the other fallen angels. Phrases such as making “a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n” (I. 255) and “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n” (I. 263) seem very heroic indeed. Satan is the first character Milton mentions in his work, which together with the beginning in medias res makes Satan seem to be both heroic and sympathetic. By giving Satan the opportunity to express himself in this fashion in his speeches in the first two books, Satan becomes a comprehensible and acceptable character which is understandable.
Satan volunteers to leave Hell on a quest and, as a true hero, he sacrifices himself for his fellow angels: “That for the general safety he despised / His own” (II. 481-482). In Paradise Lost, Milton tells the story of the war in heaven and the Fall of Man, mainly from the devil’s point of view. This causes Satan to be the focus of attention when it comes to describing his heroic actions: he certainly plays a very important role in the work. Contrastingly, the devil’s role in La Divina Commedia is quite limited. We only encounter him when Dante and Virgil have to climb over him in the Ninth Circle of Hell in order to 22
Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 1964. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000: p. 98. 23 Carey, John. “Milton’s Satan”. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. Ed. Dennis Danielson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: pp. 132-133. continue their journey. When we look upon Milton’s Satan as an active evil, Dante’s Lucifer might be considered to be a passive evil. “Satan’s true being is his lack of being, his futility and nothingness”. 24 Dante intended his Satan to be empty and passive, almost reduced to nothing, as opposed to God’s energy.
He limits the role of the devil on purpose: Satan is almost the symbol of nothingness and can therefore have no substantial character in La Divina Commedia, quite contrary to Milton’s Satan. Milton starts his epic Paradise Lost at the moment when the rebellious angels have just fallen form Heaven. At first sight, the Fall does not seem to have had much of an impact on Satan’s appearance: …he above the rest In shape and gesture proudly eminent Stood like a Tow’r; his form had not yet lost All her original brightness (I. 589-592)
However, Milton uses the all-important words “not yet”; Satan’s angelic form is “not yet” lost, implying that this will happen later on in the poem. But for now, the only damage he seems to have suffered is to his face: “…but his face / Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht” (I. 600601). Milton gives him “Brows of dauntless courage” (I. 603) as well. Satan seems powerful and heroic when his armour is described, consisting of a massive spear and a “ponderous shield” (I. 284). Milton depicts Satan as having an almost regal air, which is nicely expressed in the description of Satan on his throne:
High on a throne of royal state, which far Outshone the wealth or Ormus and of Ind, Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold, Satan exalted sat, (II. 1-5) However, Satan’s appearance will dramatically change for the worse: his actions against God result in a metamorphosis for both himself and the other fallen angels. Now their looks are in concordance with their character and behaviour: 24 Burton Russel, Jeffrey. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. 1984. New York: Cornell University Press, 1988: p. 225
His arms clung to his Ribs, his Legs entwining Each other, till supplanted down he fell A monstrous Serpent on his Belly prone (X. 512-514) Satan does not make any true progression in the plot of Paradise Lost: he starts out as a hero, turns into a general and from that he digresses from a spy into a toad and eventually a snake. The description of what Milton’s Satan becomes after causing the Fall of Adam and Eve somewhat resembles the appearance of Dante’s Lucifer in La Divina Commedia, but only at the end of Milton’s work does Satan reach this state.
Milton’s Satan and Dante’s Lucifer seem to be complete opposites as Freccoro puts it when he describes Dante’s devil: “…far from finding him attractive, as we do the ‘curly-haired Byronic hero of Milton’, we are repelled by his bestiality and untouched by his tears”. 25 Dante’s Satan is immobile and located at the very centre of Hell. In the Christian-Platonic tradition, pure matter is that which is farthest from God and closest to non-being, being as far away from God as possible, Satan is almost pure matter and is composed of the densest weights in the cosmos. 6 That is why Satan is depicted by Dante as being a huge beast: ugly and awkward. He is neither human, nor animal. He has fallen from Divinity and has therefore fallen deeper than a human soul could have ever fallen, hence his position at the lowest level of Hell. Dante’s Satan has lost all his splendour. He has been turned from the most beautiful to the ugliest: “S’el fu si bel com’ elli e ora brutto” [If he was once beautiful as he is ugly now] (Inferno XXX. 34). What Milton’s Satan and Dante’s Lucifer have in common is that both were once beautiful, but in the end, they have become monsters.
