Paradise Lost: Sympathy for Satan
Sympathy for Satan John Milton spent years trying to think of an idea to base his epic on; an idea that would make his epic last centuries and never be forgotten. His desire came to life since his work lives in history, along with Homer, Virgil and Dante. Finally, he found a muse in God and in the dawn of creation; rather than in earthly matters.
John Milton’s intention while writing his epic was not to make Satan a hero, however, many people perceive such an idea. Instead, he simply wanted to display his optimistic view of life; the fact that goodness is not goodness unless it resulted from a struggle to overcome evil.
Thus, Milton focuses Satan and his dishonorable deeds in order to highlight God’s kindness and goodness. Moreover, “Paradise Lost” includes Satan’s side of the story. Throughout the epic, many traits and characteristics that Milton attributes to Satan make him seam appealing or forgivable. One source of Satan’s fascination for us is that he is an extremely complex and subtle character. It would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Milton to make perfect, infallible characters such as God the Father, God the Son, and the angels as interesting to read about as the flawed characters, such as Satan, Adam, and Eve.
Satan, moreover, strikes a grand and majestic figure, apparently unafraid of being damned eternally, and uncowed by such terrifying figures as Chaos or Death. Many readers have argued that Milton deliberately makes Satan seem heroic and appealing early in the poem to draw us into sympathizing with him against our will, so that we may see how seductive evil is and learn to be more vigilant in resisting its appeal. Milton devotes much of the poem’s lines to developing Satan’s character. Satan’s greatest fault is his pride.
He casts himself as an innocent victim, overlooked for an important promotion. But his ability to think so selfishly in Heaven, where all angels are equal and loved and happy, is surprising. His confidence in thinking that he could ever overthrow God displays tremendous vanity and pride. When Satan shares his pain and alienation as he reaches Earth in his soliloquy, we may feel somewhat sympathetic to him or even identify with him. But Satan continues to devote himself to evil. Every speech he gives is fraudulent and every story he tells is a lie.
He works diligently to trick his fellow devils in Hell by having Beelzebub present Satan’s own plan of action. These characteristics are presented throughout Satan’s first and final soliloquy in “The Fall of Satan”; “Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition, thought in Hell: better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”. Satan is far from being the story’s object of admiration, as most heroes are. Yet there are many compelling qualities to his character that make him intriguing to readers.