[Milton-L] Characterization of Satan

Jason Kerr aelfric at gmail.com
Sat Dec 18 19:12:00 EST 2010

Tobias Gregory's book _From Many Gods to One_ talks about Satan in light of
the classical and Renaissance epic tradition. I don't recall if there's a
specific comparison to Hector (I doubt it, because Gregory focuses more on
Virgilian connections), but he certainly discusses the powerful literary
appeal of Satan, calling him something like "one of the great villains of
English literature." Definitely worth checking out.

Jason A. Kerr

On Sat, Dec 18, 2010 at 7:05 PM, Grewell, Cory L. <CGrewell at thiel.edu>wrote:

> The remarks on the humanization and sympathetic (arguably) portrayal of
> Satan here remind me of a question I've been meaning to pose to this groupe
> for a while.  Has anyone that you know of written an analysis of Satan as
> sympathetic in light of the classical epic tradition?  What I have in mind
> is the sympathetic portrayal of Hector in Homer's Iliad.  Given the agon
> that ensues between Achilles and Hector, the valor and ability of Hector
> gives more glory to Achilles when he bests him in battle finally.  Has
> anyone explored whether this might be to a certain extent what Milton is
> doing with Satan in the early books, i.e. building him up as a formidable
> foe who tentatively seizes a "moral" high ground only to be bested by the
> Son?  I know this is sort of similar to what Fish describes in his reading
> of the poem, but I don't recall him setting his analysis in the Classical
> tradition.
> Dr. Cory Lowell Grewell
> Assistant Professor of English
> Thiel College
> 75 College Ave
> Greenville, PA  16125
> (724)589-2146
> ________________________________
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu on behalf of James Rovira
> Sent: Fri 12/17/2010 10:21 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Bloom & Rovira on Xtian narratives
> Would be very interesting to hear you describe your reading experiences of
> PL from that background, Carl.  I was fortunate enough to teach selections
> to a very mixed audience in a survey course this semester.  Many of my
> Christian students -- most of them Evangelical of sorts with little real
> historical understanding of Christianity -- were largely shocked by their
> being drawn toward Satan as a character.  Many comments about that.  The
> general feeling was that Satan was humanized, given feelings and motivation,
> rather than being a somewhat abstract force of pure evil.  Alongside these
> students were others who had no religious background at all.  They too were
> similarly drawn, without the sense of shock.  Students both Christian and
> non-Christian were about evenly divided over Satan turning into a real jerk
> eventually and Satan being a character with whom one could sympathize.
> Of everything we read from, gasp, Beowulf to the 18thC, Paradise Lost
> seemed the greatest and most impressive work of the imagination.  I could
> tell that it captured students in ways that other literature did not, even
> my students who were not great readers and certainly not great readers of
> poetry.  One of my most gifted students rewrote sections of PL into a short
> story set in a rural church today.  The church building represented
> Pandaemonium, the pastor Satan, who tries to seduce the female partner in a
> young, innocent couple.
> But, to get to the point, most of those who read it from a faith
> perspective did not feel that their beliefs were challenged.  When I've
> taught it in the past I've had Roman Catholic students who, surprisingly,
> treated it consistently and coherently almost as a doctrinal manual.  THAT
> was shocking to me, esp. since they'd been taught in their Catholic HSs to
> read it that way.
> My responses to this thread have been that we can't assume how an orthodox
> believer will respond as both Scripture and Milton are subject to
> interpretation, like everything else.
> Jim R
> On Sat, Dec 18, 2010 at 1:03 AM, Carl Bellinger <bcarlb at comcast.net>
> wrote:
>        Sorry Jim. Attempting to escape the tedious style that dogs my
> keyboard I have flown apparently into mere opacity. I think I should
> try-&-find [is there a proper spelling of the idiomatic "try and find"?]
> Bloom's comment in situ before getting back to you on this.
>            But in the mean time I would say only that having myself grown
> up in a bible-centered but also bible-rich [Christian narrative?] community
> I know what it's like to feel blasted at every turn in this great poem, and
> to feel that not only the monks deserve to be tattered into rags by the
> violent crosswind but Milton too.
>         Cheers
>        Carl
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The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

           —Czeslaw Milosz, from "Ars Poetica?"
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