[Milton-L] Characterization of Satan, YES

Nairba Sirrah nairbasirrah at msn.com
Sat Dec 18 22:37:03 EST 2010

Milton most definitely was creating Satan's characterics according to the Classical tradition. The main innovation Milton made was making him the classic epic hero and villian/adversary in one being. He is at once Achilles and Hector, Aeneas and Turnus, Odysseus and the Cyclops...the Son never qualifies as the hero as much as he does a device. In Milton, Jesus even comes up with the notion of his resurrection on his own, with which God approves. Satan never knows what risk he's actually taking (the fundamental requirement of the hero in the classic epic tradition).

Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Characterization of Satan
Date: Sat, 18 Dec 2010 19:05:39 -0500
From: CGrewell at thiel.edu
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu

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

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.  

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