[Milton-L] Characterization of Satan

Salwa Khoddam skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Dec 18 20:38:21 EST 2010

I don't see similarities between Hector and Satan, aside from their being 
bested by superior heroes.  The Christian concept of evil as embodied in one 
character, Satan, did not exist for the Greeks who believed that people or 
characters can be both good and evil.  The illusion that Satan has any 
goodness about him, after the fall and after Sin sprang out of his head, is 
simply that--the illusion of  military glamor.  On the other hand, Hector is 
good in essence as the protector of Troy whom the gods love, who has 
courage and strength almost as great as Achilles.  But the gods wanted 
Achilles to win.  Otherwise, how could there be a destruction of Troy, the 
journey of Aeneas to build "another Troy," etc.  I don't think Homer sets 
Hector up for defeat.  Hector's destiny is revealed from the very beginning 
as usually happens in an epic.  No suspense or surprises.  Milton glamorizes 
Satan at the beginning but also shows that Satan brought about his own fall. 
Maybe I'm missing something in this comparison.

Salwa Khoddam, Ph.D.
Professor of English, Emerita
Oklahoma City University
2501 N. Blackwelder
OKC, OK  73106
Phone:  405-208-5127
Email:  skhoddam at cox.net
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Leonard" <jleonard at uwo.ca>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Saturday, December 18, 2010 6:23 PM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Characterization of Satan

> Yes, quite a few people have argued that Satan is the protagonist of the 
> heroic epic that Paradise Lost turns out not  to be.  Maurice Bowra made 
> that case in 1945 and he was followed by many critics in the 1960s, 
> including Davis P. Harding, John Steadman, and Michael Wilding (among 
> others).  The argument is very plausible, but (like all arguments about 
> Satan) it risks jumping from the frying pan into the fire because it 
> invites the retort that Milton was of Homer's party without knowing it (a 
> retort that would, if just, bring us back to square one).  Milton in PL 
> obviously is offering a critique of martial epic, but many commentators 
> (notably Raleigh and TIllyard) have refused to take him at his word 
> (Tillyard uses the phrase "unprovoked lies") when he claims to be "nor 
> skilled nor studious" in military heroics.
> Hope this helps,
> John Leonard
> ----- Original Message ----- 
> From: "Grewell, Cory L." <CGrewell at thiel.edu>
> To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> Sent: Saturday, December 18, 2010 7:05 PM
> Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Characterization of Satan
> 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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