Their sins and actions have not only corrupted their characters, it has deformed their appearance as well. Milton’s Satan may have begun as a hero and the opposite of Dante’s devil, in the end they do not seem to be so different anymore. There is a huge contrast in the appearance of Satan at the beginning of Paradise Lost and at the end of the poem. Milton’s Satan has turned into the same hideous creature as Dante’s devil is throughout La Divina Commedia. A possible explanation for this is that Milton made this contrast on purpose, in order to create a stronger hatred for Satan.
William Blake stated that Milton was on the devil’s side without realising it: “Note: The reason Milton wrote in fetters when / he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when / of Devils & Hell, is 25 Freccoro, John. “The Sign of Satan”. Modern Language Notes. 80. 1 (1965): p. 11. Burton Russel, Jeffrey. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. 1984. New York: Cornell University Press, 1988: p. 231. 26 because he was a true Poet and / of the Devils [sic] party without knowing it. ” (plate 6). 27 However, it is more likely that Milton deliberately created this transformation.
Satan has some kind of second Fall in the plot of Paradise Lost. While at the beginning he may fit the description of an epic hero, as the story advances he experiences a strong regression and all his heroic traits are reduced to nothing. The reader dislikes Satan more after his true character emerges than if he had been a bad character from the beginning. As opposed to Milton, Dante’s description of the devil immediately reveals his evil character. In La Divina Commedia, Dante has given his monstrous demon three heads with three different colours: white, yellow and black.
Satan was once glorious and white, shone red in his power and eventually turned black. 28 Satan may be considered the negation of God, the evil opposite to God’s goodness. Satan’s three heads reflect the three persons bound in one entity, a parody on the Holy Trinity. 29 God resembles everything that Satan wanted to have but has not achieved. Satan is in darkness, God is in light; God is everywhere, Satan is not able to move as he is frozen in ice. Another parody lies in the fact that all six eyes in the three heads are crying, which can be considered a reference to the tears of Christ on the Cross. 0 The colours of the three heads also refer to the colours of the fruits on the mulberry tree, as found in the Bible in Luke 7:16. The fruit from the mulberry tree begins as white, then turns red and eventually black as they grow. However, due to different readings from St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, these colours were often used to refer to both Christ and the devil throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. 31 Dante may have given Satan these three colours, to draw attention to the fact that Satan’s appearance can be seen as a parody on Christ and the Cross.
Next to the outer appearance of Satan in Paradise Lost and La Divina Commedia, the third aspect of Satan which deserves our attention is his character. Milton depicts Satan as a complex character playing an important role in the work. He represents an active evil, with his own feelings and emotions. This character does not only show in Satan’s actions; Milton gives the devil a voice in Satan’s ‘inner monologues’, where Satan mentions insights such as 27 Taken from: Blake, William. Het Huwelijk van Hemel en Aarde. Trans. Sylvia Koetsier. Utrecht: Erven J.
Bijleveld, 2001. All quotes from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell have been taken from this edition. 28 Burton Russel, Jeffrey. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. 1984. New York: Cornell University Press, 1988: p. 232 29 Cassel, Anthony K. “Dante’s Satan”. Italica. 56. 4 (1979): p. 341. 30 Carey, John. “Milton’s Satan”. The Cambridge Companion to Milton. Ed. Dennis Danielson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: p. 132. 31 Freccoro, John. “The Sign of Satan”. MLN. 80. 1 (1965): p. 16. “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (IV. 75).
Another instant where Satan shows some deep emotions is when he sees Adam and Eve together in Paradise: “Sight hateful, sight tormenting! Thus these two Imparadis’t in one another’s arms The happier Eden, shall enjoy their fill Of bliss on bliss, while I to Hell am thrust, Where neither joy nor love, but fierce desire, Among our other torments not the least Still unfulfill’d with pain of longing pines,” (IV. 505-511) In these lines, Satan laments his fate, being cast down in Hell where there is no love and joy. This quote is one of the many instances where Satan reveals he has a fully developed and emotional character.
