[Milton-L] Characterization of Satan

Carol Barton cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Sun Dec 19 11:55:56 EST 2010


Cory, I think the "greater glory" concept you describe below is 
reflected in Satan's dismissive attitude toward the Son: it is the 
Father he seeks to engage, not what is to his mind this inferior 
created being. To that extent (in classical terms) Satan earns 
"greater glory"--but as Stanley Fish has observed so many times, 
therein lies the rub: Satan is not engaging his opponent in a 
classical context, and in a Christian one, submission to God's will 
("Thy will be done") is the "greater glory." That's what makes Satan 
so problematic for all of us: we react to him on two planes, and the 
"appropriate" responses in each context are entirely antithetical.

Hope that's helpful.

Best to all,

Carol Barton

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Grewell, Cory L." <CGrewell at thiel.edu>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Sunday, December 19, 2010 8:57 AM
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Characterization of Satan


>I take your point, Salwa, and I don't mean to imply any similarities 
>in specific characterization between Hector and Satan.  In fact, I 
>totaly agree with you when you point out that Hector is good whereas 
>Satan is evil.  I simply mean to say that the power that Milton gives 
>Satan, both as a character and the power with which he poetically 
>draws him, is to the greater glory of the Son when Satan is bested by 
>him in the course of the poem, and I wonder if this is partially 
>explicable in the context of the Greek tradition of the agon as 
>depicted in Homer's Iliad, for instance.  As I understand Greek 
>ethics, it is better to best a worthy opponent than a weak one, hence 
>Achilles greater glory in besting Hector.  It is without doubt that 
>the radically different moral contexts of the Iliad and Paradise Lost 
>muddy any attempt at comparison, but I wonder if this epic tradition 
>has any relevance the the power of Satan's character.
>
> 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 Salwa Khoddam
> Sent: Sat 12/18/2010 8:38 PM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Characterization of Satan
>
>
>
> 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.
> Best,
> Salwa
>
> 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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