However, in the first two books of Paradise Lost, where Satan can be seen as an epic hero, Satan does not have these particular insights: he has speeches filled with bravoure. It is only later on in the poem that he starts to state his feelings, when his digression has already advanced. He even starts to doubt whether it has been a good idea in the first place to start his ‘heroic’ rebellion against God: Ah wherefore! He deserved no such return From me, whom he created what I was In that bright eminence, and with his good Upbraided non; nor was his service hard. (IV. 42-45)
As opposed to Milton, Dante does not give his Satan much character. He is described in Canto XXXIV, when Dante and Virgil enter the last and most inner circle of Hell, the Ninth Circle. This is the place for those who sinned against their benefactors. Of Satan’s character, Dante tells us little. The most striking thing to note here is that Satan is crying: “Con sei occhi piangea, e per tre menti / gocciava ‘l pianto e sanguinosa bava” [With six eyes he was weeping, and down over three chins dripped tears and bloody foam] (Inferno XXXIV. 54-55). However, these tears do not seem to be tears of remorse or regret.
He does not have the ability or the power to speak, all he is allowed to be is an immobile, hideous creature, only able to express himself by his tears. Therefore, the tears seem to be tears of frustration and rage and, as mentioned above, a parody on the tears of Christ. These tears form a contrast with the tears of Milton’s Satan; tears which seem to be filled with emotion: “Thrice he assayed, and thrice in spite of scorn, / Tears such as Angels weep, burst forth: at last / Words interwove with sighs found out their way ” (I. 619-621). The different ways in which Milton and Dante have their Satan cry is very striking.
It has been mentioned above that Dante depicts his Satan as being some kind of animal, stressing his bestiality. Milton stresses the humanity in his Satan, giving him a humanlike appearance and a complex and emotional character. Satan as a figure is neither human nor animal, but Milton and Dante have done the complete opposite in this respect. Also, these tears indicate that Satan may not be such a hero after all: these tears are selfish tears. Being selfish and to feel sorry for oneself is not a good characteristic for a hero. It is clear that Dante’s Devil contains no heroic traits whatsoever.
He is not given much character and no voice at all, unlike Milton’s Satan. All through the journey in the Inferno, the writer Dante lets the character Dante tell what he feels and what he sees as he travels through Hell and encounters many different souls. However, when the duo meets Satan, this is not the case. We get a short description of Satan’s physical appearance and his surroundings, and the character Dante does not give his opinion of what he sees; he remains almost silent. Dante stresses the bestiality of his Satan and therefore does not give him the ability to speak or express himself.
Milton gives his Satan many opportunities in his speeches and inner monologues, so that Satan is able to establish himself as almost human. For that reason, one is even more tempted in labelling him as a hero. We almost seem to forget that he still is the devil. After Satan’s metamorphosis into a snake, he resembles Dante’s devil: he is unable to speak and has no real character anymore. He is reduced from a humanlike figure of a hero into something monstrous and animalistic. Although in books I and II Satan seems to posses many heroic qualities, it seems difficult to argue that he is indeed a hero.
His speeches may seem very brave, but are they really sincere? One has a point in saying that it is brave to stand up to a tyrannous leader and fight for freedom and liberty. And in the mind of Satan and the other fallen angels, God is indeed a tyrant. However, the reader of Paradise Lost will not agree with this: God could never be a tyrant. Furthermore, as will be discussed in chapter 4, the motive for the rebellion against God is not heroic at all: it is caused by the sin of pride. And when Satan embarks on his ‘heroic’ quest, he is motivated by revenge and jealousy.
He himself mentions in one of his speeches that they will not have to fight God again; instead they will reach their goals by “fraud or guile” (I. 646). So, the Satanist point of view seems to be feasible only when looking at books I and II in general: it is a fight for freedom. However, on closer inspection, there are many points in the poem in which Satan is stripped of his potential heroic status. Satan’s heroism may be described as being a perversion of true heroism: many of the heroic qualities displayed, such as his bravery, his willingness to go on an adventure, his capacity to be a true eader, are morally neutral: they can be used for both good and evil. Since Satan started out in Heaven as one of God’s angels, he may already have possessed these qualities which we call heroic, but they have been corrupted and can now only be used for evil. In order to further investigate this notion of Satan as an epic hero, chapters 3 and 4 will pay attention to the function of Hell and sin in relation to the hero’s epic quest. 4. Hell This chapter discusses how Milton describes Hell in and how this can be related to the notion of Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost.
The universe of Milton seems to have a very loose structure: underneath Heaven there is Hell and Chaos is in between. Earth hangs down from Heaven by a golden chain and is later on in the epic connected to Hell by a bridge. There is no perceivable order, or logic, to the way Milton chose to arrange his universe. Dante, however, has clear ideas as to where his Hell is located in the universe and his Hell, Purgatory and Heaven consist of neatly balanced concentric circles. The carefully structured and funnelshaped Hell in Dante’s La Divina Commedia stands in clear contrast to Paradise Lost.
In Dante’s work, Hell consists of nine concentric circles, where souls are punished according to the sins they have committed in life. There is an increase in the sinfulness and wickedness of the souls as they are distributed over the nine circles according to the measure of their trespass, with Satan located in the ninth circle. The text over the entrance gate of Dante’s Hell makes it very clear that Hell has been created by God: “Giustizia mosse il mio alto Fattore; / Fecemi la divina Podestate, / La somma Sapienza e ‘l primo Amore. [Justice moved my High Maker: the Divine Power made me, the supreme wisdom, and the primal love. ] (III. 4-6). So, there is a clear contrast between Dante’s Hell and Milton’s Hell: a strictly organised Hell as opposed to a chaotic Hell without a structure. It is this lack of proper structure which allows Satan to try and achieve his heroic status. There are not many restrictions preventing him from doing this. This chapter will begin by giving a description of Milton’s Hell and how it is placed in the universe.
After that, the same will briefly be done for Dante’s Hell as he has described it in La Divina Commedia. Thirdly, we will take a look at the position of Satan in the Hell of both La Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost, in order to investigate how the structure of Hell facilitates Satan’s heroic adventures. It is not unusual for an epic hero to be placed in Hell or the underworld: some famous examples are to be found in the Aeneid and the Odyssey. However, these epic tales are never staged entirely in Hell or the Underworld, only part of the tale is about the journey of the hero into the Underworld.
For Satan, it is somewhat different: he is thrown into Hell involuntarily, as opposed to Aeneas and Odysseus, for whom Hell is only a small part of the adventure. Satan travels out of Hell and returns to it during the poem and it forms the basis of the journey, as opposed to Aeneas and Odysseus, who have Earth as their basis. In Paradise Lost, Milton gives many descriptions of Hell as a place of agony: dark and yet filled with fire. It is a truly awful place: A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell, hope never comes That comes to all: but torture without end (I. 61-68) There is fire in Hell, but yet it casts nothing but darkness: Seest thou yon dreary Plain, forlorn and wild, The seat of desolation, void of light, Save what the glimmering of these livid flames Casts pale and dreadful? (I. 180-184) Milton’s Hell consists of natural elements; for example, Hell has lakes and hills, which Milton even makes more realistic when referring to geographical locations on Earth when he compares them to the “thund’ring Etna” (I. 33). However, they are used in an unnatural manner: there is a lake of fire with fire that does not give light but darkness. This may be because the fallen angels have destroyed the natural order, so that now they are forced to dwell in a place where nature seems to make no sense and is chaotic. However, this lack of order is not a great problem, since it gives the opportunity to manifest himself as leader and organiser. In one of his speeches, Satan establishes his heroic status as first among his peers. Nobody will fight for the power of Hell as they have fought for the power in Heaven: … here there is no good For which to strive, no strife can grow up there From Faction; for none sure will claim in hell Presedence, none, whose portion is so small Of present pain, that with ambitious mind Will covet more. (II. 30-35) This statement makes Satan something of a martyr as well: since he takes upon himself the role of leader, this means he will have to carry the heaviest load of the pain of Hell. It is rather heroic, to sacrifice himself like that: … but who here Will envy whom the highest place exposes Foremost to stand against the Thunder’s aim Your Bulwark, and condemns to the greatest share
Of endless pain? (II. 26-30) One could question, however, his motives here. The devil is the Father of all lies and this might well be a lie, in order to gain control as the leader of Hell. The first rebellion was against God in Heaven and where there was a rebellion once, there could be one again. With this statement of the leader of Hell carrying the heaviest burden, Satan implies that it would not be wise for the other fallen angels to rival his leadership. However, Milton does not mention the fallen angels being tortured much, so it might not even be true what Satan says in his speech.
Yet, where this Hell is located, one cannot tell, since Milton explains this in a manner which does not actually say anything about distances and dimensions. Hell in Paradise Lost is described as a place which actually exists, described in detail with many features such as hills, plains and lakes. However, Milton describes his Hell also in a more supernatural manner when he uses the phrase “bottomless perdition” (I. 47). Perdition signifies something which lasts for eternity and the word ‘bottomless’ which accompanies it seems to stress this notion of defying both time and space; this perdition has no end in time, it is for eternity.
To give another example, one encounters the words “the vast and boundless Deep” (I. 147) in a description of Hell. Hell seems to have no borders and it is infinitely large. Yet is does have walls and gates: “Our prison strong, this huge convex of Fire, / Outrageous to devour, immures us round / Ninefold, and gates of burning Adamant / Barr’d over us prohibit all egress” (II. 434-437). We have already seen that Hell is described as a ‘real’ location, with lakes, mountains and an entire city.
This contradiction of Hell being borderless, but nevertheless having gates and being endless, but still containing specific features, is a good example of Milton playing with space. Satan travels out of Hell through the gates, travels over a bridge and jumps over the wall surrounding the Garden of Eden. In these instances, Milton uses tangible elements in the journey, which makes the journey fit the description of a typical journey from one place to another. However, Milton also incorporates aspects in the description of the journey which defy the rules of time and space. We see hat Hell is described as ‘boundless’ and a moment later its walls and the gates are referred to. Milton invented a device for retaining the old and accepted ideas of a finite universe yet also expressing the new consciousness of space. He is perhaps the first writer who used the word ‘space’ in its full modern sense. 32 Milton mentions that the fallen angels are “As far removed from God and the light of Heav’n / As from the Center thrice to the utmost Pole” (I. 73-74). As Milton describes the location of Hell, it is supposed to be three times the distance from the Center, i. e. he earth, to the utmost pole. This is a distance that cannot be measured, but only imagined: it is somewhere between infinity and physical reality. Furthermore, Milton describes the amount of time that is takes for the fallen angels to plummet into Hell as being as long as “Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night / To mortal men…” (I. 50-51). In this fragment, the length of time is described in concepts with which one is familiar. However, the time that measures day and night can indicate a variety of timescales and still does not make clear how long this Fall lasts.
There is no day and night in Hell, and the perception of time there cannot be compared or related to a timescale conceivable to mankind. Hell has no borders, no distances and there seems to be no time as we know it, but still it has walls and a gate. This is not a Hell from which it is impossible to escape, as opposed to Dante’s Hell. The movement of Milton’s Satan is quite different from that of Dante’s devil. The devil is not allowed to move, being frozen in ice. He is not only confined to the deepest pit of Hell, he is so immovable that Dante and Virgil even have to climb over him in order to continue their journey.
The other devils in La Divina Commedia have more freedom: they can move around in Hell and are able to travel to Earth and gather souls there. With this play with time and space, Milton steps away from the traditional order of the universe according the medieval point of view. However, he does not choose one view of the universe as the basis for the universe of Paradise Lost. This may have something to do with the scientific view of the universe in Milton’s time, since the heliocentric view was not yet widely accepted.
Milton had two planetary systems available to choose from: the Ptolemaic, in which Earth is the centre of the universe, and the Copernican system, in which Earth and the other planets rotate around the Sun. Milton does not choose one particular model, but 32 Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 1964. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000: p. 100. alludes to both of them to form a unique universe in Paradise Lost. Milton’s universe seems to be geocentric and heliocentric simultaneously33: … whither the prime Orb,
Incredible how swift, had thither roll’d Diurnal, or this less voluble Earth By shorter flight to th’East, had left him there Arraying with reflected Purple and Gold The Clouds that on his Western Throne attend; (IV. 592-597) Milton expresses this same notion in the conversation between the archangel Raphael and Adam. Adam asks Raphael about the universe and about the movement of the sun and the stars. Raphael does not give a direct answer to these questions, but rather states that God does not want to reveal this information to others and, in fact, Raphael himself does not have the answer: the rest From Man or Angel the great Architect Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge His secrets to be scann’d by them who ought Rather admire (VIII. 71-74) By indicating that God does not want anyone to know the truth about the structure of the cosmos, Milton does not choose a side in the heliocentric/geocentric discussion that was still going on at the time. Furthermore, by not answering Adam’s question, Milton, and indirectly God, could not be proven wrong in the future. Milton w
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